By Karen S. Weiner
Re-printed with permission
Define your career. If you are a doctor, you diagnose and treat peoples’ ailments. If you are a hairdresser, you cut, colour, perm, and style hair. If you are a police officer, you uphold the law, investigate crimes, and in general protect the citizens of the district in which you work. Most careers can be at least briefly described by almost anyone. If you have one of those careers, you are very lucky.
Before I entered the work force and opened my own design firm, I never would have imagined that I would be getting calls to mend curtains, remove stains from carpets, find out why one bulb in a chandelier will not work… I am an interior designer — I design interiors; but I can recommend a seamstress, carpet cleaning company, electrician… Then the dreaded question comes, “What do you mean you design interiors?”
Once-upon-a-time-ago I thought that to be an easy question to answer. Somehow, I now find it easier to explain to a child why the grass is green.
Rather than trying to define interior design, I have taken to explaining the process of designing an interior.
I analyze, ask questions, draw, review the budget, draw some more while asking more questions. Slowly, what started off as sketches develop into floor plans and other technical drawings. Some of the drawings get coloured in. I help my clients make informed decisions regarding the use of space, materials, products, colour, lighting, layout, construction methods, other professionals… The drawings/plans then go to contractors and specialty contractors. I review the submitted process with my clients — one submission is higher, but that is not necessarily bad because the others are each missing things. A contractor is selected, the contract signed and the work begins; I’ll be there routinely while the work is in progress. I basically act as a representative on my clients’ behalf, as well as a protector to my own design. Time schedules are reviewed frequently, problems that arise are handled in such a way that my clients may later know the solution but not the headache involved to understand and work out the problem. The work is wrapping up, only the finishing touches are left but I am already preparing a list of things that have to be finished, repaired or touched-up.
What had been a noisy, dirty, smelly construction site has now fallen quiet and already been cleaned. I walk around looking at and examining the full-size, real thing of all the drawings I had done weeks, if not months, ago. Back at the office, I edit the deficiency list started a few days before and send it to the contractor and clients. The job is soon completely finished, but my work is still not done.
My clients call, happy with the finished space. There are some last minute questions concerning maintenance of some of the new items, where to find certain decorative things and accessories that suddenly have importance, placement of these things, and so on.
About two months later those clients are likely to call again. The voice on the other end sounds either a bit annoyed or even slightly panicked. The tile grout is crack in one area on one wall. It’s probably just because everything has had the time to settle; I’ll come by to see it, then contact the contractor.
Define my career. I am an interior designer. I am an analyst, an artist, an educator, an interrogator, a project manager, a site supervisor, a purchaser, a space planner, a specifier, a decorator, a technician, a draftsperson, a troubleshooter…
But can I help a client plan an outdoor project? Can I design a cabana or gazebo for a client’s yard? Can I design custom furniture or lighting? Work with other professionals to provide technical drawings for things that do not fall into the scope of work of an interior designer? Work with clients and their real estate agent to help in the selection of the perfect home or commercial space to meet their needs? Provide consultation services to do-it-yourselfers? Handle the enlargement of a building? Work on new constructions as well as renovations? Plan the enlargement or relocation of a kitchen or washroom? Do I know the building code? Can I help obtain renovation permits from the municipality? Design spaces for use by people with physical disabilities?… Yes, and more.
In a rush, I sometimes describe interior design as the career that fills the gap between architect and decorator, but the accuracy in that statement is something even I have debated. So I am still left without a solid definition of my own career.
Karen S. Weiner is the owner and principal interior designer of Idealspace Design in Montreal, Quebec (Canada), since 1997.