Lessons From Interior Design School: What You Can Learn From My Six Year Journey

Lessons from Interior Design School

This weekend I did something that I put off for a long time- I threw away all of my design school materials. They were taking up space and I didn’t need them anymore. And while I thought it would be hard getting rid of hours of work and thousands of dollars of supplies, I realized that the six year journey I took to heal from my mother’s death wasn’t about the materials I had left, or the pretty presentation boards in my office taking up way too much room. It was about what I learned along the way, and now I’m sharing it with you. So here are my lessons from interior design school.

Lessons from Interior Design School: Not everyone needs to like your style

Glam Metal Interior Design
Glam Metal Restaurant Interior Design

After years of foundation courses that bored the hell out of me, I finally took a class on restaurant design. Everyone was assigned a musical genre at random- I was assigned glam metal.

I was not that happy, but in the end, my project was badass and not cheesy or cliché. Who wouldn’t want to eat at a burlesque club that blasts Guns ‘n Roses and serves gourmet snacks?

My favorite part was definitely picking out all the fun finishes- pink onyx, plush fuchsia velvet, studded table edging, skull damask wallpaper, metallic flooring- so much fun!

Here’s the kicker- I was chosen for the elusive Hall of Fame for my uber conservative Orange Country school by my professor, but the chicks that chose which boards actually made it up onto the wall didn’t put it there.

It was way over the top, and black and pink did NOT go with their beige, blue, and brown Hall of Fame. I mean- that was what they used to show off their school to potential students during tours and they just couldn’t show something so risqué!

So here’s the deal- you do you! If you want a glam metal home, do it!

Who cares that HGTV doesn’t feature that style or if your favorite color isn’t the color of the year.

Nobody needs to love your home but you, so design it the way you want!

Lessons from Interior Design School: Color is Healthy

Medical Center Design 1
Medical Center Design 3

Moving forward to my healthcare class- this thing was a beast! My partner and I did a Latin inspired take on the traditional medical clinic. The main point of the class was to have every design decision based on research and evidence- it was like a research paper and a medical clinic combined.

So we went off the traditional path (because that’s how we roll) and added copious amounts of color- like a lot.

Color is healthy!

Which made me wonder why the hell so many hospitals are so bland?

So if you're debating adding color into your home, there are so many cheerful, healthy benefits to color, so go for it! Science says so!

Oh yeah- we made Hall of Fame- and it was put up on the wall. LOL

Lessons from Interior Design School: Sustainable Can Be Chic

Urban Decay Interior Design
Urban Decay Office Design

At the same time that my buddy and I were chugging along with the world’s best medical clinic, I was also in an environmental design class. The task? Create an office suite for a company of our choice and every selection had to be sustainable in some way.

At this point I was starting to develop my own style, and I didn’t want to make some hipster, granola coffee shop in Portland (sorry all of my Portland friends- I still love you).

So I chose Urban Decay. They were killing it at this point with their branding and I wanted to prove that sustainable wasn’t just for beige.

I found metallic beaded wallpaper, bright mohairs, tables made from airplane parts, chandeliers made from used bicycle chains-  definitely not boring.

And that taxidermy from used tires- OMG!

Lesson learned: If your thinking about going eco-friendly, don’t limit yourself. There are so many options out there in regards to style.

Oh yeah- the coolest part? To my shock, my instructor’s son went to school with the son of the owner of Urban Decay. She got me a meeting and I presented my project at their headquarters- no big deal! Oh yeah, and I made Hall of Fame, which wasn't as cool as the UD meetup.

Lessons from Interior Design School: Sometimes You Need to Spend Money

Street Chic Boutique Design
Industrial Clothing Boutique Design

Not a school project, but done while I was in school, I created a retail shop-within-a-shop for a local clothing store that launched their premium line.

I spent hours creating this industrial, street-chic “Monkey Cage,” specified some beautiful finishes, and was told that budget was no big deal.


What ended up being built was a shabby imitation of what I designed. It didn’t even look like it had a purpose. And the clothing line flopped- no surprise.

