AMY TAHERE REACHED OUT WITH A SUBMISSION OF images of her gorgeous space, for our Creative Spaces section. There was something in her email that told me she had not only a bigger story to tell, but one that I know would inspire many (including me). I have read Amy’s interview a few times, and it is written so honestly, anyone who has their own business, and especially anyone who is running their own business while also holding down another full time job, will resonate with Amy’s story. I would read this interview with a pen & paper at the ready, because there are so many words of wisdom shared on life & business, and especially designing the life you love (Lifestyle Architecture’ As Amy beautifully describes it), it is hard to believe she is only 26 years old. Here is Amy’s story in her own words;
NAME: Amy Tahere
COMPANY: MAHANA DESIGN
TITLE(S): Founder + Interior Designer
WEBSITE: Coming Soon
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Focused, creative, calm, inspired and thankful.
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today? I was taught from a very young age that if you want something, you have to go out and do it yourself. My family is my drive for success, and I believe our pure passions can be found from happiness in our childhood. When I was about 8 years old, my Nan sold her little white weatherboard house that I had spent a lot of time growing up in. I loved the house for the memories it held. When I heard that she was selling, I secretly drew a floor plan and noted all the finishes to make sure I could remember every detail. The house was sold and was knocked down and replaced with a brick mansion, from property boundary to property boundary – nothing like the humble home that once sat pretty on the land, surrounded by a garden with a beautiful azalea lined driveway. My sketch has been my point of reference to appreciate humble beginnings.
I guess that’s where it started for me. My attention to detail was allowing me to remember something I loved, and drawing brought my memories back to reality. That’s where designing gets really exciting, when you pull from resources stored in your memory and combine that with new ideas.
I finished school at Corrimal High School where I managed to get the mark I needed to go to University. I studied for the next five years in design related fields, commuting to Sydney from Wollongong. I juggled part time work in retail, both in Wollongong and Sydney while I studied. When I graduated from CATC, The Rocks I was recommended by my teacher to an interior design firm in Redfern where I landed my first job as a junior interior designer. I began to learn the ropes of the interior design world and furniture manufacturing and worked mainly on commercial and hospitality projects. I worked here for a couple of years and learnt from the very talented senior designer Joanne Yeomens. At this point in my life I really wanted to have more time for my family and my partner, and commuting to Sydney certainly dampened my happiness and love for design. I wanted more than just a job, I wanted a lifestyle where I could design and not spend a large part of my day commuting on a train.
I left my job in Sydney and embarked on a new journey to find a local job. It wasn’t easy and I did not find fulltime work for a few months. In between looking for fulltime work I worked with my brother at the TAFE bookstore and also became a traffic controller doing many long night shifts. At this stage I thought I had made a big mistake by leaving my job in Sydney. There were no local interior design jobs and all the other jobs I was interested in required qualifications in areas I had no experience. I thought all my study and years of commuting had been a waste because I needed to be re-trained in something else in order to get a job.
In December that year I applied for a job as a Road Designer in Training for Roads and Maritime Services. This career was fulltime coupled with study through University in Civil Engineering and most importantly for me, it was local. I got the job and started in February the following year. I am now in my final year of the program. This job has given me the opportunity to support opening my business and without this job, it would have been impossible for me to embark on my journey of opening my very own design studio. Having a steady job with a guaranteed income took part of the financial stress away.
I had always romanced the idea of my own design studio. I had never actually thought that I could do it all on my own. Many people have ideas and dreams but it takes a whole lot more to make it happen. I knew what I wanted to do, but it was really scary investing in something I only half believed in. I had so many reservations about opening my own design studio which came from self-doubt and fear of failure.
I was married to my High-School sweet heart, but things fell apart for us and we separated. It was a very unsettling time in my life because I had planned this life that had all of a sudden steered in the opposite direction. An empty home brought me sadness… I missed pulling into the driveway and seeing the light on.
