Insights from Interior Designer and Yoga Teacher, Mary Csiki

Mary Csiki, Interior Designer and Yoga Teacher

Entrepreneurial Success as an Interior Designer and Yoga Teacher with Mary Csiki

Today I’m honored to bring on special guest, Mary Csiki. She is an interior designer and yoga teacher here in San Diego. In fact, she’s worked on multiple homes right in my neck of the woods here in Leucadia in Encinitas. She specializes in helping homeowners create their functional sanctuary, which is why I love this episode. Because sometimes, for example, she helps homeowners age in place safely, while still loving the design and feel of their home.

So, as a physical therapist, and yoga teacher, I see many people as they age, have a fear of making their home safe, that appear and feel very geriatric with bars and lack of carpeting, and certain factors that prevent fall risk, or just create ease, and the ability to move about the home safely and comfortably. Mary brings this functionality into a beautiful design. So you can walk into your home, feeling relaxed, calm, peaceful, knowing that it is your sanctuary, and it can still be functional.

Another thing that I love about this episode is she speaks of the work as an interior designer, so you can gather ideas for your own home. For me, sometimes, when I move into a new house, or I’m going to redecorate my own home, I freeze, my brain just doesn’t work in that aesthetic design at times. Mary is a yoga teacher as well so she will educate you in this episode on how to bring a calming design, how to make your home a sanctuary into reality.

You will also learn tips about how to grow your own business because you’ll hear bits and pieces of Mary’s experience as an interior designer and owning her own business while she is a mom and a wife as well. For more interviews like this you can head to the blog here.

Question to Mary: Can You Tell Us A Little Bit About What You Do And How You Help People?

I am an interior designer and I help people by usually defining their own goals and visions primarily for their home.  

Question to Mary: Tell Us A Little Bit About What You See When People Come To You Or How You Help Them Make This Vision That They Have In Their Head A Reality Even If They Don’t See It

Most of the time when they come to me, I think what they may not realize right away is that they want to feel good in their space. So they want it to look good initially, but at the end of the day, I think they really want to feel good in their space first, and then have it be functional, and then it’s really nice for it to look good too all at the same time.

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So that’s usually what I see when I’m meeting with people. And they definitely want to be able to have their own vision and want to use some of their own ideas as well. 

My Take On Home Hazards And Making It More Accessible As It Ages

Alison: They’re making the space their own and I think this is so important too, especially as  a large amount of the population is aging and they may or may not be aware of hazards in the home or how to make the home more accessible during aging. 

Question to Mary: So It Is Functional, But It’s Possible To Still Look Gorgeous As Well. Can you speak About That?

Yes. And I’ve just worked with a few people on that, too. For example, when working on the bathroom, I’ve seen this too many times that they shy away from the grab bar or something like that, there’s still a long way on this matter. The grab bars available in the market are still a little bit chunkier based on that they have to hold body weight, but they are getting prettier. And if you design it properly, you can use them accordingly, you don’t need as many, but also making things a little bit more open while picking an appropriate tile or hard surface material. That’s always helpful too.

And I think then people will gravitate towards it more, and it’s a thoughtful process. You’re trying to look ahead, especially if you’re going to invest in remodeling your home, you know you’re going to stay there. So that’s something to really address.  

Incorporating Yoga into Interior Design

Alison: What I love about your service is that you are also a yoga teacher. For people like me, my home is my sanctuary, but I do not have an aesthetic sense. So what’s lovely about your services as well is that you have this aesthetic eye because it is possible to create a home or design for it to be functional in use. But then, when you walk in, it does become your sanctuary. It’s like how I call my she shed the zen den, your home can be your zen den. 

Mary On Having Her Home As Her Sanctuary – From An Artist’s Perspective

Mary: It’s true. I look even for myself, you’re around products all day long. And I tend to want to come home and maybe have less stuff around, maybe more decorative items, let’s say. But I always feel from an artist’s perspective that your canvas has to be your basis for everything.

So if your canvas is strong, and your foundation is there, much like your practice, then all of those items, and the decorative items that you might want to take in and out, they can always be removed, replaced, updated, changed, based upon what you’re feeling that day even.

