Think of your favorite restaurant, your doctor’s office, or the space you work in every day. There’s a good chance that an interior designer played an important role in the design and layout of that space. So, what does an interior designer do?
It's Not "As Seen on TV"
When I tell people I’m an interior designer, HGTV is typically the first thing that comes to mind. But the role of a commercial interior designer is much different than what you’ll see on television. An interior designer practices and is educated in design, construction, and the life safety of a building. We’re responsible for designing spaces that not only look great, but function the way clients need them to, and in a safe manner. At Design Collaborative, interior designers work closely with architects and engineers to design beautiful and functional places for work, learning, and healing.
Designing a Vision into Reality
A key part of an interior designer’s role is developing floor plans. We “lay out” the different spaces that define the size and type of project components to maximize efficiency and limit wasted space. It’s our job to listen, develop an understanding of what a client needs in a space, and then develop a design that brings a client’s vision to life through design. For example, for a corporate workplace, the interior designer and architect need to know how many private offices and open workstations are needed, what type of conference spaces are needed, and what building amenities will be offered. By gaining an understanding of a client’s needs, the design team can develop a practical and functional layout of the space.
Code and Constructability
Interior designers are very involved in the layout and design of a building’s interior spaces, so we must have a deep knowledge of building codes. Many aspects of the built environment are dictated by code, like how many restrooms are in a building, where stairs are located, and the height of countertops, among others. If a project doesn’t meet code, it can be delayed after a review by local and state governing authorities, which means wasted time and money that no one wants to spend.
An interior designer must also know how a building comes together. We don’t just envision beautiful spaces. It’s also our job to create the drawings that will tell builders how our designs are actually constructed. A commercial interior designer is very involved in design detailing and the production of construction documents.
Finishes Tell a Design's Story
Selecting interior finishes is one of the fun parts of interior design! Finishes, including flooring, wall coverings, and paint, have an enormous impact on the look and feel of a design. These are the first things your eye is drawn to when you enter a space. Interior finishes allow designers to create a highly unique and personalized design for each project. Good design tells a story. It’s the overall expression of a specific brand, mission, or culture. Finish selections need to be attractive and reinforce the design story.
Interior designers must also select finishes that are appropriately durable and safe. For example, some shower tiles might be attractive but become too slick when wet. If finishes are not carefully chosen, a space could also become too noisy and distracting because of reflected sound. Have you ever been in a restaurant and it’s so loud you can’t hear the person sitting across from you? Flooring, wall, and ceiling treatments all play a significant role in controlling the noise level in a space.
Illuminating Great Design
Interior designers also have to consider how the mechanical and electrical design fits into the overall scheme. Lighting is a huge part of any project. Interior designers coordinate with electrical engineers to select light fixtures and finishes that achieve the right aesthetic and deliver proper light levels. We work with mechanical engineers to coordinate the location of diffusers and other equipment in the ceiling that will impact the final look of a space. We don’t want a thermostat showing up in the middle of a feature wall, so coordinating between electrical, mechanical, and interior designers is imperative.
Furniture Can Define a Space
Furniture can be very distracting when loud, intricate fabric covers every piece of furniture in sight. It’s important the furniture supports the design story as well as the functional demands of users. A desk or workstation that looks beautiful but doesn’t allow users proper use of space isn’t the right furniture choice. It’s the interior designer’s responsibility to select and lay out furniture to complement the overall aesthetic and use of any space.
Interior Designers Play a Critical Role in the Design Process
From planning and constructability to finishes and furniture, it’s important that a project’s interior design team is making appropriate design decisions that support the design story and use of a client’s space. So, the next time you visit your favorite restaurant, come into work, or visit a retail store, take a minute to notice the design, details, and finishes that make the space unique—you probably have an interior designer to thank for that!
Lauren Curvey, NCIDQ, IIDA
Associate, Registered Interior Designer