Allowing no grass to grow beneath their feet, relatively newlyweds Jonathan Parkey and Chris Marsh spent the pandemic switching careers, moving houses, focusing on family and giving back to their community. Both personally and professionally-speaking, this serendipitous collision of worlds has created one of Arkansas’ power couples.
Marsh, realtor and marketing director for Little Rock’s new Capital Sotheby’s International Realty group, grew up in the east Arkansas delta on a rice and soybean farm.
“I really liked the business side of it, but I'm allergic to everything on the farm and it was just not what I needed to be doing,” Marsh says.
Before Sotheby’s, his resume included economic development in Mississippi and a return home to work in external affairs at Entergy.
Parkey, originally from Jonesboro, started in musical theater and later found himself in New York working in luxury women’s fashion. He was a global wholesale director for Rosetta Getty when he met Marsh after a friend introduced them through social media. Parkey and Marsh saw each other face-to-face for the first time in Arkansas months later on New Year’s Day of 2016.
“I worked with stores all across the world, and I actually kept my job when I moved to Little Rock,” Parkey says. “I was on the road 70% of the time anyhow, and they were like, ‘Yeah, move and go see what this guy's all about and do what you want to do.’”
After jet-setting between Paris, Hong Kong, New York and Little Rock and then marrying Marsh in 2018, he landed.
“Being back in a Southern town, I wanted to have my feet firmly planted [in Little Rock]," Parkey says, "so, I decided to open up my own business here at that time.”
In October of 2020, J. Parkey — The Heights interior design studio that includes a carefully crafted collection of furniture, art and gifts — was born.
“I just want [the store] to feel like it is the inside of my head," Parkey says. "For me, it was about having a space that felt curated and specifically designed to where people can come in and really get a sense of what I like to do.
“I've been really lucky to have some pretty amazing clients this last year that allowed me to get into my brain and throw that out onto paper and then into real life.”
While many people were spending most of their time at home over the past year and a half, this duo was finding its current floorplan wasn’t conducive to the life that was becoming the new normal.
“What is interesting about both of our businesses is that they are interwoven,” Marsh says. “From a real estate standpoint, we feel the effects of the questions of ‘Are there two offices in here?’ and ‘Is there a space for us to have a classroom?’ The shift of how you want to live in your environment is interwoven with what [Parkey] gets to do.
“So, when we are fortunate and able to work with clients mutually, where I maybe helped them in their transaction and then I bring him in to start imagining what that space can turn into, it feels really good for both of us."
The pair describe it as an almost turnkey service they offer.
“It feels like we're providing a high-end experience and being able to serve holistically to the client,” Marsh says.
Professionally they help clients find a good blend for home and work life, but personally the two find themselves doing this very same thing. They are either working in or thinking about other people’s houses.
“It's always about something related to our home or a home that I have under contract or a home that he’s building from the ground up,” Marsh says. “Sometimes the question might be from [Parkey], ‘Do you think this would help increase the value of the home?’ Well, there's perspective there for his client when they get ready to market the home again.”
“It's still a little new for us on figuring it out together, but it's really fun when we do get to collaborate. And," Parkey laughs, "we are figuring out that spot where we both just keep our mouth shut to one another."
Marsh calls it a good collaboration, one that partially got its start in their love of entertaining and hosting in their own home.
"We know how to work together in that space, and so it's just like overlaying that with these other frames and learning that, too,” he says.
Support of family and friends is critical to Parkey and Marsh. Both introduced each other to their family early in their relationship, with Parkey even meeting Marsh’s brother and sister-in-law on their first date.
“It was totally trial by fire,” Marsh jokes.
Originally Parkey left for Michigan right after high school and never expected to come back to Arkansas.
“But it has been the most wonderful return, coming back and connecting with high school friends,” he says, noting it was a friend who first encouraged him to reach out to Marsh.
“We're both very close with our families," Marsh says. "My brother and sister-in-law live a couple blocks that way in The Heights. Then his brother and sister-in-law live a couple blocks that way, and our friend groups are all within that circle, too."
