Interview: Stephanie Clemons, Interior Designer

Stephanie Clemons' mother was an artist and her earliest memory is the smell of markers. So when she chose her career, she chose one in which she could use her artistic abilities while combining her love of color and lighting with her pleasure in working with people.

Now she's passing along her passion for the field of interior design to her students at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., and through her work as president of the Interior Design Educator's Council.

"I really enjoy working with people and how they relate to spaces. I was interested in color, I loved lighting and how artistic lighting could be, and I like design," she explains.

A native of Michigan, Clemons attended Michigan State University where she received a bachelor's degree in interior design. She received a master's degree from Utah State university with a specialization in computer drafting and a Ph.D. in education from Colorado State University. She worked as an interior designer for more than three years before becoming a teacher 15 years ago. She specializes in color and light, computer-aided design, or CAD, and the design process at the university. She also continues to practice interior design and has done work on the administration building and other buildings at the university. She lives in Fort Collins with her husband, Reggie, and three daughters.

Clemons believes there is not enough awareness in this country about what interior designers do. Many of the students she teaches are returning to school to pursue interior design as a second career and who may not have considered it as a career in high school. People often confuse interior design and decorating, Clemons says. But while decorating is an important part of interior design, interior designers must know about every aspect of a building's interior, from lighting to heating and ventilation to designing spaces for people with special needs.

Q. Describe the kind of young person who is interested in an interior design career.

Students who really find interior design attractive and are passionate about it are those who enjoy creativity and find that the fine arts are almost too esoteric. They want something a little more practical and yet they want to go through the design process. They want to be creative and they love working with people.

Q. What are some of the trends in the field?

Because of our more global economy and society our alumni are practicing design in the United States but they're working with people in every country imaginable. One alumna had to work on a hospital in Lebanon. We've got the aging population. Rather than special needs, there's a push for universal design, design that is good for everyone in that space. There's a real push for sustainable design: don't specify tropical woods that are endangered, choose materials that are energy efficient because our natural resources are limited.

There's a bigger push for cultural sensitivity. Culturally, for example, color has different meanings in different countries. White in the United States is used for weddings and celebration. In China, it's the color of mourning and death.

Q. What is the job market like right now?

There aren't enough interior designers for the demand that's out there. Our students are being hired out before they finish their degree or they have jobs waiting for them when they get out.

Q. What is a typical day like for an interior designer?

A practitioner is probably working with 20 different projects at the same time so it's an exciting juggling act.

Q. What kind of college program should you choose if you are interested in a career in interior design?

Your chances of passing the professional exam and getting into a good design firm go way up if you are from a four-year degree or an accredited program. Those people with an associates can be successful after years of practice but you're starting with a different foundation.

Q. What kind of experience do you need?

They suggest if you have a four-year degree that you get a minimum of two years experience in an established design firm before you can sit for the accredited exam.

Q. What advice do you have for high school students who are interested in the field?

I want to encourage them to explore it and to look it up at the institutions where they may be going for their education, whether it's a tech school or a four-year institution. (Interior design) involves creativity, it has the business and the practical but it's fulfilling because every day is different, every clients is different and if they genuinely care about people and how to make their lives better this is a field they may want to explore.

Q. How can high school students get experience?

Shadowing a professional, taking CAD classes, theater classes that deal with lighting, drawing classes, a psychology class, a history of art class...ask questions. If they go into a restaurant or public building, find out who designed the interior. They'll find where the design firms are that are renowned in the area.