For those of you who have been following my blog for a while, you know that this past Spring semester, I took a class on architectural drafting. And this was drafting by hand. While it was certainly satisfying seeing the final product, these drawings took hours upon hours to complete.
It’s no wonder that these days, architects, interior designers, engineers, and others in the field now rely on computer programs to draft their floor plans, mechanical/electrical plans, elevations, etc.
There are many different programs out there (in fact my interior design program offers classes on three different softwares), but the program that seems to be the most popular (for 2-D drawing, at least) is AutoCAD. In fact, even when I was searching for internships, about half of the listings wanted proficiency in AutoCAD.
Luckily, Cañada College decided to offer an accelerated AutoCAD course during the summer session, and I jumped on the opportunity to add this to my skill set as soon as possible.
What is AutoCAD?
As the CAD in the name suggests, AutoCAD is a computer-aided design and drafting software. It is used by many different professionals to generate blueprints, floor plans, elevations and other drawings.
And though it may be obvious, here are a few advantages of doing computer drafting over hand drafting:
Working with a design team is easier, since drawings can easily be shared digitally.
You can draw fixtures, furniture, appliances, etc. only one time and re-use them for other drawings.
You can use items drawn by other designers, easily pulling them into your own drawings.
You can have a library of items and templates for re-use.
The great thing is: Autodesk, the distributors of AutoCAD, offer free licenses of the software to students and educators.
Thoughts so far
I’m only a week into my course, but as the title of my post suggests, I’m loving AutoCAD. I find it really easy and intuitive to use. And you can draw things so much more quickly than hand drafting. Make a mistake? Just hit undo or delete.
AutoCAD has keyboard shortcuts for all of the commands, which make the work even faster. And even if you’re working on a laptop, it’s good to use a mouse with a wheel, as that provides a lot of capabilities to easily navigate around your drawing (e.g. zoom and pan).
The class itself has been a little slow, since they have to accommodate students who may not be as computer-savvy. But yesterday, we spent the afternoon working on a few exercises and projects at our own pace, and that is when I really got into a good flow. It’s just amazing how quickly you can generate drawings after learning just a few basic commands.
For example, creating these outside walls for a hotel suite took my probably 10-15 minutes:
Drawing the same thing by hand would have probably taken me 2-3 times as long.
A few other drawings I completed:
In many interior design firms, it seems like the design assistants or junior designers do a lot of the drafting, so if I go that route, it’s definitely something I’ll do a lot of, in the beginning. In fact, some large design firm have dedicated drafters.
It’s also something you can do on a freelance basis, as some independent interior designers will outsource their drafting work.
We’ll see what the rest of the course has in store, but if this first week is any indication, working in AutoCAD is definitely something I’ll enjoy and could even become something I decide to specialize in.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about a number of internships I was looking into, as well as some home staging assistant positions I applied to, in order to start exploring the various paths within the interior design field and build up my experience and portfolio. I am happy to report that as of yesterday, I’ve started an internship with Pink Door Interiors, a home staging and interior design firm.
The bulk of Pink Door’s business comes from home staging, and during my first day yesterday, I got a good introduction to the field. My day was spent at their small warehouse, where they store most of their furniture, art and accessories.
It was quite a sight to see. Racks and racks of canvas and other wall art. Sofas carefully wrapped in protective plastic and stood up on their side to maximize space. Shelves going up to the double-height ceilings, housing chairs, ottomans and console tables. A whole room of just pillows! And another room filled with small accessories like dishes, picture frames, candles, soap, placemats, and more.
While I technically report to the owner of the business, I’ll be working most closely with the project manager, Joe. Joe gave me a great rundown of the home staging business, as well as some interesting tips.
Home Staging Process
Early on in the day, I eagerly asked, “So, what’s the typical home staging process?” While every project is different, Joe was able to give me a general overview.
First, they start with a client consultation, where they tour the house and talk about which rooms are going to be staged and how. In the case of Pink Door Interiors (and I imagine a lot of home staging firms), the client tends to be the real estate agent rather than the home seller. After consultation, Joe and the owner, Alejandra, meet and discuss the plan for the home stage.
