June 10, 2022
KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A new business has sprouted up in downtown Kalamazoo, and a Western Michigan University student helped to cultivate its aesthetic.
"We want people to come in and feel peaceful and take a moment to breathe and relax, and to just really… feel warm and cozy," says Dianna Nance, owner of the new boutique home store MJ Home—sister store to Mason Jar Plant Shop. She tapped Matt Collins, a first-year interior design student, to help her make that vision a reality.
The seeds of the partnership were planted on social media. Collins worked in a restaurant next door to the plant shop and would often wander over on his breaks.
"It was my little escape to go in there and be surrounded by all the plants," he says. One day he bought a plant and posted a picture of it on Instagram. "Dianna noticed it and said, 'I really like your living space, your style, how you stage things. I'm looking to open up a furniture and home decor shop, and I noticed you're an interior design student. I was wondering if you could help me design a concept for it.'"
Collins cracked open his textbooks and got to work, inspired by bohemian style. He also tapped into some of his connections from class and contacted two designers in Sweden to go over his ideas. Everything from color schemes to customer circulation and customer movement played a part in his design.
"He's brought a lot to the store," says Nance. "He's been great to work with, and he actually helped from the beginning with installing flooring and painting, all of that."
Collins had the chance to see his work pay off at the shop's grand opening June 1.
"When I see the reactions and how people interact with the space, something I created and helped create as a team, I love that. I feed off of that."
Nance even gave Collins space around the shop to show off his design sketches during Art Hop, a monthly event where downtown businesses display local artwork.
"I think (Western's program) is amazing, and I'm hopeful that this really is beneficial to not only him but the whole organization," Nance says. "I was in health care for 25 years, and I would hire people and say, 'I want you to build your resume here. I want you to do what it's going to take to get you to that next level. I hope that this is something that helps him along that journey and maybe will help others as well."
DESIGNING A FULFILLING FUTURE
Collins is a creative at heart.
"Growing up, interior design is something I was always involved in. In high school I would doodle in my notebook floor plans for my dream house, and I didn't know at the time that was a schematic design and part of the design process," he says. "My brother and my dad are very hands-on, mechanically and building. I was always in the background observing."
He wasn't sure how that passion might translate into a career, however, and initially enrolled at Western as an education major. It was a logical fit—Collins had done some substitute teaching—but as he took classes, he still felt something was missing. A conversation with Dr. Suzan Smith-Ayers, chair of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, illuminated a new path forward.
"We were talking about commitments in class, and it didn't seem fair to my future students that I'm not 100% into it," Collins says. Smith-Ayers mentioned the interior design program, which was also part of her department. "I always had that 'what if.' What if I never pursued (this passion)? And I decided to take a leap of faith, saying, 'I've got to do this.' And I have not looked back since. It never feels like a chore to study or anything. I would do it all day long if I could. I just love it."
The opportunity to design for MJ Home has only solidified his chosen path.
"To be in my first year in a design program and then have this project, it really did open my eyes. These are real experiences, real opportunities that are going to have a tremendous impact when it comes time to find career options," says Collins.
"I'm so appreciative of my professors—Mary Beth Janssen, Kim Buchholz, Dr. Ayers—for being extremely supportive, as well as some of the talented students in the design program who I've gotten to know. They all add to this journey of growth with my career path and education. And I'm especially appreciative of Dianna for allowing me to do this, because it really feels like I can feel, think and see clearly what's ahead."
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