Susan Suhar-Phillips: Interior Design Director at HDR

Today in The Lounge, Susan Suhar-Phillips, Interior Design Director at HDR, joins Nick at the Porcelanosa showroom in the Merchandise Mart. Susan is Nick’s longest-known friend to ever be on the show. Not only did they go to Junior High together but they also lived down the street from each other growing up! On this episode, Susan discusses how she got started in interior design and the variety of jobs she’s had in the industry. Susan also talks about her big move from Chicago to LAand how it made a HUGE change in her networking pool.

Getting to Know Susan

Susan is the Los Angeles Design Director for HDR, which is a large country-wide firm. She assists with projects at these sister firms as well. Susan has worked with HDR for about a year now. Before that, she was at Eckenhoff Saunders as their Interior Design Director.

Susan originally started out in the fine arts program at The Art Institute of Chicago when she found that being an artist was not a financially successful career path for her as she moved out of her parents home. So, she went in a different direction and tried environmental studies and sciences, but didn’t really like it. On a whim, she decided to take a drafting class at her local community college and at 21, fell in love with it. It was the perfect marriage of her creative side and her science side. This class gave her the exposure to architecture, drafting and interiors that she needed for the “ah ha” moment she’d been waiting for. Susan first received her associate’s degree in Interior Design and then continued her education back at The Art Institute for Interior Architecture. She describes her community college education as gaining the technical knowledge while The Art Institute taught her to push the design envelope. It forced her to look at the world and its interior environments completely differently.

While Susan was in school she also did a couple of internships. Her very first internship was in community college with a furniture dealer. This experience allowed her to become familiar with vendors, materials, pricing, and application. While attending The Art Institute, she worked an internship with VOA which later turned into a full-time design position. VOA exposed Susan to the world of interior architecture and gave Susan a glimpse of how to collaborate with large teams, work on big projects, work with high profile clients, and work late nights. Don’t forget to bring your portfolio to your internship interviews like Susan might have ;).

Networking is Key!… But it May Take Some Time

Susan just moved to LA from Chicago a year ago, and as a result, she now has to start over with her professional network. She feels like networking is the only way to broaden your project base. Susan explains that the more exposed you are, even with your industry peers including competitors, vendors, and clients, the more you’re respected and understood as a contender in the industry. Moving can be stressful enough but it also took about a year for Susan to get used to her new routines, get acclimated with project deliverables, and accustomed to her commutes/travel before she started networking. She now has a good handle on everything and is ready to start.

The Business Today

As a BD, business developer, Susan can go out into the field and promote her company. She gave us some insight that HDR is moving away from hospitality and becoming more of a healthcare giant. Susan also mentioned that when Gary Wheeler joined HDR and took helm of the workplace, he made a significant change to the vision of HDR and where they are going design-wise. This vision is to become more interiors driven. HDR is going to be including the workplace and have strong market sectors between healthcare, work, education, science, and technology.

As Design Director, Susan, has six designers that work underneath her with experience in design ranging from fifteen years to just out of college. The hardest thing she has to do job-wise, is making sure that everyone is always staying busy and billable. Also, she has to make sure that schedules and work plans are laid out to support the entire staff so no one is being under worked. Susan doesn’t like doing time sheets, master specifications, project manual specifications, and the critical features that are called out for specs because they are very time consuming but on the bright side there are people on her staff who love writing them.

Susan has been surprised to find how different designers are regarded in varying firms within the industry and how a designer is incorporated into commercial projects. Commercial is so collaborative in working with engineers, architects, contractors, and subcontractors. It was a surprise to see how many people it took to complete a project as well as the amount of info exchanged and necessary documents.

HDR has an interior design summit that includes all 10 offices. All 30 designers meet in the Chicago office to kickoff Neocon. It’s a way for their firm to stay connected while they get exposure at Neocon. Neocon, for Susan, is the design “fiscal year” when new products are launched so they can be the first to use them.

What’s New?

Susan recently spoke at Neocon and it went so well that it was standing-room-only to fit everyone in there! Susan was very nervous, not because of the public speaking aspect, but because of her topic. Jinsop Lee’s TED talk on 5 human senses and product design was so inspiring that it got her thinking in terms of how this could be related to interiors. So, she spoke about designing based on the human sense and what that means- how we can break it down to understand our sensual impact. Susan feels like there’s a loss of humanity with technology, and this is how we can reel that back in.

Resources

Benjamin Moore’s Scruff X helps with those nasty scuff marks you get on your beautiful white walls when a sofa or chair rubs up against them.

LVT Porcelanosa (Luxury, Vinyl, Tile) Link Floor is getting put in commercial spaces, multifamily homes, and hotels because it is a high-end durable product. Vinyl stays cool and doesn’t absorb any smells. It stays fresh and is easy to clean.

Highpoint Market

Nick worked with Steelyard to bring hospitality design to High Point Market. Nick will be hosting a panel discussion on what it takes to move from residential to hospitality. It will be part of the Viewpoint Panel series titled, Hospitality Insiders Share All: What it Takes to be a Designer in the Hospitality Sector on Sunday, October 15 at noon with Gary Inman, Nina Magon, Patrick Sutton, and Todd Ellenberger

Let Nick know if you are going to highpoint and he would love to meet up with you there! Leave a Review on iTunes and ask us about our internship opportunities by using the Question? tab or emailing admin@thechaiseloungepodcast.com.

  • Upcoming Events

Casual Market Sept 12 – 15

ICFF Miami– Oct 3 – 4

IDS – Oct 13 – 16

High Point Market Oct 14 – 18

BDNY 2017 – Nov 12 – 13

KBIS – Jan 9 – 11

  • Wrap Up

If you would like to hear more episodes, please visit us on iTunes or on our website at TheChaiseLoungePodcast.com. Lastly, find The Chaise Lounge on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or post a review on iTunes, you may even hear your review read live on our next podcast. With that said keep dreaming big, and keep designing a great design business. See ya!

About the Author
Host of The Chaise Lounge and The Business Brush Podcast, owner of Walls by Design, and Creative Director for iMayMedia LLC.

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