Anna Jones

As a kid, Anna was always busy and that's one thing that hasn't changed, especially with her taking the leap to start her own studio called MOD.

Take us back to you as a kid.

I was always busy, always involved in something or always working on a project.  When I was around 6, I wrote and illustrated around 200 children’s books.  I played in piano competitions, I played sports, I was a math nerd and completed my second year of calculus my Freshman Year in High School. In my free time, I re-decorated my bedroom for fun.  One time I created my own wallpaper and covered a whole wall in a black and white photo collage. I was antsy and an over-achiever, and unfortunately still am to some extents.  

Who did you want to be?

I grew up in a household of architects and told myself I did not want to be an architect or designer, because no kids want to be just like their parents, but, look what happened.  I contemplated fashion design, but couldn’t sew in that capacity. I realize now being surrounded by my parent’s creativity, visiting them in their studios, coloring with their markers, listening to them talk about buildings and design on our vacations, had a really large impact on how my creative side flourished and how I ultimately ended up in the design profession. 

"In my gut, I knew I just needed to take a leap or I would always be questioning, 'what if'."

What was last Monday like for you?

Last Monday began with an early morning class at Power Life.  Nothing like hitting the ground running and sweating at 5:45 AM on a Monday.  After that, it consisted of checking up on emails, a site visit to a project currently under construction to coordinate countertop installations, and back to my home office in Sherman Hill to work on drawings and renderings for a custom home project.  I usually take a break in the late afternoon to play with my pup, then back to the computer for drawing and rendering.  Design is time intensive, but when projects you are passionate about fall into place, it becomes more fun than work. 

Walk us through the days leading up to starting MOD Design?

I studied Architecture at Iowa State University.  Upon graduating, I joined an award-winning design firm here in Des Moines where I was presented with wonderful opportunities to work on a diverse array of project types and sizes.  After 6 or so years there, I found myself questioning where I was and what else was out there.  Architecture tends to be a pretty demanding profession – it can be stressful and there can be many long hours with deadlines. I wanted better work/life balance, I wanted opportunities to develop and learn skills that were beyond sitting behind a computer all day.  In my gut, I knew I just needed to take a leap or I would always be questioning, “what if”.  So, I took a leap to combine my passion for writing, marketing, graphics, design, and architecture… which led me to MOD. 

"Design is time intensive, but when projects you are passionate about fall into place, it becomes more fun than work." 

What keeps you busy?

Other than MOD, I am a writer for Dwell Magazine on their online platform and the current Editor of IA Architect Magazine.  I have also been heavily involved with an amazing non-profit organization, Iowa Women in Architecture, which works to educate communities, empower individuals, and advance women in design. I have found that I enjoy being an advocate for architecture and design.  

Outside of design, I love to travel.  If I could travel for a living, I would.  I also like to spend time with my dog, Q, and my fiancé.  We are currently planning our wedding for May of 2018, so that keeps me a little busy as well! 

How do you stay focused?

I stay focused by taking breaks and working when I work best.  I am a morning person, so tend to be more productive in the morning.  I love having a cup of tea and my breakfast while I listen to music and dig into my work.  I also find myself very focused at coffee shops.  There is something about the setting, being surrounded by conversations and having people around, that energizes me and allows me to focus.  If I find myself not being able to focus, I go for a walk or take a little break to re-energize. 

"I find myself very focused at coffee shops."

What’s been the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge has been that there is SO much that goes into starting and maintaining a business.  My brain is creative.  Learning how to form the “business” parts (accounting, contracts, financials, etc.) has been a learning curve, but one I am grateful to have gone through. I continue to learn something new every day, which is what I wanted, so I guess it is working out! 

Marketing is enjoyable for me – creating the graphics, thinking about how to sell your brand.  However, it has been a challenge for me to sell my brand.  I don’t like talking about myself, and I suppose I need to learn how to do that! 

How did you overcome it?

