Category Archives: Blog

When should you hire a professional interior designer?

I’ve been practicing commercial interior design for over 20 years, yet many people are still unsure about what I do.  The industry hasn’t been effective at making the profession as well-known as other design professions, and with overlaps with both architecture and interior decoration, true interior design can be seen as a bit of an unknown.

One key difference between interior design and architecture is scale.  To design a building is a much larger proposition than designing an interior space.  In my experience, there are benefits to having both architects and interior designers on a project team.  As in all professions, some members will have more or less experience than others.  Some architects are better at designing interiors while other architects are better at master planning.  Some interior designers are better at decoration than with details.

In some cases, you will be required to hire an architect – if your project is a new commercial building or adding on to an existing one, or if your project encompasses a renovation over 7,500 square feet.  Municipalities have their own requirements for when drawings and specifications need to be signed and sealed by a registered architect.  For example, in Charleston, if your project will cost more than $50,000 in construction, you’ll need an architect.

So, when should you consider hiring a professional interior designer?  Here are some answers to that question:

When your business is open to the general public.

Commercial interiors is vastly different from residential interior decoration in that the profession is concerned with the health, safety, and welfare of building occupants.  There are certain building codes, life safety codes, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations which interior designers must address.  For example, there are minimum width requirements for corridors, slip resistance requirements for flooring materials, and specific requirements for ADA-accessible spaces, all of which will have an effect on the interior layout of a space.  These codes vary depending on the type of space as well; educational facilities have to meet different requirements than restaurants, which are different from office spaces, etc.

When you need space planning and functionality designed into your space.

The codes and regulations mentioned above do have an effect on space planning, and a professional interior designer knows these basic parameters.  We’re also trained to ask a lot of questions about how your business functions, how different groups or departments relate to each other, about work processes, and many other details.  We want to know where you store your office supplies, how many files you access on a daily basis, what types of meetings you have weekly, etc.  A professional interior designer is interested in designing a space specific to your business, to make you more successful, not something that is in a specific style or “theme.”

When you want the design to reflect a specific image or brand.

Many companies are sensitive to their projected image and rely on brand recognition for attracting and retaining customers and employees.  This can be fully developed as part of the interior design, not only in terms of style or colors, but also functionally.  (Think: Google and casual meeting spaces with lounge chairs.)

When new furniture or equipment is needed.

There are many places to buy furniture: local dealerships or furniture stores, online, even office supply stores and used furniture outlets.  Interior designers have access to many different varieties and manufacturers of furniture and do our best to specify the most appropriate pieces for you, which means we don’t receive incentives for doing this.  The best scenario is to retain an independent designer who can recommend specific furniture and where you can purchase it.  Other factors to consider include the power and data requirements in office systems furniture (cubicles), durability and warranties, functionality, materials, and manufacturing process.  Custom-made furniture can also be an option for specific design requirements or space configurations.

When special lighting design or interior details are desired.

As an interior designer, I am very mindful of lighting, particularly because the type and quality of light sources plays a huge role in how colors and materials appear in a space.  Light fixture selection and layout, combined with millwork details and other interior details can really bring a design together.  It truly becomes something specific to each client and will represent you and your brand, while being functional at the same time.

When you want to reduce your environmental footprint.

I’ve been involved with green, or environmentally-sensitive, building design for almost as long as I’ve been practicing interior design.  Plus, having worked among architects and engineers my whole career, as well as my experience with the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Green Building Rating System since its inception, I’m able to provide an array of green building consulting.  This could include prioritizing systems for renovation, planning ways to deliver good indoor air quality for occupants, even designing for biophilia – bringing nature indoors either literally or figuratively.

Contact Watkins Design Works to discuss your next project…our mission is to improve the quality of life for our clients through the design of functional and beautiful interior spaces and by emphasizing the connection between the built environment and the natural environment.

Ingenuity Can Help WV Change (Charleston Gazette-Mail 11/25/15)

Senator Joe Manchin’s passionate plea to save what’s left of the coal industry is extremely discouraging for West Virginia.  Rather than show leadership during this time of energy transition, Sen. Manchin (as well as Senator Shelley Moore Capito, our Representatives in Congress, and most other statewide leaders) chooses to take the well-worn path of the status quo, and lacks the vision to see a real future for our state, one based on new technologies, services, and renewable energy.

Sen. Manchin says that carbon capture and storage (CCS) “has not been demonstrated at any commercial scale power plant anywhere in the world.”  This is simply not true.  According to the Global CCS Institute, “globally, there are 14 large-scale CCS projects in operation, with a further eight under construction.  The 22 projects in operation or under construction represent a doubling since the start of this decade.  The total CO2 capture capacity of these 22 projects is around 40 million tonnes per annum.”  That is enough to offset the typical energy consumption of over 3.3 million American homes each year.  Several of these CCS projects are in the U.S.

According to Sen. Manchin, “the good Lord gave the state…an abundance of natural resources….”  I would argue that “the good Lord” also gave us beautiful natural habitats meant to be enjoyed by all humans and animals, clean rivers and lakes which have been polluted by industry, gorgeous mountains that draw West Virginians home yet are slowly being destroyed by the coal industry, and black lung disease as a grim reminder of years of dedication to ruthless companies mostly headquartered in other states.  The fact is we are burning through coal faster than the earth can regenerate it.  Conservation and energy efficiency measures will actually serve to help the industry long-term by reducing the demand of a non-renewable resource annually, thereby increasing its availability in the future.