Mary On Always Coming Back To Your Home

Mary: It’s nice to have a set of a canvas to work on, or even a color scheme that you’re working with that is soothing to you. So when you come home, even though you might want a little less, sometimes less is more. But what’s there is very pertinent and also meaningful. I can’t tell you the number of clients that I’ve had that have certain objects or items that are meaningful to them, and they want to incorporate it. And I think that’s really important because I always tell them, I’m going to be gone. But you’re always going to be coming back to your home, you know,  without me. So you have to really enjoy your space. And if those things are meaningful, important, or you like the decorative side, to really be honest with the designer that you’re using to keep those and somehow integrate them into the overall look and feel. 

Our Take On Knowing What You Want

Alison: I think you brought up a really important point. Like business relationships, whether it is coaching sessions or service space of some nature, communicating with the expert, the practitioner, allowing, and opening your mind to their advice is important. But at the same time, knowing yourself and having the ability to speak up of what is important to you, what is valuable to you, is of equal importance.

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Mary: And a lot of times, I always start backwards. I know many designers do this as well. But it is really helpful. I usually encourage them if they can tell me everything that they don’t like.

A lot of times, people don’t know what they like. For instance, I’ll bring them color samples, let’s say pink colors, and they’ll say, “I don’t like any one of it.” But they never really maybe knew what they did like or didn’t like in that space, or they never thought about it. So now we have the opportunity, it’s so much easier to tell everybody what you don’t like, you know that right off the bat, usually, but you don’t necessarily know what you really do like and that takes a little bit more thought. And I think once you read a few things, or a few color schemes or color samples, and let’s say that’s what you’re working on at the time, they’re able to still think there’s a touch and feel you still need to see it. And I think that helps them tremendously. And then they get to know themselves a little bit better too. 

Question to Mary: So Tell Me When Someone Has The Finished Product Or A House Designed Both Functionally And Aesthetically, What Are Some Of The Transformations, Some Of The Benefits That You See With The Clients That You Work With When They Come Into This Home? When This Dream Does Become A Reality?

I think they first have an overwhelming sense of relief. Especially if it’s a remodel that you maybe still living in the home while it’s going on. But then they get to see what they’ve chosen be implemented. And a lot of times, most of the time, they’re just surprised that it’s either, most generally speaking, is brighter, they’ll have something that’s brighter, lighter, more updated. And usually, especially if you’re going to bathrooms or kitchens, they want easy cleanability as well, but something that really is uplifting. And so when they see their finished product, it’s just really a nice feeling. Because when you go through this process, you are working together, and there is a relationship, and then they’re usually ecstatic that we were able to do it, that was able to come to fruition, and then they get to see how their choices played out as well.

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Question to Mary: I Think That’s Another Common Theme Running. Like When We Purchase A Program, Service, or Product, Deep Down, Whether We Realize It Consciously Or Not, There Are Questions Like, “Will This Work For Me?” How Do You Address That As A Designer?

Well, like in any design process, I always tell them, I think it’s really important to keep the perspective clear for the client. That in any artistic endeavor, and it’s usually a creative endeavor, you may start out with one set design and all agree to it. And then you might hit a few things that might come up, that may change your design. Maybe you’re not able to move the wall as far back, maybe you’re not able to remove this wall that you thought you’re going to be able to remove. But there is a beauty in that too. And I always try to tell them that, we try to catch all of that ahead of time. But if for some reason, as we move forward, you’re creating around that while still trying to maintain the main goals – like your functionality, or if you want a space to work a certain way, or you want them to look a certain way – that’s the beauty of the creativity in the process of doing that.

So I try to always keep it in perspective. And generally speaking, it usually works out and usually works out the way it’s supposed to. And again, what’s also beautiful about design too, is that you can always change the paint, you can always change certain things. That’s not the end goal, though, the end goal is to try to get it right first time. But along the way, if you want to tweak things, refine them, it’s the opportunity to do that. And as long as the communication is open, we can usually do that as well. 

