Interior Design Student Helps Outlet Owner Develop New Business | UGM News

Contact: Erin Flynn

Matt Collins, an interior design student from Mendon, Michigan, was the lead designer for the new MJ Home store in downtown Kalamazoo.

KALAMAZOO, Michigan—A new business has sprung up in downtown Kalamazoo, and a Western Michigan University student has helped cultivate its aesthetic.

“We want people to come in and feel at peace and take a moment to breathe and relax, and feel really… warm and comfortable,” says Diane Nance, owner of the new home store MJ Home, sister store to Mason Jar Plant Shop. She tapped matt collinsfirst-year interior design student, to help bring this vision to life.

The seeds of the partnership were sown on social media. Collins worked at a restaurant next to the plant store and often walked around on her breaks.

A display in a furniture store.

Collins designed displays to make shoppers feel at home.

“It was my little escape to go out 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 to me, ‘I really like your living space, your style, the way you stage things. I’m looking to open a furniture and decoration shop, and I noticed you were an interior design student. I was wondering if you could help me design a concept for this.'”

Collins opened his textbooks and got to work, inspired by the bohemian style. He also tapped into some of his class connections and contacted two designers in Sweden to go over his ideas. Everything from color schemes to customer traffic and customer movement played a part in its design.

“He brought a lot to the store,” says Nance. “He was great to work with, and he actually helped from the very beginning with installing flooring and painting, all of that.”

Collins was blessed to see her hard work pay off when the store opened on June 1.

“When I see the reactions and the way people interact with the space, something that I created and helped create as a team, I love it. I feed off of it.”

Nance even gave Collins space around the store to show off his design sketches during Art Hop, a monthly event where downtown businesses showcase local artwork.

Design sketches laid out on a table.

Nance displayed some of Collins’ sketches throughout the store.

“I think (Western’s program) is amazing, and I hope it’s really beneficial not just for him but for the whole organization,” Nance said. “I worked in healthcare for 25 years, and I was hiring people and saying, ‘I want you to build your resume here. higher. I hope it’s something that helps him along this journey and maybe helps others too.”


Collins is a creative at heart.

“Growing up, interior design is something I’ve always been involved in. In high school, I was drawing floor plans for my dream house in my notebook, and I didn’t know at the time. that it was a schematic design and part of the design process,” he says. “My brother and my father are very active, in mechanics and in construction. I was always in the background to observe.”

However, he was unsure how this passion could translate into a career and initially enrolled at Western as an education major. It was a logical choice – Collins had done some substitute teaching – but as he took classes, he always felt something was missing. A conversation with Dr. Suzan Smith-Ayerschairman of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, has illuminated a new way forward.

“We were talking about commitments in class, and it didn’t seem fair to my future students that I wasn’t 100 percent into it,” Collins says. Smith-Ayers mentioned the interior design program, which was also part of his department. “I’ve always had this ‘what if’. What if I never pursued (this passion)? And decided to take a leap of faith and said to myself, ‘I have to do this.’ haven’t looked back since. It never feels like a chore to study or anything. I would do it all day if I could. I love it.”

The opportunity to design for MJ Home only solidified his chosen path.

“Being in my freshman year in a design program and then having this project was really an eye opener. These are real experiences, real opportunities that are going to have a huge impact when it comes time to find design options. career,” Collins said.

“I appreciate my teachers so much…Mary Beth Janssen, Kim Buchholz, Dr. Ayers—for his extreme support, as well as some of the talented design program students I have come to know. They all add to this growth journey with my career path and education. And I especially appreciate Dianna for allowing me to do that, because I really feel like I can feel and think and see clearly what’s ahead of me.”

For more WMU news, arts and eventsvisit WMU News online.

Betty K. Park