Ami McKay, From Single Mom to Award-Winning Interior Designer and Entrepreneur

Meet Ami McKay of Pure Design, Inc., a philanthropic, award-winning interior designer who triumphed over initial career challenges as a single mother.

Ami holds the esteemed distinction of being recognized as one of “Canada’s Top Five Interior Designers” by Chatelaine Magazine and is further acknowledged as one of the “Top 5 Designers to Watch” by Rue Magazine. Ami has an eagerly anticipated home design pilot with the Magnolia Network, released on Saturday, December 2, 2023 called ‘Vancouver Reno‘. It is now available for streaming on Philo and discovery+ in Canada. In the U.S. it is available for streaming on MAX.  

Having triumphed over initial career challenges as a single mother, she aspires to inspire women, affirming that they can indeed excel as respected professionals while embracing motherhood.

Throughout life’s tumultuous chapters, Ami has emerged as a resilient advocate specifically in giving back to women, as when she was in her 20s carrying her newborn around in a sling, “People would look at me with my baby and think I wasn’t a serious designer, I felt that judgment when I would walk into showrooms. And here I am all these years later—that’s just life I guess.”  

Find out more about Ami’s story and what’s next in her interview with She Owns It below! 

Can you start by introducing yourself and telling us in your words, about your inspiring story? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today.

My name is Ami McKay and my interior design company is PURE Design in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. My artistic foundation is lifelong and deeply rooted in curiosity, experimentation, and drama. In my early life, I found myself in theatre, encompassing costume design, set design, floral design, production design, and scene painting. I took design classes at Humber College in Ontario and later found myself in the world of “natural events” in Banff, where I created grand floral compositions and also learned the art of sign painting. As I learned how to make spaces beautiful, I evolved to interior design as my chosen canvas, working with form, scale, color, shape, and texture.

What made you decide to go into business for yourself?

I have always been an entrepreneur so it was natural for me. My Mum and Dad had a small newspaper I always saw them working for themselves, and I heard it all around the dinner table. I learned early how a small business runs and how to work for myself. I started working on the side as a young person doing florals for weddings, and that set me on my path of working for myself.

When did you know it was time to become a full-time entrepreneur?

It happened accidentally, my baby was 4 weeks old and my friend asked me if I would help her friend’s parents design their home and project manage it too, so I jumped in! I created the most healthy and sustainable home possible at the time. It was a huge job with so much research including Tatami doors (I even went to the Japanese consulate to ask for a list of Japanese contractors) but I loved it and this is how I knew I knew it was for me! It took two years but it was perfect, and I took my baby everywhere with me too.

What are 3 websites or podcasts you can’t imagine your day without?

Design Collective and Business of Design are podcasts I listen to. I mostly listen to audiobooks – presently I am in the 17th century! I also listen to educational content.

What are your top 3 mobile apps that help you stay organized and on top of your game?

Planoly (I’m a little bit addicted), IG – I love making reels, and of course my banking apps hah

How do you use social media in your business?

I use IG every day! I enjoy it, I love storytelling so a photo or a video is a good way to share and also, I love being inspired by other incredible designers and makers. On our IG, we share behind the scenes and my love for life and adventure.

What social media platform is the best for business growth and why?

IG, I want people to see the real me, who I am, and our work portfolio.

How did you market your business when it was brand new?

Well that was 23 years ago, I did a lot of free work, so it was very much word of mouth!

We all face challenges, but looking back, what have been some of the biggest challenges and pitfalls you’ve had to navigate?

In the 2010 Recession, I had to close down my sustainable furnishings line PURE. It was terrible. It was very personal, as though I was giving up on my dream and myself. I couldn’t alter or change reality as much as I tried. All 12 boutiques that carried my line in North America went out of business, including the 3rd generation manufacturer in North Carolina that made my furniture. I had no more business and I was crushed.

The very same year I left my marriage, my mom passed away, and I lost my business, my home, and my health. I wanted to crawl under a rock. It was so much to process as a single mother with 2 little ones and no money.

Can you share some of the most important lessons you’ve learned from your successes and failures in business?

