ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Suzanne Sheppard, CID

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You may know Suzanne Sheppard’s office is on the second floor of the 1010 Westwood building, and is our Student Affairs Advisor, but did you know she was born in Hungary, and has lived in a Ludwig Mies van der Rohe building in Chicago? We surely did not, which is why we are excited Suzanne took time out of her busy schedule to answer some of our questions so we could get to know her a little better this month!

Suzanne is a cornerstone of our program, and it is apparent she loves working with students because she radiates a passion for helping to give students a start to making their dreams a reality. If you have not met with her, or have any unanswered questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to her at SSheppar@unex.ucla.edu or drop by her office to introduce yourself!

When did you attend UCLA’s Extension ARC-ID program?

1979 – 1987

Where did you grow up? Where did you attend undergrad?

Born in Hungary; then moved to New Jersey; then to Los Angeles; then to Chicago; then back to Los Angeles. I graduated from CSULA, majored in Education; then graduate work at UCLA.

What brought you to LA?

The first time, as a child, was with my family, - by train from Perth Amboy, N.J., - to pursue the dream of living in the land of gold! The second time, from Chicago, as a married woman with a husband and 5 children, from Chicago.

What attracted you to enrolling in this program?

In Chicago, I lived on the 27th floor of a Mies van der Rohe building, overlooking Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan. It was heavenly and sparked my interest in art and architecture! The furniture in the lobby was all Mies van der Rohe’s. After living there for 10 years, my husband, a criminal defense attorney, had purchased a house in the Hollywood Hills, - sight unseen. When I arrived with the children, I opened the front door to find the entire downstairs living space painted black with strobe lights everywhere. Because the landscaping was also in decline, I went into UCLA Extension’s Landscape Architecture program. I changed to the Environmental Design Program (which our Interior Design Program was called then) when I was not interested in taking a Landscape class dealing with irrigation ditches and retaining walls. So, I then turned my attention to the interior of my house. I found a house painter, or rather, he found me at Koontz Hardware. He was able to cover the black paint with 5 coats of white paint, and then we got a bit creative with some of the rooms! I decided that I needed some professional education. I enrolled in the Environmental Design Program (as it was called then),  and I thoroughly loved it! The program was flexible and it took me 7 years to complete the 3 year program, but that was fine, because, simultaneously, I was raising my 5 children and helping to run my husband’s law practice. Design projects came to me and I was also painting and taking art classes.

How did you end up in your current role in Education?

My previous degree was in Education. I taught gifted children for the L.A. Unified School District, and I was a Master Training teaching for UCLA for the LAUSD, before moving to Chicago. I particularly loved the History of Environmental Design courses, and became the T.A. for Jody Greenwald’s classes. Jody founded the Interior Design program at UCLA Extension. When I graduated from the Arc ID program, Jody “commanded” me to become the Advisor to the program. In addition to the 7 years in the program, I have been in this position with UCLA Ext. for 27 years.

What are 3 qualities that got you to where you are today, professionally?

  1. Loving what I do.
  2. Building good relationships.
  3. Striving to do everything to the best of my ability.

What is one of your biggest challenges?

Overcoming bureaucracy!

What does your typical day look like?

Emails, telephones and meetings with prospective students and ongoing students for both the Certificate program and for the Master’s program; transcript and portfolio evaluations, review resumes, assist with connecting students to internships and jobs; attend staff and UNEX meetings, coordinate with Cal Poly Pomona for the Master’s program, prepare reports, assist with open houses and orientations, maintain relationships with professional designers and architects and stay current with their work, etc., etc.!

What is one helpful design resource you can recommend to our students as they enter the field?

Build a professional design network, i.e., belong to a design organization (s), like ASID; and maintain your friendships from UCLA Extension!

Best career advice you’ve gotten?

Always try to do something that you really love!

What is your favorite ‘thing’ in your own home?

My library.

What is something on your bucket list?

More travel to distant lands.

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Ashley Manhan, Co-founder and Principal Designer, Avenue Interior Design

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Ashley Manhan and her now business partner, Andrea DeRosa, first met in 2005 and quickly realized their shared passions and ambitions for design while Ashley was attending the UCLA Extension ARC-ID program. Upon completing the program and working in the field to gain experience and expertise, Ashley reunited with Andrea to start their own design firm, Avenue Interior Design, in 2009. Despite the economy falling into a deep recession, Ashley and Andrea persevered by redefining expectations of their clients while providing unique and innovative designs both nationally and internationally.

While the firm tends to take a low-profile stance in a see-and-be-seen industry, they continue to contract high profile clients for full-range design services.  Avenue Interior Design has grown to over a dozen employees, and has become the go-to for hotel guestrooms and suites, public areas and lobbies, restaurants, bars, casinos, nightclubs, spas and retail, and boast clients such as SBE, Boyd Gaming, The Borgata, Kimpton Hotels and restaurants, MGM Resorts International, to name a few.

