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Career As An Interior Designer Mixes Creative and Business

by Marc Luber

Interior design career information from today’s video with eco-friendly interior design pro Rachel Winokur will leave you inspired by the possibilities of this professional path. Rachel says a career as an interior designer uniquely blends art, technical and business elements, allowing the path to be fun for so many different types of people.

SNEAK PEEK       (Full Episode below)

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Today’s Guest

Interior Designer: Rachel Winokur
Grad School: Boston Architectural Center – Masters of Interior Design
Grad School: UCLA – Certificate of Interior Design Program
College Major: Consumer Studies
College: University of New Hampshire in Durham, NH
High School: Hingham High in Hingham, MA
First Job Ever: Manager of an apparel store
Worst Job Ever: Waiting tables

Eco-Friendly Interior Design

If the eco-friendly interior design angle that Rachel applies interests you, you may want to become a LEED certified green interior designer. For a great, respected LEED exam study guide, be sure to visit our affiliate Green Exam Academy by clicking here for greenexamacademy.com.

After years of working in fashion design, Rachel made a career change into interior design and couldn’t be happier. She worked at the prestigious firm that designed the Obama White House and then launched Etta Designs in Los Angeles with the mission of doing luxurious, eco-friendly interior design work that she calls Eco Luxury or Eco Lux.

Career As An Interior Designer


For a career as an interior designer , Rachel warns that you’d better be an organized person who is able to roll with the punches when things don’t go as planned! She says that some states require certification to be an interior designer – in that case you would need to pass the NCIDQ exam. For more interior design career information, be sure to check out the U.S. Department of Labor website. Rachel recommends these books (affiliate links via Amazon): Professional Practice for Interior Designers and Interior Design Reference Manual: A Guide to the NCIDQ Exam. Another great resource is PLiNTH & CHiNTZ, a site that covers design education and transition into the interior design world. If you want a green career focus, feel free to check out our green career resources.

FULL EPISODE (#5)


For our Audio Podcast:Careers Out There on iTunes

TRANSCRIPT OF TODAY’S INTERVIEW

Careers Out There Host Marc Luber: Hi Rachel welcome to Careers Out There. Thank you for joining us!

Interior Designer Rachel Winokur: Thank you so much.

[WHAT DOES AN INTERIOR DESIGNER DO? 0:40-2:15]
Host Marc Luber: So you’ve got a pretty unique career going for yourself. You’re an interior designer but you also bring the green angle to it – the green perspective. You’ve got the eco luxe or eco luxury tag along with your name, and I want to get to what it means to be a green interior designer or eco lux designer, but first tell us what does it mean to be an interior designer. What does an interior designer do?

Interior Designer Rachel Winokur: An interior designer actually does a lot more than decorating, which I think a lot of people associate interior design with just the decorating aspect. And interior design actually goes from space planning, where are the walls located, window locations, working with electrical plans and working really closely with the architect to make sure that the interior space flows properly, so it’s all of that sort of more somewhat interior architecture elements. But it’s also all the way through to paint colors, accessories, and art, furniture, where the lighting is placed and then it’s also working on budgets and project management and expediting and it’s a whole lot more than just decorating. So there’s a lot of creative elements but there’s also a lot of negotiating and organizing. The creative part is probably maybe only 30% of the time sometimes, so I think that’s an important thing for people to know – that interior design is a lot more than just the creative aspect. There’s a lot of business elements that go along with it.

Luber: Do you consider yourself an artist?

Rachel: Absolutely. I mean I love the creative part. That’s the most exciting part but it’s really sometimes a small part of the process. You know when you’re conceiving this project or this idea and looking for the fabrics and the colors. I love that part but it’s definitely a smaller part of the process.

[WHAT IS GREEN INTERIOR DESIGN? 2:15-3:14]
Luber: Tell us the green aspect. Tell us how the eco friendly or eco luxury aspect plays into what you’re doing.