Before too much work gets started, the next step is sending the client a proposal. This is where they lay out in writing:
Which rooms are being staged and to what extent (e.g. full stage vs. partial stage)
If any existing furniture needs to be removed
Selecting furniture and accessories
Once the proposal is approved, work gets started on selecting the furniture and accessories. You start with the furniture, of course. They “reserve” the furniture for each project in their online database system. Then, they’ll pull art and accessories, walking through the warehouse and seeing what fits with the overall look they are going for. Accessories and other small items are carefully wrapped and packed into bins, usually the day before the home will be staged.
On the morning of the stage, contracted movers come to transport the furniture and accessories bins. Fragile things like art and lamps are typically transported by the stagers themselves in their own cars.
Once at the property, the movers bring everything in. I’ll get to experience my first in-home staging project next Tuesday! With Pink Door Interiors, they like to start with unpacking and laying out all the accessories. Then, room by room they get everything set up. Sometimes during set-up, they find that something they selected just isn’t working, and in some cases, they have to go shopping to find better alternatives.
The clients will walk through the staged property and note any adjustments they’d like made.
After the home is sold, it’s then time for the de-staging process. Packing everything up. Disassembling furniture, if needed. And getting everything back to the warehouse.
Home Staging Tips
Throughout this internship, I’ll learn a lot of about the best ways to tackle home staging. Joe was able to give me some early advice.
Walk through the home on your own
When you do your initial consultation, tell the real estate agent that you’d like to tour the home on your own. This will allow you to put yourself in a buyer’s shoes and see the home with fresh eyes, without a realtor pointing things out to you or coloring your experience.
Stage to bring out the features of the home
When it comes to choosing the overall look you are going for, don’t worry the homeowner’s design taste or what you think they buyer’s style will be. The goal is for the home to appeal to the widest variety of buyers.
Instead, look at the style of the house itself. Does it have traditional features like crown molding and decorative cabinets? Opt for more traditional furniture. Is it a very sleek and contemporary home? Go for more contemporary furniture. Sometimes the clients will request (or insist) on a certain style, but it’s important to hold your ground — you know what’s best!
Ask for everyone to be out of the house when you stage
This tip is pretty self-explanatory, but I guess it can happen a lot. Staging requires a lot of moving and installing, and it’s hard to work around contractors or other people doing work in the home. And it’s best not to have the homeowner hovering, either. They can be very emotionally attached to the home and might push their own personal preferences on style and set-up.
Be strategic about the order you set things up in
When staging a room, I think most people’s instinct would be to set up the large furniture pieces first and then place all the smaller items. However, you need to take into consideration things that may be hard to set up if the furniture is in the way.
Need to plug lamps into an outlet that’ll eventually be blocked by a large desk? Get that plugged in first! Hanging a piece of art over the bed? Best to hang it before getting the bed set up (keeping in mind, of course, the height of the headboard). It’s a rule that seems obvious after the fact, but you’d be surprised how many people make this mistake.
Label your accessories in a partial stage
Sometimes you are staging a vacant home, but sometimes you are doing a partial stage, where you augment with homeowner’s existing furniture and decor with your own pieces. In these cases, the home staging company’s accessories can easily get mixed up with the homeowner’s. Whether it be a small label or a sticker, it’s good to somehow discreetly mark your accessories.
A lot more to come
I’ll be doing this internship for at least the next couple of months and potentially into the fall. During that time, I’ll have the opportunity to see and work on the full process of a home staging project.
Next week, I’ll get experience pulling accessories and packing them up, as well as actually staging a home. Eventually, I’ll see how proposals are put together and other administrative things related to the home staging business. Hopefully, I’ll get to shadow a client consultation and initial home walkthrough. I’ll even get some insights into the marketing side of things.
This internship will not only allow me to build up my resume and portfolio, but it’ll also expose me to the reality of home staging and help me determine if this is a path I’m interested in pursuing.
Over the last week, I’ve been looking into interior design-related internships or part-time work, with a few goals in mind:
Get hands-on experience and understand the real day-to-day work in this field
Explore the various paths within interior design to see what direction best fits my strengths, interests and working style
Start to build up my resume and portfolio
Of course, as anyone who has applied to a job or even an internship knows, one key step in the application process — submitting a resume.
But how do you put together a resume when you’re new to the field?