Asking questions, and asking more questions. I found that Des Moines is filled with young professionals who are willing to help other young professionals flourish.  I have found great connections through an organization called FemCity which supports female business owners.  It is about surrounding yourself with the right people and asking the right questions.  

You get to redo something you’ve done. What would that be and why?

In May of this year, my fiancé and I went on a two week trip to Switzerland and Italy with just backpacks.  My back, my legs, and I really wish I would not have packed the bag to its full extent.  Just because your bag is that big does not mean you need to pack it that big. #Traveltips.  

"Don’t stress too much on the present."

Someone is starting their own thing. What would you say to them if they came to you for advice?

Network, network, network.  It’s all about building relationships and creating connections.  Our community is filled with people that either can help you, or you can help them.  We all work together to help strengthen and grow our wonderful city of Des Moines. 

Also, don’t stress too much on the present.  Things take time, starting a business takes time. It is a lot of hard work and a lot of investment up front, but after a few months things start to settle and feel comfortable and you will think to yourself, “I am so happy I did this”. 

Why Des Moines?

There’s something special about this city.  I grew up in Des Moines and haven’t left yet.  It’s been so exciting to watch the city evolve and grow through the years.  We are spoiled here – the cost of living is low, it is easy to get around, the airport is 5 minutes from my house, the people are friendly, and most importantly, there are so many opportunities to get involved and make an impact. 

What’s one new thing that has caught your eye?

How can I not mention the new Kum and Go Headquarters? The Renzo Piano building is going to be an amazing addition to Des Moines and our downtown.  Our city is going to have a National Award-Winning Architecture project. It’s been so fun to watch the construction progress and I cannot wait to see the final product. 

"Architecture and design have the opportunity to positively impact people and communities."

You can grant Des Moines one wish. What’s that wish?

My wish for Des Moines is that Des Moines continues to positively grow and evolve, but as it does, to maintain its same character and not lose sight of the amazing place that it is.  

For someone new to DSM where do you suggest they go?

This is a tough one, as there are so many places to choose from! So, I am going to plan them a day.  Start off with coffee at Horizon Line coffee, such a great, minimal place with the best lattes and service. Next, walk around the Sculpture park a few blocks over.  Head to the East Village to window browse and shop local.  Definitely, walk to the top of the Capital Steps to see the best view of Downtown.  Take a break and have lunch at Lucca in the Village, homemade Italian food for a great fare at lunchtime. Then, head West to the Art Center – an amazing collection of art and architecture right in our city.  For dinner, let’s say it’s a Tuesday, head to Django for their perfect happy hour deal of wine, charcuterie, and oysters.  For a nightcap, head to Hello Marjorie for a fun cocktail and throwback in time. 

The most underrated thing in DSM is ________. Why?

The most underrated thing in DSM is the Civic Center.  We have amazing line-ups of Broadway Shows and concerts. I mean, Hamilton is coming! 

"We all work together to help strengthen and grow our wonderful city of Des Moines."

What are you most proud of and why?

The thing I am most proud of is taking the leap to start MOD.  It was a huge leap out of so many comfort zones, not knowing where it would lead.  I may still have questions today about what the future holds, but I know at this moment, it is what I am supposed to be doing and every day is exciting and a new challenge. 

It’s been six months, what do you hope to have accomplished?

Six months from now, I hope one of my most exciting projects is under construction.  This spring, MOD hopes to start construction on a modern and affordable single-family home in the Drake Neighborhood. At 1,500 SF, the home has modern amenities of downtown, urban living – concrete floors, lofted sleeping quarter and office, all modern finishes and fixtures.  I hope the project can be a successful prototype for how we can build more affordable, middle-class housing as infill properties in neighborhoods around downtown that need some support. And, hopefully, it leads to more of them!

One thing that matters most to you is what?

Making a positive impact.  Architecture and design have the opportunity to positively impact people and communities.  I hope to do that someday, it’s the real reason I do what I do.

Photo credit: Whitney Warne

Derek Jensen