“And we just get to be the fun guncles,” says Parkey of the pair’s relationship with their cherished nieces and nephews.
“We have car seats sitting on go, there are three or four flavors of mac ‘n’ cheese in our pantry and then juice boxes and apple sauce in our refrigerator,” Marsh says.
Hosting is a regular part of life for the pair, and they believe their guests' experience is significant. They intentionally look for ways to incorporate tradition in making new memories while creating an environment that is meant to be easy.
“What I want for our space is to turn every corner and say, ‘I love this piece,’ or ‘We picked this up in Santa Fe,’” Parkey says.
“It's also important to me that our nieces and nephews remember us in this way and become the storytellers, because I feel like we are sort of crypt keepers and storytellers of our families, and I want that to be passed on. I want them to remember the new memories with us.”
Marsh has a similar take on their home's intimate nature.
“For me, it's like, ‘Come on in and stay a while,’" he says. "I really want it to feel comfortable. There's nothing I love more than a five-hour dinner, and you don't ever get up from the table. For everyone just to feel like you're welcome to do that. There's no need to rush.”
Sentimental pieces from the places they grew up are very much woven into their style, but they always want to leave room for the opportunity to add new memories or collections of their own.
“It’s a merger of both of our tastes and collections and travel as we really started working on our own home and looking at this being a forever home for us,” Parkey says. “I always want a room to feel finished and polished and all of those things, but also really leaving space for us to grow.”
In addition to giving clients the homes of their dreams, Parkey and Marsh use their talents and experiences to make an impact. Both have philanthropic interests in mind and through the years have been part of an array of organizations and events, like Argenta United Methodist Church, City Year, Access School, Create Little Rock and Lucie’s Place.
“Now, it's become this conversation, what do we want to do together?” Marsh says. “If you look at it from a city-specific perspective, Little Rock is wildly fortunate to have the types of cultural organizations and arts organizations for a city our size. That's incredibly important for a city to thrive. If you look at other cities like ours that don't have that, it's not a place that companies want to invest. And so it's cyclical. It supports our businesses … and it also supports the community.”
The Arkansas Repertory Theatre is one of their focuses right now. Because of the uncertainty of the pandemic, solid plans for in-person events are up in the air, but Marsh and Parkey are working with executive artistic director Will Trice and other Rep supporters to assist in their fundraising efforts. Parkey and Marsh’s vision is to one day give guests a grand, immersive experience.
“What we like to do, both in our home or in the projects that he's working on or with the clients that I'm working with, is really work to create some type of experience because that is the memory making,” Marsh says.
“That is a theme that we always ingrain ourselves in, ‘Are we creating that? Is it welcoming? Does anybody feel comfortable coming in?’ And that could be our door or any other door.”
Chris Marsh and Jonathan Parkey’s Most Treasured Pieces
► “Placed as sculpture on the center wall of our living room hangs an ox yoke. It was used to clear land owned by my great-grandfather whose parents were early settlers in Lee and Monroe counties.”
► “I love being in the kitchen and showing love through cooking. My great-grandmother’s cast iron skillet is one of my most prized possessions and sits close to cookbooks with special notes reminding me that recipes are a guide, not gospel.”
► “Jonathan and I fell in love with the work ‘Teton Woman’ by Frank Howell, a cornerstone artist of the Southwest Native Art Movement, while we were in Santa Fe. It just so happened that we found this piece of art on the trip when we got engaged.”
► “Sitting on the kitchen counter is this Marzi & Remy German punch bowl that my great-aunt carried back on her lap from WWlI. It’s a little funky, it's a little cool and it’s a little reminder that things have stories.”
► “Perched on top of the book ‘1000 Degrees Celsius Deyrolle,’ Jonathan placed his grandmother’s glass grapes that were in her house when he was growing up. It reminds him of their talks around her kitchen table because he could see them in her living room.”