I wanted something to focus on... It was during this time I felt like I had nothing to loose by giving myself a chance at this. In time I learnt to love myself and I found my strength because I had to. You learn a lot about yourself, and relationships when you go through tough times. I found out that I am a stronger woman than I thought I was, and this gave me courage to take that step, and start not only my business but start my new lifestyle. Running your own business is living and breathing it. I still work fulltime at RMS while also in my final year completing my associate degree in civil engineering and running my own business. I often get asked how I fit it all in and to be honest I don’t think about it, it just happens. I give my best in each area of work – that’s just how I function. When I am at RMS, I am there 100% fulfilling exactly what I need to. When I am studying my focus is on that. When I am working for my business, my mind, body and soul are present in exactly what I need to do. So that brings me to the crazy lifestyle I lead now where no day is the same. My energy is focused, and my lifestyle has purpose.
Sometimes I feel like I am living some sort of double life. In the beginning I tried to hide that I was working fulltime as well as running my own business, as I thought people would think less of my business because it was not my sole focus. It was becoming too hard trying to keep up with everything. I would start my morning in the studio, then go to my other job, then fit in a client meeting in my lunch break back at the studio (skip my actual lunch) then run back to the office for the afternoon shift, then again return to the studio for a night filled with drawing, accounting, marketing, returning calls, emails etc. One good thing, I learnt how to run elegantly in my heels!
I had to drop the act, and what a relief I did. My clients have been so understanding and even more fascinated with what I do. You always have to be true to yourself and honest. People appreciate that far more then pretending. I now proudly introduce myself to new clients as an Interior Designer that is also working towards being a qualified road designer. I clearly outline the times I can be contacted and the best way for us to communicate.
Life has brought me to where I am now which can be defined in society as a business woman, an employee, a student etc. But I simply look at it as… I am….me, always have been, and always will be.
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is you elevator pitch on what you do? I am a qualified Interior Designer, and Founder of Mahana Design. I provide a personalised design service to help families, business owners and companies create a space designed with purpose. I believe that design has the ability to enrich and change people’s lives and I am proud to be apart of this journey by translating inspiration and ideas into working drawings. Mahana means the light and warmth of the sun and this feeling is created through the simplified process of design and capturing what home means for you. Mahana Design – Lifestyle Architecture.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?) I am doing what I hoped I would be doing, but not what I thought I would be doing (if that makes sense).
10 years ago I had a goal to run my own business however I didn’t know what, where or the big one… how! My dad is a builder and he always told me that the best way to live is by running your own show. My mum and brother also encouraged me to follow my heart. There is freedom, but there is sacrifice in running your own business. It is a romantic idea and years ago I had no idea what I was in for if I actually wanted to pursue it. Through self-doubt I didn’t think I would be able to what I am doing now. Years ago, I believe I just settled for what I had, and accepted that that’s what I would be doing. But as it turns out.. Where you hope you will be one day can actually happen, if you allow yourself to go for it.
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’? I believe success is being in a position to help others. Whether it be financially, emotionally, intellectually or physically. It is being a role model and having values and actions that you can be proud of. I have been able to help people through my work but I always believe in growth. I believe you can have successes and failures all at once and that is okay. It is through failure that drives me to try again and succeed. I could have some amazing feedback from my clients which is success for me because I was able to help, and in that same day I might be struggling to pay the rent. A year, a month, a week or a day could be full of success and failures, but it is about finding that middle ground where happiness is present and you are in a healthy position to be able to offer help to those around you.
What do you still want to achieve (personally & / or professionally) Personally I would love to achieve some more stability. I have been lucky enough to meet a man that has believed in me, more than anyone I know. He is an absolute blessing in my life. I learnt to love myself, and by doing that I have found a partner that shares the same outlook on life. I have had a chaotic few years and I would like to keep a healthy amount of crazy, but also have a base to call home. I want to be present in my life and relationships, and appreciate those people in my life that have been there for me. I would also love to start a family, this is a journey I am very much looking forward to.
