Choosing Interior Design
My journey into a career in design begins with the age old saying of ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.’ I am the oldest of two children, born and raised in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio by my mother who is a lawyer and father who is an architect. Our household was always wrapped up in sports, which my younger brother and I always played at least one of from the age of 5 through our high school graduations, but when we weren’t playing sports on the weekends – I vividly remember spending most of my Saturday mornings eating breakfast as a family in the kitchen, while watching HGTV or DIY network and then heading out to Lowes to gather supplies for our inevitable weekend project. We did projects on every square inch of our house as a family from a simple repainting and decorating of bedrooms, tiling bathrooms, to laying new wood floors in the kitchen. We built the deck and patio extension in the backyard, and my father designed (and we lived in the house through) the addition and renovation of the family room and kitchen. Both of my parents always had an itch for a project and my brother and I learned quite a few handy home-skills along the way since our father lead the charge and we did most of the projects ourselves.
When we weren’t pulling apart and putting back together our home, we had family dinners together every night, and after my brother and I would talk about our day at school – our father would talk about the projects he got to design at work. He was infamous for his dinner table napkin sketches, which is how he explained his trickier projects in a visual way to the rest of us, it became a running ‘oh here we go’ kind of joke when he would ask for a sharpie and turn over the paper napkin beside his plate to sketch. Although it was silly to us as kids, I realize how impactful those napkin sketches were to my experience and understanding of built environments and design thinking from a young age. Along with the sketches came stories, and it was the coolest thing in the world to me to listen to the story of how he got to redesign the gym of the high school he attended in Shaker Heights, and how he goes to travel all over the state to help build new schools. On school breaks or some weekends, I got to go with my dad to his office for a couple of hours if he had to finish some things up, and I remember many a URS branded scooter race on the ADA ramps with my brother on a huge leased floor in a building in downtown Cleveland. I also recall balancing this oversized hard hat on my 9-year-old head, while being in awe of the construction process when I got to go on site towards the ending phases of a project, or even some of the school grand opening events. Unbeknownst to me, these moments really laid the groundwork for my interest in the field.
Fast forward to junior and senior year of high school when conversations became more serious about choosing a career path and thinking about my future, I had some big decisions to make. Maybe it was my version of ‘teenage rebellion’, but architecture or even interior design were not quite on my radar. I knew I was interested in drawing, and art and the concept of design was clearly something that had been heavily engrained into my life from a very young age, but I decided at that point that I wanted to be a product designer instead. At that time, I had a couple of mentorship opportunities in the field, and I was really quite sure that this was my path – I felt that designing and creating THINGS was my passion. I applied to three colleges senior year, University of Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, and THE Ohio State University. My first choice was truthfully Georgie Tech, I had this dream to live in Atlanta and to get out of Ohio and live in the warm southern weather (although this was also my father’s Alma Mater for both of his degrees, so in hindsight maybe it wasn’t all that innovative or rebellious on my part to want to go there). I was accepted to all three schools and had a big decision to make in selecting a school. When the reality of the cost of tuition, student loans, and the unlikely ability for me to come home more than once or twice per year kicked in, my sights shifted from Atlanta Georgia as a Yellow Jacket, to Columbus, Ohio where I became a Buckeye!
Still declared with an interest in industrial design I embarked on my freshman year in the state capital. In the design program at Ohio State, graphic designers, industrial designers and interior designers share a common first year before applying to their specific major that starts as a sophomore. Throughout the year as I learned more about the different disciplines, I saw a lot of commonalities in the three, but became intrigued by the ability to be an architectural designer, a graphic designer, and an industrial designer all at once by practicing interior design. An interior designer gets to create a space and everything that goes in it and must understand how all things work together to create a harmonious experience for those that inhabit the space. But at the end of freshman year, I still applied to the industrial design program as my first choice and had Interiors as my backup (I was entirely fixated on design and had no thought of a backup to my backup major). When the review process was over at the end of the year, I was not accepted to the industrial program but was accepted into the interior design program I was met with a feeling of internal conflict and a bit of uncertainty. I called my parents to discuss my next steps and get advice on what I should do. When I called my father to tell him I was accepted into the interior design program, the architect in him urged me not to go down that road and to just switch to architecture instead ‘because architects can do all of the interior and exterior, get paid more than the “color-picker-outers”, and get more respect’ (ouch, right?). My mother, after hearing both the news and the download of my dad’s advice – encouraged me to talk to some of the professors to get a better insight into the student experience and potential career projections, to urge me into making my own choice based on what would make me happy.
