Learning and Teaching Sustainability

Designer Dreams and Disillusionment

lweatherbee design studio bedroom makeover gallery wall

I've made some big changes to my life in the past couple of years. After working as an interior designer in New York City for over a decade, I moved to San Diego in 2017 to start a new career in acupuncture and Chinese medicine. While I will always be passionate about creating beautiful spaces, and hope to continue design work in some fashion for the rest of my life, I changed paths because I became very disillusioned with the nature of the design industry.

It breaks my heart to say that because for the longest time interior design was my ultimate dream. I fell in love with interior design after getting inspired by home makeover shows like TLC's Trading Spaces, and everything on HGTV. I went to design school in New York City, and landed some pretty awesome jobs designing homes and restaurants throughout the city and beyond. I got to travel to some really cool places, and got a unique glimpse into some pretty amazing homes. In many ways, it was a dream come true. Like any profession, the day to day realities are not always as fun and glamorous as they might seem, but beyond that I felt a deeper sense of dissatisfaction with the work I was doing. Here's why:

WASTE AND CONSUMPTION
A few years into my design career, I realized that a lot of the top designers were making big money not through design work, but product sales. Designers can set up licensing agreements with furniture manufacturers, put their name on a line of furniture, and make big bucks selling the products. The problem is that most of these goods are not sustainably made. And you have to constantly keep churning out new designs to keep sales numbers high. It's a business model that leads to burnout and promotes mindless consumption.

On the renovation side of things, the interior design industry generates a lot of waste. I've worked on numerous construction projects, and have sent countless dumpsters full of debris to landfill. I love construction projects, and believe there is room to develop more sustainable building processes. But sustainability takes time, and I struggled as a designer to meet client needs when working with tight budgets and timelines.

PERFECTIONISM
Growing up, I idolized Martha Stewart and the picture perfect lifestyle she presented. More recently, I modeled my career after stylist Emily Henderson. Emily is living the interior designer's dream. She rose to fame after winning HGTV's design star and now runs a popular style and design blog. But lately she's been getting a lot of backlash about the increasingly consumerist nature of her blog. (If you want to dive deep into some blogger drama, I suggest you take a look at the comments on this post) And I totally get it. As much as I love a well-designed space, I too am frustrated with the constant bombardment of perfect lifestyle imagery. It's exhausting, it's boring, and if you're doing this professionally the goal is to make people feel like they need to buy something to make their life better.

Since I moved to California, I've been embracing "slow design". Rather than rushing around trying to create the perfect space, I've been taking time to let my home evolve organically. And you know what? It's totally fine. My life is no better nor worse than when I had the "perfect" living room.

FOLLOW YOUR OWN HEART
Even though I'm exploring a different path in life, I don't want to discourage anyone from their interior design passion. I support all design lovers, and am excited about the future of sustainable design. If design is your passion, get out there and change the world!

Detail from Sambal, one of my favorite restaurant projects to work on.
Detail from Sambal, one of my favorite restaurant projects to work on.

2 Comments

  1. David on June 8, 2018 at 4:07 am

    Congratulations, Glad you’re doing so well

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