I received my undergrad degree at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) with a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design. I sort of fell into the degree, as it offered a mix of what I loved: art, architecture, and business.
In the program, I was introduced to a type of design that focused on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — called Universal Design. This type of design focuses on designing for people with special needs, the process of preparing a home/business for accessibility. I was introduced to the use of color rendering for concept boards, floor plans, elevations, and perspective drawings – a natural skill I had cultivated from my many years of completing art projects in school. I also realized, through the program, a love for construction and talent for space planning.
Which posed the question: what do you do with those specialties?
I didn’t know the answer to that. I was young and still totally unaware of what I wanted to do. So, I got my degree and specialized in an area of Interior Design — Kitchen and Bath Design.
After graduation, I headed back East to see what adventures lay ahead. (I had completed my internship in Bucks County, PA.)
I worked as a design assistant in a small mom & pop cabinet retailer/kitchen design firm in Ridgewood, NJ. I traveled to Canada and met with the cabinet company. I learned a lot about the dynamics of working on a small team of people. I also learned more about the real, hands on, day to day processes of creating layouts for kitchens and bathrooms, working with clients, measuring, and so on. It was a good experience, but I needed something more challenging.
It’s from there that I joined a firm in Hackensack, NJ that designed and built large scale assisted living facilities and skilled nursing centers. I became the youngest Director of Interior Design the company had had. I was 26. What a crazy ride that was. I went from being a Design Assistant to being a Director of Interior Design with no experience in between. Looking back on it now, I would steer others away from doing it that way.
I hit the ground running – I learned how to do my job as I was doing it. Whew. It was not an easy task. But, I was up for the challenge.
I was successful. I conceptualized and designed multiple projects – including new additions to existing facilities, assisted living and skill nursing centers built from the ground up, and I played a key role in making reality the company’s flagship facility in Livingston, NJ – which won industry wide recognition.
I created, specified, and implemented custom designs. I collaborated with our vendors (carpet, wall coverings, silk trees, draperies, etc) in creating customized products. I supervised, scheduled, and coordinated all interior finishes – the proposals, orders, deliveries, and installations. I directed multiple teams of contractors. I worked closely with upper level executives.
It was, on one end, a great experience and on the other it was very stressful. I was young, a bit green going into everything, and a little naïve. In the end I was burnt out.
I wanted something more. But, I wasn’t certain what that was. I knew I wanted to have a sense of purpose, to genuinely help people, something meaningful, something bigger than myself, something that fit me… and Interior Design wasn’t cutting it.