Rachel: When I design a space, even if a client’s not asking for green design or they’re not clear on what that is, I make sure I give that to them anyway b/c green design doesn’t define the style or the budget. So you still need to give them what they want – whatever that style is, keep to their timeline, keep to their budget. Then the green design is really finding solutions and items that either it’s furniture that’s repurposed or made with sustainable certified wood and non-toxic finishes, it could even be passive heating and cooling systems, like making sure that windows are aligned in a way that you can open them up, create a breeze, put a fan in – a ceiling fan and minimize electricity, minimize the use of a cooling system. So things like that – it could really be a wide variety. Recently for a spa project I found a rug that has a certification called Rug Mark – and that ensures that no child labor was used in making that rug. So sustainability is really comprehensive – it doesn’t just mean that something is made with bamboo. Because if something is made with bamboo you have to make sure that it’s formaldehyde free. You know, one element can’t be green with another element being toxic. It has to be very healthy so that it’s contributing in a healthy way to the air quality…so there’s a lot of things to consider when youo’re talking about green or sustainable design.

Luber: And what inspired you to get into the green aspect? It is a love of nature? I understand you lived on a boat as a child?

Rachel: I lived on a sailboat when I was 8 for 2 years with my family and 2 cats. So I definitely had a pretty strong upbringing enjoying the environment and we even had farm animals in our backyard at one point and I remember going and getting eggs out of the chicken coup in the morning. My parents milled their own grains and I definitely have an appreciation for nature and somehow I got distracted from all that until a few years ago when I was having my own business and I had an opportunity to be really clear on what I wanted to do with design rather than hearing out a larger firm’s mission and it occurred to me that my middle name is Carson. I’m named after Rachel Carson who wrote the book Silent Spring and essentially started the environmental movement. So it kind of all just made sense. I think you can create beautiful design in a very sensible and healthy way where you’re creating an environment that’s healthy for your client. You’re destroying the environment around us, so I just figured it makes sense – so why not.

[WHO HIRES AN INTERIOR DESIGNER? 3:14-4:29]
Luber: That’s great. Very good. Tell us this – what type of person or entity uses the services of someone like yourself? Who are your clients? What type of projects do you work on?

Rachel: It’s really a range. Some people I think get caught up in they want to be a residential designer or commercial designer. There are different rules and code issues but a lot of the philosophy and thinking behind it is very similar so I have both types of clients. My love is hospitality. So my commercial projects tend to be around hotels and I did an eco-friendly nail salon, eco-friendly spa and I just finished a Presidential suite. I just love that. So that’s a commercial client. They’re not concerned about what their personal tastes are but what are their clients going to want – what are their guests going to want. It’s a little bit more challenging sometimes because you’re catering to more than one person obviously – so you have to keep in mind what is the general population of your guests – what are they going to want – versus a residential project which is very personal. You’re usually catering to one person or family. So I’ve done a variety of projects and I love it all. For me it’s all about design challenges and creating solutions. So I don’t discriminate.

Luber: Who do you interact with when you’re dealing with a spa or a suite for a hotel? Who is it that you interact with at the hotel? Is it a manager? Is it the owner? Is there a person who oversees design?

Rachel: It’s a lot of people. That’s the other difference too with commercial design. You usually have a client team. I love my hotel clients – they’re great. There’s a general manager, there’s the VP of the hotel groups – they own more than one hotel. Even the head of engineering gets involved – they’re the ones who have to move electrical and all of that sort of stuff, do all the touch-up work. Sometimes even the president of the hotel group, eventually the owners get involved. But on a regular basis it’s really the general manager, the VP and then they actually have a consultant they like to bring in just to make sure they’re getting another perspective. So there’s a lot of voices, a lot of perspectives and it actually makes for an amazing collaboration. We work really well together so I have no problem with that. I think it makes for a better product the more people you actually have involved.

Luber: For sure. How do you find business? How do you find your clients because not only do you have to be an artist but you have to be an entrepreneur now as a business owner. How do you go about finding business?

Rachel: That is a great question – especially in difficult times like right now. My hotel client actually is someone I worked with at the last employer I had. It’s so important that wherever you go, whatever you’re doing, of course you want to do a great job but maintain really good relationships with everyone you work with because you just never know how that’s going to help you out down the road. So this hotel client I had developed a good relationship with when I worked with them at this design firm and they really reached out to me which was amazing. But I do have a website and a blog and I try and get things published or just have other blogs talk about my projects. Really just getting the word out is so important. The other projects I’ve had actually have just been friends. Another project that I have is something in Shanghai and that’s with an architect I used to work with so again it’s a lot of networking and referrals.

Luber: So wait, Rachel – tell us how is it – Shanghai – how are you doing a project in Shanghai? Are you flying there? Are you using Skype to see how the project is coming along? How do you stay on top of a project if you’re here?