I set off to do a little research, and a quick search of “career shift resume” netted a lot of helpful information. Here were some of the top tips:
Identify your transferable skills
Just because you may be new to the field, doesn’t mean you don’t already possess skills that will help you excel. For me, I had to think about the experience from my past work that would be a benefit in the interior design world. These are things like project management and client service.
I was also able to list some of the skills I’ve gained from my classes this semester, such as knowledge of the principles of design, space planning, and drafting.
And here’s how I was able to present them in my resume:
Write a resume/career objective
This might seem a little old-school, but writing a career objective is an opportunity to show that while you may be new to the field, you have passion as well as a clear direction as to how you want to enter the industry. This can be really helpful for internships or assistant-level work, where it’s understood that you will have little or no experience.
However one good piece of advice when writing this section: it’s not enough to just show passion; you should also touch on your transferable skills and how they will be a benefit to this new line of work.
Here’s my career objective for a home staging assistant position I applied to:
Choose the right format for you
I think many people are familiar with the traditional resume format:
Skills, certifications, awards, etc.
In this format, the bulk of the content is typically reserved for the employment history section, where for each job, you list out your responsibilities and achievements.
However, this format doesn’t really work when you’re making a career change. It focuses too much on your employment in a completely different field, leaving your transferable skills buried.
When deciding on the best format for me, I thought about what my strongest selling points were.
I started with the career objective, just to lay the foundation and set some context for the person reading my resume. Then, I moved on to my summary of qualifications and skills, to really highlight how I could be an asset in the positions I was applying to. Next, I included my education, since it would show that I’m currently studying interior design. Finally, I concluded with a list of some of my past jobs. However, for this last section, I just listed workplace, location and dates; I didn’t list the responsibilities, as any transferable skills were also listed up in my skills section.
Here’s what the final resume for my home staging applications looks like:
And the great thing is I can use this same resume for multiple opportunities in the interior design field, with just a few wording adjustments.
As I’ve mentioned in a few of my previous blog posts on interior design, I feel like it’s time to augment my studies with internships. Not only will this give me a better look at the day-to-day and realities of the various paths in the field, it will also help me build up my resume and portfolio by the time I complete the program.
What am I looking for in an internship?
When weighing my internship options, there are a lot of nice-to-haves:
Paid over unpaid
Close to home
Well-known firm, designer, etc.
However, I feel like I could compromise on these for the right opportunity. Because here’s the absolute must-have: It must be an internship where I get a full view of the work, learning the ins and outs of the job coupled with hands on experience, rather than just doing administrative work.
What area do I focus on?
Right now, I’d like to start with residential design, working with either an interior designer/design firm or a home staging company.
Home staging is particularly interesting to me, especially for my first internship, for a few reasons:
It’s currently spring going into summer, which is a popular time for real estate, meaning it’s also a busy time for home staging.
Home staging projects are often faster than full interior design projects, meaning I would have a lot more experience under my belt (and in my portfolio).
So, what’s out there?
As program director, my teacher gets emailed a lot of internship listings. There are a couple of home staging companies and one interior designer that have caught my eye. It’s not clear if any of them are paid.
In their internship description, they note: “Interns will learn how to run a staging and interior design business, including how to stage and de-stage a property, give consultations to clients, create proposals, contracts, invoicing, etc.”
They go on to list the specific things that interns will learn how to do.
Clearly committed to educating interns and letting them be involved in the full lifecycle of a home staging project.
Don’t need any prior experience.
They are located all the way down in Santa Clara, which is pretty far for me, especially considering traffic.
They ask for a six month minimum commitment, which can be a long time, if it’s something I don’t end up enjoying.
This is an interior designer rather than a home stager. This opportunity also lacked a formal description but the owner did mention interns would learn both in the field and in the office. She is also a former Cañada student, so she understands what an intern would be looking to gain through the experience.
Former student, so she would know to make the internship a meaningful learning opportunity.
Looks like she works on both residential and commercial projects, so it would be interesting to see the differences.
She is open with timing/schedule and level of experience.
Located in Redwood City, which could be a difficult commute with the traffic.
I’m going to reach out to all three to find out more about what they are looking for and what I’ll learn. In addition, I going to look at Oakland and other East Bay-based firms. If I find one I like, I’ll reach out to see if they are interested in taking on an intern.
