The cofounder of Vancouver’s Kalu Interiors on his boyhood love for fashion design, the complementary nature of his professional partnership, and his desire to empower even just one person to take a risk.
By Lauren Mang
Aleem Kassam’s calling has always been some form of design.
It started as a soft spot for fashion—glamorous gowns seen in magazines and on TV—and later morphed into a love for interiors. At the Art Institute of Vancouver, Kassam cemented a friendship with design aficionado Phyllis Lui.From there, the duo formed the beginnings of what would become Kalu Interiors, a Vancouver-based residential and commercial design firm.
Kassam will take the GRAY Stage at Interior Design Show (IDS) Vancouver on Saturday, September 28 at 2 p.m. to deliver a keynote detailing his creative path and what it takes to start an interior design business. Ahead of his talk, GRAY caught up with Kassam to learn more about the ideas and experiences that inform his work.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? I wanted to be a fashion designer. I was always enamored with fashion, particularly eveningwear and gowns. Glamour in my life started from an early age. The inspiration came from watching my mother, my aunts, television, magazines— a variety of elements I was exposed to [ opened my eyes to a world much broader than a little boy from Deep Cove, BC, could even imagine. I recently came across a variety of sketches I made at that time. I had a glamorous imagination.
Why did you decide to cofound Kalu Interiors? While attending the Art Institute of Vancouver in the early 2000s, I met and quickly became best friends with my current business partner, Phyllis Lui. We shared not only a passion for interior design but also for business, as well as a desire to be leaders in our industry. We knew that we would work for ourselves, and that the path to get there wouldn’t be easy. We decided to plant the seed [to start a business] as a promise and goal to each other, and created the name Kalu (derived from our surnames Kassam and Lui). [That]was the beginning of Kalu Interiors. Both of us are different in many ways, but we knew forming a singular entity where both of us could complement each other and fulfill the areas the other lacked was our greatest strength.
What are you hoping attendees take away from your IDS keynote? Often times we aspire to be someone else, something great, and something larger than ourselves. This can be daunting, and in many cases, discouraging. These end goals seem so far out of reach, and usually unattainable. That’s because we see a beginning and an end. And rarely do we see the struggles, obstacles, and journeys that were taken to get there. I hope that by sharing my experiences, I am able to empower at least one person to take a risk, to travel their path and journey, and not be afraid to step beyond what they feel they might be able to achieve.
What is the most exciting project you’ve completed in the past year? I hope our clients don’t kill me, but I would have to say my own home. One of the most challenging projects to take on is your own. Being your own client is not easy: you’re second-guessing yourself, questioning your own decisions, and having the freedom you’re not used to. Luckily, when you have a business partner and best friend, such as I do, these decisions quickly become realized when I ask, “Phyllis, what should I do?” She answers with no hesitation, and I breathe a sigh of relief. This project allowed me to take new risks, and I’m at a stage in my life where I have finally have become confident enough to [be myself], and it paid off in the end.
What is the best, and worst, advice you’ve ever received? [The best,] from my Mom: Go to design school.
[The worst], also from my Mom: Go to design school.
Don’t miss out on any of the IDS action. Visit vancouver.interiordesignshow.com for the full schedule of installations, talks, and exhibitors, or check out GRAY’s picks for what to do during the 15th-annual event.