Rachel: That project, I’m on that project as a consultant so I actually did a little bit of work before I did go there in person. And basically they emailed us images, plans and we had to gather together selections, we’d mailed lots of samples to them and then we went in person. I’m partnering with another consultant here in LA so she went one week, I went another week. I just went in there and there was an interpreter and I ended up presenting to the client at the end of the week and then we’re going back at the end of May. It’s pretty exciting.

Luber: That’s great.

Rachel: Yeah. And then because I had developed a relationship with an architect I was working with many years back, it was probably 5 years ago, and I had this opportunity and we all just stayed in touch. It’s pretty amazing.

[TYPICAL DAY FOR AN INTERIOR DESIGNER 4:29-6:22]
Luber: Do this – walk us through a typical day so we could get a good understanding of what your day is like.

Rachel: Well they’re never the same. But they usually revolve around – I’m always chasing down a vendor. There’s always someone that forgets to send me something so you have to really be organized, keep lists, keep tabs, never assume that someone is going to send you what you want when you need it or send you the right thing. So it’s always just you know tracking things down. Sometimes it is that more creative period where you’re actually shopping, which really is probably 75% online now, looking at all my vendors’ catalogs on line. I don’t really keep things in a sample library anymore. If I see something on line that I’m interested in, especially a material, then I just have a vendor send it to me. So very rarely am I running around – it’s so time consuming to run around to a design center and different show rooms. That’s the fun part so I do it sometimes. It’s a great way to maintain relationships with my vendors so sometimes I am out running around. Sometimes I’m going to that presidential suite for a walk through with a client, or I’m just going there to check to make sure that the curtain installer installed something the right way or I have to go point out where the art gets located so that the engineering department can install it properly. Maybe it’s a meeting where I’m presenting a concept, which is always exciting. That’s when you get to share your big idea with the client and bring pictures and all that. So really kind of a mixture and that’s one of the things I love about interior design – is there’s so many components, you never know what to expect, it’s very exciting. There’s another project I’m working on – it’s a shelter and we had the grand opening last week but we’re still kind of tweaking the room. I love going there and meeting with the contractor. It’s a shelter project so it’s a different kind of feeling.

Luber: Explain that – explain shelter project.

Rachel: So there’s a new family shelter that opened up in Los Angeles and there are 18 rooms, so there are 18 designers. Each of us took responsibility and adopted a room. And in 2 weeks we turned around this kind of drab room, I mean it just had basics in there: beige walls and a brown carpet, literally. We went in there and painted walls and added wallpaper, curtains, furniture and beautiful lighting. It was all donated from vendors mostly around LA. They even had an artist in San Francisco who shipped a piece of art on his own dime. It’s gorgeous. And somehow all the rooms just look stunning and yet it’s all donated and we did it in just a couple weeks. So that was an amazing project.

Luber: That’s incredible. And this is for homeless people?

Rachel: It’s for homeless – they specialize in families with children – it’s called Upward Bound House. It’s an amazing organization and they help families get back on their feet. So in my room, over the course of a year, 4 different families will live in that room. It’s a tiny room but it feels spacious and has all the necessities so that’s an amazing project. That’s another day in the life of an interior designer – working on a project like that. Another thing about interior design is I get my hands dirty – I dig right in. If I’m in the hotel, I’m digging through their storage unit to see what we could reuse so I’m getting dirty and dusty. Or I’m on that shelter project and I’m painting myself so I think interior design, again, is very different than a decorating kind of a job that people may think of. You really get involved in all aspects and I think that’s what makes it so exciting.

[MOST REWARDING PART OF INTERIOR DESIGN CAREERS 6:22-7:06]
Luber: What’s the most rewarding part of it? Is it the art side of it? Is it the mixture of things – you get to wear so many hats?

Rachel: The most rewarding part is finishing a project and presenting it to a client and seeing them so excited. I had a client high five me. When it looks even better than the rendering or than what they visualized and you come in on budget and they just can’t believe how far you stretched their dollars, I love that! I’d love to be in the corner when the family opens the door and sees this beautiful room.

Luber: Sorry to interrupt. How long in time from start to finish is a typical project? Because I’m sure it’s very exciting when you put a lot of time and effort into something to get to that final moment when you’re showing the client but what’s the time investment for you?

