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Inside and Out: My Interior Design Gig

Inside and Out: My Interior Design Gig

Brie Cadman | Divine Caroline

Joyce Fownes is a principal at Perkins + Will, an architectural and interior design firm. Using her knowledge of interior design, as well as her professional accreditation in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), she leads the way in managing the creation of everything from corporate headquarters and commercial spaces to schools.

What is your typical day like?

It’s a wild ride—both fun and challenging. Whatever I have planned for the day typically does not happen the way I’ve planned it, unless it is client related. My team does everything from the initial requirements of our clients, like the layout, interior architectural design, and picking out materials and furniture, to the technical aspects like code compliance, engineering coordination, etc. On the project coordination side of things, I may be putting together a fee proposal and presentation for a new client pursuit, or reviewing personnel issues.

Client meetings, scheduling, budgets—usually it’s a mix of all of the above.

I saw that you have LEED certification. What kind of sustainable design do you do?

We work with our clients to maximize all aspects of sustainability. All of the interior materials and construction assemblies are working with largely sustainable/renewable resources. We are also involved in the specifications of items such as low flow toilets, energy efficient lighting, lighting sensors, etc. Often we are involved in the overall building design where we can affect issues such as water re-use, building orientation, and other major systems that have the largest impact on the environment.

How’d you get where you are?

I went to school at the University of Georgia and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts. It was during a recession when I graduated so I had to be resourceful in the job market. I was successful, always with the goal in mind to accomplish what I have accomplished. I became the director of interiors for another international firm at twenty-nine years old. I learned a great deal very quickly. I always considered what was best for my career and me as years passed, and when the opportunity arose at Perkins + Will, I knew it was the right one. Work hard, work smart, always keep the right goals in mind (do what’s most important, not always what is most urgent), and keep a balance. Be fair and ethical in all aspects of life and business.

What the best thing about your job?

I know it sounds trite, but the people I work with and the product are the best things about my job. It’s really a great profession and a great life where you meet a very diverse group of people from our clients, the designers I work with every day, our suppliers/vendors, and engineers to contractors. I have worked with some of the top executives of Fortune 500 companies. I have seen projects built for children being treated for cancer and executives building companies to great successes. It is always interesting.

I enjoy it so much so that my daughter has decided to follow in my footsteps and is in interior design school currently and looks forward to a career as “fun” as mine. (Yes, she apprenticed with me twice, so she knows what she is getting into!)

What don’t you like?

Project schedules that put too much of a burden on my team. Though my firm discourages long hours, sometimes we do have to work the late nights or deal with finicky clients. Clients may be demanding for lots of reasons, usually because they are answering to someone who is putting demands on them. We try to mitigate both of these with our clients early on through tight scheduling, but there are sometimes items outside of our control.

I care deeply for the people that work with me. I don’t want them to sacrifice their personal lives. I have difficulty with unreasonable or unethical people. It always takes me aback.

How much money do you make? Do you think you are adequately compensated?

For the most part, but this is not an industry where you are going to get rich unless you own it, and I’ve never been willing to take that risk. I always say, it’s not about the money. I know Perkins + Will treat me equitably. I expected to be a starving artist but luckily, I’m not.

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