Interview: Jeff Smoler,
The United States Department
of Labor describes interior designers as those who plan, design and furnish
the interiors of private homes, public buildings, and commercial establishments
such as offices, restaurants, hospitals, hotels, and theaters, either as
new constructions or doing renovation. With a client's tastes, needs, and
budget in mind, interior designers develop designs and prepare working
drawings and specifications for interior construction, furnishings, lighting,
Interior designers must design
space in accordance with Federal, State, and local laws, including building
codes. They also plan spaces that meet accessibility standards for the
disabled and elderly.
Interior designers generally
work under deadlines and often work overtime to finish a job. As essentially
independent consultants, they are paid by the assignment and are under
pressure to please existing clients and find new ones to maintain their
Interior designers often
work for design or architectural firms, department stores and home furnishing
stores, or hotel and restaurant chains.
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Jeff Smoler, ASID, ASFD, is the founder of J.E.S. Designs in Northbrook,
Ill. His work focuses on interior design for commercial and health care
facilities, and he designs and manufactures his own line of furniture as
well. His clients include nursing homes, real estate companies, law firms
Mr. Smoler got into interior
design because he's "always been fascinated by my environment." In college,
he began as a business major at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
but transferred to the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. He stayed there for
more than five years as he earned his Associates, Bachelor's and Master's
degrees in Interior Design, with a business minor. During school he also
worked at the retail furniture chain Room Service, for which he became
a buyer after graduation.
When Room Service closed
in 1983, Mr. Smoler started his own business as an interior designer. Soon
he hired cabinet makers to begin creating his own furniture, which he includes
in his design projects and sells to others as well.
Mr. Smoler works long days.
Each morning, he is at his desk by 6:30 to answer email and prepare for
a 7 a.m. staff meeting. He teaches classes at several area colleges, which
begin at 8:30. Starting at 12:30 he meets with clients or works on designs,
then sees clients again in the evening. Usually, he finishes work around
10 p.m., although sometimes his workload can require him to work even later.
He prides himself on always meeting his deadlines. "That's the most important
thing we can do," he says. "Missing our deadlines can impact clients' moves,
leases, and any number of other issues."
While Mr. Smoler thrives
on his work, he says interior design does have it frustrations. "Clients
can have a hard time visualizing things," he explains. "We need to use
tools to help them. These might be models or 3-D renderings." In addition,
he notes that businesses often reach decisions by committee. On the other
hand, he says, "It's great when (clients) say 'This is just how we pictured
"Listening is very important,"
he says. "Often a client's real meaning is between the lines. You need
to understand what clients need whether they say it or not. If the client's
not happy, it's a bad job." He also says "covering the detail is vital."
He insists that each detail of his projects be measured in the field -
by hand - at least three times, and that all components be assembled
in his shop before they are shipped to a project site.
To Mr. Smoler, the best part
of his work and the most difficult part are one and the same: problem solving.
"We never get the easy jobs," he says. "We only get the hard jobs. They
can't do it themselves - that's why the call a designer." He notes that
today's clients expect him to meet tighter and tighter deadlines, thereby
increasing the pressure on him and his staff. "It used to be you had six
months - now it's 45 days. This is where the stress comes in," he says.
Looking back, Mr. Smoler
wishes he'd learned more about photography while in school. "This is a
visual business," he says, "and I always wish I could get better photos
for my portfolio." Photography, he believes, should be a pary of the regular
interior-design college curriculum.
To aspiring interior designers,
Mr. Smoler advises: "Look around. Look at shelter magazines such as Progressive
Architecture, Interior Designer, and Interiors. Call the American
Society of Interior Designers and try to find a mentor." Both the ASID
and the American Society of Furniture Designers are important organizations
for students to get involved with. "It'll look good on your resume," he
says, "because it will show you did more than simply go to school."
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Interior designers must be creative,
imaginative, persistent, and able to communicate their ideas both visually
and verbally. Because tastes in style and fashion can change quickly, designers
need to be open to new ideas and influences. Problem-solving skills and
the ability to work independently are important traits. You'll need self-discipline
to start projects on your own, budget your time, and meet deadlines and
production schedules. Business sense and sales ability are important you
want to freelance or run your own business.
Interior designers generally
need a college education, preferably a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of
Applied Arts degree. Few clients - especially commercial clients - are
willing to entrust responsibility for designing living and working space
to a designer with no formal credentials. Interior designers must also
be knowledgeable about Federal, state, and local codes, and toxicity and
flammability standards for furniture and furnishings.
A liberal arts education,
with courses in merchandising, business administration, marketing, and
psychology, along with training in art, can be a good background for a
career in interior design. Persons with training or experience in architecture
can also qualify for positions in interior design.
Computer-aided design (CAD)
courses are very useful. Many employers expect new designers to be familiar
with the use of the computer as a design tool. Interior designers use computers
to create numerous versions of space designs. Images can be inserted, edited,
or replaced - making it possible for a client to see and choose among several
designs. In furniture design, a chair's basic shape and structure may be
duplicated and updated by applying new upholstery styles and fabrics with
the use of computers.
The Council for Interior Design Accredation accredits interior
design programs and schools. Currently, there are over 100 accredited programs
in the United States and Canada located in schools of art, architecture,
and home economics.
Interior Design is subject
to government regulation: The District of Columbia licenses interior designers,
and 16 states regulate use of the title. Since licensing is not mandatory
in all states, membership in a professional association is universally
recognized as a mark of achievement for designers. Professional membership
usually requires the completion of three or four years of post-secondary
education in design, at least two years of practical experience in the
field, and completion of the National Council for Interior Design qualification
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Many talented individuals are
attracted to interior design, so you can expect to face competition throughout
your career. Individuals with little or no formal education in design,
and without the necessary personal traits - particularly creativity and
perseverance - may find it difficult to establish and maintain their career.
Employment in design occupations
in general is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations
through the year 2005, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Increasing demand for professional design of private homes, office space,
restaurants and other retail establishments, as well as institutions that
care for the elderly should spur employment growth among interior designers.
In addition to employment growth, many job openings will result from the
need to replace designers who leave the field.
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And The Pay...
Median weekly earnings of experienced
full-time professionals in all fields of design were about $590 in 1994,
according to the Department of Labor. The middle 50 percent earned between
$380 and $840 a week. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $330, while
the top 10 percent earned over $1,100. Note these figures include design
fields in addition to interior design alone.
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Photos in the Interior Design photos are courtesy J.E.S.