Designers Focus On Remodel Projects, Diversifying Services In Tough Economy
By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer
July 03, 2012 - Local interior designers agree that creating a sanctuary in a private dwelling, restaurant or corporate office even in – or especially in – difficult economic times is a way to bring calm to the stressful moments of life.
The work of an interior designer is to make live and work spaces functional and safe, but also visually pleasing and comfortable. Such designers typically have a breadth of knowledge to back their various skills, bringing together bits of aesthetics, architecture, psychology and product design to help produce a cohesive plan for a single space, a multi-room facility or many business locations operating under one brand. In addition, designers should have a grasp of floor planning and building codes to support the functionality and safety of the space.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were about 56,500 interior designers employed in the U.S. in 2010. The BLS recommends interior designers obtain a bachelor’s degree in the art of design or attend an interior design school. The California Council for Interior Design Certification (CCIDC) administers the state’s Certified Interior Designers Law and offers the highest level of professional certification in California. There are various paths for certification, which may be explored further at www.ccidc.org.
Megan Tagliaferri, owner of FLO Design Studio, said any good designer has some sort of education base with knowledge of space planning, selecting finishes and how to customize millwork and cabinetry. Tagliaferri, who is CCIDC certified, has worked on a few luxury residences, but mainly focuses on hospitality design.
“Especially in hospitality design, you have to have strong knowledge of codes and regulations as far as ADA [American Disabilities Act] but also building codes, fire codes and more,” she said. “If you need a commercial designer, they should have a good educational background and good credentials with all that knowledge, as well as knowing vendors who meet that criteria.”
At the college level, interior design schools typically offer courses on the various genres of design, such as British Colonial, California Mission, contemporary styles, modern, coastal and others. Designers will usually acquire a taste for a particular aesthetic in school, Tagliaferri said. “I think each designer hones in on one where they get excited, where their spark is,” she said. “For me, it’s more a modern, clean contemporary vibe. [Most] designers are more honed in on their [preferred] aesthetics, and then some are more diverse.”
For Trebor/Nevets, a local interior design company with a retail showroom at 2116 E. 4th St., the design aesthetic for its primarily residential property owner clients is what co-owner Steven Sarinana calls “a boutique style with modern, classic and contemporary influences.” Sarinana leads the interior design aspect of Trebor/Nevets, while co-owner Robert Murphy offers support from the showroom.
“What I typically do is design custom furniture to create solutions for problems clients may have,” Murphy said. While Trebor/Nevets focuses on home interior design, the company has also transformed workspaces and offices in Long Beach in recent years. No matter the client, Sarinana said, “We are working with their most intimate space, their sanctuary. We want to respect that in the process. For many people, this is the biggest investment of their life.”
When a client is looking for a designer, Tagliaferri and Sarinana agree that the focus is about what makes the client happy and what they love doing. “You get almost a vibrational feeling, what makes you happy or soothed,” Tagliaferri said. “I think things are strongly tied to the emotional when it comes to the aesthetic, and what kind of feeling you want to get in that certain setting.”
Sasha Witte Design, which is primarily a residential interior design business, has been in Long Beach for 12 years. Owner and designer Sasha Witte decided to open a furniture, lighting, art and accessory shop about five years ago at 3237 E. Broadway. Many of her residential clients bring her commercial work as well, she said, from office spaces to restaurants to art galleries.
“A lot of people know what they like when they see it, but they don’t always know how to put it all together and create that space,” Witte said. “Some just want a color palate or furniture selection, others need construction layout and full remodeling, reconfiguration of rooms. I love that every client is unique.”
The first step in finding the right designer for the right project is to get to know each other through conversations or question-and-answer sessions. Conversing with clients allows designers to ask questions and get to know the person’s lifestyle and personality. Understanding how many people live or work in the space, how often someone entertains and the pace of that person’s life can help dictate style elements and color schemes for a space.
“In terms of design projects, we like to create a design for people that evokes some kind of emotion,” Sarinana said. “That’s based on personal style, how they live and work in their space.”
As a client’s taste may evolve upon reflection during the initial design process, so can a designer’s aesthetic change. Alicia Friedmann owns a design studio under her name in Long Beach. She decided to start her own business in 2003 and was initially focused on contemporary design.
Once she transformed her home environment based on her contemporary aesthetic, Friedmann realized that particular style left her with a cold and stifling feeling. She has since rebranded her business to focus on catering to each client’s needs, which has broadened her style base. “A lot of it is in the conversation and knowing how to communicate with the client,” Friedmann said. Both she and Tagliaferri said they each begin initial consultations with a questionnaire.
In addition, interior designers need to take the time to improve on their listening skills and use patience to best understand what a client wants, Sarinana said. “We live in an instant society,” he said. “At the time a client signs an agreement for interior design, I explain that it is a process. We don’t do instant interior design or cookie-cutter design. We love incorporating vintage and antique items in the process.”
While many clients seek an interior designer for an entire home remodel or redesign of an office or hospitality space, sometimes a floor plan and color selection assistance is just what a client needs – or can afford. Some designers diversify services to assist almost anyone with interior design needs, both Friedmann and Witte said. “We have folks who come to us for a consultation or two, with the details of pulling their space together. They feel like they have it most of the way, they just need a little additional help,” according to Witte. “We also run the other extreme of the gamut, where someone is coming to us for an entire home makeover including the kitchen and bathroom demolishment and redo.”
With every client, interior designers face the challenge of budgetary constraints and regulations such as building codes. “Budget, codes and schedules are a given with any project,” Tagliaferri said. “What’s a more interesting challenge is to be ahead of the curve and really understand other lifestyles and how and why people spend their time.” The building codes are there to protect the clients, Witte noted, and all clients come with a budget – big or small. “No matter the budget, there are always ways to improve a space,” she said.
It is crucial to realize that no matter how experienced an interior designer is, things always happen, Friedmann said. “Unexpected things always happen on the job front, be it with construction of a house or the availability of the materials you have on order – whatever it is, you have to expect the unexpected and be as prepared as you can on the job,” she said. “Always know that there are so many things in this field that are outside our control, we just have to deal with things as they happen as best as possible.”
As the real estate market remains in transition, many property owners are staying put for the time being. This is reflected in the clientele many interior designers have today – residential or commercial clients that want to refurnish or remodel a space to bring in new color and light.
“Real estate development is an industry that has been hurt,” Tagliaferri said. “Currently, there seems to be less ground up construction and a little more [attention] on the existing buildings. There are many neat old buildings to remodel.”
Witte agreed. “People are more focused now on an awareness that people are probably not going to be leaving their homes anytime in the next five to six years, based on what’s happening in the economy,” she said. “I’d say we’re now focused more often on remodeling than new construction.”
The interior design business is in a state of repositioning, following the trends of both the design and the real estate markets, Friedmann said. With design, more how-to shows on television and wider access to products that were once exclusive to designers has forced the industry to adapt and try new things. “I do feel like no matter how much people are able to purchase items anywhere or even watch HGTV [Home & Garden Television] and feel like they’re learning from that, I think they will always need the expertise of a designer,” she said. “It’s just a matter of being willing and able to revamp how [designers] do business.”