Behind the curtain: Interior Design – So Glamorous? Or, what does Grace Adler do?

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Will and Grace poster with Debra Messing as interior designer with rolls of fabric

Interior design – so glamorous?

So, everyone’s favorite kooky, sort of working, interior designer is coming back to NBC this fall. It remains to be seen if this reboot of Will & Grace will be fresh with new ideas or will it feel tired and old. As with most television shows which focus on the personal lives of the characters, their jobs often get glossed over. In the original series, we occasionally saw Grace’s office and her “receptionist” Karen hard at “work”. Mostly, it was just flying rolls of fabric, great clothes, martinis and insults. Makes you kind of wish it was only that! But alas, interior design is much more than this.

Interior design - Will & Grace cast in bathtub. Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullaly, Sean Hayes

I wanted to share an interview I did a few years ago with Job Shadow on what it’s like to be an interior designer (text is below as well). One of the most common misconceptions is that it’s all glamour. And while there are a lot of glamorous moments, they get balanced out with moments of great annoyance and frustration. Shopping in beautiful showrooms and fingering the goods is balanced out with marketing, book keeping and tracking shipments. High heels and cocktail dresses are balanced against jeans and work boots. And, it can be downright annoying. The kind of annoying that can make one wonder why we keep at it.

Interior design of dining area, blue grasscloth wallpaper, chandeliers, metal and glass table

I’m in the middle of such a moment. I had some wallpaper installed for a client who loved the look so much that he ordered more for an adjoining wall. Within a few days, however, they discovered that the wallpaper color was rubbing off on their clothing when they lean against it (small dining area where a backless bench seat is against the wall). Well, this isn’t good and shouldn’t be happening. Fast forward a few weeks, the manufacturer (who will remain anon unless they don’t make it right) acknowledged a manufacturing error and are reprinting the paper and will replace it. Which is great. But what’s less clear is whether they will reimburse me for the cost of removal and re-installation of the initial wall of paper. Obviously, my client shouldn’t have to pay for this. And I hope that the manufacturer (who has deeper pockets than I do) will step up and make me whole. But really, the time I’ve spent dealing with this won’t be reimbursed, and the damage to my relationship with my client won’t be either. Meanwhile, after promising that it would be shipped this week, I was told that they have to re-reprint, as it’s still not right. Now, of course, it’s much better to be sure the new goods are perfect before shipping. And, it’s a delay – which happens all. the. time. in this business – not a bad medical diagnosis. But it IS frustrating and requires lots of attention. Being the “middle-man” dealing with errors that we have no control over is part of the job as is providing good customer service to our clients.  But we live for the beautiful outcomes and happy clients, though!

So, from my Job Shadow interview – some more insight into the day-in-the-life…

What do you do for a living?

I’m a residential interior designer.

How would you describe what you do?

I work with discerning clients to create a home that is not only beautiful, but also comfortable.

What does your work entail?

As a one-woman shop, I pretty much have to do it all. I market my business via traditional networking as well as social media marketing. I meet with the clients and based on their wishes and needs, I create a design plan, shop for furnishings, fabric, lighting, art, and other finishes. Depending on the project and the client’s wishes, I bring in contractors to do the work, or I work with the client’s team if one is already in place.

What’s a typical work week like?

I’m sure everyone says this, but there is no typical week. It very much depends on where in the pipeline my clients projects are. At the beginning of a project, there may be meetings and a lot of shopping and drawing of the plans. As it progresses, there is lots of paperwork related to ordering, shipping and troubleshooting. And  if we’re in installation mode, I may be spending a lot of time at the clients. During all of that, I am always marketing my business, writing my blog and doing whatever else I need to be doing.

How did you get started?

I moved into interior design after a career in public television financial and business management. I was always creative and loved decorating and sewing. I’d even done theatrical set decorating in high school and college. So, I eventually decided that I wanted to lead a more creative and fulfilling life and went back to school to study design and hung out my shingle.

Interior bathroom design by Linda Merrill. White marble shower with glass doors, whit vanity, gray and white Graham and Brown wallpaper with trees, Hubbardton Forge lighting
Interior design by Linda Merrill. Photo by Michael J. Lee 

What do you like about what you do?

I love the creative process of figuring out a design plan, solving problems and working with beautiful materials and products. I love the reactions of clients when they love the spaces I’ve created for them and the process of getting inside their heads to give them what they want.

What do you dislike?

There are a lot of things out of my hands from shipping errors to damaged goods. But, the designer is the “middle-man” between client and vendors and it’s my job to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible from the client’s perspective. I particularly dislike dealing with vendors or service providers who don’t live up to their word or deal honestly with a situation. Communication is very important to me and when I’m not hearing back, it drives me nuts. This includes the clients as well. So often, busy clients stop communicating and that drives me crazy too.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

I charge my clients for my time working with them to create a design plan and implement it. I also take an oversight fee percentage on any goods or services that I purchase or contract in the name of my clients.

How much money do Interior Designers make?

Truly, it’s impossible to say. It depends on geographic location, design experience and the ability to keep expenses and time spent low in relation to billings. You can set an hourly rate of $200, but if it takes two hours to do what might be done in one hour, then you’re not earning as much as you might be. Additionally, it depends on whether you’re a salaried employee with a larger firm or you’re self-employed. Designers might make as little as $20,000 a year or they might easily make $200,000 a year.

How much money did/do you make starting out as an Interior Designer?

When I finished design school I was still working full time in television. I then went to a part time position in my job and spent part time establishing my business. It took a year to make my first dollar and slowly, work started coming in.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

I am a big believer in education, although I will admit that I’ve never once been asked what education I had. Most people go by what they see in your portfolio and what types of references they’ve gotten. That said, I do not know how anyone does this job without great computer skills, CAD skills on some level and financial management skills. Beyond that, design education opportunities can come from travel, visiting museums, reading history and literature, knowing music. A broad knowledge of art and the history of the decorative arts is vitally important to creating beautiful interiors.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Finding new business.

What is most rewarding?

Satisfying clients and myself.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Interior design is 90% hard work, 10% glamour. Don’t assume it’s all about taking lunches with clients and shopping till you drop. Yes, there are wonderful moments and lots of opportunities to get dressed up and schmooze, but most of the time, you’re schlepping heavy bags (stone samples are heavy!) and covered in fabric threads and sawdust.

How much time off do you get/take?

What’s “time off”? Seriously. I try to squeeze in fun times during the crowded work weeks, but I’m not very good at carving out true time off.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

That it’s all fun and glamour. And that interior designers are only looking to part clients with their money.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

To be doing exactly what I’m doing now, but with more money in the bank.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

Be open minded to all the possibilities. When I quit my very good job in television to go out on my own, I had no idea where I would land. I wasn’t sure if I’d eventually open a shop, or just work in one. Or work as a glamorous interior designer, or work for one. Or possibly end up doing something very different.  I still really don’t know where I’m headed, but this life has opened up great opportunities to travel, meet new people and learn new things about my own talents and what’s out there in the big world.

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xoxo Linda Would you like my Favorite Tips for a Well-Decorated Home? Click here!

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