For the past few weeks, I had been having doubts about pursuing interior design. My class assignments had become something to just get done rather than something I was excited about tackling. And I found myself prioritizing other creative pursuits such as theater and the podcast over interior design.
But I became reinvigorated with this path after listening to a guest speaker in last week’s class. Gloria Carlson is a senior designer at Harrell Remodeling and a graduate of Cañada College’s interior design program. And much like many of the students in my classes, she didn’t enter the field until later in life.
It’s never too late
It all started when she was 40 years old and decided to remodel her kitchen. She worked with a contractor to execute the work, of course, but most of the design decisions fell to her. She enjoyed the process so much that afterwards, she asked the contractor if she could work for him part time to get more experience in the field.
Gloria’s work with the contractor consisted of mostly project management, but she also had the opportunity to help clients make design choices. It was during this time that she decided to take some interior design courses at Cañada College. Her original motivation was to increase her knowledge to help her in her position with the contractor. However, she quickly realized that she wanted to be a full-fledged designer.
Gloria continued to work for the contractor while taking classes. It took her five years to complete the program, but she also took almost every class the program had to offer and graduated with every certificate available at that time.
Upon completing the program, Gloria set off to become an independent interior designer. However, she quickly realized that this wasn’t the exact path for her. Finding clients and taking care of the business side took up too much time. She decided she would do better at a firm, and having worked for a contractor she knew she wanted to work for a design build firm — one where the company not only designs the new space but also executes the work.
She had one firm in mind — Harrell Remodeling, a high-end firm located in Palo Alto. Unfortunately, Gloria’s entry into the interior design field was right in the middle of the recession, and her dream firm was not hiring. So, she decided to work for a showroom, Gilmans Kitchen + Bath.
Gloria recounted how when she initially interviewed with Gilmans, the position actually went to someone else who had owned his own cabinetry business for years and had more experience in the field. However, a few months later, Gilmans called Gloria asking her to interview again. Their initial hire had been a dud; while he knew cabinets, he wasn’t a great people-person. And this is where Gloria shined.
Gloria worked for Gilmans for almost three years. But she still had the goal of working for a design build firm, so she kept her eyes open for opportunities. Eventually, the economy started turning around, and Harrell Remodeling was hiring again.
Gloria applied and secured an interviewed. It was a long process with many rounds of interviews and a portfolio review. Ultimately, the position went to someone else who had been an architect for 15 years.
Gloria was dejected and started to resign herself to the possibility that she would never achieve dream, that there would always be someone with more experience. But six months later, Harrell contacted her again about another designer position opening. Her personality had made an impression, and they were starting to rethink their hiring process to not just focus on experience.
And this time, she got the job! Six years later, she is now a senior designer with Harrell Remodeling. In fact, they call her the ‘rainmaker’ for how much business she secures.
She showed us pictures of her designs and the results were inspiring:
Learnings and next steps
Listening to Gloria’s story reconfirmed the importance of getting real-world experience while taking classes. When she completed her certificates, not only did she have the design knowledge and portfolio from class projects, but she also had experience on the project management and execution side (plus additional projects to add to her portfolio) through her work with the contractor.
Plus, her real-world experience helped her more quickly find the exact path that was right for her — working at a design build firm. I had already been considering trying to get an internship or part-time job with a designer or a firm in order to better understand the day-to-day, and I’m more determined than ever.
It was also reassuring to know that personality and people skills are just as important (if not more important) than design talent when it comes to succeeding in the field. And this is an area that I already feel pretty solid in. When I was in advertising sales, relationship-building and understanding my clients’ needs was my favorite part of the job.
And, of course, it was inspiring to see how successful Gloria has become and she was even older than I am when she got her start. It can often feel that it’s too late to make a major change, but Gloria is a prime example that hard work and determination can get you where you want to go, regardless of age.
My next steps:
Touch base with my professor on internship and part-time job opportunities. The program is well known in the field so they get contacted a lot about position openings. I think it might take me 3-4 years to finish the certificate program, and during that time, it would be beneficial to intern or work at different types of places so that I can have a stronger idea of what path is right for me.
Research more about design build firms. After hearing Gloria’s journey, I also think I would enjoy working for a firm that manages both the design and the execution of projects. I think I’d feel a better sense of security knowing that I could trust the team building out my designs. And it would also help to have the build team available to consult on the feasibility of my design ideas.
