March 22, 2012 | Vol. 42, No. 12

Focus and creativity led designer Nash to dream career

It took a couple of casts for Corrie Nash, the youngest child in a Haines fishing family, to hook a career that suited her.

Corrie Nash

A 2000 graduate of Haines High School, she started at University of Alaska Fairbanks, majoring in accounting and business. She lost interest and studied massage in California for a year, then ran a massage business in tiny Elfin Cove for a few summers.

“One day, I started thinking about what I really wanted to do,” Nash said in a recent interview, “and I realized that I really was interested in how spaces affect us.” Her interest led her to a program in interior design and architecture at the Art Institute of Portland.

She was the only student in her art school class with a bow target set up behind her apartment to practice her aim in advance of deer-hunting season.

“When (Corrie) focuses on one thing, she really follows through. That’s the cool thing about her,” said brother Aaron Nash. “Most people see things and wish they could do it. It just occurs to her to do it.”

Design put Corrie in touch with an artistic impulse ingrained in her upbringing. “You have to be creative in so many ways in Alaska to pass time in the winter. My mom’s a quilter and my dad’s a fine woodworker on top of everything else. For me, it was like, these hobbies are so fun, and now I can pour this creative energy into something,” she said.

Nash now works as an interior designer with Juneau-based Jensen Yorba Lott, one of Alaska’s oldest architectural and design firms. She’s one of the firm’s main interior designers in a team working on a major upgrade of Kodiak High School. Other projects include the Juneau Airport redesign, the construction of the Klukwan gymnasium and work on the Gustavus School.

Nash said she never dreamed she’d find a place to work so close to home. As a plus, she gets time off from her job each year for hunting and fishing with her family.

“I feel really lucky and really blessed. I get to live the life that I love up here. And I am really fortunate with the company that I work with, that they understand the lifestyle (of Alaskans) and what the richness of life is about.”

Nash is the youngest of six children in her family and one of three adopted from South Korea. Mom Becky Nash said at age three, Corrie sat atop the bait house of the family’s commercial troll boat, using a clicker to count fish as they came aboard.

She was known as the hard worker in the family, who was “always pushing herself to learn more, faster than she needed” and the one who did cartwheels “all the way to school and back,” Becky Nash said. “She is determined when she sets herself a goal.”

Corrie traces some of her drive to her early experiences. “Growing up on a boat teaches you how to work. It’s an honest way to make a living: as much as you put into it, you get out of it.”

In her design work, Nash said she draws inspiration from the natural world. “I like to pull a lot from nature. Growing up in Alaska and on the ocean and in the more remote parts of Southeast, there is so much beauty in the world that surrounds us. I like to really celebrate the beauty of the natural materials as they exist in their own state.”

This translates into a preference for the use of natural materials, like stone or wood, rather than a manufactured finish that mimics them.

Nash feels equally engaged and balanced by the technical side of her work. “It’s essentially this big, problem-solving equation every time we go into a project… Then I get to do the bonus work and have the fun and get the creative finishes and colors. I guess it’s the best of both worlds.”

Reflecting on her upbringing, Nash said growing up in a small town provided her with communication skills that played an important part of her success.

“In a smaller community, we are more accountable at a younger age… (Everyone) knows what you are doing. This gives you a step up when you get out into the real world. As a professional, and even as a student, the most important thing is being able to articulate who you are and what your goals are. The ability to communicate is key.”

Nash also recommends that students chafing at the limits of a small-town look into exchange programs. She admits her own year abroad was a bit of a culture shock, going from summers in Elfin Cove, a remote fishing settlement with no roads or cars 70 miles west of Juneau, to Melbourne, Australia, population 4 million, at age 16.

“It is an experience that could shape who you become... Kids that are ready for a change, (but are) still in school, instead of getting discouraged, look into what is possible. There are programs that will do everything they can to allow you to see the world. Take advantage of all of these people and programs trying to help you.”

As someone who has been successful in coming from a small town and finding her way to a career and a place that fits her well, Nash has this advice to offer to current Haines students: “Nothing is impossible. There are opportunities around the corner that we don’t even know exist. Find what you like to do and then find a way to do it. It’s not as hard as it looks.”