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Interior Design talk with Brenda Brix
Brenda Brix – BSc, is the Principal and Owner of AMR Design, one of Alberta’s leading interior design firms. She uses her more than 20 years of experience to lead an award winning design team. Brenda speaks to owning and operating a business and shares her experiences of working in a career she’s passionate about.
Interior designers and interior decorators conceptualize and produce aesthetic, functional and safe designs for interior spaces in residential, commercial, cultural, institutional and industrial buildings. They are employed by architectural and interior design firms, retail establishments, construction companies, hospitals, airlines, hotel and restaurant chains, and other establishments, or they may be self-employed.
This occupational group is expected to face labour shortage conditions over the period of 2019-2028 at the national level.
A university degree or college diploma in interior design is usually required. The National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) examination may be required after six years of combined study and experience. Certification by a provincial institute or association is required to use the designation Interior Design Consultant (IDC) in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
Range: $17/hr – $43.27/hr
$23.09/hr – Median wage in Canada
(Visit the jobbank.gc.ca Canadian Website For Most Recent Numbers)
Full Length Episode:
Complete Episode Transcript
Today’s guest is Brenda Brix.
Here’s our Job Talk with my wife and Interior Designer.
Welcome to the Job Talk Podcast.
Where we talk to people who love their jobs.
Our guests open up about their challenges surprises and secrets to success in their industries.
Through conversation we explore their careers past work experiences and the education that got them to where they are now.
So full disclosure for our listeners, you and I are married.
And I just want to thank you for joining us today.
Happy to do it.
What kind of high school student were you and when you were graduating from high school?
Did you know what you wanted to do career wise?
I was a pretty apathetic student.
I would say I did OK, but really put nothing into it again because I didn’t know what I wanted to do and found it really hard to motivate myself when I didn’t know what I wanted to do.
I actually did look at interior design early on because I’ve always loved construction, and that’s I was told basically that I couldn’t make a living doing it.
So I then went into my second year of science and did my bachelor’s in molecular genetics there, which I loved the schooling.
But when I got full time into a lab, I just I knew I couldn’t do it for much longer if it was not, not what I wanted to spend my life doing, that’s for sure.
Did did you have an interest in interior design when you were a high school student?
I would say yes.
I’ve always loved being in construction.
My dad actually did where he was flipping houses and building houses, so I was always helping him as much as I could.
And I loved it.
I loved doing the actual physical construction part, as well as selecting the materials and coming up with the designs.
And I actually bought myself.
I bought my own house straight out of university.
Same thing where I could.
I could fix it up and sell it.
And it’s always been something I’ve done on the side.
I just never really saw it again because I was told you couldn’t make a living at it.
I didn’t really think about it as a career until I just decided life’s too short.
I’m going to.
I love it.
I’m just going to dive into it and do it.
So I went back to school in the evenings while I was working full time and we had a couple of kids and yeah, went back for my second degree.
OK, so you’re in the lab working in a career in science?
What program did you take to do you start your journey down into interior design?
What was the program that you were taking in the evenings?
I was actually doing residential tours at UofA simply because I worked at UofA at the same time.
So it was part of my benefit package was to take courses that the benefit package would pay for.
So that’s where I ultimately decided the UofA over nature going into Lakeland.
I also was looking at more as I had a lot of construction knowledge already, so I wanted to get more of idea of the decorating side.
So it kind of gave me a little bit more of that color theory and, you know, fabrics and textures and that kind of thing to go along with the construction knowledge that I had from from life experience.
When you’re in a program in something that you’re passionate about, are you being challenged with the schoolwork or is it just this is what you love to do and you just take the information in?
Yeah, I think the only challenge was also working full time and having kids and doing it on the side.
I love the courses, I love the learning.
I love the people I was with because other people were also in it that were passionate about it again, because again, this was a second degree for a lot of us .
So we were all in it because we really wanted to do it.
And it definitely made it a lot easier to get through it.
Yeah, I just I still.
