Nugent is vice president of interior design at Corgan Associates, a large architectural and interior design firm with offices in London, England; Miami, FL; Dallas, TX; and New York, NY. It specializes in aviation, learning and large corporate workplace design. She was interviewed less than 10 days after the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC, and their effects immediately came to mind when asked about future issues facing the design industry.
"The attacks made a significant change in the world for all of us," Nugent said. "Our research has always indicated that clients are looking for their designers to help build environments that provide comfort for them. Now comfort takes on different aspects that are linked, if you will, with what happens in the world. Interior design is a blending of art and science, and the comfort element comes in, in many cases, psychologically . . . the way that the built environment makes you feel and gives you comfort. With what happened that Tuesday, it might seem that where comfort in the past may have been seen more in terms of lighting or design flexibility, there's now also a strong interest in safety."
D&WC: What societal and environmental issues face interior designers in the years ahead?
NUGENT: I can certainly see where in the United States, over this next year especially, comfort will probably have a higher emphasis on security, safety and perhaps on environmental issues. In that regard, it makes you think that comfort, in some sense, may be in establishing protection in residences.
Our environmental thinking is going to center on energy conservation in many regards. Design in the United States has, for a long time, been focused primarily on productivity. In the European marketplace, design has for a long time placed more of an emphasis on environmental issues, on how we are making our built environment more efficient and effective when dealing with heating, ventilation and lighting systems.
In the corporate world, and in the research that we've done in ASID, access to natural light has always been an element that has come up in response to establishing comfort for workers in their work environments. They talk about temperature control and acoustical privacy—not isolation, but the right kind of acoustical privacy—but also access to natural lighting. I can see that happening more in the future, but perhaps in some cases it may be more out of a need to conserve energy.
In the case of window treatments, the need, obviously, in the winter is to keep the heat in and in the summer keep the heat out. So window treatments in that regard may become more important in the home.
Thinking about trends in population, ASID's research shows the desire of many clients to age in place. We can help people be more proactive in finding solutions that will address long-term living and comfort levels for them rather than just addressing their immediate needs. So if a client needs a new sink, for example, we can recommend lever-style faucets as opposed to the grip kind. We can help design more effectively for beyond what the person is immediately thinking about—helping to get behind the essence of the request and understanding what the real need is.
Our research has shown that in 2011 a quarter of the U.S. population will be over 55 years old. So what we do with furnishings in the home is very important, making sure that furnishings are appropriate, that seats are a little bit higher so we're not designing those real slouchy furnishings that are hard to get out of.
We need to look at what we are doing in terms of lighting and helping those homes be better lit. That aging population can't see quite as well, so when we are designing lighting or putting light switches in a redesign, perhaps it is appropriate to suggest in hallways and other places that there be a motion sensitive switch that will automatically turn on some of those lights for them.
There's been a trend—and it's been in the research, too—in which living and working environments have been merging. People live at work, people work at home, and so those environments are blending.
As the corporate world shows more of a tendency to bring home environments into the workplace, we are seeing more of an interest in window treatments and how we provide access to natural light for people. Since technology began coming into the workplace we've been looking at keeping the glare down and still provide good visibility for workers. Many times you're reading materials, yet at the same time you're working on the computer screen and there's a different need for lighting in those two cases.
D&WC: What are the up and coming style trends on the horizon?
NUGENT: Technology, by itself, has introduced the trend of people working everywhere. I'm a perfect example of that in that I'm working now from home, I'm working at the office and I'm working on the road. And so the need to provide both living and work places in the home is very real. The computer is not going to go away, it is communication to the outside world for us here in the home.
Aging in place for our population is a true trend, and it is going to significantly influence all of us. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has done some research as well that shows that the Baby Boomer Generation wants to age in place. For the most part we will want to stay as long as we can in our homes. I had a friend who at age 50 had hip replacement surgery, and although she's very active she was temporarily disabled in her home for about three months. Homes are not currently built to accommodate people in wheelchairs or walkers. Bathroom doors are not generally three feet wide. Corridors or hallways are not always wide enough so they can handle walkers or wheelchairs. Lighting in homes will change as our eyes get older and the need for lighter spaces and more contrasting colors grows. Pads under carpets are not as good for traction as commercial brands are, which grip a little better and are used for heavier traffic.
D&WC: Do you think clients are more knowledgeable about interior design?
NUGENT: Yes, and that's because of the Internet, and it's more so for some of the younger generations.
