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Working Professional Turned Caregiver Starts Interior Design Business

Laurie Kaneshiro

By Helen Altonn

Starting her own business wasn’t on Laurie Kaneshiro’s bucket list when she left a good job to stay at home and care for her 84-year-old mother. She was a principal in a Honolulu architecture firm when her mother, Yukie Kuwahara, came from Oregon in February 2009 to live with her and her husband in Kaimuki. Kuwahara, who was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, died in November 2012.

“Increasingly, I couldn’t leave her alone because she was falling all the time,” Kaneshiro said. Eventually, she quit her job and continued her 30-year career as an interior designer at home while confronting the challenges of a caregiver. She started her own home-based company in June 2010.

Kaneshiro says she’s more of a commercial than residential interior designer but two years of caregiving gave her keen insight into the pitfalls and changes needed in a home for the health and safety of a loved one. Today, she speaks on disability issues for AARP’s Home Fit Program, offering examples and advice on such questions  as where to put grab bars, how high and how many.

“Luckily, I’m in a profession I love doing,” she said. “I wasn’t trying to learn a new business or skills.”  However, she began taking computer drafting courses at Chaminade University in 2011 and is continuing to learn “super duper software” to expand her capabilities. The Kaneshiros gave up their master bedroom to set up her Pure Interiors office, she explained.  “My investment in computer stuff is tremendous.”

“I’m trying to figure things out as we go along,” she said, adding that money is always a concern. She and her husband purchased long-term care insurance after the high costs of caring for her mother. Her husband also is tackling a new job as HR Manager and OSHA compliance for an auto dealership after 27 years as a human resources manager at the former Liberty House.

Kaneshiro has worked with retirement and nursing facilities on design changes and architectural firms have sought her help with projects such as the Kapolei courthouse complex. She was asked to help with the new Kona courthouse planned five years from now.

“I hadn’t thought about when I’d retire,” said the interior designer, who will be 60 on Father’s Day.  “I think I could do it in my 80s if my health is good.  If you choose something your body can keep up with, you can keep it going.”

She advises people to “find a little niche” in a volunteer organization to meet people and learn about the community. “It’s sort of a springboard, not so much about what you get personally but you feel good about helping others.”

Hawaii boomers seeking to adapt to a new life phase can get ideas and guidance through a free AARP program called Life Reimagined. AARP is also offering a free, half-day mini conference entitled Reboot Your Life: Savvy Strategies for Your Second Act on Saturday, June 21 (8 a.m. – noon) at the Japanese Cultural Center.

Entrepreneur, author and philanthropist Christopher Gardner will attend the Honolulu event and give the keynote speech. His autobiography, The Pursuit of Happyness, inspired the 2006 Columbia Pictures film of that name.

Register online for the June 21 event or call toll-free 1-877-926-8300.

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