Dear Architect

Kia Weatherspoon
Feb 5, 2023
4 min read

We need each other. As a creative professional responsible for impacting people’s lives by curating interior environments for the buildings you design, you have us Interior Designers’ unwavering support. It’s time you provide the same. The skilled collaborative team you deemed necessary to design communities includes - Civil Engineers, MEP, Structural and Landscaping professionals, and Sustainability experts, but often forgets Interior Designers. For years we thought it was unintentional. However, we’ve learned its boils down to a few things.

1. You don’t want the scope creep.

We get it, both architectural and design fees are already being cut, even when they are often a fraction of what they should be, considering the output of design work, coordination and timing. This is especially the case when factoring in the demands of affordable housing projects…we understand.

However, designing for marginalized communities has now become a bottom line approach. Bottom line thinking results in bottom line design. This bottom line design doesn’t affect the 45+ year old white male who’s been at your firm for 20 years. It does, however, affect multiple generations of black and brown children who cycle through the inadequate interiors you’ve designed, years after your retirement - all in the name of scope.

2. You think you have an Interiors Department

Hiring one or two 22 year old white girls who graduated from a top 10 interior design program, does not mean you have an interiors department. Instead, it typically means you have found a woman to pull finishes. It also means your Interior Designer is just there for the materiality and decorative components. As leaders, you’ve either failed to understand Interior Design’s focus on research and evidence based design, as well as concept development, space planning, lighting, materiality and creating informed decisions for lastly furnishings and decor.

Or you don’t care. Because if you had a full understanding and valued our skill set, then you’d be able to express the importance of good design to your client. You’d advocate we aren’t just an optional soft cost. If your approach is to hire young Interior Designers who aren’t empowered to speak up or advocate for better design outcomes, then you are still missing the point. Thankfully this next wave of interior designers are fueled by change, but their leadership has to foster it.

Design is not a one size fits all exercise to be replicated across low income communities.

3. “Affordable housing developers don’t use Interior Designers”

Partner, while our firms may not be legalized entities, we both share similar professional definitions: to promote and ensure the health, safety and welfare of the built environment. So as my partner, I need you to educate developers on how integral interior designers are as part of the development team - beginning with the schematic design, not just when it’s time to select furniture.

It’s not that our designs are expensive, it just requires advocating and educating the developer to include them in the GMP. What we designers have learned is THEY want better, actual design concepts, elevated finishes, and better design outcomes. Some developers are growing tired of getting the status quo for $130,000 a unit on affordable housing projects. The distinction here on affordable housing is important to note, because on your market rate luxury projects, a separate Interior Design consultant is a necessity. The same is the case for affordable housing! Copying the exact same design, all the way down to the finishes, is not what you are paid for. Design is not a one size fits all exercise to be replicated across low income communities.

4. When we come together, leave your ego at the door. And we will be using a concept

The best early stages of design are when there is collaboration and knowledge sharing. When we join as a team and ask what the concept is, know that “a modern building” is not a design concept. It’s a style.

A concept is a statement and/or phrase built on historical and community context that translates to actual design elements, features, even as granular as a color palette. If your approach doesn’t already include this, my partner, we are here to assist you. Determined by Design also offers a concept development training for A&D firms, you can sign up here.. We will also acknowledge some of our white Interior Design counterparts miss this too. As architects and interior designers deliverables don’t trump the design process.

Know that when our clients bring us to the table, they don’t feel anything but joy. They’re excited to have someone to focus on the interiors, while you coordinate us all. You’re welcome.

Design is the ultimate skill set that requires an empathic lens at all times. If your predominately white designers can’t see themselves in the community, then how can they advocate for better?

5. If your team isn’t a reflection of the community you’re designing in – hire and/or partner with one that does.

Diversity isn’t a trendy concept. It’s a standard you shouldn’t have to be told to uphold. It’s impossible to implement design stories of a community when your team doesn’t reflect that community. How adequate is your design solution if it didn’t include a creative voice or perspective from a person of color? This includes not just an interior designer, but also artists, graphic designers, illustrators, and community organizations. You’re met with staunch resistance at community meetings because the developers are white, the architectural team is white, and your audience is black. This is only part of the problem. We are both plagued with a lack of diversity in Architecture and Interior Design.However, you have to want to seek other creative voices of colors if you want to better serve these communities.

Design is the ultimate skill set that requires an empathic lens at all times. If your predominately white designers can’t see themselves in the community, can not see their grandmother, sister, nephew and so on. Then how can they advocate for better? They haven’t. They’ve been culturally color blind, and its affected generations of low income communities with arbitrary, inadequate and less than design outcomes.

6. The term ‘Interior Architecture’ has caused some friction.

We at Determined by Design, have never subscribed to the notion of needing to be called an Interior Architecture firm to validate our trade, skill, craft and expertise. It’s our opinion that this term was derived from our industries’ need to validate our necessity. Frankly, at this point, call us Designers or Decorators, just make sure you demand our presence.

What we have not tried to do is assume we could ever do your skills or trade, partner. When the 2008 recession devoured architecture, but interior design was still a viable revenue stream, flocks of Architects decided to do interior design. This has not only disrupted both of our industries, but blurred the lines even more. While we both deal in the interior environments, systems, space planning, and coordination, where designers thrive and our educational and training differs. We were taught to think at people’s scale. Our work requires a smaller scale, a softer scale, a scale that is based on beauty, aesthetics, and color, which is where you, my partner, fall short repeatedly.

No one stands outside of the building and says ‘this building was comfortable.’ It is the interiors that will touch people day in and day out. These interiors can not exist without your talents. Which is why my architectural partners I am for you, I encourage you, and I demand of you: see us as your equal. Our skill sets are not only complimentary, but should be spoken of in unison.Our separate voices have resulted in a devaluing of people based solely on their economic standing. No more. Design Equity requires us to be a united voice of the people.