Rachel: It depends. If it’s a new construction of a large home it could be 2 years. Even a big hotel project can take a long time before things really get completed because if they don’t shut down the whole hotel things are done in phases. The shelter is obviously an exception because it’s a whole different type of project and was probably a 2 week turnaround. But we were on site. We started thinking about it over the holidays and it’s now February. So maybe that was 2-3 months. The spa I did we started in September 2008 and we opened in February 2009. That was pretty quick too because any time you work over the holidays it’s pretty hard to get stuff done. So it really depends what your client’s timeline is and how big the project is.

Luber: What about the lifestyle for this career path overall? Would you say that it’s long days and high stress? Is there a life-work balance? What would you say someone should expect if they were to jump into this world?

Rachel: There are definitely stressful times – if you’re trying to make a deadline you’re promising that deadline that that room is going to be ready for their child’s graduation. There’s usually some emotional deadline attached to the project and you want to deliver for your client. But if something you know is held up in customs or you just never know what’s going to happen – or a factory somewhere had a fire and damaged some of your products…to be successful you have to be very resourceful and be able to problem-solve on the spot to make things successful. So that can be stressful for some people but it’s not all the time. It’s usually just gearing up at the end of a project…..Unless you’re working in an architecture firm as an interior designer, it can be, especially running your own interior design business, having a small business, the schedule can be a little hectic or frenetic and it’s not consistent because a client may call you up and in the spur of the moment you have to run over to them and take care of them. They kind of expect that – especially if it’s a hotel client – that’s going to affect their business. You want to make yourself – I think – I mean I like to make myself available for my clients – so it can cause me to be late for a dinner or something with friends and it could be long hours. It’s a lot of internet sources, you know, I think of doing my research at night. For me it’s ideal – I love the variety and I love the surprise of not knowing – I may think I have a very light week at the beginning of the week and then it never happens that way because by the end of the week there’s all sorts of things that happens – that spur of the moment, spontaneous events happening. So it does make it challenging to have a balance, that’s for sure.

Luber: Now if it was not your own business, if you were working at a company, would that be different?

Rachel: A little bit. It depends on the company. I don’t want to generalize too much but from my experience, working in an architecture firm is definitely more regimented. And the client then knows you’re in a structured, serious architecture firm that closes at 6 pm and you’re not going to be there on the weekends, so I think there’s a little less pressure in that situation. But they’re still…like maybe you have a…you’re planning for a presentation in that architecture firm – there’s still going to be some long days, some late nights preparing for that – but people have a certain understanding that this certain type of design firm is not accessible 24 hours. But in an interior design firm, especially a high-end design firm, I’ve had many late nights working for high-end designers to meet deadlines. There’s a lot of high expectations from the client and even the designer that runs the firm. So with my experience, that’s a little different from the architecture firm and then when you’re running your own firm, it’s even more so because you’re the one that’s taking care of everything.

Luber: Right. What about the workplace environment? Since you’re going in to meet with different people, would you say it’s something where you always have to be dressed up? Is it pretty casual? Does it just depend on who the client is and where you’re going that day?

Rachel: It definitely depends on who the client is as far as how I decide what to wea. I mean I dress up a little bit for presentations – especially for the hotel client – but I’m still in jeans usually. I’m in LA so I think it’s more, like when I was in Boston working at an architecture firm it was a little bit more conservative. Especially that firm specialized in preservation like libraries and museums so it was a little different. And now that I’m only in my interior design world, I’m the interior designer they almost like and expect you to be a little offbeat – you know they have their engineer they have their architect and you’re a little more of their artsy person. So it’s great – it gives me the freedom to dress creatively.
As long as I’m professional – especially if I’m on a job site or I’m going to be digging through a storage unit, I’m definitely going to dress casually. As long as it’s professional, I’ve never had a problem – like I said, I think my clients like that I’m that interior designer person that can do whatever she wants – the artist.

Luber: Let’s talk money for a second. How do you get paid in this field? Who is paying you? How are they paying you? Is it an hourly rate? Is it a project rate? Tell us about that.

Rachel: It kind of depends on the project. The size of the project, whether it’s residential or commercial. Typically what I see is a combination of a design fee where’s there’s sort of an upfront deposit paid on that design fee and then combined with a mark-up. So if you’re purchasing product for a client, it’s very typical that you mark it up. That’s disclosed to the client – it’s anywhere between 20-35% because there’s a lot of time spent in actually purchasing, believe it or not, because you’re expediting, you’re having to always track things down and approve samples and materials so there’s definitely a fee for that. A design fee rarely is a percentage of the overall project. Some people say 5-10% of the overall project budget. I base it on what I think how many hours the project will take and I factor in my hourly fee. Sometimes people will – you always have to first define what the scope is – what that fee covers – and then if you go maybe above and beyond that scope maybe you get half-way through the project and you find that more needs to be done so you just usually negotiate prior – you agree to an hourly fee so that if the scope goes above and beyond, then that hourly fee kicks in and sometimes you cap off that hourly fee so your client feels so there’s some limit, some security.

