Interior Devine When posed the frequently asked question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” by my 5th grade teacher, I recall being her only student who responded confidently with a definite answer. Without hesitation, I replied. I wanted to be an interior designer. Not to boast, but most of my classmates only knew of two, maybe three occupations, namely a doctor, lawyer, or teacher. Needless to say, I received a couple puzzled looks. Interior designer? What do those words mean? Honestly, I didn’t even understand the meaning of the term at the time, but I knew that’s what I wanted to become. I wanted Paige Davis to host a show on my trading a space with my neighbors and redesigning it to their liking. I wanted to be Vern Yip’s female counterpart. Now, seven years later, the same question is asked of me again. And simply I answer. Not much has changed; I still want to be an interior designer. Of all career choices that have tickled my fancy throughout the past seven years of career exploration – circus clown, tattoo artist, lawyer – interior design has, hands down, been the only occupation that has prevailed. So why does this obscure job even exist? Homeowners are perfectly capable of furniture shopping at a local Pier 1 Imports and sprucing a space up on their own. A common misconception about interior design is that it’s simple. Somebody who merely spruces up a space is titled an interior decorator, big difference. An interior designer actually designs a space to fit a building’s interior architecture, electric capabilities, and above all, the client’s needs. So, why would anyone even bother with enhancing the appearance of a room? In commercial or business buildings, “a well-designed work space increases productivity, raises sales, [and] attracts a more affluent clientele” (U.S. Department of Labor). In
residential homes, a room that has been treated by a designer makes for a more comfortable living environment. As an added bonus, keeping a house in a visually and aesthetically pleasing manner increases the home’s market value. Not to mention, a welldesigned surrounding simply improves lives and ups first impressions. Commercial and residential are only two branches under the umbrella that is interior design. It can also specialize in hospitality, healthcare, and many others, depending on the purpose and function of a space. Environmental psychology, architecture, and products as well as furniture are crucial elements of the trade that need to be taken into consideration when forming an initial sketch (U.S. Department of Labor). To begin with, a client approaches a designer, who will make sketches of directional concepts for the space, taking into consideration the general floor plan as well as the square footage, and then brainstorm with the client to incorporate their needs, aesthetics, and personality into the final design. With the help of a lighting designer, electrician, and perhaps a carpenter, from there, the designer will formulate a plan that is viable in bringing it to fruition. Construction and contract workers will be hired to provide the physical labor that is necessary to complete the room. Workers might be assigned tasks to move furniture, strip the floors, window treatments, wall-coverings, and anything else that needs to be deconstructed. Painters will then prime and paint the bare walls in textures according to the interior designer’s specifications. New installations such as kitchen appliances, utilities, cabinetry, moldings, and lighting will also be put in. Finally, the designer will shop for room furnishings and accessories to give the space a complete look. If the client is satisfied with the final outcome, then the designer’s job is
finished. If not, the designer should make the appropriate changes and improvements to achieve a final stage that will please the customer. Being an interior designer calls for the management of simultaneous projects, as designers, at least the successful ones, can expect to deal with more than one client at any given time. This means “drawing up a plan, driving to multiple paint stores for that perfect match, and checking the status of an Ethan Allen shipment – all before noon,” and these duties may only be for a single project; never mind the other four other that are temporarily put on the backburner (Sawati-Little). Not only does he or she need to determine color palettes, materials, furnishings, finishes, flooring, and such, he or she must also oversee the installation of these design elements. In addition, the designer must develop a timeline when presenting the project to the client with an estimation of how long the process will take. Dealing with the pressure of such a deadline means making constant checks on furniture shipments and nagging construction workers to finish on time. Though these sound like daunting tasks, I feel I could undertake conditions this stressful if I develop the appropriate time and project management skills Multi-tasking is but one of countless duties a designer needs to tackle. A designer must first and foremost understand a person’s psychological reaction in a room. Be it a workspace, child’s bedroom, or kitchen, he or she should acknowledge the various roles of a space in order to create an environment that would improve a person’s presence in it. Fundamentally, this means being able to read and draw an architect’s blueprint and floor plan. It is a prerequisite to know how to design a plan using the CAD program or to draw it – to scale – by hand. Pitching the design to a client in a persuasive and credible manner means being an attentive listener and having exceptional communication and speaking
skills. After visually presenting the design to the client and considering their input, a designer should revise the plan in order to accommodate their every need. Designers also have to calculate costs, and then stay within this budget. Developing a design that meets state fire codes and is within the city’s building limits is also necessary. In commercial settings, an inspector will check to see if the design can “cater to people with handicapped needs” (U.S. Department of Labor). If a space does not pass the inspector’s regulations, then the room needs to be redesigned before the company can operate. Perhaps the most important of all is having great people skills in order to maintain client relationships. After all, most interior designers’ work comes from referrals and networking. If a client enjoys a designer’s company and trusts his or her judgment, then they’re likely to hire him or her again for another project. Better yet, happy clients will refer their designer to friends and family, which means more business. Tina Sawati-Little of Parker West Interiors adds that “about half of my client base is referred by people I’ve worked with in the past… of course the first thing people want to do when their house is done is invite friends over to show it off…and hopefully they’ll mention my name. The friend likes what she sees and thinks hey, you know my kitchen is pretty outdated, I better give her a call. And bam, there’s a job right there” (Sawati-Little). In order for this to occur, a designer must be composed even in times of chaos and maintain a level head in hectic situations. In such cases, the designer should be willing to negotiate, compromise, and mediate when necessary to solve problems. A designer must earn the client’s confidence and get them to trust his or her style and taste; such trust cannot be purchased.
