No one knows the need for flexible childcare better than moms. And the L.A.-based Brella is a great example of two moms coming together to create an innovative solution for all parents. Brella’s model of app-enabled child care centers offers full-time, flexible and on-demand infant care and preschool, along with parent education classes and family events.
In May, one of their child care centers opened in Hollywood. One of the unique features of the center is the implementation of design elements chosen by co-founder Darien Williams, a SCI-Arc graduate and professional architect.
We recently chatted with the two moms behind Brella—Melanie Wolff and Darien Williams.
Please tell us a little about Brella and why you started?
MW: Brella is a new model of child care that is transforming how we raise the next generation. Our centers are designed to offer flexible child care for children 3 months-6 years. Families can use our mobile app to design a schedule that matches their needs. Children at Brella participate in a thoughtful, play-based curriculum that includes art, STEM, dramatic play, early literacy and writing, math, music and movement. Brella supports the whole family so in addition to child care we also offer parent education classes, Brella Babies mommy and me and parent and me groups and community events.
Tell us how you two met and how this collaboration began?
MW: We were introduced by a mutual friend and bonded over our shared frustration with the child care system. We are both industry outsiders (Darien was an architect and Melanie was a marketer) but we immediately dove in to learn everything we could about child care.
The design of the new space looks incredible. Tell us about the design concept and why it’s so important.
DW: Child care centers are often cluttered and overstimulating spaces, which is not ideal for a developing child and mind. When there’s so much information coming through your senses, your brain cannot process the experience making it difficult to acclimate in a new environment or to emotionally regulate. Brella’s spaces are intentionally designed to foster a healthy learning and developmental environment for children. Our color palette is selected based on brain science with the objective to support focus and calm. Our centers are open and airy with lots of natural light and plenty of “white space” to prevent overstimulation. Each classroom is divided into learning zones to provide dedicated areas for specific types of learning from gross motor to STEAM. The resulting space provides a welcoming and nurturing environment, which supports the children and families who use us.
As working moms, what are some of your biggest challenges?
MW: We often struggle to balance work demands and the needs of our children. It is hard to fit everything in. Our business is an “in-person” business so it is important that we are at the centers and with our teams, but that sometimes means missing school events or after school activities. There are always trade-offs, and it is important to know that sometimes missing things doesn’t define you as a parent.
DW: It’s particularly interesting being a leader at a company that strives to support working parents. On one hand, there’s a desire to pour everything into our work because we’re so passionate about it, but that doesn’t necessarily set a supportive example for other working parents on our team, whom we want to feel comfortable and validated in missing a day of work to stay home with a sick child.
What does a typical day look like for you?
MW: There is no typical day. I like to start my days with exercise, usually a morning Peloton ride or a run near the ocean. After that, I’m in startup mode, which means I’m tackling whatever problem, project, or opportunity is most important at the moment. My favorite days are when I am at the centers, I love being around the teachers and children. Their joy is contagious and it reminds me of how important this vision really is. My best days end with a family dinner where I get to hear about my children’s days.
DW: My day starts with 10-20 minutes of yoga and meditation. If I’m not on school drop-off duty that day, I’ll try to incorporate a run. After that, I’m either heading into our office or to one of our sites. With the imminent opening of our Hollywood location, I have recently been starting my day there, checking on the construction punch list and ensuring that the hand-off to the ops team is running smoothly. While I don’t love L.A. traffic, I do enjoy spending time in different parts of the city throughout the week and always meeting new people. Like Melanie, I love sitting down to dinner with my kids and hearing their rose and thorn of the day. We light a candle every evening to mark dinnertime, and it helps me mentally transition into a slower pace.
Did you have a mentor growing up? And what role did that person play in your life and your career?
DW: I was a little too young to be mentored by him, but growing up my grandfather, E. Steward Williams, a mid-century architect in Palm Springs, was certainly a role model. His expressive yet practical design sensibility continues to be an inspiration.
Best life advice you received growing up?
DW: Find peace in the process. The goal posts are always moving (especially in fast paced startup life), so you’ve got to find peace and satisfaction in the process of achieving your goals.
MW: View challenges as opportunities. It is so easy to let obstacles stop you in your tracks, but if you shift the mindset, challenges can become both energizing and liberating.
Best advice on parenting so far?
MW: You don’t own your children. You are here to guide them on their own individual path. When you accept them as individuals with their own needs and desires, you set them and you up to succeed.
DW: The Magda Gerber quote: “Do less, observe more, enjoy more.” You don’t need to entertain your child. By slowing down and observing rather than directing them, both child and parent have a more relaxing and enjoyable experience.
How has parenthood changed you?
MW: Being a parent has made me more open to change. When you have children, you learn quickly that you can’t control everything. You need to be flexible and resilient- able to respond with a cool head when things don’t go as planned. That lesson has proven to be incredibly valuable as a startup founder.
DW: I’m a big fan of “The Whole Brain Child.” Being a parent has taught me so much about the interrelationship of emotional and intellectual development, in both adults and children.
When not working, where will we find you?
MW: Hiking or at the beach with my family.
DW: Running on the beach, hiking with my kids, on a weekend trip to Santa Barbara, where my extended family lives.
What would you tell your middle school self?
MW: I would tell that middle schooler from NJ to check out Los Angeles because she is going to love living here.
DW: Don’t use clorox bleach to dye your hair – lol!
What are some of your favorite spots and activities in and around LA?
MW: The beaches in Santa Monica. I love to hike the Los Liones trail. The Hollywood Bowl- so happy to have live music back. The Getty. Dodgers Stadium- my family loves baseball.
DW: I went to architecture school in the arts district, so I still have a soft spot for downtown. I love the Hauser and Wirth gallery – the courtyard, the repurposed spaces, the mix of uses in the compound. I made Melanie meet me there the first time we met in person. I also love exploring the beaches and hills, particularly El Matador beach and the secret stairs in Beachwood canyon.