Interior Designer Profile

Read an insider’s perspective on an interior designer career.

Gretchen Sturtevant, ASID

Self-Employed Interior Designer
Over 30 years in the business

How did you get started in your career?

I went to school to become an art teacher and when I discovered I didn’t like education classes, I took straight interior designer classes. I loved it, though school was hard work, with a lot of labs. We studied art, architecture, clothing and textiles. We had an interior design studio. When I started I was on the tennis and swim teams, but I had to give them up for the interior design program. The program required long hours, but it was very rewarding.

My first job in the field was in a furniture store, the summer before my senior year of college. I saw how carpet was installed, how draperies were made, how a blind was put up—that’s the on-the-job training you’ll get as an intern.

What’s your focus now?

I work mainly in commercial settings: schools, corporate, hotels, hospitals. I’d love to get into assisted care.

An interior designer is concerned with the health, welfare and safety of the client. I’m very conscious of codes. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is always in my mind. I consider handicapped needs, how to get a wheelchair in, and how that affects an employee or client entering the building.

Lately I’m answering questions about the environment. That’s all new. How much off-gassing do you get on a carpet, how much off-gassing on a glue? I have to know the specifications of the product to provide the right thing for a particular client. Materials have to be recycled: people don’t want to keep filling our landfills with carpet.

What do you like most about your job?

I like the contact with people—the clients, the architect, the contractor, the product people. Generally an interior designer is improving the environment and the conditions, whether it’s a bank lobby, a school or a hotel for someone to stay in. And installation is fun; I’m a hands-on person. The hands-on aspect is probably the most truly rewarding part of the job, putting it all together, hanging pictures and lamps.

What is most challenging about your job?

Getting work done on time. Meeting schedules, limiting costs and keeping the client happy are all challenging aspects of the job. Good communication is really important. You have to be a salesman, you can’t be quiet and timid—that’s not going to work. It’s important to present your ideas well.

What should someone starting a design career know?

It’s really difficult for anybody just starting out. You must have experience, and if you don’t, no one will hire you. To get experience you can intern at an architectural firm, furniture store, design center, or a showroom. A lot of people become representatives for products or designers.

The more architecture you know, the better—drafting, drawing, presentations. You should also know how to work with revenue and the government. If you’re going to have your own business, it helps to have a business background. Be very attuned to licensing and what’s happening on the legal end.

Be a member of the community that you’re in, participate. It’s good to belong to professional organizations, where you can talk to people who are all doing the same thing. It gives people colleagues, people to share ideas with.

Interior designers want to do everything, but in the beginning you might not be able to do everything. Young people think interior design is a neat career. It seems like a glamorous job. It’s really a learn-as-you-go career; you have to get out there and be willing to try.

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