Our Take On Parallels To Both Healing And Wellness

Alison: I see so many parallels to both healing and wellness, like how you can’t always predict how long it’s going to take to heal. You might think, “Oh, I need core exercises or certain stretches to heal my low back.” And then you start doing it and you’re like, “Actually, we find out these actually make the problem worse, we need something else.” So it’s very much like pulling in a lot of creative and unique processes for yourself.

And what you said in the very beginning is knowing what you actually like and don’t like, because when I work with a lot of practitioners, the ones that are really successful are the ones that are like you. In this interior design example where they’re communicating with their client about what they like and what they don’t, instead of saying you have to do this exercise this way, at this time of day – like a very rigid approach where it’s so rigid that the client is not going to implement it, because it just doesn’t fit into their lifestyle. It’s like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole instead of meeting them where they’re at. So I love that issue. 

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Mary: A lot of times, you’ll walk in, and they’ll want something, maybe they’ve met with somebody else, and they have a set look or they would rather just rip everything out and start new, where I would prefer to really try to listen and then go back. We ask many questions. And maybe they are the same questions to really get a sense and feel because that’s not a possibility for them and they haven’t communicated that to me strongly enough.

Then there are other times that maybe they don’t want to tear down everything. I remember I had a client who really loved the tile on her bathroom floor. And we were able to make that work because that was super important to her. So in that instance, it is very similar where one size doesn’t fit all and things are different on any given day. It’s also the same with the design process. And you may not be able to get something that you had your heart set on, whether it’s not available, or they’re not making it or it’s discontinued. And so that’s the opportunity, too, as a designer to have so many things in your back pocket, that you can go back and say, “Okay, what’s something similar, but we’re going to achieve the same effect, and we’re going to make that flooring work in unison to where it’s complimentary.”

Alison: I’m speaking to you people listening, you practitioners listening that have so many certifications, and you almost use it against yourself, where you allow yourself to be confused or overwhelmed. You ask yourself questions like, “Who do I talk to?,” “What do I do?,” “How do I need my business?,” or, “What do I focus on?” Instead, think of it in the big picture, that those are tools and ways that you help someone. And really, asking yourself what’s the ultimate goal that you can help someone achieve by sing these tools where you’re able to not have to follow some cookie cutter, one size fits all approach.

Mary: Just like you is an educational process, right? So I think, from the feedback that I’ve gotten from my clients, is that I’m able to sit down and explain things to them, and provide a schedule, provide additional choices at the time, and then really have them hone in and then be secure on the choice that they’ve made.

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I still get the phone calls where they ask me, “Oh, did I pick the right color? Did I do the right thing?” I’m like, “Let me come in first, and then more times.” I’d have to say, almost 99.9% of the time, they’re just floored that it was able to come together and that it looks so good. And they have the ownership that that was their choice as well.

Alison: So you’re helping them to increase their trust with themselves and like decision making and trusting their intuition. So interior design, remodeling your house can be a healing and transformative process, someone might not even realize that.

Question to Mary: What Are Some Of The Setbacks That You Experience As An Entrepreneur And Working With Your Clients?  

I think most people have either been through a remodel, or have had this kind of test that there’s always bumps or glitches, whether it be in getting a product or getting an installer. And that’s something that you just have to be patient with, as you can be patient with yourself, and work through it.

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Generally speaking, as long as you just try to have everyone on your team move forward, it works out really well. So if it’s a design setback, or there’s something that happens, whether it’s architectural or with the city, there’s always a workaround to that, there’s always another opportunity for a different design. So that is something that we try to help people realize that it’s not the end of the world, that we will come up with something that is going to be beautiful and functional at the same time even if we have to meet certain requirements.

Sometimes, we know all the requirements, sometimes people spring things on you. Even if you are not so sure, you should be able to work through it. And that’s the most important part – to be accountable, address it, and then move forward with a solid plan of action that everyone can agree on. So I see that sometimes setbacks really depends on how you look at it can be a great opportunity. 

