What are some of your early influences that eventually let you to interior design? As a child, did you naturally, always observe objects and space?
My childhood home was a Bed and Breakfast. I can recall seeing how nice the rooms were put together and the small things my Mom would do to make the space inviting. It wasnʼt until later in life that I realized my mother’s talent for aesthetic taste. She even put up all the wallpaper herself. She had and still has an incredible work ethic and I would like to think that I do too. She takes the time to do things properly, and needless to say that is a critical aspect for any business to be successful. The customer care that she always prioritized is something I will never forget.
My father was an artist after retiring as a school teacher and was a huge influence for my creativity. He would let us use his oil paints and paint whatever we wanted on canvases that spanned eight-foot lengths. I loved drawing and perspective drawing came easy for me. I still have a map of our childhood house for a scavenger hunt I was planning at the age of nine or ten. It was a true floor plan of my house on graph paper.
If you could live anywhere – in any home, real or imagined – where would that be? Can you describe it for us?
Oh fun! My dream home would be somewhere tropical near the ocean with a consistent daytime temperature of around 28 degrees. It would have a sunny inner courtyard separating the bedrooms, guest wing and living room/kitchen/dining. South facing with plenty of openings to allow for a refreshing cross breeze. Having a fruit and vegetable garden would be important to us. The interior would be mostly wood, some concrete and glass. A nice fusion of traditional Japanese home and Frank Lloyd Wright.
What do your kids teach you about creativity and design?
More than I ever imagined! First and foremost, their actions remind me to let that creativity flow. At home we have all the paper, craft supplies and colouring materials easily accessible and they are free to draw or colour almost whenever they want. It is the most incredible thing to see how they interpret experiences or stories on paper without a single word. Also, having children around continues to bring many design elements to my attention.
What is the most important part of an initial client meeting?
I would say that right from get-go the conversation has to flow as this is a preface to the entire job. If there is good communication, then all the critical information comes together. Ultimately, I need to know who my client is – what they like, what they do, what makes them happy, who is in their lives, what are their habits and hobbies. It is fascinating to meet new people.
If you had to choose – beauty or function? Why?
If you asked me when I was in the 20ʼs I would have had a hard time between the two. But now as a mother of two and nearly a decade of working in the interior design world I am all for function. In my opinion, if something functions well, it triggers far more positive emotions and provides a platform for creating great memories.
Thereʼs pressure on most businesses to engage on social media, especially now. How do you feel about that?
I have to be honest itʼs a hard road for me to navigate, the biggest challenge is the time commitment. I am not overly tech-savvy, nor do I have the time to keep checking my phone. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have felt a shift, for example, I received more inquiries than normal through my website. But I am not convinced that this is something that I have to focus on to keep me in business.
How did you know it was time to take the leap from employee to owner? How did it feel leading up to that decision and how does it feel now?
The thought brewed for quite some time and fear of the unknown was always there, but eventually, my gut instinct was overwhelming and I knew I had to make that leap. I was fortunate to have the support and encouragement of my previous employer, colleagues, and family. My husband Adam was my biggest supporter through it all. The first year in business I defined the expression “a chicken with its head cut off”. I somehow had seven projects on the go at the same time, running my business out of our basement suite with a four-year-old son. I remember working ridiculous hours and barely finding time to eat. Adam was my rock at these times, he would make sure I was eating well and leave me snacks on my desk. Now, I look back at the big jump I made and all I can do is smile at the journey it has been.
What would people find most surprising about you?
My undergraduate degree was in geography, but I think I could count on one hand the number of times I have looked at a map since. I panic in tight spaces – I look forward to exiting the plane!
What is the most recent thing you experienced that deeply inspired you or changed your outlook?
A couple years ago when my daughter was 1.5 years old, we decided to pack only a backpack each and travel to Thailand to stay with family. It was a humbling experience meeting people who lived a simple life yet were so content and happy. It inspired me to live my life in the moment and seek joy each day.
On the flip side, during the Christmas break of 2019, I was presented with some health challenges that forced me to slow down and put things in perspective. After several scans and test results, it came down to one thing – I had to slow down before my body forced me to. After experiencing this, I decided to make some changes in the structure of my business. It would be safe to say that 2020 has brought on a new normal for Mari Kushino Design.
Do you think the last few months of social distancing will have a lasting impact on your sense of home?
Absolutely. With the extra time at home it gave me a chance to see a bit more deeply into the functionality of our space, our kids are three and nine, so their needs are changing. We are realizing what is truly important to us, and putting more thought and effort into making it efficient and aesthetically pleasing. I have always wanted to make sure that my home has a level of comfort. It warms my heart when the kids donʼt want to go anywhere some days, content to just stay home.
What books or podcasts are you enjoying at the moment?
During COVID-19 I found solace in listening to several podcasts that pertained to the business side of interior design. I wanted to make sure I kept developing my business in the right direction. The only books I seem to be reading are classic princess stories as we wind down our daughter at night.
Are you right where you want to be or is something different on the horizon for you?
At this moment in time, yes I am where I want to be. I am lucky that I can say I feel passionate about what I do, but as my business continues to evolve I look forward to embracing new opportunities to keep things fresh and exciting – life is too short to miss out on what could have been!