Inside look at the career of an Interior Designer

In a recent interview requested by an aspiring interior designer, Amy provided an inside look at life of a design business owner. We thought it would be interesting to share with our blog readers the inside look as she answers these questions.


In an average day at work, what goes on?   

There’s no average day.  About twice a week, at least, I try to give myself desk time to do drawings, do image searches, write emails, answer phone calls, and place orders.   The rest of the time I’m typically out and about, either meeting with clients or sourcing items they might need for their design project.

Is down2earth a business you started with other designers?

down2earth has grown over the last 5 years to be a team of four.


After high school what helped you the most to become where you are today?

I knew in high school that I wanted to be an interior designer, so I researched my educational options carefully and landed in a program that was very well-suited for me:  the Design and Environmental Analysis major at Cornell University.   Even if I hadn’t gone into design professionally, it was an amazing education.   As was the semester I spent studying architecture at the Denmark International Study program.


What are the BEST and WORST things about being a designer?

BEST:  I really have to answer this question from the point of view of someone who runs their own design practice, as not all of these things are true if you’re a designer working for somebody else (and usually you have to slog through quite a few years of working for someone else without many of these rewards to earn the experience and credibility to be able to go out on your own).   So the BEST things about running my own design practice are that I get to be creative, work with beautiful things, have autonomy, make my own schedule, get to know lots of different people in some pretty personal ways.

WORST:   The worst things about running your own design practice is that you’re never really off – even when I put up an out-of-office email, people can (and do) find me.  Although I always say there are no true interior design emergencies, construction schedules need to be minded and errors can be costly, and I tend not to sleep very well until issues that arise are resolved.  And issues do arise in just about every project, no matter how vigilant a project manager is.   Also, there’s a ton of administrative work that goes along with running your own business.   If you’re a designer working for someone else, you don’t have to deal as intensely with many of these drawbacks, but you also tend to not be allowed the creativity, autonomy, and flexibility that I value so much.


To someone whose just now a senior in high school, trying to figure out the best route to go to become experienced with art, and is striving to be a successful interior designer in life, what advice could you give to me?

Look for a program that is CIDA accredited, because you want all doors open to you (*only accredited programs let you sit for your licensing exam, ultimately).   Talk to people who went to the program, find out what graduates are doing now and whether that’s a good match for what you’re interested in.   Grow you computer modeling skills, but not at the expense of your hand-drawing skills.   Realize that although design education is creative about 90% of the time, that working the field is actually the reverse (creative about 10% of the time) but know that many fields let you use your aesthetic creativity 0% of the time and design may still be the best career fit for you.

  • Nicholas Chandler
    Posted at 11:47h, 15 May Reply

    Why did you want to become an interior designer? What courses in college did you take in college to help you become an interior designer? What skills are necessary to be a good interior designer?

  • Maria Nagy
    Posted at 16:00h, 16 May Reply

    Hello Nicholas,

    Thank you for asking these questions! Here are Amy’s answers:

    1. Why did you want to become an interior designer?

    When I was a kid, I loved walking through model houses and themed hotels. I realized that everything I saw was a decision that somebody made, and I wondered, “who gets to make those decisions? I want that to be me.”
    I thought architecture was the path to making those decisions, but did some research and realized that a lot of the parts of the building that I was responding to were the finishes, which is really the realm of interior design. And interior designers get to do space planning as well, and I’ve been doodling floorplans ever since middle school.

    2. What courses in college did you take in college to help you become an interior designer?

    I majored in Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University with a concentration in Interior Design. It is a Bachelor of Science program, very rooted in environmental psychology, which I love. I think design is only successful if it’s working well for people. Things have changed in the curriculum since I graduated in 1998, but here is a current list of the courses that interior design majors can now take at my alma mater:
    I also studied architecture at the Denmark International Study program in Copenhagen for a semester – it was a truly eye-opening education because I got to see amazing architecture in person and got to study in a studio environment that was different that the one I was used to at Cornell.

    3. What skills are necessary to be a good interior designer?

    The most important skill is to be a good listener. See past your client’s specific requests and understand what’s beneath them.
    Another crucial skill is the ability to visualize and communicate your ideas clearly (both visually and verbally). And view yourself as a steward of the environment, and try to use good sense when making decisions that involve trade-offs (as all interior design projects do).
    If you’re going to own your own design business, there are many other skills that are necessary. I have found it essential to be business savvy, diplomatic, psychologically resilient, have a tolerance for risk and fluctuations in demand, and have a knack for marketing.

    Best of luck,
    Amy and the d2e team

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