It just made me want it more going through like that.
What are some of the courses in the program and sorry, is this Is this a diploma that you received once completing it or is it or is it a degree?
So I’m not a registered interior designer.
It’s more every province and really country has different regulations.
I’m in design, more so into design and decorator, but because of my construction background and that’s what I really love, and I’ve learned that over the years is more of a hands on experience.
There is a couple places in Alberta that you can’t get a registered degree, but it really depends on what you want to do with the industry.
There’s a lot of drafting, there’s a lot of technical know how it’s, you know, it’s almost like going into architecture, but on a scaled down version of it.
If you really want to get into the full on interior design, you need to do it for your degree.
And I also think you need to do masters and you need to get lots of hands on practical experience.
So schooling is kind of just the start.
I actually do mentor students quite often actually just spoke to one this week and I told them, I think even before you go into the school, you really need to go in and actually just work with the trades, working construction.
If if the design part is really what you want to do, because that’s knowledge is something you’re not going to get from school.
So you really need to understand the whole building process from cabinet making, framing houses all of that and then take that knowledge was what you learn in school if you want to be a certified designer.
And how long did it take you to get through the evening classes?
I remember I think it was, what, three years, three years think.
So you can do it as a much quicker program.
Like I said, I was just doing it part time while working and like I said.
We actually had our second child.
I was pregnant with her when we when I graduated.
OK, let’s let’s talk about when you graduated from the evening classes taking interior design.
What happened next?
Did did you immediately jump into a job?
Did you immediately start working for yourself?
Were you working for somebody else?
What happened when you graduated?
I was doing contract work for other design firms.
A lot of the drafting and that kind of thing.
Again, I did that also.
Well, we had our third kid.
So yeah, it was working for other other firms, but that really also motivated me.
But it motivated me to go out on my own because it made me realize how lacking the construction knowledge actually was in the design industry.
And I really wanted to concentrate on working in renovations, residential renovations.
As a designer, that was actually there to help the homeowner, but really are also to support the contractors in their trades to make sure that that all those details were were also provided for them.
So, yeah, I started out on my own in 2010, just kind of like as an aside, doing smaller jobs and stuff until our kids were old enough that I could really focus on it in the last three years as a business.
But going from working from somebody else to doing it on your own is a whole different ballgame because also you’re a business owner first, and that’s about 80% of your job more than the actual design.
And I always say that even in design, 80% of design is paperwork and getting all those details set in the communication and everything else.
Really, it’s usually five to 20% of our job.
That is the actual designing part of what we do.
It’s all the technical stuff that goes along with it that needs and the communication that’s required.
Can you talk a little bit about your very first paying contract that you had your the first job you had when you were out on your own as an interior designer?
It was a friend from Book Club, and I actually framed the check I got from her for that first hour of consult and it was doing kitchen design.
So helping with the layout with color selection, backsplash, tile countertops, the cabinets.
We also did a little bit of a seating area there.
So yeah, I was a very, very small job.
And then what really helped me from there when I was on my own is actually having a website set up where I was doing lots of blog posts and that was able to get me into bigger jobs right away because I was talking a lot about the construction side in the knowledge.
And that’s actually what landed me most of my early jobs is that I understood the construction.
I could read the blueprints and know the mechanicals and the framing and the engineering.
Let’s talk a little bit about your company.
Could you can you describe your company to us?
And I guess, what do you love most about owning a interior design company?
Yes, we do.
Mostly residential renovation, some kind of commercial jobs.
As well as myself as the principal designer, which started the company on my own, I’ve since grown it, so we have two other designers on the team now, as well as office manager and administrative support and a marketing person really for running a business.
It’s so important to have the marketing side to keep things up and running that I always say in our job if we do our job, but we don’t see it.
Our clients again for at least 20 years, typically because their renovation is complete and it’s classic and it will stick around forever.
So it’s more important to get the referrals from them because it’s not repeat work necessarily from from those clients.
And again, we’re concentrating on the renovation side.
