Friday, March 29, 2013

The Big World of Interior Design

A recent meeting at an office in downtown Toronto had me reminiscing about the earlier half of my career when I designed corporate interiors.  On this trip to Toronto I had the pleasure of attending a meeting in one of the most well designed spaces I've ever been in with stunning city views, perfectly appointed furnishings and impeccably planned details.  I could write volumes about the infinite design details that played out just in the lobby and boardrooms alone.

The commercial sector of the interior design industry employs the largest number of designers and makes up the highest volume of projects dollar wise and square footage wise encompassing hospitality, retail, personal services and business spaces. When you think about it, outside of your home almost every space you experience is designed by interior designers - from your corner starbucks to the movie theatre to the airport lounge, to shoe boutiques and all of those 9-5 office facilities both urban and sub-urban - large teams of interior designers and technicians design and plan these spaces.  In comparison, the residential sector of this industry is a tiny drop in the bucket yet it dominates the media and the public's perception of what interior design is.

For Interior Designers who have experienced working in commercial design you'll understand when I say that the residential market of interiors its an entirely different world, one that leaves us staring at HGTV with tilted heads and raised eyebrows wondering what the heck any of that has to do with interior design (!?), at least the world of interior design as we know it.

I've always felt that what we see happening in the commercial side of the design industry leads the way for what we'll see translating into residential spaces.  Fashion certainly has a large influence too but what we see in public environments makes a big impression on our aesthetics for our own homes.  Its common for clients to send me photos of things they've seen in hotels or restaurants that they want to incorporate at home.  Stainless steel appliances and countertops, back painted glass, floating shelves, recycling centres, giant screen monitors, halogen pendants, engineered flooring, green products.....all of these things were common place in commercial spaces a decade before they were mainstream for the home.  Same goes for mid-century modern furniture.  Fifteen years ago the only people you'd ever find with a barcelona chair in their living room would be an architect or designer, who've been using them in commercial spaces for half a century.  I remember just starting out in my career how much I idolized Barbara Barry but I only knew of her from the commercial spaces she had designed.  

I think my experience with commercial projects has been invaluable in understanding the technical side of built environments, in understanding the construction process and in learning how to work with contractors, trades and craftsmen.  For Interior Design students who may be graduating this year, I would suggest that even if your hope is to work on residential interiors that you don't completely disregard opportunities to work in other sectors and become as diversified as possible, if not soley for the chance to develop and hone your aptitude for details.

Some of my favorite things about working in commercial design and some of the most important things I learned are also many of the aspects I see lacking in the residential field so take advantage of work experience you can acquire elsewhere in the industry, the more diverse your design experience the better.  Either way if you are passionate about design then travel as much as possible, never stop studying art history and always keep your eyes open to soak in the details.

I've always wished there was a TV show that showcased interior design projects other than just private residential spaces. There is a big big world of interior design happening out there that is rarely showcased or celebrated outside of its own industry but yet it influences our lives on a daily basis making our experiences positive or negative, memorable or forgettable.  Personally I can never stop admiring great design in any type of venue and nothing stops me in my tracks like perfectly planned details.

All photos by:   Carol Reed


  1. You said exactly what I think Carol! As my own background was similar to yours (many years working for the big architectural firms on commercial projects only) I thoroughly echo your thoughts. It is good training for anything, and so much was learned that is applicable to residential design, that I cannot imagine where I would start if I hadn't had that experience to draw from now. Would love to see a tv program featuring fabulous commercial spaces too. x

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