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About the Author
With over nine years of professional interior design experience and a Master’s from the Savannah College of Art and Design, Ramya is a hybrid writer. She focuses her blog topics on the business side of interior design by merging the lessons learned from design professionals and our podcasts. She currently works full time for an Allsteel dealership and plans to go solo by opening up her own business — in a few years. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors, traveling, exploring the local music/food scene, creating new dishes and spending time with her husband and her Maltipoo puppy.

Home & Garden Shows: Inspiration Around Every Corner

The 21st Annual Austin Home & Garden show was exactly the last-minute adventure that I was searching for on a cold Saturday afternoon. The three-day event showcases outdoor products, landscaping, windows, doors, cabinetry, storage and so much more to inspire the designer in me. The beautiful vignettes were a sight for sore eyes and a great incentive to entice the crowd for more information. As a new homeowner and professional designer, I was intrigued by all the aftermarket utilitarian and functional products that were available. I convinced my husband to accompany me with the rule that he was able to spend freely with no restrictions.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of the highlights and vendors that I had a brief chat with. As you’ll see, these Home & Garden shows are full of new products and inspiration for even the most seasoned of design professionals.

Custom Home Guides

Building the home of your dreams, shouldn’t be stressful for the homeowner or the professional. With the help of a custom home building company, it’s easy to see your visions come true. They hire the crème de la crème of contractors, suppliers, vendors, and financial providers so that the designer can focus on showcasing his/her expertise. They have in-house architects as well, so in reality, this becomes a collaborative project with all the trades. They provide construction expertise, organization and collect options from multiple bids. The designer has an opportunity to mark-up profitability while focusing on the homeowner’s overall budget. From the financial side of the business, they help the homeowner by cutting out the middleman and going straight to the source for all construction services. This is a great opportunity for the designer to offer these services in a one-stop-shop package deal.

Water Softeners

Often overlooked by most construction companies, the water softener is an integral part of any home. The water softener is a water treatment conditioner that uses the latest technological equipment, to filter and soften the daily intake of water. A stainless steel tank that is embedded with a hygienic filter purifies chlorine, chemicals, and any heavy metals. The goal is to create crystal clear drinking water for everyday usage. Unfortunately, most designer centers do not offer this feature as an option to add to the overall homeowner package, so a Home & Garden show is a great venue to make connections in this niche market. Do note that water softeners can run with a pretty hefty price tag, anywhere from $3000-$6000 to install. I would highly recommend providing this as a design service or even educating the everyday homeowner about the long-term benefits.

Cabinet Storage Options

As a previous kitchen designer, I know that maximizing cabinet storage is a must for any utilitarian and functional kitchen, saving homeowners time and adding to a home’s value. It’s also an easy way to break the age gap barrier between all members of the family. No matter the age of the home, custom glide-out storage cabinets can be installed to existing cabinets. Custom solutions that are installed on top of new or existing shelves to utilize every inch of space for pots and pans, trash/recycle bins and everything else you could imagine. With a 100lb weight capacity, these shelves stretch out and push back with ease. Dovetail construction is used for strength and stability. The next time you have an opportunity to design a kitchen, consider all these new product options and details.

Garage Organization:

The garage can be a difficult space and most commonly overlooked as a great utilitarian area for extra storage. At the Home & Garden show, you’ll see innovative organization systems that can hold up to 800lbs of capacity for overhead storage. And, it fits the test of sturdiness, since not one but three people can hang from it! From a designer’s perspective, this product is innovative, resourceful and budget friendly. The next time your client is looking for extra storage, peek into their garage and imagine all the possibilities!

Stone Decking

In the 21st century, it’s all about bringing the indoors outside. The big trend in outdoor design is creating a functional environment, where you can entertain and enjoy the outdoors. A hub of activity for the family, it’s the perfect place for your next gathering. Fireplaces, outdoor kitchens, pools, bars and patio seating all require a great foundation to walk on; this can be achieved creatively through stone flooring. The choices and options are unlimited and you can collaborate with a professional to maintain the design style and vision of the homeowner.

Concrete Leveling

The core of a well-designed home is a quality foundation. With a cracked foundation, eventually, everything will sink down or turn into shambles. Concrete repair has come a long way with new and innovative technology. Polylevel injection foam is polyurethane foam which is injected beneath the concrete to fill the gaps of soil erosion. It is a fast-drying, strong, waterproof, stable, quick and non-invasive. Consider collaborating with the construction company on choosing quality products, before you begin the project.  

A Feast for the Design Senses

A few of the other types of vendors you’ll run into at a Home & Garden show include: door and window manufacturers, pool companies, solar shade producers, kitchen remodel and design-build companies, paint contractors, energy saving specialists, clean air companies, etc. As a professional designer and homeowner, it was beneficial to see the after-market options available for both existing and new homes.

