Growing up, Matthew Tenzin knew he wanted to be an interior designer, but saw his hopes dashed by a teacher who told him it was only a profession for women. After a transformative spiritual experience, his life went in a different direction: He became a Buddhist monk, traveling to monasteries around the world and living for months at a time in solitary meditation.
“All along the way, every time they put me in a little room or cabin, I would immediately have to redecorate,” Tenzin tells host Kaitlin Petersen on the latest episode of the Trade Tales podcast. “It became natural to attune to the aesthetics as well as the energetics of spaces.” After five years, he realized that his inclination to improve spaces could have a greater impact. “I felt like, ‘I can’t just sit here while so much is going on in the world and not share this in some way.’”
After returning home to Colorado in 2008, he met Joe McGuire at an event to see the Dalai Lama—and found in the designer someone who not only shared his interest in Buddhist principles but also the impact spaces had on the well-being of their inhabitants. In addition to forging a personal relationship, Tenzin soon joined McGuire at his eponymous design firm, Joe McGuire Design. As the pair have scaled the firm—from just the two of them to a team of 22 in the past decade—they have launched a holistic design consultancy, Home Within, as another way to approach the design process, and embarked on a journey to find harmony between clients, their communities and the environment at large in each and every space.
Elsewhere in the episode, Tenzin shares why the industry needs to attend to the health impact of design decisions, how giving employees clear parameters allows them to grow on their own and why what he calls “affluent consciousness” is an essential ingredient in a successful client relationship.
Crucial insight: When practicing holistic design, part of Tenzin’s job involves focusing on the intangible qualities of a space—a mission that can be at odds with the more material aspects of the design industry. He’s found that the process of creating spaces starts with choosing clients who are open to taking the longer route in exchange for a more mindful end result. “We’ve gotten good at tuning into gratitude and kindness … when we’re interviewing [clients] for jobs,” says Tenzin. “Ideally, [we’re] shifting toward a more conscious way of designing—more intentional, more tuned in to the impact of our decisions.”
Key quote: “For me, holistic design is a more intentional process of building a home, where it’s not just like, ‘I get a home and I get all the stuff that I want and who cares how that impacts everybody else in the world.’ It’s about how this can be a win-win for everyone—for the land, for the home, the [current] occupants of the home, the future occupants. It’s a win-win for the whole.”