People will come to design professionals because they've already done their own first blush of a search, if you will, so they come with some good questions and thoughts. What we're finding is that the younger generation's ideas are not to be ignored. They are looking for designers who can bring more value to the solutions they've been looking at and the ideas that they have. They don't have the understanding to go that extra step in thinking about next year or the year after that or maybe even 10 years down the road necessarily, but they do have ideas. So they're looking for a professional designer who can help bolster and build on those initial ideas.
D&WC: What do clients consider when choosing interior furnishings—price, function, aesthetics?
NUGENT: There's cost, reputation, design, color, customer service, environmental issues, durability or performance and flammability. In most design projects you have different areas that need emphasis for different reasons, yet you're still thinking about all of these things.
We have to look at the value of our design decisions. If one part of the design plan provides the reputation, the design, the color, meets durability and performance issues and is environmentally correct but is a higher cost, it might have more of an impact on the success of the overall design and achieve the results that the client is looking for, so that may justify spending more on it. Yet, in the bigger picture, the budget is still being worked out on the whole, so you may go back to another area where the design is not quite so critical—where it can be more functional rather than aesthetic—to save some money.
I would say that cost is one of the factors and always has been an important element. However, projects are looked at as a whole, and it's not the cost of individual items, it's really the whole project that you're dealing with in the budget and where the impact is and where can you have the greatest effect on what you're trying to achieve for the client.
A case in point: acoustical privacy is something that is of major importance in the workplace. It doesn't mean that I'm in a quiet zone. It means that what I hear are unintelligible sounds. Generally speaking that's about every fifth word. If I can understand every fifth word, then the conversation going on in the background around me really doesn't bother me. I can still concentrate on what I'm doing.
Establishing a quiet area may justify putting in a higher rated acoustical ceiling tile because we know that the importance of acoustics is going to outweigh perhaps the texture of a wall in value to make that space work.
In a residence, it may be developing a family room that needs light control for viewing TV or video games, yet the client wants outside views. We may spend more in that one room on doing window treatments with more options and do less, say, in the formal dining room, which is used less often and has simpler needs.
D&WC: Are more people looking to designers for help these days?
NUGENT: Yes, even those in the younger generation know they cannot do everything, and they've done some of their homework on the front-end such as on the Web. They go to find out what's available and they will look to design professionals for their advice and counsel. They will come to professional designers to validate, to verify and to amplify what their ideas are.
Years ago people didn't do that. It just wasn't accepted. But for the younger generation it's part of their culture to do that.
D&WC: What are some of the more important career or industry issues design students should be aware of?
NUGENT: While you're in school you're given a good groundwork and basic skills, and when you graduate you really are in a professional internship period. Go out in the world, get some sense of the real world and apply those skills that you've learned in your formal education. Take advantage of that time because there are spectrums of design and interior design that one can go into. Part of it is trying to judge what you are best at and what you are naturally gifted in.
For instance, I've done a lot of public libraries, public projects and university work. Those generally are put out to public bid. In order to write bid specifications, one generally has to be a very detailed person. You have to have patience, be thorough. One of the libraries that we had, we worked on for 10 years. So if I were a Type A personality I would have gotten bored with the evolution of the project as it worked its way through.
The skills that an individual brings and the inherent interests that an individual has can help them get better placed in the right kind of design work in which to flourish. There are so many varieties of project types and ways to work, whether it's in a large architectural firm, in a small design firm, in a dealership or on the manufacturing side. Those first couple of years should be used to try different things and see what you really excel in.
Be open to trying different things and then just as fast as you can sit for the NCIDQ exam, for which you need a certain combination of years of experience and education. Get that behind you so you are then a true professional and moving forward.
The issues for those who are already graduated are to get used to using the resources around you, to stay abreast and read not just design magazines, but business and lifestyles magazines. Be open to the world around you. And come to ASID because I'm a firm believer in the research that we've done.
As part of our strategic plan, this year we're partnering with the University of Minnesota on a clearinghouse for design and human behavior research. It is a phenomenal step for our profession. It will be a resource to help us all understand how the science and the art of design are merging and how we apply them. That is going to be a tremendous benefit to the profession.
This is the first time a professional organization has been able to do that, and we're in the early stages of having that come together, but it's just going to be tremendous! And it is in addition to the research projects we've done with our industry partners.
All these things are very important elements for young designers in becoming and continuing to be the best they can be as professional designers. You never learn enough! It's fun! The world's changing and we have to stay up to date. It is not the same, certainly, this week than it was three weeks ago.