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Alumni Couple Henry and Tammy Bisco Find Success With MadGirl Designs

By Geoff Gehman

Teachers at a New York university pluck books from aluminum shelves framed by a wall of glass. Bartenders in a North Carolina restaurant pull bottles of liquor from illuminated acrylic shelves resembling glowing cocktails. Workers at a New Jersey company use lockers with wavy doors painted eye-popping green and orange.

These work stations were developed by Henry Bisco ’95 and Tammy Cyprich Bisco ’97, the passionate proprietors of MadGirl Designs, a firm specializing in designing and outfitting commercial interiors. They launched it two years ago after working a dozen years for a custom shelving-and-storing firm. The couple specializes in providing educational and medical institutions with sleek, snappy space solutions featuring everything from reception desks to coffee nooks, sage-tinted acoustical panels to espresso-hued countertops.

“Everyone deserves to be inspired in their work place,” says Tammy from the couple’s home in Madison, N.J. “Everyone deserves to feel more at home on the job, especially when they spend more time on the job than at home.”

Tammy and Henry met, romantically enough, during a Wilkes class in Romantic literature. Both were English majors who grew up in river places: she’s from Forty Fort, Pa., he’s from Phillipsburg, N.J. Both came from business-oriented families; their parents worked in printing, excavating and selling business machines.

Both enjoyed attending classes in Kirby Hall and a picture of the building is featured on

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The Biscos’ firm provided library and office shelving for New York University’s Steinhart School of Culture, Education and Human Development. Photo by Interior Design Magazine.

their web site. On campus, Henry relished conversations about pop culture and politics with the late Bob Stefanko, the longtime warehouse manager of the Wilkes bookstore, where he worked for four years. Tammy remembers Helen Scott’s course in socialist literature and Lawrence Kuhar’s seminar on Thomas Pynchon, the wildly experimental novelist. “They gave me more confidence to question the status quo,” she says, “to make plenty of mistakes and learn and be true to who I am, even if I was laughed at a bunch of times.”

 

Henry first job was at Geisinger Health System in Wilkes-Barre, where he eventually became marketing coordinator. Tammy first worked at Deemer’s, a lively, funny office-supply company in Kingston she likens to the paper company of “The Office,” the hit sitcom set in Scranton. In 2000 she began selling custom storage/shelving units for a firm in Manhattan. Henry joined her in 2003 after staying home to tend their daughter, Nina, now 14.

In 2008 the Biscos found the key to their business future in an unusually flexible system of durable aluminum shelves. Attending a trade show in Chicago, they met designer M.M. (Peggy) Reynolds, owner of 21C Systems. The three quickly became partners.

Their success convinced the Biscos to launch their business. The couple took a leap of faith by giving their company a rather radical name, one perhaps better suited to a hip advertising firm run by turbo-charged women. MadGirl refers to their New Jersey town of Madison; it also refers to Tammy’s high-wattage intensity. “I’ve been told I can be a little insane sometimes,” she says. “We refer to that as passion in our house.”

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Colorful acoustical wall panels and shelving in New York University’s Kimball Hall were supplied by MadGirl Designs. Photo by Graf and Lewent Architects LLP

Team Bisco opened their shop in 2015 with a bumper-sticker invitation: “What can MadGirl do for you?” During the renovation of the eight floors of New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, the answer to that question included library book shelves adjusted for adult and child heights and book shelves placed floor to ceiling by a wall in a glass-box office. The dramatic interior/exterior effect was made possible by Reynolds’ new off-wall-mounted system.

 

The Biscos admit they’re not flashy designers. They favor crisp, cool, gently industrial combinations of white laminate desks and burnt-orange acoustical panels, stainless-steel table legs and butcher-block tops.  “We tend to be minimalist,” says Henry. “We’re of the less-is-more school.” Adds Tammy: “The spaces are small, so you have to be practical and concise. Concise and pragmatic–that’s me.”

Still, they can be splashy. They spiced up the headquarters of a body-care products company with rows of strikingly colored, slightly sculptural lockers that elevate storage from mundane to fun. They jazzed up a bar with Plexiglas shelves that, lit from behind by colored lamps, appear to be long, rectangular bottles filled with frosty, fizzy drinks.

Reynolds insists the Biscos have the right blend of right brain and left brain. “Henry is a tremendous manager; he makes sure the products work and jobs are finished on time. Tammy is extremely creative; she also has a great business mind. They have worked their tails off for us; they’re the reason, quite honestly, that my company exists. They’ve taken us a long way and I expect they’ll take us to the next level.”

For the Biscos, the next level means outfitting fitness centers and hotels. In the meantime, they’re proud that their ambition has rubbed off on their daughter, who last year began commuting three hours a day from Madison to a private high school in Manhattan. They’re happy that Nina wants to be an entrepreneur; perhaps one day she’ll be a MadGirl, too.

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