How does this apply to you?

Sometimes you need to spend some money. Sometimes you can most definitely find a steal of a deal, but to really get what you want, and if what you want is show-stopping gorgeousness, you need to bite the bullet and spend some money. Even if it means saving for a bit- it will be worth it in the end.

Lessons from Interior Design School: Lighting is Important

Industrial Masculine Interior Design
Industrial Masculine Living Room

Probably my favorite project in all of school.

Lighting was typically seen as the super dry, tech heavy class, which it could have been, but I decided to have some fun and design my husband’s dream home.

And lighting had to be the central design feature of the entire home.

I lit the shelving, I lit seating areas, and I created it all on a sophisticated dimming system for creating different moods.

And the project was super sexy.

So if you want to up-level your home in a way that most people don’t think about, spend some money on lighting.

I recently upgraded all of the lighting in my kitchen- I can see! It’s a miracle!

Oh yeah- I nailed Hall of Fame again!

Lessons from Interior Design School: Incorporate Your Passions

Modern Glam Hotel Design
Modern Glam Hotel Lobby

I had finally made it to the upper-level design courses! My first was for a hotel.

Mine was going to be in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The theme, vibe, and style were completely up to me.

Being me, I did research to see if any famous authors were born there because I’m a huge literature lover.

Along came Ayn Rand and The Rand was born!

My concept is super into her idealism, but without boring all of you with the nerdy details, having the concept revolving around something I could really get into made the project so much fun- and hello Hall of Fame (again- what can I say!)

How does this apply to you?

Put your loves into your home!

Whatever it is you geek out on, find a way to incorporate it.

I love the Twilight Zone, so I have an art piece in my dining room.

I also love Star Wars, so when I saw Shag’s cantina prints, I had to have them!

Put what you love into your home, and you will always love being home!

Lessons from Interior Design School: Go Vintage!

Virginia Dare Historic Winery
Wine Bar Interior Design

Welcome to the bachelor’s program at my school- no more fun projects that don’t take a whole lot of time (which is hilarious, because they all did).

My final classes were beasts!

But I got to partner up with my fab buddy again for historical preservation.

She was pregnant, so I knew I’d be doing a lot of the legwork, which meant we chose a building in my neck of the woods.

We chose a historic winery turned medical office building (such a shame) and we planned to turn it back into a wine bar and small-business marketplace.

Oh how I wished that our project were real life- I’d be hanging out there all day!

And while you can’t apply historical preservation to every home, my advice is invest in vintage!

I love vintage shopping, and regardless of your style, get out there, find some shops or fleas, and you’re bound to find a unique something to put in your home that nobody else has!

Oh yeah- no Hall of Fame. My snobby professor only liked buildings in Los Angeles. Boo!

Lessons from Interior Design School: Always Be Yourself

Kate Spade Inspired Interior Design
Kate Spade Inspired Spa Design
Kate Spade Inspired Restaurant Design

Hallelujah- my last studio class.

This one kicked my ass. It was way more work than any human being should have to do in 12 weeks, and what I’m showing you is only a small fraction.

The challenge- a health spa located in any city in California.

Once again, the style was completely up to us.

So I took the opportunity to do something that really reflected my point of view as a designer- something that really expressed who I am and appealed to the type of clients that I wanted to work with.

So welcome to my ultra feminine, boldly whimsical fitness center and spa, created for working women so they can train, relax and stay- spend some time taking care of their bodies, work on their business, and relax after a hard day’s work.

My big message for you, the biggest thing I learned from design school- be yourself!

It’s where I started with my glam metal restaurant and ended with my women’s center that would make Kate Spade proud.

Be yourself, define your own style, do what you want with your home.

Heck- do what you want with your life!

Who knew that my journey in interior design school would get me to that point. And here I was just thinking that I’d leave ready to make pretty spaces!

So how do you do you in your home? Tell me in the comments and let everyone know their not alone in making a unique, anti-trend, totally you home!

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