There’s so many different facets you can go down with interior design or decorating, so it is full on decorating versus running the full renovation like we do.
Some people go into sales, so for tile and cabinets and that kind of thing.
As a representative for those areas, you can become just a drafts person.
You can work for another firm just doing the selections like there’s just lots of different ways you really have to find what you’re passionate about and follow that.
So for me, the passion has always been renovations, flipping houses and are really about.
I get the biggest thrill of changing somebody’s life that their family really can come home, and that’s their refuge.
And the other part of building the business for me is actually being supporting women, coming back to work when they’ve been home with their kids and given the opportunity to work, to come back to the workforce and the flexibility that our industry offers for most women to be able to work around the schedule set for their kids and their families that way.
So we’re really looking to grow the company that way.
And then it’s also afforded me to be able to travel.
So, you know, a lot of clients will have homes in other areas.
And I really love to travel, so it’s fun to be able to travel and design in a completely different area of the country or another country because it’s a different thought process.
When you look at climate and culture and everything else and digging into all of that, it’s it’s a constant learning curve, and I love that part of it.
What are some of the challenges with being an interior designer?
Well, there is like I think the biggest hurdle I always find is people taking you seriously that it’s not a hobby.
This is a real professional industry.
When you’re involved in construction, like I said, in all the technical and the liabilities and everything else, you really need to know what you’re doing and you’re the go between between the client, the contractors, the trades, marriage counselor, a lot of time for the the couple that is bringing you in or the family that’s bringing you in.
So that’s on the design side and also navigating what you know is the right design versus say and and having the clients be comfortable with those decisions.
You really have to make sure that they understand why you’re making the decision, that it’s the correct decision.
And we’re thinking about not just color, of course, but the function, how it’s going to work, how it’s going to, you know, the quality.
There’s just so many facets that come into play with that.
And then ultimately the end of the day, you’re responsible for large budgets.
So that’s also something you have to be really conscious of and make sure you’re adding value all the time.
As far as running a business, again, that’s a whole nother.
It’s been a steep learning curve as the company has grown.
I love it, but it is something you really have to think if you’re passionate about and willing to work long and crazy.
Is, say, long and crazy hours.
But there is that, but it’s a constant.
You’re constantly in it.
So if that’s not something that you think you’re passionate about, I think you’re probably better off going to work for some other company that does support you and what you really want to do from there and learn and learn with them.
Are there any myths about your industry that you’d like to dispel?
I know HGTV when they’re broadcasting the show, it sometimes shows that maybe it’s it’s easier to get through a project.
I know they add in kind of hiccups here and there just for dramatic purposes.
But are there any myths that you’d like to dispel about interior design?
Like it’s never on time, it’s never on budget.
You’re not seeing all the stuff that happens in the background, like for our for our what we do, we would like to have three to four months just planning before they even start the job.
That’s something you never see on TV is how much is involved in the background, the mounds of mounds of paperwork and pricing and things that have to happen right now.
Of course, we’re also in COVID, so the delays supply chain issues has been a huge hit to our industry.
It’s been a blessing, but it’s been a hit with COVID.
But yeah, I think it’s also that it’s easy.
A lot of people think it’s easy.
They look at Pinterest, you know, when you can just pull a few things here together in that kind of thing.
But in art, we are involved in.
Every facet of the construction side, besides swinging the Hammers, you know, the contractor is running the job, but we have to be intimately involved.
And you’re a psychologist.
Like I said, marriage counselor, all of that just as much as a designer.
And then the administration side, that’s a huge part of our industry and people don’t think about that.
Of how much?
That again, that communication of information through really is more important at the end of the day.
A lot of people can go and make some big things to look beautiful.
But how do you actually put it together?
How is it constructed?
You know, those title details, you just really have to know a lot of that background information.
And it’s an ever evolving.
We have to learn as things progress in the industry for materials and how things are used in our climate and all of that, like we really have to take into every, every factor engineering climate, everything to do with that.
