Interior Design Student Helps Plant Shop Owner Build New Business | WMU 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, Mich.—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 peaceful and take a moment to breathe and relax and just feel really… warm and cozy,” she says Diana Nance, owner of new boutique home business MJ Home – sister shop to Mason Jar Plant Shop. she typed MattCollinsa first-year interior design student to help her make that vision a reality.

The seeds of partnership were planted on social media. Collins worked at a restaurant next to the plant shop and often wandered over on his breaks.

An exhibition in a furniture store.

Collins designed displays to make shoppers feel at home.

“It was my little escape going in there and being 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, ‘I like your living space, your style, how you stage things. I want to open a furniture and home decor business and it struck me that you’re an interior design student. That was me. I was wondering if you would like me could help to design a concept for it.'”

Collins opened his textbooks and got to work, inspired by bohemian style. He also used some of his class connections and contacted two designers in Sweden to discuss his ideas. Everything went into its design, from color schemes to customer cycles and customer movements.

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

Collins had a chance to see his hard work pay off at the store’s grand opening on June 1.

“When I see the reactions and how people interact with the space, something that I’ve created and helped shape as a team, I love that. It feeds me.”

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

Design sketches lie on a table.

Nance showed some of Collins’ sketches around the store.

“I think (Western’s program) is great and I hope it really benefits not just him but the organization as a whole,” says Nance. “I was in healthcare for 25 years, and I hired people and said, ‘I want you to build your resume here. I want you to do whatever it takes to take you to the next level. I hope this is something that will help him on this journey and maybe help others as well.”


Collins is a creative at heart.

“Growing up, I was always into interior design. In high school, I was scribbling floor plans for my dream house in my notebook, and I didn’t realize at the time that this was a schematic design and part of the design process,” he says. “My brother and dad are very hands-on, mechanical, and building. I was always in the background and observed.”

However, unsure of how to translate this passion into a career, he initially enrolled at Western as an education major. It was a logical match – Collins had taken some spare lessons – but when he took lessons he still felt something was missing. A conversation with dr Suzan Smith-AyersOwner of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, shed light on a new path.

“We talked about commitments in class, and it didn’t seem fair to my prospective students that I wasn’t 100% committed,” says Collins. Smith-Ayers mentioned the interior design program, which was also part of her department. “I’ve always had this ‘what if’. What if I had never pursued (that passion)? And I haven’t looked back since. It never feels like a duty to study or anything. I would do it all day if I could. I just love it.”

The opportunity to design for MJ Home has only cemented the path he has taken.

“Being in a design program my freshman year and then having this project was really eye-opening. These are real experiences, real opportunities that will have a tremendous impact when it comes to finding career opportunities,” she tells Collins.

“I am so grateful to my professors—Mary Beth Janssen, Kim Buchholz, dr Ayers – for their exceptional support, as well as some of the talented students in the design program that I have met. You all contribute to this journey of growth with my career path and education. And I’m especially grateful to Dianna for making this possible for me because it really feels like I can feel, think and see clearly what’s in front of me.”

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