Inside PJ Pereira's Home, Where Creativity Runs Wild

A zone designed for parallel adventures

My favorite place in the world is home, with my wife, my son and our new puppy. It has constant visual reminders of my Brazilian roots in the architectural details, which are inspired by Niemeyer and the sidewalks of Ipanema. The decor accents from northeast Brazil, where my grandparents were born, plus loads of folk art, heirlooms and mementos accumulated through our lives together—places we lived, our trips, our favorite things.

We bought the house around the same time we were starting the agency. We loved the view and had the opportunity to remodel it to make it ours. We took an old California ranch and asked the architect to "build an Apple-Store-open-space-with-picture-window inside it, then add a few Brazilian details to remind us of where we come from." That's how it started, at least.

Then life took us by the seat of our pants. As our lives evolved, the house changed with it. The walls got more colors, the tables received more mementos, the guest room became an office, the garage a dojo. A movement somehow functional but also one that reflects a fundamental change in how workaholics like myself adjust to new perspectives on life, family and our profession. Especially the need for us, advertising creatives, to have other ways to express our creativity. 

My business school classmates always criticized me for the time I spent on my artistic experiments. Writing, drawing, doing martial arts ... for them, those were all a waste of a time when I could be creating wealth, growing companies, thriving in the business world. 

Luckily, I found advertising, a career where I get paid to use my creativity while doing all that. But hey, it ain't artistry either. In the end, we either make our clients grow, or we get our artistic privilege taken from us. And guess what? Sometimes the urge to create and the professional obligation to be responsible for a client's brand, and all the jobs that depend on them, are not compatible. Sometimes my personal need to express a kind of idea or do a specific kind of ad do not match the obligations within the assignment on my desk. So I'm left with the impossible (and false) choice between my creative and professional integrities. Worse: In our industry so obsessed with total dedication and so proud of its stories of hard work, that can only cause one thing—resentment.

The fact is, creativity is meant to be out of control. Explosive. Wild. Unchecked. To shake us in bursts we can't control. And while the responsibility we have with our clients allows us to use some of that, sometimes it just can't. Because the idea you love isn't right, or the client isn't ready, or the world doesn't need it. Which puts you in the awful position of protecting either your needs or the client's. Needless to say, the client wins, as they should. But in the long term, the accumulated resentment and frustration is why so many brilliant creatives end up getting jaded, bitter, retiring earlier than they should. 

Having an extra creative output, therefore, is a matter of both mental health and career management. Like stretching for professional athletes … remember when Kobe said doing yoga since college would have extended his career in at least 10 more years? Or like when the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, taught his clients to make sure their puppies get exercise so they don't destroy the house? It's the same thing for the creative mind. Indulge it, stretch it, exercise it, or it will devour you! 

It also makes you more interesting, as well as giving you more creative credibility. Having published four novels—some even reaching best-seller status in Brazil—allows me to speak about storytelling with more depth. Exposing my paintings in a few galleries gives me a deeper, more emotional perspective on beauty and expression, beyond what I think a computer can or cannot do. Having earned a few high ranks in martial arts, trained with and fought people in multiple continents, I am able to speak about the link between creativity and strategy with a way more visceral perspective.

And for me, those parallel creative adventures make my advertising creative process much faster, too. I am quicker with concepting when I'm also working on a novel. More original and unbound when I am also painting. Have a sharper eye for strategic opportunities when I am training hard. 

So I built my house to allow for all those forms of expressions, to have the space my big ego needs. I turned my garage into a dojo I think Bruce Lee (a Bay Area native) would appreciate. I put a writing corner in my office to feed my fantasies of being the next Hemingway. Hung my own paintings on the wall to remind me I have to get back to the brushes, someday. 

Built and refined for 10 years in the quiet suburbs of San Francisco, home became a place of inspiration and recharge. Where I am a father, a husband and an artist of any kind of art I fancy at each phase of my life. So I can go to work every day and be the advertising professional my clients need me to be in order to help them grow. With responsibility, creativity and enthusiasm. Not urges and ego.

Obviously, every now and then I still hear people questioning if I shouldn't be putting all my energy into creating wealth, growth of companies, thriving in the business world. To those, after my few black belts, art exhibits, novels and a more rewarding career in advertising I could have ever hoped for, I can only say: You got this all wrong, my friend.

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PJ Pereira
PJ Pereira is founder and creative chairman of Pereira O'Dell.