Professionally I want to continue having purpose. Mahana means the light and warmth of the sun, and I want to continue living and breathing that. I started my business on my own and there is only so many hours in one day that I am able to give. Providing a service relies on having time and patience especially in design which is such a personal service, because we design spaces that effect the occupants emotional and physical wellbeing. No two people are the same and being able to find what works for each individual takes a high level of care and commitment. I would like to keep providing my service, but also equip people with the right tools and confidence to be able to take on a project themselves. As a business woman you always have ideas ticking in your brain and I have a product that I would like to create that empowers women in the field of design and trades. This will be my next step and I am busily working away behind the scenes to deliver my little idea to the world. I have a strong passion for encouraging and supporting women in non-traditional roles and look forward to taking this passion into my career.
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in? I have studied Architecture, Interior Design, Carpentry, Small Business Management and currently studying Civil Engineering for my Associate Degree. To be honest, I never planned on going to University – at school I did subjects I enjoyed rather than the “Academic” subjects I was supposed to do to get a good mark. My main focus was Visual Arts and Automotive Airbrushing. I think because I selected subjects I enjoyed, I naturally did well at them which resulted in me being accepted into my first university preference.
When I was studying, I was joked about because I seemed to always be doing something different. It did bother me what people thought, but I figured it was my life and I needed to follow what was right for me. Turns out that through all of my experience, studying and change - I can now apply a versatile skill set and a broad perspective to everything I approach. A strong skill set in a specialised area can take you anywhere.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date? Rewarding for me is the little things… When a client texts me with beautiful feedback can make all the struggle worth it. A memorable evening was my opening night at my Studio in Wollongong. I took a moment on that night to look around the room and see so many smiling faces. My friends and family were apart of my celebration and that was such a big reward for me. I had spent a few months working hard in fitting out my studio and did a lot of the work myself. After my day job I would head down to the studio, kick off by business heels, put on my work boots and work until early hours of the morning. It was lucky my dad taught me how to build because I was able to save costs and chipped away at it myself. My partner spent hours helping me too, and we completed this all on our own. So to have my family and friends there on my opening night was an amazing feeling of accomplishment.
Tell us about your workspace (Office / café / couch / aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace? I started my studio space because at that point in my life where I needed somewhere that felt like home. It was important for me to create a space that was all about function and feel. In my profession I work with a lot of colour and pattern, so for my workspace, I needed it to be monochrome so my interior did not influence the project I was working on.
Simple and natural is where I can concentrate and work best and the most important thing for me is natural sunlight and good ventilation. A functional space for me is having the tools I need to do my work readily available so I created a shadow board for my drawing equipment so each item had a place. I made a workbench out of a recycled kitchen island and two desk spaces (One desk for the computer, and the other for my drafting table). With my studio set up I could have a home for my business. I found that a lot of my meetings where onsite, so the dynamic of what I would define as my office became very versatile.
My office is onsite, in cafes and in my now home based studio. I am constantly inspired by the environment around me and I am now starting to make an online presence that is my face for my business. I have clip boards mounted on my wall, with current projects and inspirational images. It is a good way to order my thoughts and keep myself organised.
My field of work is the built environment so I am inspired mostly by venturing out for a walk and taking in my surroundings. I am able to translate that inspiration into my work. I constantly bring myself back to literally the drawing board where I can be in touch with creating, and designing by hand. I often had people stop and watch me through the studio window when I was drawing because people have become accustomed to work behind a computer screen and so they found it fascinating that I was hand sketching. I also love to bring the outdoors in, so I always have a plant or fresh flowers with in sight and smell.
What are some frustrations you have experiences on your career journey? I have found it very frustrating that people find joy in your struggle. Running a business can be extremely difficult and challenging, even on a good day. It is important to surround yourself with people that are genuine and supportive. There are people out there that because of their own failures, wish that upon you. Times can be tough and I find it frustrating that people like to see things fall apart. All I can say is that there are always going to be those people, and it is important to recognise them and understand that they do not need to be apart of your journey. Keep smiling and focus on your own stuff.
As a designer you are providing a service of intellectual property. It is important that you do not let people take advantage of you. Know yourself, and know your worth. It can be very frustrating that people can take so much, but yet give so little – so it is important to protect yourself and your work, I have met so many beautiful people in my career, and unfortunately some not so nice people. My message is to not let those handful of people make you bitter or angry, just learn from that and recognise those qualities in a person so that it does not happen again. Don’t let them change who you are, or change your values. I am a strong believer in Karma, so what you give to the world you will also receive.
