The Architecture of Professionalism
I recently had a very interesting conversation with a design colleague regarding certain dispensary businesses in Colorado. I will leave that at that. But the conversation led me to start considering what interior designers bring to spaces that is not just aesthetic appeal, not just space planning or spatially related, but an architecture of Professionalism.
To digress for a moment, one of my husband’s favorite places to eat is a tiny little strip mall, hole-in-the-wall Pho place. We love this joint and would argue there is no place to equal it in terms of Pho for miles. But it is a hole-in-the-wall. The tables and booth are beat up utilitarian pieces, the bathroom is a little frightening (better avoided) and while the kitchen produces some of the most amazing food ever there is something to be desired. It is family business in terms of being a little slap-dash and the interiors are put together a little haphazardly. This in no way changes the fact that they are well known for what they do well and the repeat clientele proves it. I’m in no way suggesting they change anything there!
But, what would this place be like if it looked, really looked, like a professional restaurant owner and operated by a serious restauranteur? If that hole-in-the-wall face that belies the greatness of the cooking were brought to match the quality found within, how many more people would be enticed to enter? How would their business change? Perhaps I choose a bad example, because the hole-in-the-wall with amazing food is its own archetype, but I think there’s something to be said for having the space receive a similar investment as the food. Making that investment in a look and functionality says something about the business behind the face and that’s the point I want to make.
Hiring a professional, any professional, to assist in a portion of your business practice says that you, as a business owner/stakeholder, care to see it done right and in concert with the message you want to send. Whether it be an IT professional, an accountant, or a designer these are people who are experienced in their professional arena and can guide you to make decisions that reflect the values of your business. In the case of a design professional, we take it one step further and translate those values into a form that your customers really SEE. It’s branding and marketing, this investment in how your space looks, and it tells other people something about your business. At the most basic level, the investment of a space implies the legitimacy of a business with overhead business expenses and taxes tied back to a space and its proprietors. What that space says is up to you and a design professional helps you make that decision in a mindful, meaningful way, rather than as an afterthought.
My family Pho business’s interiors say (once you’ve had the food) that they are more concerned with the kitchen and what comes out of it than anything else. That’s not a bad thing. But how many hungry potential clients have walked right by without a second thought because they just didn’t know better? An investment in the space shows people visually that there’s an investment in the business. Because we’re talking about a restaurant, that suggests to people there’s something great going on in the kitchen.
This was the same point my colleague was making about certain Colorado businesses. As these businesses cater to the healthcare industry they need to look the part. A designer is very much a part of that equation and differentiating them from their neighbors. When the services of a designer are considered in this light, they are not only providing physical space, but a sense of Professionalism and Legitimacy.
Bold Never Goes out of Style
As a designer, I have had a lot of time to look at products, trends, colors. It means that I have long since lost any attachment to say dark wood over light wood. I like both in the right context. Same with the sterility of the International Style or the more lavish Federalist. Both have a time and a place and both can be an equally inspiring basis for the style of a law office.
Yet I need to choose my words very carefully when describing styles or colors with a client. The word trend is a particularly dangerous thing to put out and I’d like to explain why I think that is, even through a trend is nothing to fear. It’s just a currently popular idea. There’s a delicate balance in every job to provide both freshness and longevity. Clients are usually coming in having lived with a space for years and part of my job besides function is to provide a facelift. Yes, creating the functional conference room that the team desperately needs is important and rebalanced the lights and HVAC after those walls go up is necessary, but part of the appeal of an interior designer is that you expect us to leave the place looking better than when we were hired, not just functioning better. (Like the roof replacement my husband and I did last year; it needed doing, but we didn’t “feel” or “see” the investment except by the absence of rain in our kitchen) But you, as a client, know you’ll be staring at the inside of those conference room walls for years. And that chair you’ll be sitting through all those meetings in needs to be comfortable and preferably nice to look at. Thus as much as designers plan to walk the balance between choosing something exciting and new, but not something that will get old. Trends get old eventually. Having a color or style become dated far beyond the end of the useful life of the product can lead to frustrations later on. It’s still in good shape, but if you’ve stopped enjoying the color, texture or pattern it gets old. This is true of any job, commercial or residential.
We live in a world where the word trend, is more related to clothing than furniture, however, and it seems many people are intimidated by the Speed of Fashion and consider that speed when they start to consider furniture and color choices. I often feel the concern about living with a color or other bold choice. But the Speed of Furniture is slower than the Speed of Fashion. While what teenage girls wore 5 years ago is completely out of style, the couch I bought at the same time doesn’t look dated. Shapes take time to go in and out. Color is more tricky, but we live in an age where I find the buzz-phase or trend of contemporary design color is what I call Neutral Plus Pop. I love this concept and employ it all the time. It allows me to be bold and energetic without fear that a client (or me) will outgrown the design decisions we made too fast. I just tend not to point out that this sensible way of thinking is also a current design trend.
Colors (the particular hues in vogue, although there are classic shades and tints that always have appeal) shift more quickly than neutrals (which do shift as well; think about the espresso wood tone that’s popular the last few years whereas medium oak or white laminate is my memory of the 80’s). So you play to your strengths. Long-lasting items that also tend to be more investment are done in neutrals. This includes built-ins, casework, countertops and the partners’ desk in colors and styles you love and know will never get old for you. Take, not risks, but have fun with with paint colors, task chairs, and the items that will wear out. Paint is not an expensive proposition and all the HGTV bloggers will tell you the same.
To me, Wow factor and boldness never go out of style. A rich, deep hue will always have wow because of it’s depth. Something unique and distinguishing will, while it may become humdrum to you on a daily basis, still impress newcomers to your space. Boldness creates variety and adds interest. It might be a leap of faith to try something different, but if done in the right materials it doesn’t have to be frightening but will make a lasting impression and wow you and your visitors for a long time.