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Life of an Interior Design student

That’s me. I’m here to chat about studying Interior Design and share the ups & downs of studying while also juggling a job, a blog, and raising a little person. If you haven’t heard me blabber about it, I’m studying Interior Design remotely at the British Academy of Interior Design. I’ve just completed another module in my course and am doing a little dance around my kitchen. You know as one does. Spoiler alert: it isn’t all dancing though, staying inspired & motivated is a real challenge at times.

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One question that everyone asks is “How is it going?” “Are you done yet?” Gulp. Simple answer is YES and NO. It’s going well. I’ve learned that it is definitely one of those situations where “what you put into it … is what you get out”. There are times that I go “overboard” and there are other times that “yawn” I can’t be bothered. So in both instances, I need to remind myself to “get focused liz”. It’s very easy to let daily life get in the way, so I have learned that blocking off time to study is a MUST.

Each course starts with a juicy assignment. The latest & greatest is … what do you do when you are faced with a dining room that feels like its the size of a football pitch? How do you make such a cavernous space feel elegant, warm, and intimate while meeting the needs of an active family? A grand space that measured 7m x 5m, wowzers, was my first thought. So how to tackle such a large space? This is when I’m on a high, my mind is buzzing with ideas and I want to jump into design mode.

Hold on. The harsh reality is that before designing, there is the practical side of course reading, watching course lectures, google searches to find more details and reading through the student forum where students get to ask all sorts of relevant & random questions.

Course reading can feel like a real buzz kill, especially if you want to design, design, design. This go around, the course reading is a mix of the business side of Interior Design, things like project processes; working with architects and trades; preparing details specs; furniture sizing and layouts; and required circulation space and paths. You might be thinking yawn and yes, it is the less creative side of being an interior designer, but just as essential. I’ve learned through this course that Interior Design isn’t just lush paint colours and sexy furniture — it is all about the details, every single little detail needs to be considered, designed, quoted, managed and installed. Reality: Studying Interior Design is A LOT more work than I thought it was going to be. Luckily, I’m a sucker for details.

One thing I found really helpful is to seek out my own reading on architecture, furniture & textile design and interior design in general. I always do lots of inspirational reading throughout my course to understand trends, discover new materials and learn how designers pull together their ideas. I also attend as many design events as possible from talks, open studios, graduate shows and there was the weekend in Paris too that was a mega high (read here). My latest reads:

Oh and there was the small hurdle (read: massive) of learning CAD, yup the software of architects, engineers, and designers. Let’s just say I lost six weeks of my life (nights & weekends) learning CAD. Reading “how to for dummies”, watching endless YouTube videos and drawings, re-drawing, and starting over again. This is where I hit a really low point, I was completely frustrated and feeling like CAD was chewing me up (read: wanting to smash my laptop). This is where the inspirational reading comes in & can provide some motivation. I also took a week off. I’m happy to say that I’ve done it & cracked the basics of CAD (yippee). You can read all about those adventures HERE.

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Now you have an idea of the ups & downs of student life. Let’s get back to that assignment (yay), the supersized multi-purpose dining room and how I’m going to bring the elegant warmth and intimacy to a space while making it practical for a busy active family. I thought it might be helpful to pull together what I took from the latest assignment so you can get a feel for what it involves in terms of the design bits — let’s call it “How to design a room in 5 steps”. Simple, break it down into bite size chunks.

1 Get up close & personal

There are lots of learnings from my studies but the #1 take away is to get to know the space! Think of it like dating. What attracted you to the space & what strengths does it have? What obvious faults does it have? Take a closer look, what other issues could be lurking? It’s time to be real and honest. Is the reason the door is always left open because the door is a touch too big & always gets stuck shut? (being locked in a room is no fun) Is the real reason each chair has a sheepie throw because the room is %#&£> freezing? That’s what I mean about being real and honest about the space. It also means knowing who in the family is using the space & how vs how they would like to use the space. Basically “what’s the dream” and “what’s the worst nightmare.” And, the very important question “How much do you want to spend?” Note all the answers down as these start to form your own “Design Brief” and will serve as that oh so helpful checklist.

My big issues were storage; space to host formal parties yet still be casual for nightly meals; and creating a focal point beyond the views. Sounds familiar? My ultimate goal when I graduate is to become a legit Interior Designer, so as part of this assignment, I created some forms so I look the part. Here are a page from my “The Brief” form and my “Site Survey Notes” form. Yup, these are the boring bits, but geekily important.

Tip: Take time to really get to know the space, take lots of pics and write it all down. Use a Design Brief.

2 Get out & get inspired

Yup. It’s time to get inspired. After listening to my (make believe) clients, they told me that they are obsessed with Copenhagen and a super cool little get away that they stumbled upon called Pony x Nordlandet. So, I pulled together some Inspiration that looked at design in Copenhagen. There are lots of different ways to interpret Copenhagen from historic royals to midcentury icons to current day rule breakers. So understanding and interpreting the inspiration is key and good search skills on Pinterest.

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This is definitely another “high point” for me. I’m curious (read ‘nosy’), so getting inspired is so much fun. I met my clients for coffee and talked through the inspiration. The current day “rule breakers” with a touch of “midcentury icons” was the interpretation of Copenhagen that resonated with them. With that intel, I pulled together a moodboard to guide the design decisions and align my client around the overall vibe for the “idea” space. I called my idea “Hygge Industrial Luxe”.

