Ami McKay Of PURE Design On How To Succeed By Doing Things Differently

An Interview With Chad Silverstein

Biophilic design — A design concept focusing on connecting occupants with nature in their built environment. Plants and natural daylight are a great way to increase occupant well-being and regulate circadian rhythms. Plants also help to cleanse the air, absorb EMF’s and create a healthy and fresh environment.

In the world of business and within every industry, there are forward-thinking leaders who go against the status quo and find success. Their courage to take risks, embrace innovation, and inspire collaboration separates them from the competition. Until 2002, Apple’s famous slogan was “Think Different”. This attitude likely helped them become one of the most successful organizations in history. This interview series aims to showcase visionary leaders and their “status quo-breaking” approach to doing business. As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ami McKay. Ami is excited to share that she has a new home design pilot with the Magnolia network, called Vancouver Reno.

Ami McKay is the founder and Creative Director of PURE Design Inc, which offers residential/ commercial interior design services and construction management, both focusing on healthy sustainable design and building practices. Ami also owns PURE Shoppe, a beautiful boutique filled with ethically produced items carefully curated for the home, in Ami’s signature style of contemporary warmth. Ami is on a mission to infuse every space she designs for her clients with joy and harmony. Her work has garnered extensive media coverage with numerous features in prominent publications such as Architectural Digest, Time Magazine, Martha Stewart, House & Home, Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, Western Living, Grey Magazine, Style at Home, The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun, among others. In 2022, Ami secured the prestigious North American award for small traditional kitchen design, from the NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association). Additionally, Ami was chosen for House & Home’s esteemed list of top designers in Canada.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been artistic and creative. I wanted to be a visual artist, (I lived in the art room in high school), and my school counselor suggested Interior Design. I lived in a small town outside Niagara Falls, Ontario. I first went to Humber College at 18 for interior design and later moved out West.

In high school, I worked as a floral designer and sign painter, later at UBC my focus was very theatrical, including costume design, set design, scene painting and production design. I worked in events in Banff, creating huge event installations with floral and nature.

My journey has been a windy road and each experience brought me to where I am now with interior design as my chosen canvas, working with textiles, form, scale, color and drama.

It wasn’t always easy, but I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t go through hard things.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

A funny story is when Oprah Magazine contacted me to feature my healthy and sustainable PURE furniture line in her ‘O Magazine’ years ago. After I got off the call, I couldn’t think straight, I ended up in the shower where I shaved one leg and conditioned my hair twice without washing, I was in a daze of disbelief and joy!

It has been said that sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about a mistake you made when you were first starting and a lesson you learned from that?

The environment and healthy surroundings were always so important to me from a young age. Launching my PURE sustainable furniture line was a huge endeavor and hard life lesson. I jumped right into this project with both feet without knowing a thing about what I was doing. I focused on building this business because I was determined to create gorgeous sustainable furniture that didn’t fit our homes, and I did!

I had it shipped all over North America, but I didn’t know about breakage, insurance and loss. I had my Interior Design company already, and now a furniture company! It was a lot to learn, and I am so glad I did it, even though it shut down a few years later because of the economic collapse of 2010. All of the stores that carried my furniture went out of business, as did the 3rd generation manufacturer.

I am so very grateful for this experience because of the skills that I am now using to embark on new products and furniture development. I tried something I was so passionate about — healthy beautiful furniture, and now I have age, wisdom, experience and better timing. I also learned about failure, you can fail and still glean so much wisdom and strength. It teaches you how to pivot and do it differently next time. And failure really hurts, though I’m a wiser and more astute businesswoman now.

Being an artist, your first painting isn’t a masterpiece. It takes practice…

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you can dream it you can do it”. This has been my motto since I was 17 and it has always been true for me. My life and career are the evidence. I have always dreamt big. And each time I check off another crazy dream/goal, it emboldens me to keep going.

Interestingly, I recently found this from my high school yearbook:

“Ami Scott, 18, is going on to study interior design at Humber College in Toronto. She enjoys art, and ‘the environment and the future’. Her plans include opening an interior design studio, saying ‘All that matters in my life is that I’m happy, this is my biggest inspiration’.”

I’m so proud of young me, she really had her head on straight!

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Number one is my Poppers (my dad). He has always been my biggest cheerleader, still is! He sat beside me while I pulled ‘all-nighters’ with my art project deadlines, staying up all night beside me while I painted and sculpted for my art shows. He was always the words of affirmation guy, telling me how talented and driven I was, and most importantly how much he loves me. We are and always have been each other’s biggest fans.

Another important person who believed in me when I lived in a fire tower for three summers after Banff was my Forestry boss, Bill. He saw this crazy young girl living alone off the grid in her early 20’s, in the middle of the foothills of the Albertan Rocky Mountains. My fire tower was a village of 1, with an outhouse, radios for communication, rainwater collection, and electricity for only two hours a day when the generator was on. I did this for three years (1996–1998) for five months at a time.

