changing roles
Industry insights

The changing role of the interior designer

Today we explore how the role of the interior designer has changed in the last 40 years.

With Decorex turning 40 this year, we've partnered with them to explore their rich heritage in interior design, and how the role of the designer has changed since they first started.  As part of this, we asked three Decorex ambassadors, Shalini Misra, Freddy van Zevenbergen and Bunny Turner for their take.  As you'll see, their view is many challenges have come to play over the years but there are also more opportunities than ever before.

The principles of interior design have not changed

At its core, the day job doesn’t seem to have strayed too far from what it would have been in the 70s. The stresses of delays on site, issues with contractors and a high level of admin and complex project management all remain true. Equally, the frustrating perception that interior design is simply ‘messing about with cushions and curtains’ seems to have somehow endured. So why are people still drawn to this industry? It’s simple – the ability to work collaboratively, the satisfaction of responding to a client’s brief, and, of course, the creativity.

“The best part of my job is being exposed to so many amazing product designers, visiting trade fairs and seeing the latest developments in techniques and methods”, Shalini Misra, founder of her own architecture and interior design company, tells us. “I also love meeting other creative people, and seeing beautiful and historical properties. It inspires me.”

Interior Design by Shalini Misra
Interior Design by Shalini Misra

Access to social media has made the client more challenging

“The role of the interior designer is directly influenced by how a space is used,” Shalini tells us. “As human beings we’re continuously evolving and as a result our requirements and preferences do the same. I feel that creating the look that my clients have visualised is more demanding today. Our industry has become very popular – people take more interest, have more access to all things design-related. So they ask for more than they used to.”

What’s caused this sudden focus on interiors? The rise of social media has changed the way clients, and even designers themselves, look for inspiration and suppliers. Platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest and Houzz have given interior designers new ways to promote themselves and their work across the world. However, they also mean that anyone can explore looks and themes on their own. So clients can now turn up with very exact ideas of what they want, especially when they're residentially focused. This can sometimes make it difficult to create a dynamic space with products that the client might not be comfortable with at the beginning, but work incredibly well to create a holistic home when part of the space.

But, this also means that clients have become more design-led and willing to be creative 

Instead of stifling your creativity, interior designers can actually use the rise of social media to their advantage. “Our discerning, well-travelled clients like to bring character and personality into their interiors”, Freddy van Zevenbergen, co-founder and Creative Director of Lambart & Browne, states. “And they want to set themselves apart from their friends or competitors.” In a world where the same images will appear every time you type in a certain keyword, the challenge is to find something truly unique – and that means stepping away from our screens.

Interior Design by Lambart & Browne
Interior Design by Lambart & Browne

When Bunny Turner first started her company, Turner Pocock, her team spent a large amount of time building a library. “We have an amazing collection of books, monographs on designers who have inspired us, and extensive supplier catalogues.  We spent time every month tearing out inspiring house stories from various magazines and filing them methodically by theme. Then Pinterest came along and suddenly it was all online!” Recently, however, Bunny and her team find themselves going back to their own collection. “We’re now looking to source images that aren't so commonly available.  We like to show our clients things they haven't seen before and since they usually have access to the same social media platforms as us, it takes a bit more digging to come up with more interesting concept pictures.

“As well as encouraging everyone in our team to lean more on our extensive library, we also give them a half day a month to visit exhibitions and report back – London has amazing resources and we need to make the most of them.”

Interior Design by Turner Pocock
Interior Design by Turner Pocock

Technology now plays a fundamental role in how we work

While they may be going old-school for research, when it comes reducing the amount of time (and paper) spent on the dreaded admin or helping with developing concepts, these interior designers won’t be stepping away from software any time soon.

“I’ve always been a bit of a traditionalist and prefer to work by hand”, Freddy tells us. “But in the past year I’ve been working on an iPad Pro and it’s revolutionised the way I run our business. My studio can send me a pdf and I can instantly mark it up with comments or delete whole sections. I can also re-draw floor plans or elevations within seconds. It’s saved me a lot of time – which is precious in this industry!”

Bunny agrees. “Technology undoubtedly plays a critical part in our processes and systems – we use estimating software; PowerPoint for our presentations and CAD is essential when dealing with extensive design teams. However, we still prefer to produce free hand sketches rather than something computer generated.  We feel that is the only way to keep the magic of the big reveal for clients seeing their finished space for the first time.”

The Internet also makes it incredibly easy to get in touch with new contacts and suppliers –the days of the Rolodex are long gone!

As most industries have, interior design has gone global

Shalini, Freddy and Bunny all work internationally and this is another way in which modern tech is a lifesaver – imagine the logistics of finding products and learning about local trends and requirements without it!

But it’s not only designers that are expanding globally. “Decorex has seen an increase in European and American suppliers showcasing their collections over the years,” Bunny tells us. “London is undeniably a world leader in design and Decorex is a crucial platform to showcase new products and materials –having more international suppliers attending reflects this to the rest of the world.”

What else can we expect from Decorex in 2017? All three interior designers from this post are speakers this year, so be sure to try and catch one of their panel discussions if you’re going to be attending. Freddy is also one of 12 designers selected by Decorex to be showcased at the event. Bunny and her team have designed the House & Garden VIP Lounge (it’s got a beach bar vibe). And Shalini has partnered with Decorex to design the Champagne Bar, turning to the Victorian era for her inspiration.

You can get your trade ticket for Decorex here.


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