Embrace interior designers

In early August I took part in meetings for the AIA Knowledge Community Leadership held in Seattle. Representatives from the different areas of interest in architecture participated, including architects of hospitals, schools, churches, residential, small projects, technology, etc.

Our particular group of residential architects, called the Custom Residential Architects Network or CRAN, was sitting with the representatives of interior design architects. One of the interior designer members addressing the congregation made the observation that interior design is truly pervasive in all of our buildings and an integral part of all of our projects. She pointed out how important interiors are to all of our clients and to all of us as consumers, and the impact interiors have on people’s lives. Her words made me realize this rings true particularly in our area of residential design.

I think of myself as a strong exteriorist as I’m very focused on massing, proportions and how a building looks from all four cardinal points, but the reality is when I look at my own work and website I see that 80 percent of the material is about interiors. Paralleling this thought, I had a meeting following the Seattle meetings during which our staff architects shared our idea books from Houzz.com, and sure enough more than 80 percent of the pictures were of interiors.


Both disciplines of architecture and interior design are necessary to achieve a successful project. Unless the architect is a qualified interior design professional who can provide all the services, I strongly recommend that residential architects establish an alliance with a top-notch residential interior design firm, or at least hire an interior designer or two on staff.

We need to re-engage with the selections and finishes of a project, and begin to see furnishings as an integral part of the whole design. We need to reject the tendency to whip out quick sets of plans and anemic sets of specifications, abandoning the project to builders and interior designers to work it out during construction.

Interior designers generally are qualified to provide one or more of the following services: 1) the selection and procurement of furniture, draperies and accessories for a home; 2) the selection of finishes in a house from paint colors to tile selections, flooring, light fixtures, etc.; and 3) design input at the schematic design stage. The latter probably is the most contentious to an architect but can lead to a much more cohesive plan development process. If the interior designer engages early in the project, interaction with the architect can occur on the floor plan, in specialty areas such as kitchens, baths, offices, etc., and placement of furnishings and artwork. Continuing this collaboration into design development, the interior designer can assist with architectural details such as carpentry, cabinetry and lighting design.

Ideally, the interior designer also should create a budget, followed by cost updates during design development. This as well should occur in the area of furnishings to provide a realistic budget expectation for the client.

A fourth area of service frequently offered by interior designers is that of project management and construction administration. Many make a good living providing these services because architects largely dismiss the project following construction start, leaving the builder hanging and in need of a design professional to provide these critical services. This kind of disconnect is disastrous to the design integrity of a project.

If you are collaborating with a professional outside your office, it’s still very beneficial to have a design person on staff to coordinate the tremendous amount of work that’s entailed to produce top-level design packages with cost information contemporaneously with the production of construction drawings. This will result in the highest level of completion in construction documents prior to breaking ground.


As an architect I feel that the solution is for us to step into this role of project management and construction administration, and for the interior designer to be welcomed as an integral part of this professional team led by the architect. The proper incorporation of this discipline into our projects will elevate our work to greater levels of success.

Whether it’s a well organized architect-led design/build company, or a collaboration of professionals, it requires great architecture as well as great interiors to achieve awesome projects. We need to redefine our game and extend our professional hand to the interior design industry from the inception of design through construction. Our clients and our projects will benefit.