When I was in high school in the early '90s, "The X-Files" and "CSI" were huge and I was interested in science and biology, so I was thinking of going to college for something in that realm. But, right before I was supposed to leave for college that summer, I had this “aha” moment that I should be in interior design. I told my dad that that was what I wanted to do and he was horrified at first; he supported me, but he was afraid I would be a “starving artist”. He had taken pride in the idea of his daughter being a doctor or working in the medical field. Once I made the change, I had to start reaching out to local interior designers to set up informational interviews. I also spoke to design schools to confirm that it was the right path for me before informing the school I had initially committed to that I no longer planned on attending.

As I progressed, my goal was to work as an interior designer for an architecture firm. My placement professor told me “That’s a really lofty goal,” and I thought “What are you talking about? No. This is what I want and I’m going to do it.” And so I did. My first job out of school was as an interior designer with an architecture firm, and I’ve done that ever since. 

Everything in my designs is rooted in or is about creating a beautiful, calming experience. I want spaces to be conducive to having a good time and be fun places to hang out when entertaining. For all projects, it’s really about how the end user will experience the space. How do I want the guests, residents, or users to feel when they come in? Sometimes it’s about creating a surprise and a delight, or something they’ve never seen before. Other times it’s about creating a sense of security or calm- whatever supports the end-user needs. 

I once had a conversation with a contractor where I was explaining the reasoning and intention behind our decisions, and they responded by saying “I didn’t realize you would be so emotional.” I wasn’t being emotional; I was just being a boss and professionally pushing back on what I felt was needed. The challenges I’ve experienced are related to not starting on a level playing field; people come in and think that because I’m an interior designer, or a woman, or whatever it is, I must not know as much as them or my male counterparts. It’s always surprising when challenges like these come up because you never quite expect it. You have to be honest yet diplomatic, otherwise, you’ll be seen as rude, emotional, or worse. 

So many female designers I’ve worked with have a lot of emotional intelligence and empathy that they’re keyed into and bring with them to a project. They have what it takes to really imagine themselves in the space they’re creating. Female designers can connect with clients on a certain level because they wear a lot of hats: they’re mothers, they’re best friends, they’re supporting a community, they’re working. These different experiences make our lives so rich and enjoyable and also help when you’re working on a project because you can draw on the different people and lessons from these areas of life.

Another thing that’s beneficial about being a woman is that we have a culture of communication. Coming up, I knew a lot about what my friends and colleagues were going through, even if it wasn’t an experience that I had had myself, all because we have a great culture of getting together and talking. We put all of that into our work and projects. Even if it’s something I haven’t experienced myself, I can still lean on other women to be able to tap into what we are trying to achieve.

Of course, I want to create beautiful spaces; that’s part of the job. But really, the experience is about what you need. Is this an experience of support? Is this going to help you and your kids get out the door easier? To be able to understand the little, tiny moves that bring an experience together – whether it’s because we’ve lived them or have talked about them – women are aware of those subtleties.

Trust yourself. Stay curious. You are enough. I first entered the industry in 2000, and I felt like I had to know everything about interior design because I was worried about being seen as lesser as a woman or as an interior designer, as if that was a negative. I wish I could have told myself, "You have this. You are enough. Keep learning, keep innovating, and keep being curious. Don't be afraid of 'failure' when you innovate. Trust your gut and keep pushing."

There's this Brené Brown quote that says something along the lines of, "Pay attention to the voices that matter, and if they're not in the arena with you, then they're not something you need to pay attention to." If you're in the arena, you might fail. But that's how you know that you're trying. It's just part of the process. Embrace it, get up, and keep going.

One of my best friends is also a client. In the past few decades, I’ve done her retail stores—she has a beautiful fine jewelry store—but my favorite project I designed was a home for her and her family. It was ground-up, so we did the interiors and the exterior. It’s very Robert A. M. Stern, East Coast, and turned out beautifully. Because she’s such a close friend of mine, we spend holidays together and this past Christmas Eve, their kids and my dogs were running up and down the stairs, having a great time. I was sitting back in the living room and had this transformational moment where I realized I was living a great life with these beautiful people whom I love and who are essentially part of my family. We were all in a home I designed and enjoying our families being together. That, I think, was my favorite. I’ve done so many beautiful things but that was the experience that I’m here for.

Building Enclosure Celebrates International Women's Day

Part 2 of a 2 part series

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Jacqueline Beckingham Melvalean McLemore Lisa Haude Erin McDannald Ashley Smith Samantha McCormack Rachael Lewis Taylor Starr Stephanie Lafontaine Christine Faverio Erin Carlisle Melissa Strickland Lisbeth Jimenez Ula Bochinska