Bill was my connection to the outside world. He brought me my mail and signed out every single interior design book from the local library. He was always excited for me to come back from my winters overseas to share my adventures. He got a kick out of me; he encouraged me to keep going and not settle down like other girls my age, no matter what!

And now, I have Don. He came into my life after I lost everything. My business, my mother, my home, my marriage, and my health. He saw me, flaws and all and stood by me as I picked up my pieces. And now together we have built an incredible life together. I still reach big and suggest crazy things, and he’s right here beside me as I attempt more things I’ve never done before. He is my rock and emotional safety net as I continue to walk and dance on high wires.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I am still focusing on creating design that heals. We love working together on all of our client projects, residential and commercial, and now we are at a point where we are fortunate to be able to give back. That is what this is all for, whatever we do, we can make a difference in people’s lives. Whether I am working with a client or a philanthropic partner, I always want to create safe, healthy and happy spaces.

I believe we all can make a difference in whichever vocation we are in. Whether you are a chef, a construction worker, a business leader, a childcare worker, a storyteller…we all can use our talents and abilities to help support each other. Even if it is by sharing simple words of kindness and support. It’s very enjoyable to make others feel good about themselves.

My dad has always said, “If you think something nice about someone, tell them! Otherwise, it’s like buying them a gift and never giving it to them!”

What are your “Five Things You Should Do To Design Office Spaces That People Love To Work In” and why?

  • Biophilic design — A design concept focusing on connecting occupants with nature in their built environment. Plants and natural daylight are a great way to increase occupant well-being and regulate circadian rhythms. Plants also help to cleanse the air, absorb EMF’s and create a healthy and fresh environment.
  • Colour Theory — When designing an office environment, the use of color is essential in setting the overall tone of the space. Selecting energizing colors for furnishings and finishes that are warm and inviting helps to motivate and uplift the occupants.
  • Comfy and stylish office chairs — Comfort is key! People spend a huge chunk of time at the office so incorporating comfortable and stylish furniture helps promote their overall health and well-being. Think of making the space more than just an office. Add incredible art, furniture and treasures. Your office is your brand! It reflects YOU!
  • Breakout Zones — Having a variety of collaborative areas for team brainstorming, or quiet breakout zones for private calls is essential for the diverse tasks taking place in today’s modern workplaces. Add sofas and sitting areas throughout to gather and inspire bonding and fruitful conversation.
  • Good lighting — Nobody wants a headache from cold overhead lighting! Instead, we opt for layered ambient and task lighting in the 3000k-3500k temperature range. Add sconces, table lamps, floor lamps…layers and layers of gorgeous and interesting lighting!

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 😊

I want to make a difference. There is soooo much that I hope to accomplish with the rest of my life. I would first like to draw attention to @MurphsLife Foundation on IG. This is what I’ve always wanted to do since living in India. He is an incredible man who shines a light on people who need love, acceptance and support, and he makes great change happen for many people. Just take a look at his IG, He inspires me…

I would love to eradicate Leprosy. The solution is easy-ish, we just need money to purchase and distribute the medication to anyone in need. These small pills would end future generational suffering.

Don and I talk about how to help all the time. I love his idea of having mobile units for showers in Vancouver. The idea is to plug it into a fire hydrant so you can have on-demand showers for people in need. We also need more shelters in Vancouver, designed with dignity for everyone. Self-sustainable homes and pre-fab shelters are other options for accessible housing.

I would also really love to help marginalized women in poverty-stricken parts of the world, whether it’s micro-financing, or purchasing their goods and selling them in my PURE Shoppe.

See, soooo much to do!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them :-)

It will always be Oprah for me. As a young one, I would come home and watch her every day at 4 p.m. I didn’t have any women like her in my life. She was my inspiration and taught me so many life skills that I probably couldn’t even tell you what they are as they are so ingrained into who I am.

I found comfort in her wisdom, intelligence, and highly supportive nature. I am so grateful that she influenced self-love and acceptance in me (and millions of others), and here I am. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love my life! I used to tell my parents that I would be on Oprah one day, and instead my dream came true when she featured my furniture in her “O” Magazine. See, dreams do come true.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My website and my social media: @puredesigninc

Thank you so much for sharing all of these insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

About the Interviewer: Chad Silverstein is an accomplished entrepreneur and visionary leader. He started his first company, Choice Recovery, Inc., while attending Ohio State University and grew it to become an industry outlier before selling the business after 25 successful years. With the launch of his second venture, [re]start, a career development platform, Chad aimed to help people find meaningful career opportunities. Under his leadership, his team was recognized as a “Top Workplace” award winner for over a decade, twice being ranked the #1 small and medium-sized business to work for in Central Ohio. Chad sold [re]start in 2023, enabling him to focus on building an online community of high-performing leaders and continuing to make a positive impact in people’s lives.