Diary Moment: Did my Dad know I’d end up in Interior Design?

Yesterday somewhere between 1:30am and 2am was the 7-year anniversary of my dad’s passing. Missing him hit me much harder than it has in recent years, so I wrote a cathartic Facebook post reflecting on the past year since I started my lil interior design business:

Seven years ago, right around this time of night, my dad left this earth. And while it’s “gotten easier” since, tonight is really, really emotional.

I think it’s because, in the past year that I’ve been working on my little business, there have been so many times that I wish I could have asked him for his advice, or for his stories I’d never thought to ask about. Like, “When you had to publish your Business Name Statement, which newspaper did you pick?” “Why were your swags bamboo fans and chip clips?” “When did you realize that you could survive the rough patches?” or “Did you ever get over how terrifying and futile it all feels sometimes?”… and I’ve wondered what he’d think of my business cards or what I keep under his old paperweights.

But while my dad was alive, despite being an entrepreneur his whole career, he never suggested it as an option to me. Looking back, given the racism he faced as a post-WWII Japanese American, and given that he was removed from UCLA to be sent to the internment camps and not given the chance to complete college, I can imagine he might not have thought he had other options like a “white collar job” at some big firm when he was young. So a part of me suspects he wanted an easier life for me: graduate from a good university, get a nice-paying corporate job, struggle little, stress not… because now that I’ve been through my first incredibly trying year of setting out on my own, I completely relate to the self-doubt, depression, and paralyzing fear that loom over this path of self-employment.

And yet, I think if he were here today, he’d still have told me to go for it – so I’ll keep that with me whenever things get difficult. But for tonight, I’ll let myself cry it out and miss my Daddy. And then I’ll get back to business.

My favorite photo of me and my dad, taken on his fishing boat when I was about 4. He got me and my sis Little Mermaid life jackets, which was like the most exciting thoughtful thing ever to lil baby Noz.

Even though my dad was very proud that I’d be working at Clorox in Marketing after I graduated (I accepted the job offer 6 months before he passed), I’ve so wished that he were alive to know that I followed quite closely in his footsteps. My dad’s main businesses while I was growing up were in real estate + construction: a fully vertical model, he would sell land to a client as the Broker, and then he’d put on his General Contractor hat and build the buildings on that land. He also designed + managed the construction of his dream “forever family home” in the burbs of LA that I spent almost all of my childhood in.

But while I wish I could have told him that my first very own company is an interior design business, all day I’ve been reflecting on the time I had with him, wondering whether my dad might in fact have totally figured I’d end up in interior design eventually. I mean, there were a lot of signs:

  1. First off, I was obsessed with details of the homes I grew up in. The home we rented while our “forever family home” was being built had this heinous forest green carpet, which I LOVED and was devastated to leave behind. Later when I was older, I brought up the carpet and the weird tacky wishing fountain in the rental home’s foyer, and both my mom and dad were shocked that I had such vivid memories of that home – I was only 2-3 years old when we lived there!
  2. Given my attachment to that green carpet, my dad actually let little 3-year-old me “pick” the carpet that would go into our new home! This is another vivid memory: he showed me different samples, and I picked a speckled tufted carpet that was salmon-pink with speckles in rainbow colors. OBVIOUSLY a toddler would pick the most ridiculously colorful option. But instead, he went with an oatmeal-colored loop carpet that ALSO had multi-colored speckles (but they were brown, navy, and grey). So when we moved in a year later and I was so disappointed he didn’t install the carpet I had picked, I think he was really surprised that I 1. remembered at all, and 2. had expected so seriously for the carpet to have been the one I chose.
  3. When my dad was doing materials specifications on our home, he asked me what color I’d want for the toilets/bathtubs and tile. He had already planned on blue bathrooms, and my favorite color at the time was blue, so Little Me was thrilled when all 3 bathrooms ended up blue. I mean, have you ever seen a blue toilet in a house built in the last 30 years? It’s so random! I think my dad beamed a little bit whenever I’d give my friends the tour of the house and gloat when they were like, “Awww man! We only have boring white toilets!”

    The bathtub was also blue. And the sink basins. And the counters. Also note the blue linoleum. And I already covered the blue toilets.

    The bathtub was also blue. And the sink basins. And the counters. Also note the blue linoleum + bath mat. I’m the one with hella buckteeth.