I spoke to some of my professors and was encouraged to reach out to Rebekah Matheny, an interiors professor on tenure track who had actually double majored in architecture and interior design at the University of Cincinnati. She became someone I really confided in at this pivotal moment in my life, and someone I greatly respected, especially with her background in both. I toyed with the idea of a double major, but it felt a bit aggressive to take on, especially since the school of architecture and interior design at Ohio State are not in any way connected, there would be no overlap in credits to make this a more manageable feat. She ultimately inspired me to continue on the path of majoring in Interior Design and getting my minor in Architecture from Knowlton School of Architecture at OSU. I admit, the decision on my minor was largely meant to appease my father. I knew I was more interested in the nuances of the interior built environment and how people interact with and experience spaces that we design, but knowing the fields are intertwined in the professional world made sense to me to have an understanding of both. Completing both certificates was not an easy feat – since there is no communication or crossover between the interiors department and the school of architecture, it still meant some double dipping on class types. There were some history classes I took two versions of, and one semester where I even had two studio courses at the same time (I am still not sure how I pulled that off – whew!). There were a few classes that almost broke me on finishing that minor (architecture history was the main culprit), but I stuck it out and I am so glad that I did because it wound up being one of the things that stood out about me as a candidate to Triad when I interviewed in the spring of my senior year. The connection to Triad, coincidentally was also made by Rebekah- who over the years had become a very close mentor of mine in the program. She studied architecture at the University of Cincinnati with Brent Foley – a partner at Triad and was able to put me in contact when they were hiring (see how these things all work out) and the rest is history!
In 2018 I was the first and only Interior Design hire at Triad Architects in many years, I was one of three total new hires that summer, and immediately also had an interior design intern assigned to me in the hopes of investing in interior design as a future department within the firm in the coming years. It was kind of crazy to me to be simultaneously learning about the job while also being a point of contact to an intern and responsible for their training as well, I always joke that small firms are kind of a baptism by fire sort of learning experience when you are fresh out of school. After three years of learning and growth and execution of both interior and architectural responsibilities, the conversation to create an official department with me as the leader finally occurred and I was thrilled. Triad seeing a leader in me and trusting me to take charge of and shape this new wing of the company as a more official offering and marketable service was very exciting to me as a young designer. To have so much respect from those in leadership, and to get to have a major voice in this opportunity to learn more about business development within the first five years of my career is something I know is unique and I try very hard not to take it for granted. The support of Brent and the rest of Triad to also uplift the voices and importance of interior design along with their desire to cut the typical ‘ego of an architect’ out of the equation and to embrace and be an advocate for the importance of interior design as a profession is very meaningful to me. For the past four years I have made it a point to perform the exact same roles and responsibilities as my architecturally trained counterparts in order to further prove the capability of interior designers to perform the same tasks as architects. The professions are so intertwined and there is not really a reason for the historical prejudice that has occurred between these paths. I think that even with my role and responsibilities these past few years, I have reshaped my father’s view on the role and importance of interior designers as well, which is huge to me considering his first advice when confronted specifically with this design field was to move in the opposite direction. So, while the apple may not have fallen far from the tree, I think it landed in just the right spot and has been successful in reframing some of the ideas surrounding our different yet shared profession.