As a designer, I would highly recommend convincing your clients to consider some of these solutions for long term financial return by investing in energy saving and quality products. It was an eye-opening and educational afternoon for this designer. Unfortunately, my husband came back empty-handed, but I put a smile on his face with a $5 bag of roasted sweet pecans. Win-win for all!

Austin Homes Tour: Q & A with Restructure Studio

The AIA Austin Homes Tour is an annual event that highlights 14 of the best homes within the city of Austin, Texas. A collaboration of work, it’s a unique opportunity for both designers and architects to showcase their talents. The homes showcase a range of styles, techniques, construction, materials, and execution.

Sustainable Design: The mind of an Interior Designer

By Ramya Ramachandran

“Sustainable” is a term used often in a designer’s vocabulary, but what is the true concept behind it? Webster’s dictionary defines sustainable as “relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” Its three R’s rule the concept of recycling, reusing and reclaiming. There many unanswered questions within the design industry and I’m investigating further into the marketing and business side of the practice. Talking with Kelly LaplanteSuzi Connoe, and Valerie Morris, we’ll take a look at the positive impacts of practicing with sustainable design.

CASATOPIA design

Cost-effective Ecodesign

Is sustainable design a savvy business move for the average designer?

“Sustainability is an added value, it is something you should be offering to your client, and you should know how to execute it well, and as cost-effectively as possible in order to keep a competitive edge.” -Kelly LaPlante, Business owner

“For residential design, the onus lies on the designer to specify and lead the client to sustainable choices and procedures. My experience has proven that it is not on my typical client’s radar, nor is it prevalent in the vendors’ products I use and specify. Commercial projects tend to lead the way with sustainable projects and products. I would love to see a shift towards sustainable and life cycle analysis in all projects-commercial, residential, industrial design, etc.” -Suzanne Connor, Business owner

 “Presenting sustainability at the forefront of any project is fundamental. Clients are concerned with sustainability, but the major impact is still highly price-driven. In my experience, successful green projects have a 5-10% margin above the traditional cost, but cost becomes a major issue at the 15% mark. Hence, it’s crucial for designers to present sustainability at the beginning of a project; to illustrate the benefits, as well as a future return on investment.” -Valerie Morris, Design Project Manager

CASATOPIA design

Clients are interested in sustainability

Is there a broader industry-wide shift towards sustainable projects?

“Savvy builders, developers, and manufacturers recognize that there is intrinsic value to providing sustainable products. Consumers are demanding it, so if you’re not providing it, you’re going to find yourself running to catch up with the rest of the industry.” -Kelly LaPlante, Business Owner

“I have not seen any increased interest in sustainability in Florida. However, Arizona is entirely different. The harshness of the desert forces humans to think through the longevity of their building systems, material selections, etc. There is an obvious awareness and forward thinking towards energy efficiency, life-cycle costs, sustainable or more natural product offerings, and even more organic and natural food offerings. I believe this to be directly linked to the proximity to CA, the most “green” state by building code standards.” -Suzanne Connor, Business Owner

“Absolutely, but it’s more common in the Architecture and Design industry. LEED certified projects have numerous benefits, but it’s rare to see it within the design furniture industry.  In times today, there is a strong focus towards the philosophy of Cradle to Cradle. However, I also think the shift towards sustainability differs regionally. Austin, Portland, Oregon, California, New York have embedded sustainability practices, but Florida is far behind in time.” -Valerie Morris, Design Project Manager

The trend maybe Regional

Are clients more interested in sustainability than they generally were in the past?

“In the mid-aughts, there was a very big spike in awareness, especially in progressive parts of the country but the choice to purchase products that were sustainable came with a huge price tag. In 2008, when the recession hit, consumers who wanted to design sustainably found themselves in a position of not being able to afford it. It became a back-burner concern for the consumer, but, fortunately, the wheels had been set in motion for manufacturers and they continued to pursue development that would make their products more environmentally friendly. Today, I’d say that there is less active interest in sustainability, on the consumer, but it’s become a baseline standard. It is something they expect to have in a cost-effective way; hence, the bar is raised on a consistent basis, so manufacturers have to continue to innovate.” -Kelly LaPlante, Business Owner

“Florida is more concerned with wind and water damage from hurricanes and weather events. Flooding and mold are also high on the list. With storm preparation, comes the added layering of chemicals to prevent water penetration, need for bug repellents, and need for water run-off and drainage. No water is ever harvested for building systems use, despite the mass quantities that fall every day. Every house installs whole-house generators to run air conditioners and refrigerators on propane or natural gas so mold doesn’t start to grow. It may be the most unsustainable place in this country.” -Suzanne Connor, Business Owner

“I believe there is strong awareness towards of our environment as a whole, but at the end of the day, the key decision comes to price.  If a designer can present the financial benefits of sustainability, it’s an easy sell.” -Valerie Morris, Design Project Manager

CASATOPIA design

Hope for the future

What are some ways that an Interior design project can become more sustainable while being cost-effective?