Sen. Manchin also mentions that “by 2040, China will get 62% of its electricity from coal.”  What he fails to mention is that Beijing shut down four major coal-fired power plants due to hazardous air quality in that city [Bloomberg 3/24/15].  As America demands cheap products manufactured in countries with little human rights or environmental regulations, the demand for greenhouse gas-destroying fossil fuels by China will increase.  But at what cost?  There are environmental costs, for sure, but it also costs jobs here at home.  Contrary to those who believe there is a “War on Coal,” President Obama is not responsible for huge losses in coal industry jobs: these can be attributed to technological “advances” by the industry itself, such as mountaintop removal, over the past three decades.  Quick research will show that serious job losses began under President Reagan, and in fact, the losses accrued under the current administration are less than job losses accrued during the 1980’s [National Journal 11/4/13].

Sen. Manchin is right about one thing:  “American ingenuity should be harnessed right now to ensure our future at home and to be a leader for the world.”  However, clean coal technology hardly shows ingenuity…it shows a hanging on to 175 year old technologies that we have since learned are harmful to the planet.  Perhaps West Virginia can still be an energy leader by embracing policies which promote renewable energy (vs. alternative energy) technologies, manufacturing, research, and demand.  Perhaps our national and local leaders will recognize that “the good Lord” also gave us creativity, forethought, and real ingenuity to embrace change.

USGBC Strives to Improve Quality of Life (The State Journal 4/10/15)

As a commercial interior designer who’s been working in the building industry for over 20 years, I couldn’t agree more with Brooks McCabe’s assessment that the built environment is “more than just bricks and mortar.”  And as Chair of the U.S. Green Building Council’s West Virginia Chapter, this definitely holds true for me and our members.  The purpose of the organization is to improve the quality of life for West Virginians by transforming the way the built environment is designed, constructed, and maintained, resulting in buildings and communities that are environmentally, socially, and economically prosperous.  That is a big purpose, but doable within a generation.  We have to start now.

A little history and our role in West Virginia:  the U.S. Green Building Council is a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., formed in 1993.  It developed the LEED Green Building Rating System (LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) in 2000.  Many stakeholders are involved in LEED’s continual development including architects, engineers, interior designers, contractors, industry groups, government agencies, and non-profit organizations.  LEED has always been based on current scientific standards, energy standards, and best practices, but also strives to push the marketplace toward greener practices and building products.

LEED is essentially a checklist used by project teams to address all aspects of a building project in 8 categories:  Location and Transportation, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovation, and Regional Priority.  Many “credits” within each category are interrelated and require close collaboration between design disciplines.  There are a total of 110 points available, with a minimum of 40 required to become Certified, the lowest of 4 levels of certification.  There are over 100 projects throughout the state registered with the USGBC and of those, almost half are certified, with the other half still going through the process.  There are nearly 100 LEED Accredited Professionals throughout the state.  These are people, mostly professionals in the building industry, who are familiar with the LEED process, have taken an exam to prove it, and who, in most cases, are required to attain continuing education credits.

Not surprisingly, there’s been some pushback in West Virginia to the LEED Green Building Rating System.  In part, this is due to some misinformation.  First, the USGBC is not a government agency and participation in LEED is voluntary.  The local chapter is made up of fellow West Virginians all concerned about sustainable design and construction practices.

Second, many believe that LEED projects are cost prohibitive.  In the half dozen LEED projects I’ve worked on in West Virginia over the past 7 years, all have come in on time and under budget.  Fear of the unknown often causes people to dismiss outright new ways of doing things, but what’s nice about the LEED system is that there is no “one size fits all” for every project.  The USGBC recognizes that every project is different, every site and state is different, and so project teams are offered a variety of choices toward certification.

Third, the USGBC does not require the use of untested materials or systems, thereby causing undue risk to project teams and their clients.  Decisions regarding which credits to achieve and how to meet the requirements are no different from decisions made during the design process.  Not everyone is familiar with the hiring of design professionals like architects, engineers or interior designers, but doing so, especially if their firms are national members of the USGBC and have LEED APs on staff, will bring an understanding of the synergy between credits and various approaches to meeting the requirements.

The building industry and associated development practices have a huge effect on climate, the long-term viability of earth’s resources, public health and general happiness of all of us.  The LEED Green Building Rating System is simply the best measurement of the positive impacts that can be made to improve everyone’s quality of life, beyond bricks and mortar.

Leadership Kanawha Valley – Strengths & Social Styles

The January session of LKV was pretty eye-opening!  Doug Walters and Tony Marchese of Transformation Specialists led us through an analysis of our strengths and social styles.  In many ways, my results were not surprising, and I can see how different aspects of my personality have led me to where I am now, an entrepreneur and small business owner.

The strength aspects are based on a book by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie titled Strengths Based Leadership.  Top on my list of strengths: Ideation and Futuristic, both in the Strategic Thinking category.  “It’s very likely that you may be the person to whom group members turn to for original thoughts. Perhaps ideas pop into your consciousness as soon as someone describes a problem or an opportunity.”  Yes, that is true.  “It’s very likely that you have a capacity for envisioning what the coming months, years, or decades could, should, or will be like.  Frequently you are prompted to transform your ideas in to things you can touch, taste, see smell or hear.”  Yes, that’s my job!

Also included in my strengths – Adaptability (just like what it sounds), Connectedness (seeing a connection between many things; both of these are in the Relationship Building category), and Maximizer (maximizing not only my talents, but others’ talents, too, and part of the Influencing category).

Social styles were determined by five friends and colleagues, who I asked to answer a questionnaire about me.  The outcome of this task shows that I am Driver-Analytical.  At first, this surprised me a little bit, but on further reflection, I think it’s right on.  This method of determining social style is similar to the Myers-Briggs (I never remember where I fall within that system).  LKV is bringing Doug and Tony back in May for further analysis, so stay tuned!