My Take On Turning Setbacks Into Opportunities No Matter The Industry

Alison: That can be so helpful, no matter the industry. And even how you said that with such confidence like, “It’s not a problem, I’ve got you, we’re going to create a new plan, we’re still going to turn out the way that you want and desire and be beautiful,” the same is true – as long as you know, deep down, that you can help your clients through whatever they’re going to experience or go through, then you will see it through to the end, and help them get that result that they desire. Because, like you said, very rarely is it a straight shoot – to the goal, the dream.

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Mary: Like in healing and yoga, and in job coaching as well. Everybody is probably different, every client that you’re meeting with starts out in the same direction, but then they have to work through different things. Ultimately, you will still get to the end goal.

Question to Mary: What Do You Experience Personally, In Your Own Life, Being An Entrepreneur, What Are Some Challenges That You Work Through?

The biggest challenge I’ve always had to work through has been my schedule or scheduling because if you have a family, and other outside activities or other responsibilities, and you’re trying to start a business again, in a different environment, business environments always change, it can be intimidating and daunting test all at the same time.

It’s great to go and set that for other people, when you go to do it for yourself on a daily basis, it’s always a case, right? So it’s a little bit more difficult, it’s a little bit more challenging. So I think that would be one of my biggest challenges.

Mary’s Part Of The Six Months One-To-One Program

Question to Mary: What Are Some Things That You Have Learned That Help You Or What Are Some Experiences That You’ve Been Through Or Benefits In Terms Of Working With Your Schedule And Managing Your Schedule?

The one thing that I’ve learned is very simple. I’ve seen this with other designers and other entrepreneurs, other people trying to do their own startup businesses. You may have your set schedule, and you may not achieve it.

But what I’ve learned through working with you is that you can always rearrange it. It’s similar to when you have this project, it’s ready to go. And then oh my god, you don’t have the door handles or something like that, but you can always move forward, on to the next thing.

And that is huge for me. I may want to start out putting so much on my schedule, I know that may not be achievable, but knowing that I can get a good portion of that done, or what’s more, the most important to me. So prioritizing, I would have to say would be the second thing. So it’d be trying to at least put it down on a schedule, and then really honing in on my priorities, and I now put those in first.

Going back to having a wellness business as well, we want to be well enough to handle all of your clients. Those things are important to be first. For me, it’s getting a yoga practice, and I may want four or five classes or my own personal practice to do. But let’s say I do three a week. Well, that’s great. 

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Question to Mary: Tell Us About How Your Yoga Practice Fits Into All This

Well, that’s really important for me to just be centered, and to feel well, before I even start my day. But many times that can’t happen. I have either projects to go to or meetings. So I’ve tried to be a little bit more flexible with myself and try to work that in. But I do put that first on my schedule.

And what I’ll do is I’ll map out my week and I’ll try to put as many times that I can either do my own personal practice, or if I want to try a class, or if I want to be in a group of people put that in first. Now whether it works out that way, by the end of the week, may not always, but I will tell you I was more consistent and disciplined about making that happen so that I am then much more centered and focused for when I do have questions come in or when I do have a new client that’s looking for something, they’re just much more clear. 

My Take On Making Time For Yourself

Alison: I think what you said will resonate with so many people, because I think when it comes down to managing our schedule, it’s easy to put ourselves last and be like, “Oh, shoot, well, I just ran out of time.” And if we do that more days than not, then our house is always at the bottom of the list and we’re trying to play catch up in the end. 

Question to Mary: Another Area We’ve Been Working Through In Terms Of Schedule, You’ve Told Me That A Lot Of People Are Contacting You Such As Contractors And Clients While You’re Trying To Care Of Your Own House And Your Daughter’s House. How Do You Manage All These Moving Pieces?

Well, I think what you’ve taught me is that I don’t always have to pick up the phone. I’m not an ER doctor. I mean, anytime there can be causing problems, I will admit. But more often than not, if what I’ve learned in this has happened and said in a very early morning yoga class, and I might be running a few minutes late and I do have somebody calling me that needs something, I don’t pick up my phone. In fact, many times now, I leave my phone in my car. And believe it or not, everybody survives and I’m able to address it. And when I do get out I’m able to address it much more clearly, consciously, because I’m not rushing, I’m not cutting out something. It’s just as if I had two clients, and I didn’t allow enough time back to back.