Luber: And what could be the annual income without giving away your private, personal income, what would you say is a range that somebody could expect whether they’re doing what you do, whether they’re at a bigger company…give us an idea.

Rachel: It really depends. Depends on your level.

Luber: Walk us through from the early days, where you are, and where you could be if you’re the best in the world.

Rachel: There’s a big range. It depends. I can’t remember what I made when I started, but I started as an assistant, which is a great place to start, even if you’ve had several successful careers behind you. Starting at the bottom of a big design firm is a great way to learn and you can work your way up. It really depends, honestly, I don’t even remember but the starting salaries are probably really low, maybe the $30,000s. But especially at a large design firm you could grow to make 6-figures. It depends. And then on your own it’s really impossible to say because it all depends on the size of the business you have and how much business you have and some people are moms and wives and they have a design business sort of on the side so they’re gonna make money according to the size of the business they have. It’s hard to say…….You can definitely do really well – if you’re an interior designer you can be very very successful. And you can also then brand yourself. There are designers who now have fabric lines and books out and not that they’re making a lot of money on the book but it’s sort of branding themselves. So the potential is huge in the design world.

Luber: I think that helps – that gives a little picture. So someone at a design firm, you mentioned they could be making 6 figures. Is that 5 years in? How many years? What are we talking about there?

Rachel: That’s probably maybe 10 years. You’re running a department, you’re responsible for money and budgets and all that.

[EDUCATION FOR INTERIOR DESIGNERS 7:06-8:24]
Luber: Got it. What about education? What kind of educational background is necessary to do what you do?

Rachel: Education is really really important in my profession. Interior design is a profession defined in a lot of states by licensing and certification. There are undergraduate programs you can take, there are graduate programs and there’s these masters programs. For example the Boston Architectural Center, which is where I started my education in interior design – they have a masters in interior design – it’s a 4 ½ year full-time working and school program. It’s pretty intense. So interior design is not just decorating – there’s a lot more to it. I was taking classes the first year with architecture students – so they were the same masters foundation classes. So education is really important. There’s a lot of continuing education that people do when they’re members of different professional organizations. There’s a lot of CEU continuing education units so to maintain your professional status you need to keep taking classes and being educated. And there’s so much out there and so much available and every week there’s events and workshops so the education component is really important.

[CERTIFICATION: NCIDQ Exam 8:24-9:22]
Rachel: Like I said, in some states – not the case where I live in CA, but some states require you to be certified which means a certain amount of schooling and then you have to pass the NCIDQ exams, which are qualifying exams. Some states are a little different but in those states in order to call yourself an interior designer, let’s say you want to create your own business, you have to have passed the exam and be certified in order to call yourself an interior designer.

Luber: So that exam is taken after you’re done with school? It’s not part of school but it’s done after school, right?

Rachel: Right. It can be years after school. And they’re really hard exams. I have a friend who worked for Wynn hotels and she had some really great jobs after school. She’s very smart and she is struggling to just study for the exam. So there’s a lot to know. It gets very very intense.

[BEST PERSONALITY TYPE FOR INTERIOR DESIGN CAREERS 9:22-10:38]
Luber: What is the best personality type to deal with this path?

Rachel: Well one of the great things I think about interior design is it actually appeals to a lot of different people and different types of people could be very successful in it because there are different things you can focus on. There might be someone who is kind of quiet or shy and really good on the computer and really good at AutoCAD which is probably the most popular design software and I mean it’s great when you can find someone who has really good drawings, especially on AutoCAD. It’s a very crucial part of the process. And it might be what they do most of the time, which is fine, and they can go really far doing that. And then you have more of the artsy ones and the outgoing ones who may be dealing more with the clients and then the ones who are more organized who might be doing more of the project management. So in a big firm you need all types of personalities, all types of skill sets to have a very strong, effective business. So I really think that’s the great thing about interior design – it’s something that works for a lot of different types of people.

Luber: So there’s room for everybody.

Rachel: Yes.