Start building my portfolio with pro bono or reduced rate work. I’ll start reaching out to friends and family who want to update a room and have the budget but need help with design.
I still haven’t given up on exploring the other career paths, but I do want to invest more time and energy into this field.
It’s spring break this week, which means I’m about half-way through the semester. This seemed like good time to reflect on how my classes are going and how I’m feeling about interior design in general.
For those who missed the first blog post about my return to academic life, I am taking a couple of courses through Cañada College’s interior design program. The program is accredited with a lot of professional organizations and is well know to people in the industry in the Bay Area.
My Introduction to Interior Design course combines design theory with practical application and includes a semester-long project where we put together a proposed design for a fake client. In my Architectural Drafting class, we are learning how to do hand drafting of site plans, floor plans, electrical plans and more. Hand drafting is no longer done in the industry but it serves as the foundations for the drafting computer programs.
Career exploration through classes
I have appreciated the structure of learning about a new career field through a teacher-led class. It has forced me to keep a regular schedule and pace with my exploration. I particularly like that the classes I’m taking are focused heavily on practical applications, not just theory.
These classes have been a good way to get a taste of the field. It has opened my eyes to many different career possibilities within this industry. And it’s comforting to know that if I decide to pursue this career path, this program comes with it a lot of connections to interior design professionals.
However, I’m starting to feel like I won’t get a real sense of what it is like to work in this field unless I supplement my courses with an internship or part-time work with an interior design firm (or related workplace). There’s a difference between work with your fake client who is a friend and working with a real client.
Thoughts on interior design
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the biggest learnings from my courses so far has been how many different career paths are available within the interior design field. I’m starting to learn more about which of these different avenues interest me more than others.
I’m very interesting in furniture and textiles. I find myself less interested in kitchens and baths. I’m still interesting in learning more about home staging, a niche that has a lot of growth opportunities in markets like the Bay Area, where real estate is booming.
I like the idea of being an independent designer because of the schedule flexibility it can offer, but the idea of working completely alone is a little overwhelming. Right now, I’m thinking that if I decided to pursue a career as an interior designer, I would want to start at a firm (even if it was a small one) to get hand-ons experience before deciding whether or not to branch out on my own.
Because my classes meet only once a week, I do feel like it is a prolonged learning period, where I may not get a sense of how I really feel about the courses and interior design as a career path until the end of the semester.
However, one thing I have noticed: a lot of the time, I’ve let other creative pursuits like theater and the podcast take precedence over my interior design classes. I mean, I have still gotten my course work done on time, but I haven’t been rushing to do certain assignments like I thought I would.
For example, for my Intro to Interior Design course, we’re at the stage of our final project where we get to “shop” for different furniture and furnishings for our client. I thought I’d be poring over Pinterest and furniture catalogs by now, but I haven’t even started. Instead, I’ve been focusing on auditions and podcast marketing.
I’m not sure how to read this. Is it that theater and podcasting are more energizing to me than interior design? Or maybe it’s that my theater pursuits and podcast work are things that I have created myself and dictate completely while the interior design projects have been assigned to me by a third party.
I feel like I’m still not convinced one way or the other if interior design is the career path for me. I will, of course, see my classes through to the end of the semester. And I may see if I can do an internship and temporary part-time work with a firm this summer before making my final decision.
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.
Last week, I discussed how pleased I’ve been with my interior design course and the amount of depth we’re going into on the actual process of working with a client. In fact, for our final project — which we will work on throughout the entire semester — we are tasked with choosing someone in our life to be a fake client and then working with them on redesigning the room of their choice.
My brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Rory and Melanie, have agreed to be my fake clients. They moved into a new apartment a couple of months ago, and it’s still very much a blank slate. When working with an interior design client, one of the first steps is meeting with them and asking a lot of questions to understand more about their lifestyle, how the room will be used, design styles and preferences, etc.
This past weekend, I met with Rory and Melanie in their apartment to find out more about what they’re looking for in their redesigned room. I had prepared a number of questions, but I also knew that other questions would naturally come up throughout the conversation.
The discussion came easy and was really enjoyable. It was fun getting to know them and their style a bit more. And it was satisfying when I brought up points they hadn’t even thought of.
