Home is Where the Art Is, New York Post

New York Post, Monday, September 18, 2000 

Home is Where the Art Is

Thanks to a booming economy and a "cocooning trend," interior designers are in demand.

By Erika Welz Prafder

It was earlier this year while channel surfing that I got hooked, or, rather, addicted to a certain cable network.

Their programs speak to me, inspire me and have prompted me to re-upholster a sofa, strip and repaint garage sale furniture and re-think my bathroom.

And all this because, "my home is my haven," or so the Home and Garden Television Network (HGTV) wants their viewers to believe. Some 65 million households of us to be exact.

Since it's launch six years ago, the network couldn't have been born into a more ideal time. With our strong economy, baby boomers with discretionary income and "cocooning trend" in America, the entire home remodeling and interior design industries are experiencing quite a business boom.

For those who aspire towards a career in such fields, opportunities are rich if you know where and how to find them.

"We hit at exactly the right time," said Burton Jablin HGTB's general manager.

"There is an emphasis people are placing on where they live today. They want to create the best personal space, a refuge away from the rest of the world, he said.

"People have the means to spend on personal environments, especially the baby boomer generation. Once their kids leave the house, their money and attention is turning towards their home."

Due to the hot real estate market in most major US cities, many homeowners renovate in order to maximize the return on their investment, according to Jablin.

Whether it's a new home office, restored mansion, expanded landscape or remodeled kitchen or bath, $800 billion dollars was spent on home improvement last year, according to Jablin.

Topping the list of home remodeling trends is the desire to bring the outside in, explains Jablin.

"Landscape design and verandahs are hot, as is liquid design, which entails amazing uses of water," he said.

Other popular projects include guest houses, second homes, vacation retreats, and master bathrooms.

Those cashing in on the thriving home-fixings craze include architects and pool builders.

But there are a host of alternative niche careers to explore.

Stephen P. Viscusi is founder and CEO of The Viscusi Group, Inc., a Manhattan based, international, executive search firm for the commercial and residential furniture industries. He's also the host of the nationally syndicated radio show, "On the Job."

With academic institutions churning out architects and interior designers in droves, entry level spots at major architectural or interior design firms are quite competitive.

In fact, the Department of Labor projects that by the year 2008, the number of interior design professionals will surpass 67,000, a significant increase from 1998 when there were just over 53,000.

To break into the field, it may be wise to forgo the status and allure of the largest firms and seek openings, full or part-time, that veer off from the traditional career path.

For a good income, benefits and flexible house, "Becoming a sale representative is one way to break into the industry," said Viscusi.

"With your design degree in hand, manufacturers and furniture showroom employers will respect your experience, since you already understand the technical and aesthetic features of furniture, textiles, lighting and other building products.

"You can sell to designer in their own language."

Another area that's plentiful with jobs today is in project management for furniture companies or corporate facilities, according to Viscusi.

For example, "Such professionals are often hired to design work environments," said Viscusi. "Office cubicles are very technical and project managers need to be able to specify which workstations will work best.

"On the contract side, project managers at a furniture dealer can start at $60K - $90K."

In the hospitality industry, "There's also an abundance of work available for designers," said Viscusi, who cited hotels, healthcare institutions, retirement communities, and nursing homes as employment targets.

While still dominated by women, there are more men entering the field today that ever before, according to Viscusi.

"And, there is also a strong influx of second-career goers."

In contrast to other industries, when it comes to recruiting employees, the amount of discrimination candidates experience is much less.

"There is no glass ceiling. If you're talented, whether you're old, gay, red, black, or blue, you will be respected," said Viscusi.

If you've no experience, realize the difference between having great taste and becoming an interior designer before quitting your day job.

"Someone who has a flair for working with fabrics and finishings can become a decorator," said Viscusi. "There is a market for them. But, an interior designer holds an officially recognized degree. They are skilled at working with drawings, and technically calculating floor plans."

To educate yourself about the field, there are a number of academic institutions throughout the New York region with accredited interior design programs.

These include Buffalo State, Fashion Institute of Technology, Marymount College, Nassau Community College, New York School of Interior Design, Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute, School of Visual Arts, and Syracuse University.

"Take a course and sample the reality of the industry," advises Viscusi.

"Once you've done so, make sure you possess the technical prowess required to work with Computer Aided Design (CAD), a computer program used to measure rooms and design according to scale."

A few recommended trade reads include: "Interior and Sources" and "Interior Design."

For networking outlets, check out the New York chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (www.asid.org). With over 30,000 members, the group is the industry's leading professional organization.

To scout out job opportunities, the following websites are also helpful resources: www.interiordesignjobs.com, www.myjobsearch.com, www.monster.com.

Erika Welz Prafder is president of Real World Internships/Careers Inc. (www.realworldcareers.com)