Yeah, you have to adapt, especially when you’re up against a pandemic and the supply chain issues.
I can imagine that would be quite frustrating for you as well as your clients because they want everything done right now, right now.
And also like it’s it’s really hard to even like give a price on something.
Sometimes we just don’t know.
And scheduling as well, like it’s really hard to schedule a renovation when you don’t know when your plumbing Ruffin’s are going to be here or some steel beams are impossible to get demo and then there’s no beams to actually hold up the structure.
You’re kind of stuck until you can get those materials in.
So we’re really trying to plan ahead even more so we’ve always done selections and have the clients price.
It’s priced and signed off on, ideally before they start their reno.
But now we’re also trying to order everything in as much as possible and have it sitting in a warehouse before we start the renovation just to have those key pieces, especially anything that’s behind the drywall you need.
You want that here in place before you start tearing apart a house, because once you start a demo and you don’t want to be waiting for anything.
What advice would you have to give to somebody interested in a career in interior design job shadow before you even start to school?
Job shadow and job shadow, and lots of different areas of the industry to see, like I said, just because maybe the first job shadow, you don’t enjoy it necessarily.
But there’s so many different things you can do with it.
Really find what you’re passionate about so that if you do go to school in it, you’re concentrating on what you want to do rather than, say, a full blown interior design degree.
If you’re more fine, you’re more passionate about, you know, manufacturing of cabinets or cabinet design.
You don’t necessarily need an interior design degree for that.
And also, like I said, there’s a huge difference between doing residential projects versus commercial projects.
And also, there’s a huge difference between, say, working for a small firm like mine versus a huge firm that’s got 300 people.
Very different job descriptions on what everybody’s doing with that.
But job shadow for sure to really see what the industry is like and absorb everything from that.
I would say that’s true for almost any industry, if you can.
Jobs are shadow before you jump into it and get a reality check.
Good or bad on what the industry is about, it will really help you make up your mind on that.
How about advice to people?
They have their education, they have their diploma and they’re applying for work now?
So job interview, what advice would you have for a person applying to a firm like yours to become your interior designer?
Well, it really is about your portfolio to start with to even get in the door.
And I find for me in the in the industry, it’s really more about adaptability.
And you’re also a personality to constantly learning, absorbing and growing in the role.
Again, that’s because I’m a smaller firms were always looking for people who can help build the company.
And each month, you know, you have multiple jobs and in each project versus, say, if you’re going into a really large firm, maybe all you’re doing is drafting the as builds.
So the as builds are like, what the house.
the layout of it currently is?
Maybe that is your only job.
And if that’s what you enjoy, great.
But you really do need to figure out if that’s again, whether you like having that one consistent role versus doing lots with that.
And so job shadowing does help see the ins and outs and also what kind of company you actually want to work for.
Again, there’s there’s lots of every, every industry.
There’s good, there’s bad.
And again, once you I think once you find something you really love to do, it’s easy, like I saying in school and everything to just continue on with that because you’re enjoying it.
Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on through your career?
How many years have you owned AMR Design?
Is there one project that stands out as from start to finish?
It is your favorite project?
Oh man, that’s tough.
Every project like you really get to know the people, a lot of clients become friends.
Oh man, I wasn’t allowed to drop names who wanted to drop names.
There has been a few, I mean, more recent memory.
I guess there’s been a few this year where you can really see it changed how the family lived.
And that’s so important to me that they’re we’re improving.
So there is a project roadmap back.
We basically gutted that we did their main floor and we switched their kitchen family room so that the kitchen was larger and lots of windows in the family room was now with the kitchen.
Instead of being shut off because they wanted their kids or teenagers, and they really wanted their kids to still congregate with them as much as possible and had that time with them before before they did move on to their own lives through there.
And they said that they were amazed.
It’s not just their kids, it’s their kids, friends.
Everybody just now congregates in the kitchen, which is exactly.
And they said they’ve grown so much closer again because of that, right?
So that just gives me chills.
