Interior Designer

San Francisco Design Center

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.).

Laurel Sprigg

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

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.

Purcell Murray

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

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.

HEWN

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.

Takeaways

There was definitely a lot of information thrown at us during the tour, but here are my big takeaways from the experience:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Interior Designer

Finding Familiarity in the Design Process

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.

Floor plan sketch and notes
It all starts with identifying needs

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.

Interior Designer

The Business of Interior Design

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

Woman holding up floor plan
To own or not to own?

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.

Interior Designer

Interior Design Careers

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

kitchen
Kitchen and bath design requires special technical knowledge.

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 Stager

Staged home
Home staging often gives real estate a competitive advantage.

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.

Cañada College offers a special Home Staging Certificate.

Color Consultant

Color can have a huge impact in a room.

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.

Lighting Designer

lighting
Lighting is an important element in the home.

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.

Space Planner

floorplan of office
Offices and other commercial spaces require thoughtful space planning for optimal utility.

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.

Commercial Designer

restaurant interior
From restaurants to medical facilities, commercial design is a booming field.

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:

  • Hospitality design – hotels, cruise ships, restaurants
  • Medical facilities – hospitals, clinics, other care facilities
  • Retail – boutiques, department stores, shopping malls
  • Office design

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!

Interior Designer

Back to School

My textbooks are packed, my outfit picked out. That’s right — it’s the first day of school!

textbooks
Textbooks are just as expensive as ever.

This winter and spring, I am taking a couple of introductory interior design courses to learn more about the career. I hope to not only get an overview of the ins and outs of being an interior designer, but also get some insights into the various ways to make a living in this field.

I have been interested in interior design for years. I grew up on home improvement and design shows. As an art history major, I learned to appreciate the beauty and thoughtfulness in space design. More than anything, I love that interior design is not just about picking out pretty things; it’s about creating an environmental experience.

Find the right learning resource

A few years ago, my interest in interior design had grown enough that I started researching certificate programs. As with any design field, experience and a portfolio is key, and I figured that a structured program would provide not only the education, but an opportunity to build up a portfolio through sample projects.

A quick online search of “interior design certificate programs bay area” quickly netted me this San Francisco Chronicle article titled “So you want to be an interior designer”. The article gives an overview of a number of academic institutions throughout the Bay area that offer interior design education. That’s how I found Cañada College’s interior design program.

At a fraction of the cost of, say, UC Berkeley Extension’s interior design certificate, completion of Cañada’s program fulfills the educational requirement for the IDEX exam to become a Certified Interior Designer (CID) in California. And according to the article, a typical student as Cañada College is “older, often with a degree in another field, and often with an already established career.” Indeed, that is reflected in their class schedule — most classes are just one day a week for three hours, with many courses having an evening option.

My classes

I decided to start with two introductory classes as part of Cañada’s interior design certificate program. I thought this would allow me to get a good overview of the field while not committing too much time or money. And if I do decide this is a career I want to pursue, I can go on to complete the certificate program through Cañada College and already have two classes under my belt.

Introduction to Interior Design

Examination of the interior built environment with emphasis on residential design. The elements and principles of design along with historical and cultural influences are examined as they relate to the functional and aesthetic aspects of interior spaces. Students develop skills in critical analysis of interiors and create individual solutions through design projects.

Interior Architectural Drafting

Introduction to the tools and techniques for drafting interior spaces. Emphasis is on creating a set of architectural drawings using hand drafting standards and techniques as related to producing interior architectural drawings.

New for the sabbatical

In addition to moving on to a new career as part of this exploration process, I am also trying a new approach to my research. It will be interesting to see if I get more out of this very structured learning, as I delve into a new field. I’ll report back within the next few weeks with my first impressions on the classes.