Linda Elliott Smith is doing what she loves to do. You may not be able to hear it, but she says it makes her heart sing.
Smith, FASID, is a founding partner of education-works, inc., a provider of continuing
education for interior design professionals presented in seminars held across
the country and online. She also is the national president of the American Society
of Interior Designers (ASID). Both positions put her at the very center of efforts
to keep design professionals informed, relevant and even a step ahead of the
“Design is so broad in terms of the places it touches upon that design
practitioners constantly have got to educate themselves in order to stay on top
of the marketplace,” Smith says. “The consumer is becoming more educated,
which means we have to become more educated.”
The development of education-works with partner Drue Lawlor, FASID, is a direct
result of experiences Smith has had as a member and volunteer ASID leader for
more than 20 years. Specifically, it gave her the opportunity to learn how to
research and prepare training programs, which started her on her newest career
In brief, Smith describes her efforts this way: “Trying to give the design
profession the skills they need to go forward on a daily basis.” For a
lifelong learner, it’s thrilling. “It’s exciting,” she
says. “It’s fun to write about what’s coming up and fun to
do the research.”
D&WC: What will be the most important societal and environmental
interior designers heading into the years ahead?
Linda Elliott Smith: One of the greatest influences affecting design today is
probably the changing demographics of the nation. We’ve got a Baby Boomer
population out there, and we all know the Baby Boomer population is the major
economic driving factor.
Baby Boomers don’t intend to get old. We may mature, but we don’t
intend to get old. We don’t want our lifestyles to have to change a lot.
But if we understand the fact that our bodies go through changes as we get older,
we have to make some adjustments within our environment. We have to think about
universal design: How can design practitioners create environments that enhance
the quality of life and don’t contribute negatively to it?
We know there’s a lot of research that’s been done that shows people
want to stay in their homes; they don’t want to have to move to some type
of care facility. It’s very expensive and it’s not home. Even AARP
(the American Association of Retired Persons) did a survey recently that showed
that those people aged 45 and above felt they wanted to stay in their current
homes throughout the rest of their lives. But the interesting addendum to that
is that only about 50 percent recognized a need for any type of modification
or adaptation to their homes as they age.
From the year 2000 to about 2015 the increase in those aged 65 and over is going
to be about 130 percent—we’re going to have about 80 million Americans
over 65. We’ve got to begin looking at our housing particularly—we’re
already doing it in some respects in the commercial arena because of ADA (Americans
with Disabilities Act)—but in the residential arena we really haven’t
addressed it as we probably should have.
So there are going to be a lot of homes out there that are going to need to be
adapted or modified, and that’s going to be a driving factor. Interior
designers are going to have to be more up-to-date, up-to-speed on accessibility
issues—and not just accessibility issues from the standpoint of thinking, “Let’s
install a grab bar here,” because what’s going to be important is
aesthetics. Baby Boomers don’t want [modifications] to look institutional.
They want the aesthetics as well as the functionality.
Along with aging issues there are environmental issues out there as well. People
are continuing to become more aware of indoor air quality, of products that are
somewhat harmful to the environment, and they are going to start asking for and
looking for more products that are sustainable, that are healthy, that are efficient.
These are two big issues that are going to change our lives in terms of how we
approach design from a problem-solving standpoint.
A third issue is safety and security. Since 9/11 we’re more interested
as a population in not only aesthetically pleasing and sustainable environments,
but also safe and secure environments. I think window treatments can have a major
impact on that.
D&WC: Are design schools addressing these issues?
Smith: Yes. They are beginning to look at environmental issues. I was in school
before ADA was enacted, yet I studied what we called barrier-free design. It
was geared more toward the disabled population at that point in time, but universal
design goes beyond ADA or barrier-free design and looks at how can we design
a space so that it will accommodate people to the broadest extent possible—all
shapes, sizes and abilities.
It’s cradle-to-grave design, if you will. It’s design that takes
into consideration concerns such as, “Let’s not start out putting
narrow doorways in this space. Let’s think about doorways that would be
accessible to all people, whether they’re in a wheelchair or using some
other type of mobility device.”
Let’s not build-in obsolescence. Let’s think beyond that.
D&WC: Are environmentally friendly products becoming easier to find
Smith: I was at a conference in Pittsburgh (PA) in November and BlueBolt.com—a
fabric search engine—premiered, which will be launched in spring 2004.
It is a search engine that will allow designers to sort through an online collection
of about 60,000 products according to certain environmental specifications. So
I think you’re going to see a lot more situations like that. The Internet
has facilitated the amount of knowledge we can put our fingers on.
A lot of people are talking about [sustainable products] and maybe are saying “My
product is green,” but you have to look deeper than that. You have to look
at life-cycle costs, too. Where is it produced? Does it happen to be produced
halfway across the country and then I’m shipping it over here? Transportation
costs are part of that environmental factor that we have to consider.
The consumer interest is there. Consumers are becoming more aware and they’re
asking because they are having some health issues. They are becoming aware and
understand that we have got to take care of our environment. Statistics show
that workers even in public buildings are healthier, they have less absenteeism,
their morale is higher in what we call “green” buildings where there
is good indoor air quality and a lot of attention has been given to sustainable
D&WC: Are clients more or less knowledgeable about interior design
Smith: We’ve got a proliferation, obviously, with the TV shows, which aren’t
necessarily factual in many cases. I think we’re going through what we
call a design explosion. More and more people are looking for information, they’re
educating themselves and, certainly, the Internet has contributed to that. As
a matter of course, most of the hits on ASID’s Web site are from consumers
looking for information relative to interior design.
And they’re looking for interior designers. We have a referral service,
and most of them, when we query them about using the referral service, tend to
understand the difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator—understanding
that an interior designer has a broader base of services that they offer. That’s
come a long way. People are interested in design and I take that as a very positive
D&WC: How have present-day economics affected the design business?
Smith: It has been key in terms of residential design because clients are refinancing,
and they’re using the benefits of that to invest in remodeling and modifying
their homes. That has kept the residential market very stable.
In the commercial arena, we’ve seen a lot of commercial offices or corporate
spaces that are still sort of sluggish. Government work, school work and health
care work is continuing to thrive.
D&WC: How has your affiliation with ASID helped in the development
Smith: I have to give credit to ASID. It is responsible for this new career.
ASID has always been involved in education programs and in continuing to educate
the design population. Sometime around 1990-1991, ASID made a concerted effort
to develop a program called Train the Trainers. It was an effort to build up
leadership skills to ensure the continuation of the organization. I got invited
to be one of the trainers.
I learned how to put programs together and how to write sessions and get involved
in training. This led my partner, Drue Lawlor, FASID, Pasadena, CA, and I to
talking about how great it would be to write and develop programs as a livelihood,
as an adjunct to interior design. It’s nice when interior designers or
design professionals can teach other design professionals because we speak the
So we began putting this company together and creating programs that are timely
programs—a lot of programs, now, deal with universal design, accessibility,
barrier-free design, aging in place, sustainable design and others.
Part of this is that I’m a lifelong learner. I love learning and so getting
to do the research and getting to share the knowledge with other practitioners
lets me do something that really makes my heart sing. I love interior design
and still practice interior design, but I also love writing and sharing the knowledge
and trying to help people prepare for what I think the future’s going to