I’m sure a lot of the ease I felt during this first meeting stemmed from my familiarity with this stage of the process. Before I worked in marketing at Facebook, I was in business development at an advertising agency. In that role, I performed what’s often termed ‘consultative sales’ — I worked with clients to understand their specific needs and then put together a custom advertising plan for them. So, as you can see, very similar to the interior design process!
My meeting with Rory and Melanie brought back memories of this former role and how much I loved that part of the job. It was the phase where I got to build rapport with my client; I got to ask the right questions and listen; and, like a puzzle or code, I got to interpret and surface the needs. I got particular satisfaction from working with clients who weren’t very good at articulating what exactly they were looking for, which forced me to really work hard asking the right questions and sometimes reading between the lines in order to uncover the heart of their problem or need.
During this phase of the process, there is often a spirit of collaboration, inspiration, and creativity. No matter what career path I end up choosing, I can see myself craving this type of needs interpretation & analysis and the creative problem-solving that follows.
As I continue with this class project, it will be interesting to see how much of the design process mirrors my past client management experiences. It’s nice to realize that although I may be new to the interior design field, I’m already ahead of the curve when it comes to the skills exercised when working with clients.
I’m three weeks into my Introduction to Interior Design class and have been pleasantly surprised with how much we’re focusing on the actual business side of the profession. From first meeting with a client and discussing their needs to figuring out your fee schedule and how you’ll bill, the course has provided great insights into the day-to-day of a interior designer.
This has brought up an interesting question — if I decide to pursue a career in interior design, will I want to work for a design firm or run my own business?
For years, I’ve dabbled with the idea of being an entrepreneur. There’s something alluring about being able to set your own schedule and choose your own work. Of course, I’m sure part of that is more romantic fantasy rather than brutal reality. I know that running your own business can mean working longer hours and constantly trying to drum up new work. But there’s also such a feeling of accomplishment I see from business owners.
Independent Designer vs. Design Firm
Looking at the entire design process, there are a number of differences between running your own interior design business and working in a design firm.
First, there is finding the client. Working in a firm, I imagine that clients are typically assigned to you. Yes, you may have the opportunity to bring in your own clients, but I’m not sure if there is the responsibility to do so. Related to that, I imagine large firms have an entire marketing team dedicated to promoting the business. As a business owner, marketing and sales would all fall to me, and especially in the beginning, I imagine this would take up a big part of my time. I think as an independent interior designer, you ideally get to the point where referrals alone fill up your schedule, and you can spend much more of your time on actual design work.
Second is meeting with the client and understanding their needs. This is a stage where I’m sure the process is pretty much the same. Whether you’re working as an independent designer or part of a design firm, this is the step where you will be asking the client questions about their lifestyle, their needs for the room(s) they’re looking to design, their style preferences, etc. This is also the meeting where you would typically start by presenting and reviewing the Letter of Agreement/contract, which outlines the services that will be provided and how the project will be billed. While a designer in a firm probably has a legal department to prepare at least the template for this document, an independent business owner will need to put together this document on their own, including setting their own fees.
The rest of the design process is probably similar between the two work environments. The designer needs to make initial sketches, research furniture and furnishing solutions, have renderings prepared, and present their design proposal to the client. Some of the work during this phase — such as furniture floor plans or 3D renderings — may often be completed by a specialist. Working in a firm that specialist is likely just a different department within the firm, while an independent interior designer would need to outsource that work or do it themselves. However, one big thing in common between the two designers is the importance of tracking their hours. Whether you hire a design firm or an independent designer, it’s likely that most of the work will be billed hourly, so detailed time-tracking is imperative for a designer.
Execution of the design follows the approval of the proposed solution. Implementation of a interior design (e.g. painting, light installation, furniture placement, or even wall removal) will always be done by a contractor. As an independent interior designer, you will make it clear in your Letter of Agreement that the contractor needs to be hired directly by the client. A designer can give recommendations, but it is ultimately up to the client to select and hire the contractor. The interior designer will not oversee the contractor but will sporadically pop by to make sure the design is being executed according to plan. If something is amiss, the designer will report that to the client, not the contractor, since it is the client that has the business relationship with the contractor. Some large firms will have a team in charge of execution of the design, so I imagine that there could be a freer flow of communication between the designer and contractor.
