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Designer Spotlight: Nancy Surby from NAKO Design

Nancy Surby from NAKO Design. Interior design firm based out of Calgary Alberta.


Meet Nancy Surby, an Interior Designer and the owner of NAKO Design, a full-service interior design firm based out of Edmonton, Alberta. We stumbled upon her Instagram account and beautiful portfolio a few months ago and we've been following her projects closely ever since. Nancy's signature modern design aesthetic combined with her ability to balance warm & cool elements always draws us in to every space she touches.


Can you tell us about yourself?

My name is Nancy and I currently live in Calgary, Alberta with my husband and our fur baby, Charlie. I have been in the design industry for almost fourteen years and have experience working in both residential and commercial. When not designing, my husband and I are typically in the mountains hiking or skiing and whenever my schedule allows it, we are travelling!


What inspired you to become an Interior Designer?

My parents were and continue to be, huge DIY-ers. We were always included in their various projects around the house which had me loving the hands-on approach to design.


With my mom being a professional seamstress, she introduced me to fabrics, colours, and textures, supporting me with all my crazy ideas to paint and reconfigure my bedroom. I attribute a lot of my creativity to her. I honestly did not realize I could make a career out of sketching floor plans and moving furniture around. We didn't have the social media platforms we have today. It wasn't until our Grade 9 career day presentations (I at the time was passionate about becoming a veterinarian) when a classmate showcased her day with an interior designer. I remember being awestruck and saying, “I want to do that!”, and now I am!


Can you describe NAKO Design and what your mission is with your firm?

NAKO Design is a boutique firm comprised of myself and my design assistant/drafter/supporter extraordinaire! We focus on custom residential, in both a new build and renovation capacity, as well as small scale commercial projects. We approach each project with passion and determination, with emphasis on thoughtful detail. It is important to us that each space feels authentic and unique, a direct reflection of the end user.


Nancy Surby from NAKO Design. Interior design firm based out of Calgary Alberta.


How would you describe your personal design style?

Now that it has a label, I would have to say Japandi (combination of Japanese and Scandinavian) but meets Australian. I absolutely love modern interiors, but I work hard to emphasize that this does not mean a ‘cold and stark’ interior. Modern to me means effective use of materials and tones, working with a lot of natural elements, from wood to concrete. This can create beautiful, soft, and cozy environments. I am not one for overly decorated places and gravitate towards minimal and soothing spaces.


Nancy Surby from NAKO Design. Interior design firm based out of Calgary Alberta.


What inspires and influences your work?

I think it is important to stay on top of trends, but there is value in understanding how design evolves and is innovated, to have an idea of where styles and techniques originated from. This influences my work in a sense of the constant research and asking questions.


For inspiration, I tend to pull ideas and concepts from architects and structures. There are the iconic names such as Mies van der Rohe and Frank Llyod Wright, but also current firms such as Norm Architects (Denmark) and McKimm (Australia) that keep me inspired. Given my personal style, I also look to nature and all my travels to inspire my work. I love experiencing new cultures and seeing how different countries use their materials and colours!


Nancy Surby from NAKO Design. Interior design firm based out of Calgary Alberta.


Like every profession, it comes with its unique challenges. What would you say is the biggest challenge for you as an Interior Designer?


To be honest, the biggest challenge as an interior designer has nothing to do with my day-to-day tasks or clients, but rather with social media. I think it can be difficult to convey what an interior designer does. Even when I first stepped into this industry, I received that initial shock of “this is not what I saw on TV”. Design can be extremely technical and detailed work with a lot of thought going into understanding your products, their installation and how they relate to the building and surrounding environments. With social media platforms it is easy for the average user to look at a pretty picture and not understand whose role was what and the level of effort that goes into the execution.


What is the most rewarding part of your career?

Working with my clients and building a relationship during our time together, which in some cases can span years depending on scale of the project. Designing an environment in which your client will live or work in, is a very intimate endeavour! We get to know each other quite well by the end and when I receive that text/email/phone call full of excitement and love as we near the end of the project, it is the most rewarding feeling.


If you had to give one piece of advice for aspiring Interior Designers, what would it be?

ASK QUESTIONS. Leave ego at the door and do not be afraid to say, “I do not know what that is” and just ask what it is. And challenge yourself. Take any opportunity, within reason, to grow your skillset. It took me 12 years of working with builders, architects, and designers, before I felt confident and ready to start my own business. But within those years I received support to understand how the industry operated, to go to conferences and grow my knowledge of the software we use. This experience was instrumental in how I run my company.


For our readers who are looking to style their homes but are unsure where to start, what would you tell them?

For starters, create a budget. Understand how much you are willing to spend on décor in each of your spaces. I suggest splurging on the staple pieces (couch and chairs) in classic tones to allow for longevity. This leaves the more versatile items (pillows and throws) to be ‘trendier’ and cost-effective.


When it comes to styling, it really depends on the room. With a living room, I always say the couch (biggest investment piece!) or an area rug (to pull colour tones). For a kitchen, look for artisan pieces that add warmth and character. In a bedroom, it is typically the art for me. If it is statement piece, I tend to stay soft and neutral for bedding and go bold for the opposite.


If you weren’t an Interior Designer, what would you be doing?

I would be a travel blogger. If I could, I would spend my life exploring this globe.  I love meeting and interacting with new people, experiencing cultures, and tasting new cuisine!


What is your favourite piece from our store and how would you style it?

I gravitate to your vases and love playing with a combination of the textures of your Sophia vase and the tone of the smoked grey glass of the Lori Vase. In a few of my spaces, I have left them without décor and in other shelving arrangements, layered them with books and florals (specifically eucalyptus).


Nancy Surby from NAKO Design. Interior design firm based out of Calgary Alberta.