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When people hire me, they want my full attention. And I want to give them that full attention. And so many times, even with other clients, I’ve told them if I’m not picking up, generally speaking, I’m just giving them the same amount of time that I’ve given you. And I’ll definitely give you a call back, and we’ll address everything and more times than not, I have to say, it’s worked out much better for me.

And then for the results that I’m getting, my result has been much more calm and clear. And the other person then, in effect, who was in a rush, becomes much more calm as well, and able to address something that say, maybe it is something that’s pretty urgent, or we need a decision. Most of the time people are finding they need a decision, every interior designer, I’m sure will attest to that, that we make hundreds of decisions a day. But then you’re able to address that really clearly so you know that you are making the right decision. 

Our Take On Setting Boundaries

Alison: Unconsciously, you’re learning how to set your own boundaries, and then you’re sticking to them, even through the discomfort. But now working through that you see the benefits on the other side. And for me, learning how to stick to my own boundaries, in terms of scheduling, and all that, I noticed that when I’m more rested and replenished and going through my yoga and walks and whatnot, then I’m just so much more focused in my sessions. So I’m able to like problem solve or be more creative if things don’t go as planned. And we worked on this as well, unexpected shifts in the day. 

Mary: Well, that’s something that was new to me, that you did teach me and then there are also located in your modules as well, is that you can redirect your focus. And I see this, I think it’s across the board in any industry. But many times, you’re inundated with so many decisions and choosing so many products or so many things that you can get sidetracked, sidetracked by, like you said phone calls come in with your contractor, other designers. And it’s been really helpful to use some of the tools and some of the techniques, whether they be meditation, or just phrases, that something that we had gone over to take a step back to take those couple of minutes out, and just redirect your brain and redirect your focus. So that has been extremely helpful and still something that I’m working on. But it’s a new tool and it’s been great. 

Alison: That’s part of the lifelong practice, because we all have human brains. We’re just sometimes wired for survival, which tends to be more on the pessimistic side, I guess you can put it of like looking for danger and keeping us our fear responses, sometimes a lot easier to bring up than directly redirecting to a different thought. 

Question to Mary: To Those Who Are Listening Who Are Home Owners, Do You Have Any Parting Words Of Wisdom For Both The Interior Design Aspect, And Also For Those People Struggling With Management Themselves And Fitting In Their Own Self-Care Act And Whatnot?

So for the homeowners or people who are trying to embark on design, the biggest piece of advice I could leave with them would be to really incorporate what they love, to really hone in on those things that they want – if there’s something special to them – to always use that.

Further, trends are lovely but they’re trends for a reason. So it’s always nice to have some classical things in place. You can always layer trends on top of that. But it’s nice to have a little bit stronger of a foundation that can stand the test of time. Because when you’re making that investment, you want the longevity to go along with it with those choices.

For going forward in your own business, the biggest thing I could probably say that’s been for my point is from the point of awareness of my own business practices, and which always tie into my practice of taking care of myself. And I think once those two are a little bit more in line, everything seems to flow a little bit better. And ultimately, I think that’s true in design. There’s a process where things click and then they start to flow, and then it becomes much easier to move through that process. And I think there’s so similar, in both aspects so I think it’s very important to have that awareness and what else is in the zone is really to always move forward and rearrange that business plan. Keep rearranging, because things change, nothing’s stagnant, everything is always moving. And that’s been very helpful to maybe you might not have met this goal, but you’re going to move forward to this new goal. And we’re going to come back around and incorporate that one later. And that happens many times in design, too.

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For those of you that are local to San Diego, Mary is here. She is local, and she works a lot in my neck of the woods and Encinitas. And I know, there are a few here so she can help you if you’re local to San Diego. So those of you that are local, or maybe even want consulting from afar, you can reach Mary by email at marycsiki@outlook.com


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