And there’s been a few projects for yes, like the clients are crying.
They’re so happy at the end because, yeah, it really is.
Like said, your home used to be your refuge.
I always say the client should walk it at the end of the day and just be able to excel and let everything go when their home is their safe haven.
And providing that to people has just been.
It’s an amazing feeling, though, that that we’ve improved their life that much.
So maybe that’s one thing that HGTV shows get right is the reveal do your reveals sometimes look like that before COVID.
Yes, we always tried to do that.
Where construction ends, we do a really good clean and then we bring everything in like hang and drapes, the artwork, all the furniture and that kind of stuff.
And the client.
We asked that they be away for that day or two and then they come home and it’s it’s completely done right.
Then they don’t see the chaos that happens in the background that you don’t see on TV.
But it also it just, I think, you know, it’s a big investment for them.
So for them to have that reveal and that amazing moment also helps them, you know, it’s just the icing on the cake at the end of the day to see all that for the people watching or listening to this podcast that our interior designers and are thinking about becoming the business owner of interior design.
What are some of the keys to success for owning an interior design company being very detail orientated.
So all those details matter, such as saying the paperwork, everything else but communication.
I cannot stress enough about communication between you and the client you and the contractor you and the trades.
Any time a project goes awry, it’s because there’s been either miscommunication or lack of communication, and you can pinpoint when that starts to go off, when that communication isn’t there.
So it is really important to spend the time and set up the systems to have that constant communication and education for the client.
And what’s happening to the client always knows what’s going on to their point.
I think we often forget in this industry and also the contractor side, too, that this isn’t an everyday thing for these clients like it is for us.
So they may not understand why some of these you know what’s happening here.
Some of the meetings that are coming up and that kind of thing, they really need to understand the process because once they understand it and the value, then where their investments going, it really does help projects go much smoother and everybody happier at the end of the day.
And then, yeah, it’s not really about navigating people, and it’s a stressful renovations are stressful, so you’re navigating stress on for everybody else at the same time, right, including yourself in the ten years that you’ve been running your company?
Has it become easier for, say, a contractor to see the worth of having an interior designer?
I yes, I would say so.
Not every contractor, of course, but we’ve really now got our key contractors that we work with because we do have that working relationship where we each value we really value what the contractor does and what they offer in their trades.
And then also they also value what we could do.
I do find if a contractor doesn’t value what we do, we’re just we’re not going to do the job because no matter what, at the end of the day, either the client or the, you know, there’s the job will go wrong because you really do have to value each other and you’re each other’s expertize to make it work for the best job for the client.
So maybe HGTV is gotten better and that more clients just assume they need a designer and some contractors as well?
I find usually if his contractor has worked with the designer before, but they’re also willing and to learn and do it.
They never go back.
They come back to us for every job because it does take off a lot of.
Their plate, and again, it’s not their expertise, but if they’re not from the get go like we always actually interview them, even if a client contractor wait more before and the client wants to work with, then we interview them.
And if they don’t support us, it’s not going to work.
It’s not worth it.
I think open communication in honesty is probably the most important, especially in an industry like yours.
Definitely on all sides, right?
The clients, the contractors and us, we all have to have that open communication and debate and integrity.
It’s a big it’s a big investment for the for everybody, right?
Especially the client, though it’s you know, it’s usually, you know, we’re usually working on projects that are $350K and up.
So $350,000 and up.
So it’s a big investment.
And again, knowing exactly where their money is going, what value they’re getting for that money is really important.
Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you would feel would be important to somebody interested in interior design?
I would say if you are interested.
Like I said, it’s just go for it.
There is lots of opportunities, but it is really important to look at what avenues you want to take because it is such a broad stroke of of what you can do within the industry.
And there’s always a way to make it work for you if you really are passionate or you really want to do it.
Again, find a mentor job shadow, do everything you can to research it before you.
Before you would dive too deep into it, I think that’s great advice.
Thanks for coming on the podcast with me and I’ll see when you get home.