The erratic working conditions of a typical designer do not make their job easy. Because designing is basically a freelance job, it is difficult to keep a steady income. Finding jobs in times of economic slumps may be tough, which is the current case for Sawati-Little. Freelance designers generally work on contract, thus they must cater to a client’s available hours. This means clocking in on weekends and perhaps in the evenings. Therefore, the working schedule is often unpredictable, yet at times flexible. On the other hand, designers employed by larger firms may be blessed with more stable hours. Working under the stress of project deadlines in addition to staying on budget in fear of an extra thousand being deducted out of his or her final paycheck together burden the designer with a permanent monkey on a their back. The path to becoming a reputable interior designer is a long one. Design hopefuls start out with basic college coursework including instruction in computer-aided design (CAD) drawing, spatial planning, and perspective drawing (American Society of Interior Designers). In addition, the student should develop a penchant for style in order to assemble colors and fabrics with furniture to give a space a cohesive look and flow. For graduates, the next step is to take the Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) licensing exam held by the National Council. A prerequisite for eligibility in taking the exam is “six years of combined interior design education and experience” (U.S. Department of Labor). The NCIDQ also “offers [the] Interior Design Experience Program which helps entry level designers” (U.S. Department of Labor). It is recommended that students apprentice with an established designer for a few years to learn the ropes and see if the career suits them. Tina Sawati-Little also recommends picking up a second language “because that gives you the edge over other designers and it makes your life with
contractors a lot easier by eliminating that language barrier” (Sawati-Little). While this may seem like a drawn-out process, I am bent on becoming a legitimate designer and am willing to go through anything that is necessary for my success in this field. Due to the increase in interest for interior design and its growing popularity, this career is expected to become more competitive in the future. Television networks such as TLC and HGTV are making interior design a trend, thus attracting more enthusiasts. High demand for design is also found in the hotel and tourism industry. Since more restaurants and hotel rooms need to be designed, it is likely that more opportunities will open up in the near future. Furthermore, the global warming issue has made “green” products and designs the standard. As homeowners are looking to lessen their negative impact on our environment, they will be looking to build the most energy-efficient houses by using recyclable materials. To keep up with this movement, interior designers must update their creations to reduce the human footprint in nature, as clients wish to be exonerated of environmental damage. Finding work as a designer doesn’t seem like it’ll be handed to me on a silver platter; I’ll have to work hard to seek out jobs myself. Although I say I am not in it for the money, the income of my intended job is without a doubt a factor that affects how I make my living in the future. The median salary for a typical designer in the year 2006 was $42, 260 (U.S. Department of Labor). There are three rate options; “a per-hour consulting fee, charge by square footage, or a flat fee” for the entire project (U.S. Department of Labor). Additionally, a designer may earn a percentage of a contractor’s earnings just by simply hiring him or her. Now, I’ll be honest. I’d love to be making six figures, but I am willing to compromise financial security in order to pursue my true passion. I understand it takes time and experience to
climb up the career ladder, and I know I won’t be seeing an enormous paycheck until I’m well into the industry. But, I know I’d be a lot happier doing something I love and earning a little less than earning more in a nine-to-five job that I dread. Let’s face it, this field does not necessarily provide a steady income. However, I want to be able to not say I have to go to work, but that I get to go to work. This is, after all, my main goal in lifeto create a successful living by doing something I truly take pleasure in. So, at this stage, the earnings are not my main concern. With that said, after careful research on my intended field, I am still just as, if not more, eager to pursue this career. I recall following my dad, a real estate agent, to every open house on the weekends in my youth. From a young age, I’d image all the possibilities that an empty house holds. My dad and I would share our visions for each room and incorporate an overall theme for the entire property. Seeing model homes of KB Homes and Shea Homes definitely helped launch my interest in interior design. For three years now, I’ve been attending the Pasadena Showcase, an annual exhibit of the best designers in the area in a single residence. Surrounding myself with such prominent designers has only inspired me to eventually display my own room at the Showcase. As a kid, I exhibited a keen interest in the arts; whether it be music, dance, drawing, or painting, my parents have always pushed me to try new activities in order to cultivate my creative right brain. They have constantly supported my dream of becoming a designer, enrolling me in classes to get a jump on achieving this life long ambition. With their support, each year I reaffirm my design dream as it relentlessly expands. Now, I must emphasize how appreciative I am of my parents’ reinforcement; I know typical parents would rather see their children grow up to be doctors or lawyers, as these
occupations provide more monetary stability. Luckily for me, my parents understand as well as I do that this type of security can only get me so far in life, but it means nothing if I don’t genuinely enjoy what I do. Growing up with the thought of becoming a designer has forced my mind to think not only creatively, but also analytically. I’ve always thought of myself as an artistic person and knew I’d one day enter a field where I would be allowed to express my creativity and utilize my imagination. I find interior design the ideal job for me because not only is it something I am passionate about, it is also a job that corresponds with the life I’d like to lead.