[SKILLS TO SUCCEED IN INTERIOR DESIGN 10:38-12:28]
Luber: OK, good. What skills would you say, specifically, beyond what you can learn in school and what you have to learn for the test, as far as the day-to-day, the skills that can really help someone succeed in this path. What would you suggest those are?

Rachel: From my experience what has made me so successful, and I really that this is why clients really like me, is that you have to not just be a talented designer creatively and think of innovative solutions but you also need to be organized. You can’t forget to get back to someone, your clients want you to get right back to them, you need to be proactive, if you’re not hearing back from someone you have to be following up and take initiative. So I think that the creative aspect and being organized are probably the 2 biggest skill sets. But also collaborating is so important. Being a team member whether it’s with your client group or just a large project with an architect or contractor, it’s getting along well with people so that you’re all working for the same end goal and there’s no room for egos. You just have to be a team player and get the job done. Knowing how to negotiate well is good whether it’s negotiating prices with your vendors or negotiating with your team members – like I can’t get in there today but if you do this I’ll be there for you tomorrow. You know, it’s the creativity, organization, project management, kind of teamwork, attitude.

[CHANGING CAREERS TO INTERIOR DESIGN 12:28-13:35]
Luber: So let’s talk about career transitions because there are a lot of people who could be watching who might want to make a career change into a field like this. You are someone who did that – you’ve proven that it can be done.

Rachel: I definitely feel like interior design is a profession you can go into at any time. I went into it in my early 30s and I was pretty stressed out trying to figure out in my 20s what I wanted to do with my life. I thought it was going to be fashion merchandising, I thought I was going open up a little café so I even spent a year creating a business plan and looking for the right location and working in a café. I really couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do and then I knew it was going to be something visually creative and I just tried to figure out what kind of classes I might like to take or what I might like to do for fun, what would make me happy. I took a textile design class – that wasn’t quite it. Then, next thing you knew I was trying these adult education classes in interior design in Boston at the Boston Architectural Center and I loved them and that’s when I knew. That was about 8 years ago. And so I think that it was the visual, sort of that visually creative element that drew me in. I really didn’t know about all the other stuff – I just sort of figured it out along the way. It just seemed to fit. I truly truly love what I do. It took me a long time to get here but I think at any point in time if someone wants to get into interior design it’s just a matter of taking the right classes and getting yourself working in a design firm, whether it’s an architecture firm or interior design firm and interning. Even if you don’t know if that’s what you want to do, intern for a month. Help out. See how things work in the firm and learn that way. But I think it’s amazing.

[ACTION PLAN FOR STUDENTS FOR INTERIOR DESIGN 13:35-15:36]
Luber: What if I’m in high school or college and I’m watching. I know now – I’m thinking that it’s what I want to do. It’s not a career change, it would be my first career. What should I start doing now in high school or college?

Rachel: If you think you’re interested in it at an early age, which is amazing, that’s wonderful – I think you can still – you don’t necessarily need to go to arts school. I got a liberal arts education, I minored in Spanish – because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. That’s actually served me really well, in I think the business side of this profession. So you could either go the liberal arts direction or you could go to an arts school and I think both paths would prepare you well for interior design. So I would say follow what makes you happy – what you enjoy doing. And to make sure that interior design is what you think you want to do down the road, I would see if you can intern at a design firm – a design business nearby. Or get an informational interview or even see if you could shadow a designer for a day. If I had a high school student or college student call me up to see if they could shadow me for a day I would absolutely say yes. I did that – the other great thing about the design education, once you know what you want to do, you can get an undergraduate degree in interior design but you could also get a liberal arts education and then go into a graduate program. But either way when you get into that design academic program, they have things in place that allow you to learn more about the profession. So I spent a day at Gensler, which is one of the largest and most well-respected design firms, architecture firms in the country or perhaps the world. They’re international. Anyway, I got to spend a day shadowing the interior design director through a program at UCLA, which is what I transferred to after the Boston Architectural Center. I went to UCLA because it’s one of the few graduate programs in interior design. That was an amazing experience.

[RACHEL WINOKUR’S BACKGROUND 15:36-17:08]
Luber: That’s what brought you out here from the East Coast to California?