I wish I could have seen 14 amazing years into the future to see how well my life would turn out! I took so many risks. I put my emotional and mental health at the forefront in 2010, I left all the “security of a marriage”, to help my future self and my boys. I certainly did not take care of my financial health. I lost everything, though that can be replaced.

My joy is the only thing I can truly control, and I’ve worked on giving myself permission to live my best life ever since. I can honestly say 2023 was the most amazing year of my life! (So far! 😉 )

What are the three most important habits to be a successful entrepreneur?

  1. Let go of unhealthy relationships at work and in personal life, and surround yourself with only the most supportive and beautiful humans.
  2. Keep dreaming ridiculously big! So big that you shock yourself and have a little chuckle. Then process it, and believe it’s possible!
  3. Take risks. You can’t get to where you want to go if you don’t take some leaps of faith. And if you fail, it’s the endless skills you learn from it. You learn you won’t perish, you learn you can do it all again, and you are stronger than you look or think.

What is a typical day like for you?

I wake up, I have my celery juice that Don makes and I bring my dad his breakfast. I then start work immediately by diving into my emails, and then I head to my PURE Design Studio and Shoppe. I take calls once I’m in my car, followed by meetings with the team and clients. I like to go for lunch with my team, and I love my days because every day is different. We have photoshoots and installs, and site visits. I drop off and pick up my dad from Daddy daycare, and then Don makes dinner. I have a bath and we eat by the fireplace and play backgammon. Finally, I crawl into bed. Mornings and evenings are the same but the middle is always different!

How do you prioritize self-care and well-being while managing the demands of your business?

It starts with a daily long bath before bed, and sleep is key for health and mindfulness, and for me to be able to handle what life throws my way.

I go for biweekly massages and monthly floats which I love, as this self-care time is my gift to myself. I savor all these experiences, and I love this quiet time alone to think of all the wonderful experiences and people in my life, it’s part of my daily gratitude practice.

How do you boost your self-esteem in moments of doubt?

As I’m maturing, I am much better at letting go of emotions that don’t serve me. Years of practice…

What advice would you give your younger self when starting this journey?

You are doing a good job kid! The road isn’t always easy, though the good times outweigh the bad, and follow your gut! Trust your instincts with people when they show you who they are, and let go of people and situations that are too hard. Life is for living and finding joy as much as humanly possible. Keep adventuring and smiling from the inside out!

What advice would you give to a new business owner?

Get a mentor. Release your fears. Hard to rise high with one foot on the break.

What would you consider your biggest accomplishment and why?

My ability to live in the moment and find and feel joy in my deepest self. I honestly couldn’t be prouder of myself for permitting myself to seek out joy for the rest of my life.

What initiatives or actions do you believe are crucial for fostering a more supportive and inclusive business environment for women?

I give them the opportunity to choose a work style that works best for them. One works mostly from home as she cares for wee one, and some come into the office early so they end their day on their terms. Unlimited holiday, as I feel it’s imperative to travel and take breaks as you need and want.

What challenges have you faced in the workplace, especially your experience in male-dominated environments?

I’ve created a very warm and safe environment at PURE for all employees. Regardless of gender.

Which female leader do you admire, and why?

Any female who leads with compassion and helps those who rise with her is a hero in my books!

How do you set your business apart from others in your industry?

People first. Clients, team, and trades. We care that the result is always a win/win situation for all. Of course,f fearless creativity is paramount, and my multiple creative inspirational global trips a year feed and inspire me to do and be more in my field.

Do you have a favorite quote or motto that inspires you?

“If you can dream it, you can do it!” This has been my personal jet fuel since I was 16 years old.

Want more inspiring interviews?

Meet the Founder: Jenny Nuccio of Imani Collective. Read a Q&A with Entrepreneur Melissa Horvath of Sweet Water Decor or our Interview With Executive Coach Tania Friedlander. Get inspired by Entrepreneur Deanna Slamans who made over $10 million last year selling on Amazon or Brand Strategist Jaci Russo of brandRusso, Making a Meaningful Difference Both Professionally and Personally. All of these and more are part of our interview series spotlighting successful women in business.

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