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For three years, when Ami McKay was in her mid-twenties, she spent 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for five months a year, alone in a fire tower in Alberta, devouring interior design books. She came out of her Batman-like training as an interior designer with a mission: to infuse every space she designs with joy, harmony, and healthy/sustainable materials.
Those months of self-imposed exile occurred over two decades ago. Now, her days of forest management at an end, the Niagara Falls born-and-raised McKay runs Pure Design Inc., a Vancouver-based firm with a team of 14.
Chatelaine and Rue Magazine have recognized her as one of Canada’s top interior designers, and she’s been featured in Architectural Digest, Time Magazine, and Martha Stewart. In 2022, McKay won the North American award for small traditional kitchen design from the NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association). She has described her design style as “warm-contemporary, clean lines, natural materials and super cosy.”
This month marks another milestone for the interior designer. On Dec. 2, American lifestyle network Magnolia is airing Vancouver Reno, a pilot featuring McKay and her team.
The one-hour episode follows McKay’s work on a home renovation in North Vancouver’s Pemberton Heights area.
“It’s a beautiful transformation and a lovely story,” the designer said. “And I’m proud and excited to share it with everyone.”
The pilot covers the year-long—including COVID-related delays—design process.
“It’s our real clients, and we’re doing real design for them, and it’s a real process,” she said. “It’s not like that TV thing where everything magically just happens. It really does take a year. You see me in summer dresses and then in winter coats and scarves. It really is an authentic interior design show.”
Part of McKay’s process involves incorporating eco-conscious materials, something she’s been pursuing since she came down from the firehouse.
“For the first project I worked on, 23-and-a-half years ago, in Whistler, the clients really wanted a healthy home. I had to research everything. There was no healthy paint that I could easily find. I eventually found some. I had to go to Germany to get a stain that didn’t off-gas. I did a lot of research into what the healthiest materials that don’t give off gas in your home.”
Fortunately, sourcing these kinds of materials is much easier now.
“When I was starting out, no one knew anything about it. It wasn’t even talked about. There’s so much now. Once LEED became a thing, it helped a lot. I don’t think there’s any choice but to be conscious about the products that we’re using. Well, there is a choice. But people need to know that there are options out there. Otherwise, it’s business as usual unless somebody lets you know.”
Early in her interior design career, McKay launched a sustainable furniture line. She plans on designing her own sustainable furniture soon. She also has an online store, Pure Design Shoppe, where she curates a selection of home accents like stools, cushions, and bowls. Some of the pieces are goods she’s collected during her travels. She credits the time she spent living in India when she was 23 for inspiring the store.
“The people I was with were so impoverished, and they were making these beautiful woven fabrics,” she said.
“I just wanted to figure out how I could help them make money so that they don’t have to walk for miles in the forest to get firewood, and so they can afford kerosene. So I finally launched my artisanal shop two years ago, and it has goods from all around the world. That’s making an impact on people’s lives. And that makes me so happy.”
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