Carla Aston is an interior designer and writer who celebrates the art and business of interior design. She has a passion for combining beauty and function. She opened her residential design business in 2001 after spending nine years employed by architectural and design firms. While living overseas in Australia and Norway, she observed different cultures, architecture, and styles of living which she says broadened her perspective on design.
We asked Carla five questions about interior design and home decorating, and this is what she had to say...
Q1: What is the best piece of advice you can give to Interior Design students and recent grads?
Get experience working for another designer or design firm. Nothing beats good, old fashioned experience. Also, commercial design, such as corporate, hospitality, or healthcare interior design, pays better than starting in residential. If you need a more substantial salary (and that's not to say that it's high paying by any means, but it is higher), then go into commercial first. You can always go residential later, when you have savings or perhaps another means of support. The smaller the business, the harder it is for them to pay salaries and benefits. I have a lot of advice articles on my website for designers just starting out, because I get a lot of questions like that myself.
Q2: Which would you say is the best room in the home for home owners to improve first and why?
I would say start with the hard finishes in a home first. Things like flooring, any remodeling work, paint, etc. Get the dirty work done first, with an overall design plan in mind, of course, and then you can add furnishings in as you can afford it or are ready to tackle the job. Then, with furnishings, start with the room or items that are bugging you the most. I actually have had clients that want to start with accessorizing, when they really need to start with larger pieces in the room. Often, they think a quick fix like adding accessories to the coffee table, for example, can transform their room and make them happy. It's better to start with the big investment items and work your way to the small.
Q3: What is the most important advice homeowners need to hear before taking on an interior design project?
Develop a realistic budget. Itemize all the pieces that you want to buy. Look up those type of items online, and don't always plug in the lowest sale prices you see, because you might actually want something more expensive and it might not be on sale. Go for a few splurges. I think most people land with a high/low/mid combination. Then total it all up (you'll be surprised, it's higher than you think), and add in 12% shipping and then tax. That likely won't cover it all, but it will give you a good idea of what you need to spend minimally to get what you want.
Q4: Tell us about an interior design myth that you think needs to be busted.
I would say "Designers can be affordable." I would've said that 10 years ago, when the middle class was watching HGTV and discovering that they too can access interior designers and not be afraid to do so. Not all designers work in the luxury market and are available for more reasonably budgeted jobs. However, with all the low-cost design work being flouted out on the internet, I would say that expectations are very high for interior designer's work. Just because you can go to these websites that have a multitude of young designers to choose from, and for anywhere from $50-$200 you can have a design plan for your room, doesn't mean that every qualified, experienced designer out there is going to work this way with you. Designers are small businesses and have to figure their profit margins according to their expenses and the services and value they offer to make money.
The truth is designers can be expensive, but a good designer and good design plan is worth it. You get what you pay for. Here's the thing, real interior design is a custom service. If you want someone, a real person, to care about you and your project, to wrap their head around your goals, likes and dislikes, and to create something just for you, -- and yes, I know that you do because that's exactly why you come to a designer) -- then you're going to have to shell out professional fees that create a sustainable livelihood for someone. No one can work for $100 for 30 hours of time trying to make a client happy. If you pay $100 for design services, you will get about one hour's worth of work. Don't kid yourself into thinking that you'll get truly customized service with low rates.
Q5: Describe a major design challenge you had to overcome during a specific project.
Hmmmm. So many! I think one of my biggest challenges has been to try to put contemporary style into a very Mediterranean style home. To this day, I'm not sure why the homeowner purchased that home since it was so obviously not their style, but we primarily incorporated the more contemporary aesthetic in the bathrooms since those spaces were enclosed and not readily visible from the main part of the house. They were able to enjoy that clean lined aesthetic in those intimate spaces, while keeping the rest of the house a little more tied to the architecture.
If you want to learn more about Carla Aston or some of the design work she has done, we have provided the links to her website and social media pages (below), where Carla shares real-life design challenges faced in her day to day work as well as valuable tips, trends, and info for all design lovers.