  4. Whenever I played with Legos, all I ever built were homes. I would make a rectangle all the way around the baseplate (maximizing the square footage of the house based on the size of the “lot”, obvi), and then I would create partitions and make different layouts. I remember once lamenting to my dad that there was no Lego toilet piece, because I had to improvise with a 2×3 block with a 1×2 on top (the 1×2 was the tank), and that took up way more square footage than a Lego toilet would have.
  5. My dad often took my sister and me on outings to the local bookstore (anyone remember Bookstar??), and while my sister would run to the kid’s section, I would invariably, from the time I was maybe 6 years old, plunk down in the home decor book section and fan through the pages of books about bathroom design and living room design. My dad would always try to recommend books about kitchens, letting me know that kitchen design and kitchen renovations were where all the value was. But alas, as a little kid, I never played in the kitchen (because fire and boiling water and knives), so I was always like “Okay Daddy whatevs.”
  6. When I was grounded and sent to my room (often), I would spend most of the time decorating my bedroom with grocery store items, like when I tried to drape blue plastic wrap along the ceiling so it’d feel like I was inside a genie’s lamp.
  7. Not to mention when I was in middle school, I told my dad I wanted to be an architect, and took a year of old school drafting my freshman year of high school – which I discovered I was very good at. My dad was actually the one who told me that I should pursue a business career instead of architecture based on the fact that most architects didn’t make much money (see the italicized section above for context about the path my dad hoped for me), and Teenage Me took that advice to heart.

So I dunno, maybe it was obvious and maybe he did imagine that my journey through life might ultimately meander towards this space (in which case, he definitely should have gone with that rainbow speckle salmon carpet because clearly Baby Noz had mad interior design sensibilities!).

But while this time of year is always difficult and a part of me will always wish he could have known that I’m my own boss now, having my own business and working in residential interiors makes me feel so much more connected to his legacy. And who knows, maybe one day a client will ask me to design a bathroom with a blue toilet, and that will be my little sign from the universe that he knew all along 🙂


On Monday, I bade farewell to Houzz, the tech startup I’ve been working for since 2012.  It’s not the first time I’ve left a company – in fact, I’ve ended ties with jobs in almost every other way (contract expiry, leaving for another company, getting fired – that one was the best actually).  But this go-around, I’ll be plunging into the vastness of funemployment to do my own thing.

I don’t know if it ever occurred to me until recently that I might one day build my own business.  Thinking back to my childhood, I was always very practical. I recall more often having specific goals – buy a beautiful home, see the world, own a Gameboy Pocket – than dreaming about what I “wanted to be when I grew up”. My parents were also great at teaching me that working hard to earn a living would get me to those goals, without pushing me toward any specific career path.  So when I meanderingly discovered in high school that I was good at selling people on ideas, I set my sights on studying business in college and getting a job in marketing after graduating because that would be a smart, viable, lucrative career choice… and that’s exactly what I’ve done. Practical indeed.

Now, six years into a rather successful marketing career, I’m realizing that I never meant it all those times that interviewers asked “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” and I answered, “as a Marketing Director.” And I wish I could blame my practical nature for why I’ve not been more honest with myself until now, but I think very simply that I’ve been afraid:

  1. My late father, born into the Great Depression and then interned during WWII, worked hard his whole life such that my sister and I were born into much better circumstances; and I’ve been afraid of squandering the opportunities for education and employment I’ve been given.
  2. I graduated in 2008, watched my friends lose their jobs as the economy fell apart, and I was just grateful to be working for a very stable packaged goods corporation.  Despite gradual improvements in the past few years especially in San Francisco, I’ve been afraid of the job economy and what would happen to me if I left my place in the workforce.
  3. I don’t know how to code, and being immersed in the SF/Silicon Valley scene, I’ve been afraid that building a business didn’t count if it wasn’t a tech startup.
  4. I’ve been afraid that if my career didn’t consistently progress in a logical upward-and-to-the-right straight line, I was somehow failing at life.

That said, in 2012 during my six weeks between jobs, I had figured out a business idea for guiding people’s discretionary spending in major lifestyle categories like apparel, restaurants, home décor, etc. I was very excited about the idea, but I didn’t think I was ready yet (whatever “ready” means), so I accepted my offer to join Houzz and tried not to look back. It was a great ride for the past year and a half, but in the last few months I’ve done a ton of reflection on what more I want out of my life, and it’s become clear that it isn’t in my dreams to work for someone else.

It isn’t in my genes either: my dad, in addition to being an actor and pro wrestler, started successful construction & realty companies; and his father, who immigrated from Japan in the early 1900s, started a popular Laundromat and opened a thriving hotel in Los Angeles before the War; and I’ve rather wanted to follow in their footsteps and become a part of the Nozawa legacy of entrepreneurs.

I’ll always be able to find a reason to hesitate and delay my plans – there’s never going to be “the right time”… So I’ve decided to just take the plunge and go after this business idea with my full attention and drive.

I promised myself that in 2014, I would stop being so afraid of my dreams. It helps tremendously that my boyfriend and my amazing friends are so supportive of my idea and believe in me.  Still though, to be honest I’m pretty scared. Maybe even terrified. But this is also the most alive and electrified I’ve felt about hard work in a very long time. And correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that’s the point. February 28th, I’m ready for you.