How I Did It: Medina Sam, Founder Of MK Kids Interiors
Words: Nicole Jordan
A UK-based interior design taps into an underserved market: kids.
Kids’ inner worlds are filled with color and imagination—so shouldn’t their bedrooms be the same? Yes, says London-based interior designer Medina Sam. She created MK Kids Interiors, a London-based interior-design company that caters specifically to children, in 2012 after being a designer for three years.
Bringing happiness to children’s homes may come from her own childhood experience; Sam grew up in Hackney, a borough of London that is well-known for gang violence. Sam chats with mater mea about how a young girl in a violence-stricken community became an interior designer who brings happiness to her young clients.
YOU GREW UP IN A PRETTY ROUGH NEIGHBORHOOD. HOW DID IT AFFECT YOUR CHILDHOOD?
The gang violence was definitely around me. I spent my first 10 years living with my grandmother in Jamaica, so I knew better than to get involved with gang activity. She had high expectations of me, so when I came back to my mom and my siblings, that was not my focus. The gangs did not really appeal to me. I knew that my grandmother wanted me to go to university, so I constantly reminded myself of that goal. I knew that getting involved would not help me reach that goal. My mom was also quite strict, so we weren’t allowed to just hang out for the sake of it; we had to come straight home from school. There were no acceptable excuses for coming home late.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE ON INTERIOR DESIGN AS A CAREER?
I’ve always been creative; I noticed my creativity at age 13 in school. Prior to that I was always drawing, both at home and at school. My art teacher was always very encouraging, which helped me decide to focus on art as a subject in school. I then had to decide what I could do with art, so one day I went to the library to look at careers. I picked up this huge occupational handbook, and initially decided on fashion design. However, since I’ve always worn glasses, and the book said you had to have an eye for detail, I assumed that I couldn’t be a fashion designer. (Laughs) The next listing was interior designer, and I thought I would really like that. I then made sure to choose all my subjects around interior design.
AND WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO FOCUS ON CHILDREN’S ROOMS?
Children are important. They are our future. It got to a point where I realized that everyone [was] focusing on adult interiors and no one [was] thinking about children. Initially I wanted to focus on interiors for children with autism or learning disabilities—children with autism often need for their surroundings to look a certain way, and that is sometimes overlooked. When I was a child, I always wanted a really nice room, but I never had one, because I had to share with my siblings.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
There is really no typical day, especially if I have a project and a tight deadline that I am working on. I like structure, but I like the fact that no two days are the same. Sometimes I am just waiting to get paperwork back from parents. I generally start off the day on the computer, checking emails. Some days I may have to source materials, which may mean that I am all over the place searching for fabric.
I take the project from start to finish, which always takes more than a day. I do the soft design, such as dressing the beds. I work with my painters, builders, plumbers, and electricians. I have a small team of people that I either know, or who I have heard about through word of mouth.
WHAT’S ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE ROOMS YOU’VE WORKED ON?
The most recent room I did really touched me. It was for Kaitlyn, who is really ill with cancer. She is currently in the final stages of chemotherapy. Her mom contacted me for her to do her room, and she really liked it! It was so rewarding and touching, because kids are very honest, and you always get to see their honest reactions when they step into their room for the first time.
I like to get input from my child clients at the initial stage of the design, so that they are a part of the decision-making process. It was hard to get Kaitlyn’s input because she was in the hospital. When I got the chance to talk to her, she told me she wanted purple, green, and pink balloons in her room, so I incorporated the balloons in the design. Some children are really specific, which is good. I also give them a canvas, so that they can create a piece of artwork that will go into their room, and form the focal point.
HAVE YOU FACED ANY CHALLENGES IN YOUR BUSINESS?
Yes! You don’t always get projects in the interior-design business, especially in the UK. Clients are typically older, middle class, white women, [and] people of color are less likely to use interior design services. I typically get referrals from professional contacts, and I try to accommodate my prices for people with a lower budget. Sometimes I do deals that are one-third of the average rates.
Even after starting my business, I have been employed. I’ve done lots of different jobs. I’ve washed pots to survive. I have had to juggle the two. Having another job helped, because I wasn’t actually making any money when I first started. I also have my husband’s support, which helps. No one is given more than what they can bear.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE MATER MEA READERS ABOUT STARTING A BUSINESS?
It’s very challenging, but it helps if you have passion and drive for what you do. To be honest, I have the passion, but I don’t always have the drive, so it is good to have people around you who can push and encourage you to keep going. When I was living with my mom, she gave me constant encouragement. And I have found that various people have come into my path, at times when I needed encouragement
I like taking risks; I would encourage your readers to take a risk. It’s also good to have business mentors. They don’t have to necessarily work in your field, but it’s helpful if they have experience and knowledge in business. I’ve actually connected with people on social media that have developed into mentorships. It’s nice to meet people outside of your normal circle.