Miranda Moss co-founded the design firm Seitz Yamamoto Moss in her Lake Harriet sunroom. But even after the company moved into bigger, grander offices, Moss made employees and clients feel at home.

If home were an art gallery, lined with water lilies and a white grand piano.

"'Elegant, not arrogant,' was one of the values of the organization," said Shelly Regan, the retired president of Yamamoto and a longtime friend. "Elegance and grace were in the details." Moss embodied that ethos, ensuring that a gift she selected for a client was just right, its tissue paper folded just so.

"It didn't matter who it was — a client, an employee — the effort was worth it because the person was worth it," Regan said.

With care and charisma, Moss led Seitz Yamamoto Moss, which became Yamamoto Moss in 1986, a pioneering branding agency that shaped not only the profession but its practitioners, many of whom went on to found their own firms.

Moss died Sept. 13 of breast cancer. The artist and entrepreneur was 81.

A native of Washington, D.C., Moss moved to Minneapolis with then-husband Peter Seitz after earning a bachelor's of fine arts in painting and art education at Maryland Institute College of Art. She worked as an illustrator and graphic designer in Dayton's advertising department.

In 1979, she, Seitz and Hideki Yamamoto founded Seitz Yamamoto Moss, "a new type of creative agency in the Twin Cities focused on the growing field of brand identity development," according to advertising news website the Minneapolis Egotist.

Think logos, typography, tone.

"Over the next 30 years, the award-winning agency ... built a national reputation for branding excellence and ... helped put the Twin Cities on the national map as a creative hub," the Egotist article said.

Regan first met Moss in her Minneapolis home. It was 1981, and Regan was a client, working on the Häagen-Dazs account. Moss and Seitz spread their concepts out on the coffee table. A few minutes later, Moss jumped up, exclaiming, "We need brownies!" She raced to the kitchen, whipping together the batter.

The concepts were "wonderful, spot on, terrific," Regan said. But what struck her were the brownies, served warm with coffee.

"That was typical of what I would later learn was an essential part of what made the agency successful — this value around hospitality and warmth and making people feel comfortable," she said. "That was a part of who she was."

The Minnesota chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners named Moss entrepreneur of the year in 1996, citing her entrepreneurial spirit, tenacity and innovation, according to a Star Tribune article from the time.

Kasey Worrell Hatzung was employee number 30 at the agency, which at one point grew to 110 in Minneapolis, Miami and Shenzhen, China. With the help of all-staff cruises and practical jokes, Moss and Yamamoto created a hardworking, fun-loving company culture.

"We were there all the time into the evening, overnight," said Worrell Hatzung, who went on to found her own agency, Fusion Hill. "But we had so much fun there that it was our work life and our social life.

"And Hideki and Miranda were right there with us."

Because Moss collected brilliant, charming people, the place sparked relationships, marriages, partnerships. Among them were Moss and Yamamoto, who married in 2001.

Moss was "absolutely the most elegant woman I've ever known," Worrell Hatzung said. She was also clever and wicked, charming and fun. "You could put her on a pedestal because of how graceful she was.

"But she was also so gracious."

She remained a fine artist, creating bold, colorful paintings that hang in corporate headquarters and private collections, in the Minnetonka Center for the Arts and Ridgedale Center.

"Every time you look at a piece of Miranda's, you can see something you didn't see before," said Roxanne Heaton, executive director of Minnetonka Center for the Arts, where Moss served on the board. "It's very engaging, much like she was."

Breast cancer brought Moss and Heaton together: Diagnosed at about the same time, in 2004, their surgeon thought they might get along. "One of the reasons I so quickly fell in love with her was that she was so hopeful and upbeat," Heaton said, despite a more difficult diagnosis that required chemotherapy.

Heaton remembers laughing hard with Moss in the clinic.

Moss and Yamamoto retired in 2009 and moved to Princeville, Hawaii, the island's flora finding its way onto Moss' canvases.

"It shouldn't have surprised me at all, but they created a family there," Regan said. "That same sense of connection, that same sense of warmth and respect and love and friendship and fun. Those were all things that they picked up in Minneapolis, put in their suitcases, dropped themselves down in Kauai, opened up those suitcases and boom — that magic happened there, too."

In addition to Yamamoto, Moss' survivors include her sister Sheila Thomison, son Chris Seitz, daughter Miranda Johnson and five grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her son Bryan Seitz.