Last week, I had the opportunity to tour the San Francisco Design Center, which houses about 100 showrooms, workrooms and other design-related businesses. It was fascinating to discover all the touchpoints an interior designer might have when working on a single project.
It was also an illuminating, behind-the-scenes look at the interior design realm as a whole, and how the professionals in this field work together to protect the integrity of the work. For example, while the showrooms are technically open to the public, they will only sell to “people in the trade”. In fact, as an interior designer, you would need to prove your credentials before a showroom will deal with you (e.g. business license, business website, portfolio, etc.).
Our tour began at Laurel Sprigg, a sewing workroom dedicated to soft furnishings, such as curtains, pillows, and bedding. This was where it first became clear that even a seemingly small interior design project might require coordination with many parties.
Let’s take curtains, for example. Say, you’d like to add some custom-made curtains to your client’s room and have a certain design in mind. Before you even start dealing with a sewing workroom like Laurel Sprigg, you need to pick out your fabric and hardware. Oh, and while you’re selecting the hardware and fabric for the curtains, you better make sure the window was framed in a way that it can support the weight of these new curtains.
So, you might be dealing with an architect to make sure the framing can support the weight of the curtains; a showroom to purchase the hardware (e.g. rods, rings, etc.); another showroom to purchase the fabric; the curtain installers to make sure you have the measurements and are ordering the correct amount of fabrics; and the sewing workroom to fabricate the curtains.
That’s a lot of people just to install some new curtains!
Osborne & Little is a fabric and wallpaper showroom. So, looking at our example from before, this could be a place where you’d buy the fabric for those curtains.
It was interesting to see how much consideration needs to go into the selection of a fabric. How will the fabric be used? If it’s going to upholster a highly-used chair, for example, you’ll want to select a fabric with a high rub count. Will the fabric be exposed to the sun often? Better stay away from silks, as these fabric disintegrate quickly in sunlight.
I also had two realizations in this shop:
First, I really enjoy dealing with textiles. Maybe it’s my art history background, but I loved looking at all the patterns and colors. It really got my creative juices flowing!
Second, I was drawn to many of the bold and even funky designs, so I may want to explore commercial restaurant or hospitality design, where I would likely have more freedom to use these types of textiles.
Our next stop was Purcell Murray, a kitchen and bath showroom specializing in high-end brands, which is actually just up the street from the Design Center.
Insider secret: kitchen showrooms are where you can often get fed! In order to show off the appliances, these showrooms often have working ranges and ovens. For our tour, they had prepared our lunch.
We had a look at the various appliances in the kitchen, with some good insights and things to consider when working with your client to select new appliances. While interesting, I didn’t feel particularly passionate about it.
Maybe kitchen design is not my path, which is a shame because it’s probably a speciality where you can get the most work.
Kravet was another fabric showroom, that also sells their own line of furniture (apparently, a growing part of their business!). The rep from the store gave a lot of good advice on how to work with a showroom as an interior designer.
First, when you walk into a new showroom for the first time, it’s helpful to greet the staff and let them know what you’re looking for. The staff can advise you on how the store is organized and certain sections you may want to focus on. They can also let you know what information from the tag you should write down in order to request samples (or what’s known in the industry as memos).
We also got really good information on additional considerations for selecting fabrics, particularly upholstery fabric. Selecting a print to reupholster a chair? You’ll want to check in with the upholsterer on their recommendations for how much yardage to buy, which will depend on the print itself and where it will be cut in order to be best displayed on the piece of furniture. Along those same lines, you’ll need to indicate to the upholsterer which part of the pattern should be the focal point on the furniture.
Our last stop was HEWN, a high-end showroom selling a variety of interior design products, such as home furnishings, fabrics, wall coverings, lighting, rugs and furniture. They pride themselves on carrying hand-made, customizable products from smaller businesses and craftspeople.
I found myself really drawn to the furniture — the various styles, the techniques used to make them, the materials. This reinforced my interest in furniture design, and I want to prioritize exploring that area a bit more soon.
There was definitely a lot of information thrown at us during the tour, but here are my big takeaways from the experience:
- Building relationships — not just with clients but with showrooms and other professionals in the field — is vital for an interior designer. You want to be confident in the showrooms and workrooms you deal with, making sure they fit with your aesthetic and preferred work style and provide good, reliable service.
- I’m drawn to eccentric fabrics, wallpapers and other furnishings that you can often find in hip restaurants or hotels. I want to research more about design firms in the Bay Area that specialize in these types of projects.
- I appreciate the art and beauty in handcrafted furniture. I’ve talked to my husband in the past about attempting to build our own furniture and seeing what starting a business would look like. I’m going try to do some of that exploration soon.
It was fantastic to get this opportunity to tour the San Francisco Design Center and get so much insider knowledge about the field. I can’t wait to go back and explore more of the showrooms.