When was the last time you where overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work / work load? Time is a major influence on me where I feel overwhelmed with the work load. At times I feel like I have every deadline due at the same time. When I have multiple aspects in my life that are heavy to deal with, this is when I feel like I cannot handle it. If it is only one area that needs help such as work I can focus on that - as long as my relationships, health and financial situation are manageable.
I seem to break down in my personal environment before I do in my work, or perhaps the pressure of my workload makes me overwhelmed and I let my guard down in the area of my life where I feel most comfortable. I take my work problems into my personal life but I don’t let my problems in my personal life come into my work.
I believe my work has been a healthy distraction when I was going through hardship. I had something else to focus on, rather than dwell on my problems. On the date of my finalising my separation, I also had a colour consultation that same morning. My clients would have had no idea what I was going to do later that day – and they did not need to. They had come to me for help, and I was able to be happy and deliver that to them. They would not have known that their presence was a gift to me that day.
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this gotten more or less as you progress in your career? Yes from early beginnings the stresses I have taken on usually come from pressure I had put myself under. There are some circumstances that you have no control over, but there are a lot of situations where you put yourself in. I think it is important to take responsibility for where you are, and try not to take the pressure you put on yourself out on loved ones. Every day you are making decisions. I know that I have been overwhelmed with things, but it is by choice that I have taken on too much. I have lessened the pressure I put on myself as I have progressed in my career, and have learnt to say no. I want to help as many people as I can however I have realised that I cannot do this effectively by putting myself under pressure.
I have to take a step back, breath and also have self-belief that my work is good enough. I am probably my own worst critic and I set high standards for what I deliver. It is only from me making mistakes that I can accept I am only human and reduce the level of pressure I put on myself.
If you are a business owner – and you often can’t just check out / have a week off when you are dealing with personal things – how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough? Being a business owner it is common to feel like there is no break, but I think that is why we all choose to go into business, because you run it how you want to run it. There are definitely commitments that I have gone to on days that I have not felt up to it, but sometimes you just have to dress up, show up and never give up. I have tried to create a career that I do not need a holiday from… I have days where I just want a break from it all. Last year I knew I needed a break, and I booked a trip to my healing place… New Zealand. When you own a business I feel like you cannot fully let go and shut off, however you can distant yourself and allow yourself to heal. It is important that you can do this to keep your sanity and not loose yourself to your work. It may seem impossible even the thought of having a day off, but you will find that this is an absolute necessity for your own wellbeing and success of your business. I intentionally distant myself from my work every now and then, so I do not let personal issues build up to a point where I need excessive time off to rest. A little change everyday I find is better than one big drastic move. I use to feel guilty for taking time away from the studio, but I now know the benefits of allowing myself to enjoy a day off.
Has your career affected your personal life / relationships? If so how? When I first opened my business I honestly did not have a social life or as a matter of fact, a life outside my work. Even when I was studying I did not invest enough time into my relationships with friends and family. Now my relationships are a main priority and I make sure I make every effort to see and enjoy time with family. It has made me cherish and appreciate the time I share now with friends and loved ones. My partner also works a lot of hours but this works for us because when we see each other we appreciate that time. I lost touch with my friends, and they understood because they knew I was working fulltime, studying and running my own business, But I did not want that to be acceptable so I have made the change.
