Michele (Boggs) Koken has made a career doing what she loves – interior design. But she’s not only a designer, she’s an entrepreneur who is the founder and owner of Indianapolis-based MB Designs. This venture has kept her busy for the past 11 years designing residential and commercial spaces. Starting the business at age 27, she’s now one of the most coveted residential interior designers in the Indianapolis area and regularly featured in Indy Monthly’s special “Home” magazine.
Koken, ’02, has a charm of her own. She exudes her modern classic style in her own appearance, conversation and creativity, while maintaining a warm, personable and service-oriented disposition that clients warm up to quickly.
“I think one of the most important parts about being a designer is to have a good relationship with your client,” said Koken, an interior design major in the College of Architecture and Planning at Ball State. “They absolutely trust what you’re going to do, and you get their sense of style and vision of how they live so you can create this comfortable environment for them.”
In the last three years, she took on a commercial project with Onebridge in Indianapolis and converted a commercial building shell that was storing cars into an office masterpiece. From space planning and fixture selection to lighting and furniture layout, Koken thinks through every element of design with her clients when working on a project. She designed an environment with the employees’ productivity and happiness in mind — thinking about what would make them want to come to work every day.
“It was a huge accomplishment for me to do a commercial space when I focus mostly on residential design.”
A strong foundation
She began laying the foundation for her career at a young age. Koken remembers when she was a child having a fascination with drawing and buildings and would sketch floor plans (which she still has today). She grew up in northern Kentucky in Maysville, a small town that valued art and is known for antiques.
Koken was active in her small high school, serving as class president and being in about every extracurricular activity offered. Her background and passion shaped her aspirations, so when it was time to look at colleges, she was ready for a new experience and a school exceptional in design.
“I really wanted to venture outside of my little town. I was very outgoing, so I wasn’t too concerned to meet new friends.”
Ball State’s prowess in architecture attracted her. On a rainy day, she visited the campus and, despite the weather, instantly fell in love with the University. She knew she wanted something bigger but somewhere she felt comfortable.
“I think Ball State hit that perfectly for me. I felt at home.”
Her initial impressions of Ball State turned into a palpable connection to the place and what it had to offer. She took school seriously and excelled in her classes, including her first drafting class. She survived the moment she realized she was expected to draw in ink instead of pencil. Although she loved her architecture classes, she decided to switch her major to interior design, with a minor in marketing. This decision sparked even more growth and a new path.
“Ball State provided me with the roots to enter the real world and grow as a designer,” Koken said. “I feel very fortunate for the path I have taken and the opportunities that have come my way.”
One of her professors, Reza Ahmadi, remembers her as a serious student, but with a warm personality and always smiling.
Koken says that her four years were some of the best of her life and an enriching experience. She especially prizes the friends she made in her classes, in Brayton/Clevenger Hall in LaFollette Complex and in Kappa Delta Sorority — all of which provided a social network that is ongoing years later.
Propelled into the professional world
Upon graduation, Koken was ready to get to work. She hired on with Davis Homes, a production builder, where she learned much about the process. Sitting down with the home buyer and walking through every part of the house, she grew in her understanding of the process of home building. Eager to expand her creativity, she joined DJ Interiors, a local Carmel interior designer where she was the designer’s right hand.
Her later work for the William Gordon Group, located in Carmel, allowed her the opportunity to work on customized homes alongside a talented group of designers. An elective course at Ball State in which she learned how to drywall and use survey equipment came in handy during daily on-site work for construction of a segment of the Village of West Clay. This affluent Carmel community is a historically approved area known for its traditional architecture.
While gaining this experience, she considered the possibility of opening her own business.
“I think I always knew I would have some type of business.” But first, she said, “I definitely wanted to be a sponge in the world. I wanted to absorb the knowledge from the builders and other designers to gain as much experience as I possibly could.”
A downturn in new housing construction encouraged her to take the leap. In 2007, she made the leap and started MB Designs, and just a year later Koken said she made her big break. When asked to be part of a Home-A-Rama, (a ticketed event where several homebuilders showcase custom-built new homes that are furnished) for Executive Homes Home Building and Remodeling in Carmel, she jumped at the chance. It was free marketing and advertising outreach to the 10,000 people who walked through that year.
“People have kept my business card from that event and still call me today,” Koken said.
A home in Indiana
Since that Home-A-Rama in 2008, Koken has had to do little promotion, staying busy in the Indianapolis residential housing market and letting positive word-of-mouth work to her favor.
Part of this is her ability to connect with her clients and deeply understand what they want in their homes.
“I’m never designing for myself. I’m designing for them, but I’m guiding them in the process.”
One such client was Paul Rothwell, the cofounder and COO of Onebridge. She had built a good relationship with him and his family by designing their home. So, when the opportunity came to design his growing business in 2015, she was the trusted advisor.
Such commercial projects are a rarity, especially ones at such a large scale (30,000 sq. feet). The goal was to create a “Google-esque” environment.
“I love space planning. It’s like a puzzle,” she said. “I geeked out about being able to do something that large. It was a blank slate. We walked in, and it was concrete floors, and someone was storing cars in it.”
Through interviewing the leadership and employees, Koken envisioned what now is a contemporary workplace.
Koken worked with a large team of vendors. From electricians and door manufacturers to audio-visual and flooring specialists, the vendors all looked to Koken and Paul for vision and direction.
Now complete, the design of the space has a fun, productive and cheerful vibe. The open-concept feel encourages collaboration. It has water features, eclectic art, a gym, snack bar and outdoor patio spaces. Completely transformed from what it was before, the space allures new talent and is helping Onebridge differentiate itself. The growing company was honored in the top 100 Best Places to Work in Indiana in 2017, ranking seventh in large companies (250-999 employees).
Although residential design is still Koken’s primary work, more commercial design projects have been in the works. She just completed the new office for Onebridge in Cincinnati and another project for RICS Software in the JF Wild Building downtown Indianapolis.
Whether traveling to furniture markets in North Carolina, or going to elegant, expansive showrooms in Las Vegas and Chicago, Koken stays inspired and up-to-date on trends, but she brings her passion and curiosity back where she has found her own home — not far from her alma mater – in the heart of Indiana.