We had the good fortune of connecting with Justin McKay and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Justin, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I love to tell this story because I absolutely get a kick out of seeing how obvious it is that I am who I am today. I grew up with a single mother and most of the time it was just her and I. And we moved a LOT. We were renters and didn’t have much money. It happens. Like many in similar situations (or even not), we loved going to look at model homes on the weekends together. We would walk through and pretend this was the house we were going to move into next and discuss: where we would place furniture, which room would belong to who, what we would have done differently or change and how we would make it OUR home. And each time we actually moved, we kind of did the same. It was always a new, fresh canvas in which to play with and I absolutely loved this “hobby” as it was something we did together, shared an excitement for and I became better and better at. Soon enough, my mom was asking me for advice on what to do (and still does today). I know that moving is not something most people would call “fun” or “exciting” but, I actually do! To each their own, eh? And thankfully! Now that doesn’t mean I still want to move every year, but with my business, I get to live vicariously through my clients. I am not actually, physically helping them move – that part isn’t my passion – but helping them plan, design, decorate and organize in order to help them make their space THEIR home. That’s my passion. And I guess you could say my life’s work?
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I set out to create my business as an “Interior Designer”, which most have an understanding from either first-hand experience, maybe second-hand hearing from friends or family, or from TV and film which I always hear that most people think it is a luxury service and not very attainable for the average person. Well, I didn’t and don’t want to fit that mold, I want to break it. I like being different. I went to school and studied Interior Design and most of the others I knew were aiming to join a big firm and design luxury hotels or homes. Not me. At the time, I was actually trying to propel myself in the Corporate Retail Visual world, designing stores and coming up with seasonal displays and merchandising strategies. It was somewhat equilateral to my passions and skills, but something was missing. After nearly 25 years working for big corporate, I was just done. I felt overworked, disconnected and unhappy. I wasn’t really making a difference for anyone (other than their short shopping experience) and I felt like all of the energy I was putting into my work was rather…petty. An amazing, intricate display that took me 60 hours to create just for most viewers’ 5-second attention span. But I grew a lot. And many other’s around me recognized my passion, skill and talents and kept asking me “Can you come and do my house?” or “Can I hire you?” and I always (exhaustedly) brushed the idea off. But you know what happens when something is suggested to you enough? Yup, that’s exactly what I did. I started taking those requests, and putting myself out there to get more of them and it worked! Now I am putting all of my passion, talent and skill into doing it for myself – but actually for you! And I don’t ever want to go back or do differently.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
So a similar scenario actually occurred earlier this year just before quarantine started where an old friend I have known for almost 30 years came to visit us here from Colorado. He had not spent much time in Phoenix before or seen much so we wanted to share our favorite spots and activities with him. Unfortunately we didn’t get to go everywhere we wanted, but we made do with what we had access to. First, I had to show him around our neighborhood in South Phoenix near South Mountain, an area that most wouldn’t necessarily brag about but we love and are proud to see the growth in. Many we meet put down this area of town as there are a lot of old businesses and homes, but we see that as history and opportunity for many with growth and increased property values. I mean, look at areas like Arcadia that are very similar yet boast some of the hottest property values. We then went for a drive up to South Mountain’s lookouts (which we had actually never done before) to show him the actual WHOLE of the city. I explained and showed him how cool it is that we have these inner-city high mountains here that we can get up tot he top of and see the city from different directions. We explained how late winter/early spring here is the best time to take advantage of outdoor activities and we were excited to show him Tempe Town Lake and Beach Park where we love to attend events and charity walks and even just hang out. We parked at a Park-and-ride, showed him the lightrail and stopped off at Mill where we walked to the Beach Park and found some Bird scooters. None of us had ever tried them and we thought this was the perfect opportunity and rode them all around the lake and park. Appropriately, right after we decided to go and sit on the patio and eat at Pedal Haus – so delicious and the patio is just the perfect spot to cool off and have some snacks and beers. That may be one of my favorite things about Phoenix, are all of the AMAZING local restaurants who especially know the value of a great patio atmosphere. During the trip, we also had to take him to our other favorites like Hula’s – one of our all-time top favorites in Phoenix – he loved it! Also, our own neighborhood gem which recently made Yelp’s top 100 best restaurants in the US coming in at at #3, “Cocina Madrigal” because Chef Madrigal KNOWS flavors and omg, the tacos are delish. We really wanted to take him to our other favorites, “Bitter & Twisted” downtown for some amazing cocktails and asian-fusion food as well as “Salty Sow” which we have never eaten anything there which we didn’t just stop and savor. It’s hard sometimes to find something that everyone wants to do, or at least to come up with a decision right? So, as the driver, I decided we would run a couple of errands and just show some sites that way. I had to make a stop over at one of my favorite, local home stores, “Twigs & Twine” in the Melrose District to drop of my order for a long awaited purchase of a custom bar for our house made and designed entirely by their sister business “Draftwood Design” – I was so excited. My friend was too as he saw lots of decor he loved, but as he flew with one carry on, he decided on a small vintage figurine as his Phoenix souvenir. We then checked out a few of the other nearby vintage shops because, that’s ALWAYS fun. Then we headed over to Old Town Scottsdale as I needed to get a gift at the “The Merchantile” from “Andy Vine Market” (I love their little square handmade wooden signs with various designs, they make great gifts). So I got to show my friend some of the work from local artists and artisans too and then around this very interesting part of town which seems like an “Old Town” during the day, but explained that it did a 180 on weekend nights and was an infamous entertainment district. Not our bag, but plenty of others love it. Give us a neighborhood patio bar like “Bar 1” or “Anvil” and we are happy. We didn’t get to show him everything we wanted to, but I think he got to experience a variety of the places we love to frequent. Now, I just need to draw out a plan of the others for his next visit!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
After just recently hitting 8 years together, I want to give a shout-out to my best friend and biggest fan – my fiancee Zach Meyer. Throughout our relationship, there have been so many different ups-and-downs and lefts-and-rights, changes in our paths individually and together – sometimes it feels like 20 years have gone by. But it still feels the same between as it did back in year one and there’s no one else I would want to be on this journey with. I just want to thank Zach, again and again, for giving me the support, encouragement and love that he has especially during the time where we made the decision together for me to quit my corporate career and go out on my own. Something I had been wanting to do for years but didn’t know when or how to. I couldn’t have done that without his support and belief in me, and his continuance throughout this tough time. And it just fills my courage-cup up when I see how excited he gets about something I am working on or have created. Zach, you are simply the best! I love you, mwah!
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