Catlin has served ASID as a chapter president, on the national board and as chairman of its marketing and communication committee. She was made a fellow of the society last year. As its president, Catlin looks to work hard inspiring and motivating members to accomplish the association's programs and objectives. But are there personal goals Catlin has in mind for her term?
"That is a question that is now so wonderfully not an issue at ASID!" Catlin says. The reason it's not an issue, she explains, is a strategic planning process at ASID that looks to where the design industry is heading and with the help of economic, political and sociological experts recognizes the challenges designers can expect to face. The result is a strategy for preparing members for the future. "It's a group vision, and it goes from the headquarters' staff and the national board through to the members," Catlin says.
"Part of our job is to be the future thinkers and to let our members know what's coming," Catlin says. "We spend a lot of time visioning. We take the time to unplug and go away and ask where is this business going, and what is going to change in the practice of interior design, and what will a designer be in 20 years, in 30 years?"
Many of the answers involve the speed at which information is disseminated and its effects on business and everyday life. "The business world will absolutely change dramatically. We know the office will be a different animal than what it is now, we know that the way people think and plan will be incredibly different. We see a time when, we've been told, people will have small shared spaces at work-a practice known as hoteling-because they won't be there so much. Business people will tend to be Road Warriors and will be carrying their offices around with them in smaller and smaller ways.
"We also have to get ready for new and varied ways clients will purchase. E-commerce is coming. Did you ever think you'd buy a book the way you do now?"
D&WC: What will be the most important issues facing interior designers heading into the next century?
Catlin: First off, there is a merging of specialties. Design in general is blending. You used to not work at home and not relax at the office, now people want environments at the office to be comfortable and creative and home-like in some ways with think spaces. They do not want to be regimented in the way they feel at the office, and we're making our homes work because, unfortunately, the work day is no longer nine to five.
In hospitality design, especially in assisted living centers where people want to age, clients want their facilities to look more country club-like or home-like. They want to be comfortable in a very elegant, club environment and they're spending a lot of money on not making them look institutional. They used to go specifically to health care designers for environments that had anything to do with assisted living facilities. Designers who do strictly health care now are looking to have other designers on their staffs who can help them bridge their expertise.
As these worlds shift-as where we work shifts and how we work shifts and how we relax shifts-it's going to be the designer who helps people make that shift. We used to wear only one hat and that was our specialty, that was what we thought we were good at. All of us are finding you can't put yourself in a box and say I only do certain kinds of work.
Environmentally, the whole green building discussion that has been going on commercially not only is being carried into all levels of commercial work, but also is now part of the discussion for residential work. Clients are asking what finish is going on the wood floor and what fumes does it give off.
Recycled materials are coming into prominence because manufacturers are making them so they no longer are more expensive and they wear as well as other products. Ten or 15 years ago designers were using recycled materials because it was the right thing to do. Now we don't have to compromise wearability and other factors to be sensitive to the environment at the same time. Generation Xers are the newest consumers, and they are very conscious of the environment so manufacturers are going to have to listen to that voice.
D&WC: What do you see as the up-and-coming style trends in commercial and residential markets?
Catlin: The trend is trendless. I've never know a time in my 22 years of doing this when I find less consistency in what people desire. People are very much into Classicism. They're tired of trends. We're hearing a desire not to follow a knee-jerk trend, but to go for true Classicism.
If there is a trend, it's toward creating warm, inviting and home-like environments. I think we've seen a turning away from hard design to softer, natural fibers and comfortable seating. In general, people want to create very cocoon-like environments. Natural colors and natural fibers are as popular, if not more popular, as I've ever seen them. Nine times out of 10 I'll have a client say, "I do not want to do the latest color. I want to do something that I can add or change color as my mood changes." I think it's simplicity or ageless, trendless environments people are after.
As designers, about 90 percent of our time is involved in the human behavior in a space, not in the look of it. We spend more time-on residential and commercial projects-asking what exactly is going to happen in this room, when is it going to happen, what are your lighting needs for this room, what are your storage needs for this area, and then at the end of this process we decide what it should look like.