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Want tips on pulling together a masterful moodboard? I wrote a detailed blog all about it along with tips & tricks and lots of examples. Click HERE.

Tip: Get inspired and align everyone around the big idea. Use Moodboards.

3 Start the hunt for furniture, flooring, fixtures, accessories oh my

So I locked down the checklist (done), everyone has said “yes” to the moodboard (oh yeah) and the gang has also said “yes” to the overall idea. Now, it’s time to go wild and start hunting for the perfect pieces to create the dream dining room. It helps being organised & a list maker. Think about what are you keeping and what needs to be purchased.  Watch out: It is VERY easy to get distracted by sexy furniture. Remember you have a budget, you have a brief, you have a mood board. My best advice is to stay focused. I’ve found there generally is two ways to go about this …

The Planner: The planner goes item by item, pulling together pieces that could work with the moodboard & idea. In this case. Typically starting with the foundation items (aka floors & walls) then layer on the largest pieces of furniture (tables, chairs, storage) add lighting (overall, mood, task) and finally the finishing touches of accessories to bring it all together (rugs, curtains, art, cushions, vases, etc). The Planner assembles a master list of “potentials” and then creates a short list of top picks.

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The Statement Maker: The Statement Maker starts with one key piece that embodies the moodboard and overall idea and then designs the room around it.  The start point here is Danish icons (table, chair, lighting) then you would consider the surroundings (floors and walls), add supporting furniture plus storage, layer on the textures (rugs, curtains, art), revisit lighting (mood, overall, task), finishing accessories (cushions, vases, etc).

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So what do you think, are you The Planner — a Statement Maker — or a bit of BOTH?

Tip: Think through lots of options for each element in the room, then create a short list. That way if something from your short list doesn’t quite fit, then you can go back to your original list. Use a spreadsheet to keep track of costs and links.

4 Play around .. what works/what doesn’t

Yes. No. Maybe so.  This is a game of finding what really works. Take your short list of furniture and test it out. Why does it work? Why doesn’t it work? Keep your Design Brief close by. First up, I tested room layouts and placement of furniture to see if they met the needs of the family as well as the required circulation space. Why do I keep talking about circulation space. It’s important that’s why. It is the amount of area around furniture to allow you to walk without banging into things and it can either make or break a room design. These are examples of just three options I tested. I went a bit mad here and tested out 6-7 different layouts.

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Next up, I tested out designs for built-in storage. I looked at different configurations for the doors and internal layout and then I layered on testing out wood and glass finishes. Reality: There are practical needs of where to store everything and the simple thing of making sure that there is enough space to open the doors. (duh)

Then, I looked at the different options for supporting pieces of the design to consider the direction of the colour palette. Do I go dark moody luxe or go light airy natural?

Tip: It’s best to get hands on here with sketches, get samples of wallpaper + fabrics + paint + finishes, trial pieces next to one another to truly understand if colours, finishes and styles work together. I use Canva to test styles against one another (above) and CAD for floor plans & elevations. Sketch Up is next on the list.

5 The story and the details of design

Drumroll, all the big decisions are made. Well done. It’s just pulling it all together. The story of my design is Hygge Industrial Luxe, elegant with luxe finishes, mysterious with unexpected materials, iconic danish furniture and a cosy neutral palette that can flex from casual family dinners to sophisticated dinner parties.

Sample Boards provide that “touch & feel” moment to look at all the textures, finishes, materials in one spot along with the key pieces of furniture. It allows you to talk through the role of each item in creating the overall vibe for the space. The CAD drawing provides the technical layout and demonstrates the flow & layout of the room. While the Rendering brings everything together. Don’t judge me, my rendering skills are still embarrassingly lacking.

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Don’t let out that sigh of relief just yet, the final design is just the mid point. Now, it’s time to assemble the master spec list. Yup, everything that is needed to create this design, every trade that will be involved, how & when will they be on site and hold your breathe – how much it will all cost. Oh yes, I created more forms.

Tip: Layout it all out together. Literally every single item. Paint, wallpaper, flooring, finishes, materials, fabrics, lighting, seating, tables, accessories – every single item. Create a master list.

So that’s a wrap on my latest Design School Antics and life as an Interior Design student. There are certainly a lot of ups & downs through the months of each module and maintaining motivation can be troublesome at times. My biggest reminder is that Interior Design is all about the details, providing inspiration and showing what’s possible but it is equally about process, check lists, budgets and timelines too. Any questions? Just shout. If you are studying, I’d love to hear how your studies are going. What do you find the most rewarding? and the most challenging? How do you stay motivated? Do tell!

Happy Monday,

Liz xx

Shout out to my cover image which is the luxe tile shop in the super cool area of Marais in Paris. Packed full of inspiration. It’s called SURFACE.

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Other Sources:

The Architects Pocket Book available at RIBA £23.99

The BIID Interior Design Project Book available at Waterstones £59.50

A History of Interior Design available at Blackwells £100

Furniture Arrangement in Residential Spaces available at Amazon £28.50

Design Anthology Magazine available on Design Anthology UK £10

Elle Decoration Magazine, monthly subscription

Andrew Martin Interior Design Review available on Andrew Martin website £45

Imagicasa Magazine available at Imagicasa site €9.95

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