“Re-use is the most cost-effective and the most sustainable thing one can do in design. If you have something existing that functions properly, continuing to keep it in use means that you are using no new resources. You are contributing nothing towards the landfill or to the environmental footprint that comes from packaging and shipping. You are also spending no new dollars.” -Kelly LaPlante, Business Owner

 “Little changes go a long way, for example; using natural materials in lieu of manmade, low VOC paints, materials with little to no off-gassing, specifying partially recycled product and repurposing all make a difference.” -Valerie Morris, Design Project Manager

As the research above suggests, sustainability is at the forefront of Interior design and is making unbelievable waves within the industry. Yet, for many designers, project decisions are primarily driven through finances. State to state design practices vary, however, education is still a powerful tool. Striving to implement sustainable design at the pinnacle of a project will not only provide a reduction in harmful environmental impacts but offer a financial, psychological and productive working environment for the future.

Sustainability: The Business Beyond the Buzzword

Sustainability: The Business Beyond the Buzzword

By Ramya Ramachandran | June 15, 2018

“Sustainability.” It’s a word I hear so often in the design world. Think of phrases like “sustainably sourced” or “eco-friendly”, and innumerable brands and designers will come to mind. But beyond “reduce, reuse, recycle,” what does sustainability really mean in the interior design industry? Are clients more interested in sustainability these days, or are designers marketing themselves as such to gain an edge? But most importantly: does it make business sense for designers to build an eco-friendly process?

As a budding designer with these questions, I turned to industry leaders and designers for answers. Here’s what I found.

Cost-effective eco-design

Photo credit: Arqblog.com

Designer Kelly LaPlante says that reusing building materials is the most cost effective measure for sustainability; not only are you “contributing nothing towards the landfill or to the environmental footprint that comes from packaging and shipping…. You are also spending no new dollars,” she explains.

“Little changes go a long way,” agrees Valerie Morris. She’s a design project manager at Furniture for Business.“For example: using natural materials in lieu of man-made, low VOC [volatile organic compound] paints, materials with little to no off-gassing, specifying partially recycled products, and re-purposing all make a difference.”

Even though every designer has to meet a bottom line, striving to implement sustainable design may not only reduce the environmental impact — but the money may follow.

Clients are interested in sustainability”

Kelly LaPlante tells the story of sustainability — and, of course, she says that the bottom line is still the most important thing for consumers and designers, especially after the 2008 recession. Luckily for the planet, manufacturers made shifts toward eco-friendly products early on. “It became a back-burner concern for the consumer, but, fortunately, the wheels had been set in motion for manufacturers and they continued to pursue development that would make their products more environmentally friendly,” LaPlante says. “Today, I’d say that there is less active interest in sustainability, on the consumer, but it’s become a baseline standard. It is something they expect to have in a cost effective way, hence the bar is raised on a consistent basis, so manufacturers have to continue to innovate.”

Sustainability should be at the forefront of the design process, says Valerie Morris. “Clients are concerned with sustainability, but the major impact is still highly price-driven,” she explains — and the money follows designers who know their clients. “In my experience, successful green projects have a 5-10% margin above the traditional cost, but cost becomes a major issue at the 15% mark. Hence, it’s crucial for designers to present sustainability at the beginning of a project; to illustrate the benefits, as well as a future return on investment.”

Kelly LaPlante says she couldn’t agree more. “Consumers are demanding it, so if you’re not providing it, you’re going to find yourself running to catch up with the rest of the industry.”

…But the trend may be regional

However, Suzanne Connor of residential design firm Casatopia isn’t sure that there has been an uptick in sustainable projects where she is based, and says that there may be a regional trend. “I have not seen any increased interest in sustainability in Florida. However, Arizona is entirely different. The harshness of the desert forces humans to think through the longevity of their building systems, material selections, etc.,” Connor explains. “There is an obvious awareness and forward thinking towards energy efficiency, life cycle costs, sustainable or more natural product offerings, and even more organic and natural food offerings. I believe this to be directly linked to the proximity to CA, the most ‘green’ state by building code standards.”

Valerie Morris agrees. “I also think the shift towards sustainability differs regionally. Austin, Portland, Oregon, California, New York have embedded sustainability practices, but Florida is far behind in time.”

A safe bet

Knowing what a client wants is the linchpin of any interior design business, and that applies to any decisions a designer makes about sustainable practices. If a client in Portland, OR, wants a home or business that is not only gorgeous and functional but also sustainable, go for it; but if a client in Florida isn’t looking beyond the coming decades, it’s best to stick to classic materials and practices. All in all, though, sustainability is a topic that will not be going away any time soon — so at the very least, designers should keep eco-design on their radars.

With over nine years of professional interior design experience and a Master’s from the Savannah College of Art and Design, Ramya is a hybrid writer. She focuses her blog topics on the business side of interior design by merging the lessons learned from design professionals and our podcasts.

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