Collaboration leads pair to form Spokane design firm
Duo takes control of careers with founding of Mint Interiors StudioMarch 30th, 2023
Fifteen months ago, two Spokane women, Aileen Link and Hannah Mackin, launched Mint Interiors Studio LLC to take their interior design careers into their own hands.
The opening of their Spokane-based interior design studio, which does business as Mint, allowed the two to have more control over balancing their professional goals and personal lives, and to provide clients with a full suite of design services for both commercial and residential properties, they say.
Despite opening a business in the midst of a global pandemic that disrupted supply chains and paused the development of many projects, they say Mint began earning profits after three months.
“We didn’t pay ourselves for the first three months,” Link Says. “But we are profitable, and we had a good last year and maintained our salaries.”
They say the pandemic didn’t influence their decision to open a business much, but they were concerned about the uncertain economic conditions and made sure to diversify their company by offering both commercial and residential services.
Mackin says she and Link were nervous, but excited about starting up their endeavor.
“There’s such a niche in the Spokane market to do both commercial and residential for interior design, so I think we gravitated toward that,” Mackin says. “We said, let’s do it now and see just how it goes. So, we were willing to take the risk.”
In addition to providing both residential and commercial interior design services, Mint offers custom cabinetry and furniture; décor, fixtures, and material selections; 3D renderings; architectural drafting; and construction management.
Mint is headquartered in a home office, and the two women are the company’s only employees for now.
The design studio has been certified recently as a woman-owned business through the Washington state Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises—a designation they expect to benefit from through increased public works contracts going forward.
“Our dream is to have a cute little office. We’re definitely interested in growing in the future,” Mackin says. “Someday we want to be at five to 10 employees, but keep it a small, boutique firm.”
Demand is strong right now for Mint’s design services, and hiring employees would open up the capacity to take on more work as well, she says.
For now, Mint sometimes hires subcontractors for help with drafting, renderings, and blog writing for the company website. Mint also partners with architectural firms for its bigger commercial projects.
Mint has two active commercial design projects and about 20 residential design jobs currently.
Mackin says an emerging trend for Mint’s commercial clients involves updating office environments to promote in-person collaboration and hybrid work schedules.
One such tenant improvement project is located in downtown Spokane’s Old City Hall building, where a national engineering firm with a presence in Spokane is moving into the fifth and sixth floors from a more disjointed office in town. She declines to disclose the name of the client.
Spokane-based Yost Gallagher Construction LLC and Fusion Architecture PLLC, also of Spokane, are working with Mint on the remodel, which will feature natural lighting enhancements, open work areas, and a new internal staircase to connect the two floors.
Link says the internal staircase was an expensive addition to the design, however, both she and Mackin highlighted the workplace-culture benefits of having an internal connection.
“That was a huge design push, because it’s expensive to put in an internal stair, but I think we helped sell that culturally, it was really important, so they’re making the investment,” Link explains.
The client provided engineering services for the staircase and will be able to showcase the firm’s work in the office once the project is completed, she adds.
Link says any industry can benefit from updated interior workspaces to promote better employee engagement and productivity.
“We learned how important a breakroom is, because surgeons and nurses will talk to each other and talk about skills,” Link explains. “It crosses over into so many other industries such as finance, accounting, and engineering. When people have opportunities to talk to each other, the work gets better.”
Mackin agrees and says the new office designs give opportunities for employee mentorship as well.
“There’s lots of moments that you can’t recreate at home,” Mackin says.
Mint’s commercial clients have been requesting updated and inviting breakrooms, the addition of informal work islands, and collaborative conference rooms, Mackin says.
The company’s residential work has involved a lot of furniture selections lately, they add, but product availability has been challenging to overcome, with some furniture deliveries delayed up to 16 weeks.
However, challenges in the residential sector don’t always translate to issues in commercial services, which is why they say Mint stands out by diversifying their workload into both sectors.
Both Mackin and Link say they have many similarities, although it’s their differing experiences and abilities that help them reach their clients’ design goals.
Link says, “We bring different things to the table. Hannah is really good at, and has a really good sense of, social media, and she’s been really strong in marketing lately.”
Mackin says Link shines in client relations, furniture selections, quality-control measures, and the technical aspects of design.
Link says that she’s been able to maintain many client relationships from her previous employers.
It was a previous client who also offered the first design opportunity that prompted the launch of Mint.
“I was approached by a previous large client that we partnered with on a really large project in Seattle,” she says. “It was a four-story renovation of Harborview Medical Center.”
She then asked Mackin to help support a trial run for the project.
“I definitely needed her … and that was the catalyst for Mint,” she says.
Once the Harborview project was underway, the two focused on business development through a networking and branding campaign to attract new clients.
“We were hustling hard,” explains Link. “And that project took so long. It took actually six to 12 months to get the money from that (Harborview) job, but we were able to start paying ourselves from the smaller clients.”
Mackin first met Link through an internship at a larger design firm, at which Link was Mackin’s mentor.
Later, after joining separate employers, Link and Mackin reconnected again to work for a startup where they say they soon realized their goal to open their own design business.
“While we were there, we quickly noticed that we could do it ourselves … and bring the technical skills to a boutique experience,” says Link. “We ultimately decided to do it on our own, which turned out to be a fantastic decision. We make things better together.”
Mackin says it’s easy for the pair to collaborate, having worked together previously.
Link agrees and adds that the two women are so in sync they’ve shown up to places in matching outfits on a couple of occasions.
“People ask if we do it on purpose, and we don’t,” Link says with a laugh.
Most of Mint’s clients are located in the Spokane area, and some are in Western Washington. Mackin and Link note that they’re willing to work with clients wherever they are located in the U.S., including in Oklahoma, where they’ve recently landed a residential contract.
Link and Mackin both say Mint is pursuing several additional commercial projects with a Seattle architecture firm this year.
When it came to choosing a name for the company, they say they decided to work with letters from both of their names, eventually gravitating toward the word “mint,” not for the color, but because it means quality, a fresh perspective, and top-of-the line services, which they say describes how they view their business.
Link says one reason she enjoys business ownership is having control over scheduling to balance family and work responsibilities.
Mackin agrees and says, in the first year of operating Mint, the co-owners each had significant life changes, as Mackin got married, and Link had a baby.
“We just decided in one year we could do it all,” says Mackin.
Link says that opening a business has been a good decision for their careers and families.
“I think we were both really attracted to building and starting something,” says Link. “It also felt really low risk, since we already knew we work so well together. What was risky was, I guess, taking the leap and hoping your business soars.”
Mackin says that the work, “feels exponentially more rewarding when it’s your own.”
Link adds, “We have much higher highs, and much lower lows.”