Ann Squires Ferguson, Western Interior Design Group

Photo: Regina Akhankina

Ann Squires Ferguson holds twin degrees in Interior Design and Electro-Mechanical Engineering. She is the CEO of Western Interior Design Group, a full-service commercial interior design studio, with integrated procurement and construction management. Outside the studio, Ann is a keen trail runner and hones world-class puddle splashing skills with her twin ten-year-olds.

How is Western Interior Design Group coping right now?
While the studio doors are closed right now, we all continue to work from home, serving our clients digitally and supporting each other emotionally. We meet on Zoom every day at 9:30 for our morning coffee — usually in costume (so far, we have done rainbow, full formal, hip-hop and tacky tourist). While we all may have challenging days as individuals, I’ve never been more proud of our team. We are an incredibly solid work family of eight women — seven designers and one administrator — and I am so grateful that we invested in each other and our core relationships long before this crisis unfolded. Interior design is, by nature, a business of optimism, of assessing the present circumstances, gathering resources, and then imagining a new future into reality. This crisis is the refining fire for us to see exactly how committed we are to relentless optimism.

How has the crisis affected your business, and how do you anticipate it will continue to affect it?
About a third of our repeat clients are in the hospitality industry and they have been directly and immediately affected by the closures. This meant an immediate cancellation of nearly $200,000 in contracts for us, and numerous others being postponed. Rather than be paralyzed by the negativity, we have tried to turn it inside out, and are now offering free and subsidized design services to those clients. One of my favourite quotes is “A rising tide floats all ships.” We are resolved to lift others up and find solutions for the broader community, rather than focus on our own struggles.

What advice are you giving yourself and your team for riding this out?
Take the long view. Nothing lasts forever. There will be a million pinpoints of brightness, happiness, and opportunity that will arise, and we just can’t see those yet. In the short term, we hold a daily gratitude circle, both on our studio Zoom calls, and at home around the dinner table. We are fortunate in so many ways, to be here in Canada, with access to information, healthcare and support. And, to be here on Vancouver Island, one of the most beautiful places on the planet!

What is the opportunity in the challenge for you and your business?
The challenge is to see clients who we have come to know and love struggle. The opportunity is to find a path through together. We flourish as individuals when we flourish as a community. The opportunity internally is for us to take the time to develop new skills in 3-D photo-realistic rendering programs like Lumion and gain professional accreditations like the WELL certification, the leading interior design professional tool for enhancing health and wellbeing in the built environment. We want to look back on this as having been a pivot point, turning towards a leaner, more nimble future.

What advice have you applied or are you applying from previous experiences coping through crises?
My first career was as a Weapons Tech in the Canadian Navy. Spending extended periods onboard ship as sea, in tight quarters and with no contact of the outside world is rather oddly the perfect training program for this modern iteration of social distancing! Lessons learned: Laugh a lot. Don’t be afraid to be silly. Take the time to have real conversations. Give people their personal space. Routine is key. Go outside every day.

What are your resources right now? Do you have a mentor supporting you, peer group, books you read?
I’m up every morning at 5:30am to go for a run. The fitness is just a side effect — the real benefit is listening to inspirational audio books as a form of mental fitness, to start the day off right. Since this started, I’ve been through repeat favourites: Michael Singer’s Untethered Soul, Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance and now Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.

What advice do you have for others experiencing this alongside you?
Focus less on yourself and your own problems and fears. Focus more on making someone else’s life better. My kids are learning to sew, learning to love fractions, learning to make killer GF pastry. Our team is finding creative ways of making each other laugh – including recreating photo stills from Tiger King. Our local business community is coming together to support essential workers and sustain each other’s businesses. These are all incredible gifts that we are giving one another, and we will move through this together.