I have gained confidence in my personal life with my achievements in my career, and my family, and partner are proud of what I am doing and I thank them for their support.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How? I spent so many nights alone in my studio until early hours of the morning to complete projects because that was the only available time I had. I use to work Monday to Friday at my day job, and then after that head straight to the studio to work endless hours alone. The studio was in a safe location but there were times that I would leave at 2am and I was scared to walk to my car. It was in those late nights that I would sometimes sit back and ask myself, who am I doing this for? Working for yourself, and by yourself can feel lonely especially when you are trying to solve a problem and you need help and advice. I attended a few local business events and met with some women that were dealing with similar issues to me. I think we are in a hard time with the effects of social media and everyone portrays their success and happiness. I have found that when I talk to other business owners and they let their guard down we can talk about real struggles and help each other. Too often we think that we are the only one with that financial struggle, or the only one that does not want to make confrontational phone call, or deliver a project on time but when you sit down and talk face to face and understand that there are other people dealing with the exact same issues – you manage to help yourself and others. The moment you realise you are not alone is a moment of relief, not in taking comfort that others are struggling, but the fact that you are dealing with issues that are overcome by many on a daily basis. Reading blogs that are real, or meeting with other local business owners can do you the world of good.
One night in particular I had worked all day, worked all night and was too tired to drive home. I was that exhausted, that upset, and felt that alone, I turned out the lights of the studio, and curled up on the floor and slept there. I was lucky I had a cowhide as my rug which I used as a blanket. The next morning I woke up and tip toed to the door and switched on the lights to make it look like I had just arrived for a fresh new day and that is exactly what it was… A fresh new day. Good times come and go just like hard times come and go too.
What causes you anxiety / sleepless nights? Anxiety comes from things that you worry about, for the future. Worrying does not make the problem go away but so often we overthink things which causes unsettling thoughts. Uncertainty is a big thing for me, and not knowing what my next move will be. In my previous relationship I was always about the next thing.. the next holiday, when are we going to get engaged, when are we going to get married, I should be up to this point in my life and would worry if it had not happened in my life yet. Anticipation causes anxiety for me.
I am aware that I do this and have made an effort to change my thought pattern and without totally dismissing the future (because that is important, too) focus on what I can do now. Procrastinating about something is not dealing with the issue. I have lost so many hours worrying about a problem rather than just dealing with it. I have been proactive in change, and have started a meditation course because sleepless nights were becoming all too frequent. This has helped me already even being able to identify what I do and what I think about.
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently? It is a really difficult question to answer, because there are things that have happened to me that I wish didn’t but at the same time, I have grown and learnt so much about myself by going through these problems. A quote that addresses this for me reads;
If I would change anything in my career, it may change where I am at today, and I am happy with where I am and what I have gone through to get me here. The only thing I would have incorporated sooner would be legal contracts that protect intellectual property. I wished I had been wiser with this which would have prevented some situations where my services where taken advantage of.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self? Only a couple of years ago for me however a lot has happened since then. I know I would always listen to my Nans advice… she said when I was going for an interview “go as yourself, and you will be beautiful”. I would embrace this more in everything I do and not be so shy. I would give myself more self-confidence and self-belief that I have gained now.
Who are some women in business you admire & why? I admire the business women that are around me because I see behind the scenes and understand and appreciate the work they put in. My dear friend Elicia Ignjatovic owner of Chedos Restaurant in Coledale, NSW (@chedoscaferestaurant) She is a passionate women that gives her all in everything she does for her business. She is a bright and intelligent woman with an energy that is like no other. I admire her drive and commitment and the role model that she is for her staff.
Melissa Gigliotti owner of Melissa Gigliotti Makeup artistry (@melissagigliottimua) is another passionate and vibrant business woman that I admire for someone following their true passion. She is an extremely talented makeup artist, but above all she has such a warm heart. She changed careers and has a studio set up at home for an amazing personal service and she really goes above and beyond to make sure the experience is perfect. She loves what she does and it is so inspiring to see someone do what they enjoy.
My biggest admiration goes to Samantha Wills – A true inspiration to aspiring business women. An amazing brand and someone that really makes you believe that you too can accomplish what your heart desires on a worldwide platform. Every little detail matters and creating the Samantha Wills Foundation is such an important part of building a supportive women in business community for inspiration & guidance.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with? A smile… The purest form of happiness, and can speak a thousand words. You can come from all walks of life and a smile can make all the difference. The people you surround yourself affect your mood and your outlook on life. I love to be surrounded by laughter, and people that can put problems into perspective. Life is not always sunflowers and daisies, but to have people that are supportive and have a warm heart are the most beautiful people to surround yourself with.