Once the design is complete, there is the post-occupancy evaluation. Whether you are an independent interior designer or work in a design firm, you will typically visit the client a few weeks after the execution of the design is complete in order to check in on how the new space is working. This is also a good time to ask the client permission to photograph the room for inclusion in a portfolio or as part of promotional materials. While a design firm would have a marketing department to take care of this photoshoot, an independent designer would need to hire the photographer themselves.
Throughout this entire process, there is also billing. A design firm probably has a billing department who can handle reminding clients of their next payment, while an independent designer would need to manage that themselves.
So, what’ll it be?
It’s clear that running my own interior design business could offer maximum flexibility with the type of projects I want to take on and how much I want to work. But it would also mean a lot more of my time might be dedicated to administrative tasks vs. designing.
There’s also the start-up costs of running a business — getting a business license, creating business cards, setting up a website, etc. One option is working for a firm to get experience, make connections and build a portfolio and then branching off to start my own business.
I’m going to keep both options open and try to interview different people working in the field to get more understanding of their experiences.
I’m one week into my interior design courses, and my eyes have already been opened to a much bigger world than I expected. When people think about interior designers, they might just picture professionals picking out pretty furniture and accessories for the home. And yes, residential design is an avenue one can go down. But the field includes a plethora of positions, including many interesting specialties.
Here are a just a few of the many careers one can pursue after studying interior design:
Kitchen & Bath Specialist
With plumbing, ventilation, and gas needs, kitchen and baths are rooms that require special technical knowledge when it comes to design. That is why you will have find interiors designers who specialize in kitchens and/or baths.
In fact, there is a separate professional organization dedicated to this speciality, the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). This organization administers their own exam, which paired with professional experience, distinguishes someone as a Certified Kitchen Designer (CKD), Certified Bath Design (CBD) or both (CKBD). Cañada College offers a special Kitchen and Bath Design Certificate.
Kitchens are probably one of, if not the most renovated room in a home, so I can see the advantage of specializing in that area of design.
Home stagers furnish properties that are on the market so that potential buyers can better picture themselves in the home. Because it needs to appeal to a wide variety of people, these designs are often less personal than traditional residential design.
With real estate so hot in the Bay Area market, the home staging business is booming. My professor informed us that she has a lot of home staging companies reaching out looking for new hires.
For those with a really good eye for color, there is an opportunity to specialize in color design. Some interior designers enlist the services of a separate color consultant to find just the right hues for their project.
Color consultants can also work directly with clients looking to, say, repaint their home but who are having a hard time deciding on the right color. Color consultants might also work on the home decor or furniture supplier side, specializing in textiles.
Requiring both aesthetic instinct and electrical knowledge, it’s no surprise that lighting design is a separate specialty. Lighting designers can keep up with the latest trends and technologies, bringing expert knowledge to this essential element in the home.
Aesthetically and viscerally, lighting design can help distinguish spaces, highlight areas of focus, and set the mood for a space. On the more practical side, lighting design which employs the most up-to-date technologies can also help curb energy costs for a homeowner.
A space planner is responsible for diagramming how an interior space should be organized to create an optimal balance of space and utility. Their services are particularly sought out for office and retail spaces, rather than residential spaces.
Sometimes a space planner’s job is done after the drafting is complete, and they do not need to oversee the actual execution of the plan.
This is an umbrella term for interior design for businesses (so essentially, non-residential design). Professionals in this area will almost always work for a design firm. And often, these design firms will specialize in an area within commercial design, such as:
Medical facilities – hospitals, clinics, other care facilities
Retail – boutiques, department stores, shopping malls
Because these spaces are used by a wide variety of people, designs are often less personal, which some designers may find creatively stifling. It also requires a lot more knowledge of codes, particularly for things like accessibility.
And unlike residential design, this area of interior design almost always requires working with a large number of stakeholders, which can be a little frustrating.
However, there is huge opportunity in this arena and it can be an area of interior design that is quite lucrative.
Keeping my options open
As I continue with my courses this semester, I want to continue to explore these various paths within the interior design field. Luckily, if I decide to continue with Cañada College’s Interior Design certificate program, there are a number of classes which provide a deep dive into many of these specialities.
If I do decide to pursue interior design, it will be interesting to see if there is an area that I find particularly fulfilling and want to specialize in, or if I would prefer being more of a generalist. Only time will tell!