Design has really changed to where we now are more involved in the behavior in a space than in just putting the pretty pictures on the wall and hanging the decorative draperies. More than ever we would ask a client what kind of light do you have in this room, does it glare when you watch your television? We are much more involved in the use of the space and then at the very end it still has to be beautiful, of course.
D&WC: In keeping with these design trends, what role will window treatments be expected to play?
Catlin: We try to provide a real analysis of what clients are doing in their homes, and we find more and more need for capturing a lot of natural light when they want it, but also being able to control natural light to the extreme when, for instance, they have these home theater environments. It is a challenge to obtain both, to have a lot of light available and then to be able to go to total blackout.
We also find more clients are wanting automated systems for their window coverings. It used to be sort of high-end and now it's half of our clients asking, "Can't I do this by remote?" That's a big change also, and it's partly because automated systems are not as expensive as they used to be and partly because clients are thinking it's worth it. They are used to technology at their fingertips and so they want a remote on their TV and they want a remote on their window coverings.
As a designer, I see clients wanting a bare-bones light control system, then a softening fabric that's overlaid on top of that for the softness and beauty that adds to the room. We might hide into a soffit a blind or shade system that is operated electronically so to the eye the treatment looks like a beautiful drapery that's very fluid and soft. We need to look at window coverings knowing there might have to be two systems.
D&WC: What do clients consider first when choosing interior furnishings: price, function or aesthetics?
Catlin: Function, blended with aesthetics. Price matters only if it isn't going to make sense. If they think a shutter is more expensive, but in the end the shutter is going to be there for 50 years, they will understand the expense and understand it has value. As long as price has value, that in the end it is going to add to their lives and to the value of their homes, we haven't seen a lot of sticker shock.
But function is first. If something is just beautiful, but does not work they don't want it at all. Usually you can tell when they've been that route. You can tell some of their frustrations. You have to find the marriage of the two best ways to accomplish something.
D&WC: Are clients more or less knowledgeable about interior design than in the past?
Catlin: They definitely are more knowledgeable about interior design. I think there has been a shift in the last three to five years. We're getting called first probably on 75 percent of our jobs-we're called before the architect, before the contractor, before anyone and we're asked to help put the team together. That's a huge change. Many times now we're considered by clients as the ones who will really worry about their problems, worry about the details and bring that human touch that designers can provide. They say, "Now help us find the contractor, the architect and the rest of the team that will have the same philosophy that you do, which is our comfort and overall design."
Clients are comfortable at this point with investing in their interior design. They seem very knowledgeable about what things costs. There seems to be a need for things to last and work so let's do it right. I would rather them not do anything for a year, than to do something poorly, but clients seem to feel that way also. They would rather schedule a project to complete slowly but in the right quality than to do something quickly and then regret their decisions.
D&WC: What advice would you give to today's design students as they prepare to enter the field?
Catlin: They will need to have a good handle on technology. Now it's normal to have your architectural firm say, "Let me e-mail you the drawings." We used to have couriers take the drawings. Those days are over. Firms have to adjust their technology. At ASID we are working very hard at offering and helping designers get help with their technology issues.
I would prefer to hire someone with a broad-based education, then let them get a feel for the different specialties available. Each specialty has so much information a practitioner would have to know that I can't see how a design school could teach all of the specialties.
If I had to give advice to a design student, I would tell him to take business classes. Excellent designers go out of business every year because they are not good at the business skills that it takes. It is a business, and it is a business that requires servicing your clients and understanding the finances of your business and the myriad issues that face us. I think design students should take some business law classes, some basic accounting classes and anything that helps them understand marketing themselves and going into the business of design. Talent is only half of the story.
At ASID we have been offering a business skills series of seminars for interior designers, but we're further developing it so they get a full understanding of the practice of interior design. We tell them, "Your clients want work done with all of the aspects from the professional side of design that you bring to the project, but if you're not able to manage the project properly you've failed them in a whole other way." There's much more frustration at the end of a project than there is at the idea stage. Everybody can sit down and have great ideas, but it's the getting it there-the completion and follow through-that some designers find a challenge.
Juliana Catlin, FASID, is principal of Catlin Interiors, Inc., Jacksonville, FL: (904) 396-5522. The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) is headquartered in Washington, D.C.; (202) 546-3480.