Work life balance… Does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it? I don’t think the two can be separated. It is life, and work is an input that is apart of your life. Instead of making the two defined separately I choose to make everyday a blend of both. I don’t wait for the weekend to stroll by the beach, I park my car near the harbour so I get to enjoy it everyday on my way to the office. It is a healthy thing to enjoy your work as part of your lifestyle. Having my studio in town meant I would never be home. I made the decision to set up a home office so that I could use my time more wisely, and be home more to do things like cooking and hanging my clothes out on the clothes line. In between working I can water the garden and then all of a sudden I don’t feel like I have spent the whole day just working.
This is what I like to call 'lifestyle architecture' – creating your environment to suit your lifestyle, and work out realistically what you would like your lifestyle to be like. Design the life you love.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit? Yes, I have wanted to throw it all in on many occasions. Again when all aspects of my life are out of whack, I feel like I just want to give up my business and focus solely on my day job instead because it is reliable, and I can leave those issues at work rather than deal with issues out of hours. I have to remind myself of why I started, and that I don’t just want to exist and do what I am supposed to be doing. My business gives me purpose, and is my mark on the world. It is my little baby that I love and takes time to grow. My business is a reflection of myself, and I feel if I give that away, I will loose apart of myself. When I get in that quitting mind set I ask myself what part is stressing me and instead of giving it all up, perhaps I just need to change my direction.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do? As an Interior Designer people think it is just like they portray on the renovator TV shows. Styling is completely different, and TV shows can give false content on timeframes and even practicality. When people see something on the TV they expect it to be just as easy as they do on the show. Lead times are a real thing, and so are detailed plans that take time and careful consideration. It is not just selecting colours and making something look pretty. There is so much more that goes into design, building and architecture, and is a profession that is appreciated when people try and do it themselves because they realise just how much effort and consideration goes into it and that so many factors can determine why something should look, feel and work in a way that is functional and practical as well as aesthetically pleasing.
Following the trend on TV shows can be disappointing, and talking to a professional and trusting your designer can make your project work for you and to your budget. Reality TV, is not so reality.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry? A solid education is a good start so you can formulate your style, and approach to projects with knowledge and experience. Don’t get too caught up with what everyone else is doing. It is great to find role models that are in line with the way you think, but also find your calling and deliver a project or product that you truly believe to be a representation of your thoughts. Don’t be too hard on yourself and take negative feedback as a learning. Design is a personal thing, and to please everyone can be difficult. If you get the design principles right and aim at creating a feel rather than a look – your work will speak for itself.
A good portfolio is very advantageous, because it is your visual resume. This speaks volumes about you so make sure it represents what you believe in.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what? I have not had a baby, but I imagine that it is something like childbirth...there are ups and downs, sometimes you get sick and other times it is the most amazing feeling. There is some serious pain and hard work but in the end there is nothing more rewarding or more beautiful than your own creation and as a result you would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be?
In my work and in my life it comes back to that little white weatherboard home, it turns out that it was not the pattern in the carpet, or the orange colour of the kitchen bench, it was the people that walked through the doors and filled the space with light and warmth… My legacy is in Mahana.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important / (why did you want to be involved in this interview)? It is about bringing together a community of women, that share a desire to make their mark on the world. There are so many women in business and we share the same struggle, the same success and the same drive. It is important because we sometimes forget that there are so many people out there that want you to succeed and want you to be happy. It is such a beautiful thing to see a woman in business following their passion and being a role model for others to find inspiration and guidance. It has been my privilege to share my story and highlight that it is not always easy, but it is possible. To take the time to write this has made me realise how far I have come and how grateful I am to be continuing my journey and lifestyle as a business woman. I believe “a flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms” I think this is important to find inspiration and support in fellow women in business and embrace your own journey and focus on what makes you happy.
What are some of your favorite quotes?
“No beauty shines brighter than that of a good heart”
“Never stand begging for that which you have the power to earn”
“She needed a hero, so that is what she became”
“To plant a seed is to believe in tomorrow”