Rachel: That is. So I was in this intense program at the Boston Architectural Center, which is a wonderful school and they have a great design program but it was, for me, in my early 30s, after 1 year of doing full time work and full time school it was a little much. So I wanted to see what else was out there and the UCLA program, although it’s a certificate program, it’s comparable to a masters. It has a thesis, it’s a 2 ½ year full time program, it’s very well respected and it’s accredited as well. There’s an accreditation process out there. Not all design programs out there are accredited. However, if it’s not an accredited design program, that doesn’t mean it’s not good either. For example, Rhode Island School of Design, the last time I checked, is not accredited – but that’s an amazing program. So just getting a good education is crucial but you could get it early on or later, whatever works for you.

Luber: I think – isn’t that the school where the Talking Heads met?

Rachel: Is it?

Luber: I think it is.

Rachel: Wait, UCLA?

Luber: I think that’s where they met.

Rachel: At UCLA?

Luber: Rhode Island School of Design.

Rachel: Oh, Rhode Island School of Design! That’s cool.

Luber: I’m pretty sure. So hopefully you’ll get some of those shadow calls – that means people are watching Careers Out There if you get some of those calls.

Rachel: That would be wonderful.

Luber: Tell us when you first started working here, before you started your own company, tell us who you were working for and some of the exciting projects that took place over there.

Rachel: Well I started at a firm, I worked there about a year in Boston, it’s an award winning firm, they probably have maybe 40 people, lots of design principals, so they had a lot of high-end projects going on in terms of commercial projects. They did a lot of museums and libraries, a lot of restoration, preservation work, and I was an assistant.

Luber: And you were the Director of that, right- on that side of things?

Rachel: Excuse me?

Luber: Weren’t you the Director of Commercial Projects?

Rachel: Well the first place I worked, that’s where I just started – so I was just an assistant. I was running around – this was in my early 30s after I thought I’d already paid my dues, I was running to pick up something like back before digital there was a lot of film going to the developing store, the photo store. So I started as an assistant at this large architecture firm and then when I moved out to LA, I worked for a couple other architects and designers but most recently I worked for Michael Smith who did Obama’s White House. So I kind of got lucky because I was able to work for such a talented and well known designer, which looks really good for your resume. So any time you can intern or work for a really well known designer, I think it’s a very smart move – you can learn a lot and it does look good on your resume. People will notice you more and you’ll make amazing connections. I’m really grateful for that experience. That’s where I was the Director of the Commercial Department, which is pretty amazing, because that was maybe 5 years into my design career. To be running all those high-end projects for such a well-known designer….so I’m very grateful for that experience.

[BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF INTERIOR DESIGN CAREERS 17:08-18:21]
Luber: Yeah, that’s excellent. What would you say is the biggest challenge of this path? What would you tell people – if you can’t handle this, then this path is not for you. What would that be?

Rachel: If someone couldn’t handle things not working out the way they thought they would, it is definitely not for you. Because typically nothing goes as planned – it’s just the way it happens. So you have to plan but not everything in that plan is going to go smoothly. You’re going to dig into a wall and find out you can’t do something because of existing conditions, or you order an amazing piece of furniture and then that furniture company goes out of business. You know, things just never go as planned but the great thing about that is that things always work out better in the end, in my opinion. So you just have to have faith and kind of roll with the punches and not let that worry you or bother you. You just have to kind of think quickly and come up with a new solution and it pretty much comes out better in the end that way. So I think it’s actually a good thing.

[CAREERS RELATED TO INTERIOR DESIGN 18:21-20:20]
Luber: Very good. What about other related paths? What would you say if someone is interested in this, they’re watching this interview, they’re intrigued, but maybe they’re not going to do exactly what you do – what’s a related path that has a similar type of a background that people might go into if they didn’t choose this?

Rachel: There is lighting design. I have a good friend who is a lighting designer and she’s still involved in creating this space for people to live and have fun in. So lighting design is really important and it’s a specialty. So that’s one thing – someone might find they’re just more interested in the lighting aspect. Again, I mentioned if someone is really good at computer drawings, that’s such an important component of our work and some people can get paid really well if they’re really good and really quick. And then they could even do – there’s someone I know who does renderings – it’s one of his side jobs – renderings – he uses Photoshop and I don’t know what else and he makes these beautiful pictures on the computer that don’t even look computer generated and that’s one angle. You know there’s people who may find themselves going in more, like some contractors do, I have a design friend who really loves the faux painting. She worked for a guy in New York who is a big name – he has a book out – that’s what she did because that sort of satisfied the artist part of who she is. She was doing a lot of painting and faux painting of Venetian finishes – Venetian plaster finishes. So there is a lot of different ways you could go. There are some people who get into the fabric, textile manufacturing. There are people who end up working in showrooms and get really involved in the furniture end of our business – not just the sales but helping develop lines or manage the production of the line. So really, there’s a lot of variety – a lot of ways to go.

