By Jennifer Teitelbaum, RID
“I am an interior designer.” That’s my answer to the often asked question, “So, what do you do?” Inevitably, the response is “Oh, cool” or “Wow, how fun!” While parts of my job are definitely fun, there’s a lot more to the role of an Interior Designer than meets the eye.
Many people think of interior designers as decorators, fluffing pillows and picking paints for their friends’ homes. This is not exactly a typical day for a commercial interior designer. While pillows and paint colours do fall into our wheelhouse, they’re not the primary focus of our job. We start each project after establishing a clear scope of work with our clients – be that a hotel renovation, a new-build senior living development or an historic conversion of an old office building into a hotel. While sometimes projects only include the stereotypical scope, such as new furniture, finishes, and window treatment, more often it’s so much more – including details and specialized knowledge that I apply to all our projects. On a typical day, I jump from internal team meetings to coordination calls with the client and/or architect to checking in on my project team to reading and replying to an inundation of emails from vendors, clients, and hotel brands.
With a full renovation or new-build project, we start with a design narrative that will shape the direction of the interior space. While this includes a colour palette, it’s defined by molding the interior space in such a way that integrates the design concept along with key elements such as wayfinding and ensuring the guest is engaged in the space. Inspiration comes in all forms, ranging from magazine articles to Instagram to personal travel experiences. To me, this also qualifies as the “fun” part of my job. But once a design is established, it’s a long way to the construction and installation process.
Construction Documentation is a large part of our daily lives. This involves documenting each and every detail of the design. For interior designers, this involves both methods of construction detailing, including specialty floor or wall patterns, and ceiling designs. These items are all documented in construction drawings. Accompanying the drawings are furniture and finish specifications. These are written pages itemizing what product is being used and where, the manufacturer or origin of the product, and all the product details from flame spread rating to lighting colour temperature. Did I mention that each item used in a commercial environment must be commercially rated? Before selecting anything from a chair to a fabric to a wood panel or a floor tile, we must be aware of the local and federal code requirements to ensure a fabric doesn’t wear out after a month’s time or burn too quickly and that people won’t slip on a wet floor after a rain storm or trip over a door threshold. On average, a hotel project can consist of upwards of 75 drawing sheets and 750 pages of specifications just from our ID team.
During both the Design and Construction Documentation phases, we often work with other consultants, such as architects, lighting designers, mechanical and electrical engineers, to create a cohesive project. While each professional’s role is clear, there are many overlapping design elements needing coordination. Everything from wall thicknesses to plumbing locations to mechanical ductwork affect each discipline’s design. Working with the consultants along the way eases the process and ensures fewer conflicts during construction.
Most people won’t think designer’s use spreadsheets, but we sure do. Furniture matrices are often part of our scope. This document counts all the different types of furniture in a project. When you think about your living room furniture, that might not sound spreadsheet-worthy, but when you’re calculating 250+ hotel rooms with 25 different layouts, you want to make sure each piece of furniture fits in its appropriate room. This is also the reason why it’s so important to draw accurately. You don’t want to draw a 6’-0” long sofa when it’s really 7’-0” long and then won’t fit into 150 guestrooms!
Another aspect of our job is Construction Administration. “CA” as we call it, is a phase when the design has been completed and it’s now in the construction and/or purchasing stage. At this point we receive questions from the contractor and submittals. The contractor sends physical submittals such as wood and stone finishes to us for review to ensure the item we specified is the same as the item being installed. This phase also includes the review of shop drawings – both from the millworker and furniture manufacturers. The millworker provides drawings of all the built-in cabinetry on the project for our review, as does the furniture vendor to ensure custom furniture is built to our specifications. Often the construction schedule shifts, so it could be months after our design documentation has been completed before construction begins, thus having to juggle CA with two to three other projects in the design and construction phases.
These are just some of the major steps we take on a daily basis to ensure a beautiful, functional, and user-friendly environment on our projects. Next time you hear someone say they’re an Interior Designer, you just might think of all of these other aspects of the design process they go through at work. Design is a balance of art and science, and fortunately for me, it varies each day, making for an exciting career.
Jennifer Teitelbaum is an experienced and creative Senior Designer and Junior Associate at Hager Design International Inc. Jennifer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To view some of her projects please visit our projects section at www.hagerinc.com