Sharran Parkinson is a designer's designer. With a doctorate in comparative arts, a master's in interior design and more than 20 years of experience in college teaching, Parkinson is professor and chair of the interior-design department at Virginia Commonwealth University, the No. 1 public school of arts and design in the country, according to a 2009 ranking in U.S. News & World Report. She shares with us some thoughts about interior design, designers and her role in the field.
What has been your most exciting project?
Designing my father's new dental office in St. Petersburg, Fla. It was my very first design project. My father has since passed away, and I have very fond memories of working with him and the architects in planning this space. Another exciting project was a home renovation before I moved to Richmond. As an investment, the clients purchased the worst house in the best neighborhood. We completely renovated the house and turned it into the best house in the best neighborhood.
What makes a talented designer?
A talented designer is one who listens to a client's wants and needs, who understands the entire process needed to create a beautiful and functional interior space. Talented designers have an innate understanding of the elements and principles of design: how color, light and texture work within a space, and they have proficiency applying two- and three-dimensional design concepts. That said, no matter how talented, the designer must be organized and pay attention to details, and be a good communicator to be really effective.
How do you judge a successful room? What components do you look for?
A successful room should first and foremost define the character of the client. It should be organized, functional and pleasing to the eye, with one or two major focal points. The room should be useful, with long-lasting and well-crafted furnishings and materials, and should harmonize with the rest of the house — interior and exterior. And of course, it should fit within the client's budget. Finally, any residential room is a place where the client should be able to sit back and relax — regardless if it's formal or informal.
What one decorative object do you like to see in a room?
A piece of original artwork or something that signifies the client's interests or cultural background.
What does a homeowner need to think about when hiring a designer?
First, know exactly why you are hiring the designer, for what kind of project. You must be able to communicate the scope of that project. It's helpful to put together a concept portfolio that includes photos from magazines that embody your vision. Some designers like to develop the overall concept or scheme based on these ideas.
Also, ask to see the designer's portfolio and photographs of previous work. Ask for references. When embarking on a project, especially one involving space planning and custom-design work, you may want to hire a certified interior designer. Although certification is not required in Virginia, it may be best for your protection to select one.
And the best thing about being a designer?
The best thing about being a designer is that you are working within certain parameters (i.e., budget and space constraints) to help people solve problems with their environment. Solving these problems and creating a beautiful space is very rewarding. Often, people think of a designer as being only a decorator who selects embellishments for a room. Interior design, however, is a multifaceted profession where both creative and technical solutions are applied within a structure.