Luber:That’s great.

Rachel: Yeah.

Luber: And they’re all creative, which is good.

Rachel: Absolutely.

[WHERE DESIGNERS CAN TAKE THEIR CAREERS 20:20-21:13]
Luber: What’s the next step for you? What do you want to do next? Where do you want to take this?

Rachel: I want to become a brand. I want to take my design skills and this idea of Eco Luxury and brand it. I’d love to develop a line of fabric. I’ve always loved fabric and textiles and patterns and color. I want to get on TV and show more people what they themselves can do. I want to help people solve design problems and show them innovative ways to do that and especially bringing in this eco-friendly element. So I just want to keep growing my business and do more hospitality. I would love to do a restaurant. A boutique hotel. So I have big plans. I’m going to keep moving forward.

Luber: That’s excellent. It’s exciting. You love what you do!

Rachel: Excuse me?

Luber: You love what you do!

Rachel: Exactly. I love it.

[ACTION PLAN – CONTINUED 21:13-22:33]
Luber: So if I’m watching this video and I’ve decided this is for me, I want to go for this, basically what I should be doing is finding someone to intern with, someone to shadow, and then also, assuming I continue to be interested, is to pursue the education side of it. Is that right?

Rachel: Yeah, that’s reasonable. I would say as soon as you know you’re interested in it, even if you’re interning already, I would start taking classes. Or at least go visit a nearby school to find out what’s involved so you could start planning out your class schedule and how much it’s going to cost and how much time it’s gonna take. I think the education part is really important. You may be a successful designer in an interior design firm without the education but you really can’t do much else. That may be a design firm where you’re not doing any computer drawings, you don’t understand architectural drawings, it’s really going to limit you. So I would say as soon as you know, get the school part in there. Interning is a great way or shadowing is a great way to get started. And just start attending design events in your community. Especially in a big city, there are so many design events and trade shows. Just start talking to people and asking them questions about what they do in their job and how they got there.

[WHAT DESIGNERS LOOK FOR WHEN HIRING 22:33-24:02]
Luber: What about if I’ve done all that and I’m done with school and I’m ready to start now? I’ve learned everything and I want to start working for someone now. What would you say you would be looking for if you were hiring someone and what have you seen other places where you’ve worked – what are the key things they were looking for when they were hiring someone?

Rachel: Big thing for me is organization. I really love someone who is really organized. There are so many moving parts in our business, you just have to be able to keep different projects organized and separate from each other. There are just so many things to keep track of so I really look for someone who is organized. I look for someone who is outgoing, who speaks their mind, who is not afraid to give their opinion, you know, someone who knows how to handle themselves with the clients, someone who is professional, and someone who is committed and passionate about design. So chances are if you’ve gone through the schooling already and you’re ready to work, you know that’s what you want to do – so I’d want someone to be on board 100%. Honestly, the creative thing is not my biggest concern because of course I know that I can cover that. So if someone is really creative and they have some great ideas that’s fantastic. But it may take – sometimes it takes people a while to build their confidence in that area of design so they may not even know sort of where their strengths are creatively and they might keep that quiet for a while, which is fine with me. I just need someone who can help support me and the business.

[KEYS TO SUCCESS FOR INTERIOR DESIGN CAREERS 24:02-25:59]
Luber: Right. And I think we already kind of touched on this, but leave us with some keys to success. What are some keys to success for people who are watching?

Rachel: Keys to success in interior design I would say definitely: having an open mind, being resourceful, innovative, definitely creative, organized, good team player, really good communication skills, and frequent communication. Making sure that everybody is on the same page – never assuming that everybody gets it. I’m constantly sending emails out with sort of bullet points and just making sure and helping everybody to stay on track. And some people that aren’t very organized really like that. And have fun! It’s a really fun profession – you’re helping people create amazing spaces. Whether it’s a high-end hotel or it’s a shelter, it’s an important part of living. We all need spaces to live and be happy so I think it’s – interior design is definitely an important way to contribute to our community.

Luber: Excellent. Very good advice. Rachel Winokur – Eco Lux Interior Designer – thanks so much for joining us at Careers Out There. Thank you again.

Rachel: Thank you so much for having me.

©2010 Careers Out There

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