We were extremely fortunate to get to ask Ashley some questions this month to get a better idea of who she is and what her design firm is all about.

How did you get started?

My first internship was in hospitality- and I’ve never looked back. Andrea and I started the company in 2009- right when the economy crashed. It was a risky time but we were lucky to find a niche in the industry and offer a service and product that our clients were needing. 

What are you currently working on?

A handful of our current scopes include the renovation of the guestrooms & suites for the Palms in Las Vegas, a new casino property in Springfield, MA with MGM Resorts International, SLS Beverly Hills guestroom remodel, a boutique property, The Ramble, opening later this month in Denver. We recently opened the SLS Baha Mar and Hotel Modera in Portland. 

What are 3 qualities that got you to where you are today, professionally?

  1. Determination- staying focused on what we wanted Avenue to become and not giving up through the hard times.
  2. Good old fashioned hard work- I’ve never been afraid of getting my hands dirty. Whether it’s installing furniture or a menial chore like taking out the trash, I believe you can’t be above any task to run a successful business.
  3. Being a good listener- you’d be amazed at how many things you learn when you step out of your own mind and viewpoint. 

What does your typical day look like?

It usually starts off with traffic (thank you, LA), then typically includes all of the following: morning catch-up with Andrea, conference calls, coffee, shop drawings, office meetings, design reviews with the team, concepting for a new project, late lunch at my desk, endless emails, calls from clients and I finish the day with a to-do list for tomorrow!  

What is one of your biggest challenges as a business owner?

Lately it has been tough for me step away from the design process and focus my attention on managing and business development. I still love writing specs, working out the details and seeing a project to completion so it’s challenging to find a balance doing both. 

What is one helpful design resource you can recommend to our students as they enter the field?

Internships. I think it’s so important for students to get experience in the working world while they are in school. This helps you look at what you're learning in class with a different perspective and hone in on skills that you know you’ll need for your future. 

Something you wish you knew when first got started designing? 

That you never stop evolving and growing as a designer. Each year and project bring more experience, knowledge and inspiration therefore you’re never done learning. 

What is your favorite ‘thing’ in your own home?

My SLS brand standard mattress- it helped when I was opening the SLS hotels in Las Vegas, Miami & Bahamas because I always felt like I was sleeping in my own bed! 

 

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Alexis Manfer, owner of interior design firm Alexis Manfer, Inc.

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Alexis Manfer knew she wanted to be an interior designer the moment she started her first internship for Kelly Wearstler during her senior year of undergrad.  After graduating from USC with a degree in Art History, she immediately enrolled in the UCLA Extension Interior Architecture Program in 2005 and graduated with her Masters Degree in 2008.  

“Once I completed the program, I moved to NYC and worked for two well established design firms where I gained invaluable client and project experience.  Working under the NYC designers and firms was great, but after a couple years I was ready to start my own firm and design my own projects,” which she did in 2012.

We are thrilled to spotlight Alexis this month and gain some valuable insights, seeing that she runs a very successful design firm that she founded on her own, 4 years out of school.

What is one helpful design resource you can recommend to our students as they enter the field?

Working under a seasoned design professional. The experience and knowledge gained from working under a seasoned design professional is invaluable. Find a mentor you admire and respect, and ask to work for them.

Best career advice you’ve gotten?

Get up, dress up, show up! 

What are 3 qualities that got you to where you are today, professionally?

Professionalism, team player, resourcefulness.

What does your typical day look like?

My mornings are always spent on my laptop. My brain is sharpest in the morning and it’s the best time for me to complete tasks that require focus such as responding to emails, executing floor plans in AutoCAD, and finance related items like budgets.  My afternoons are when I become more social and creative.

What is one of your biggest challenges?

Having enough time in the day!  I love what I do and can easily get caught up working all day every day. Managing my time and prioritizing tasks has been something I’ve learned after many years of designing.

Why did you go on to get your Masters, and how has it benefitted you?

Education has always been important to me.  My years of schooling helped guide me to find my artistic passions, that’s where I learned my strengths and what I enjoy doing.  When I decided I wanted to pursue a career in interior design, I knew to be successful there was information specific to the industry I needed to learn about.  I knew if I wanted to be great, I would need to understand the history of the subject, gain the technical skills required such as space planning, drafting, AutoCAD, and drawing. 

The UCLA graduate program taught me everything I needed to know about interior design including proper lighting layouts, fabrics: what types to use for upholstery vs. window treatments, color theory: the science behind colors and why certain colors work well in various settings.  We learned requirements regarding building codes, clearances needed for hallways, walkways, kitchens etc.  These are the skills I use every single day in my business. 

The UCLA Interior Architecture masters program is where I honed my skills and gained the confidence to go out and work in the interior design industry.  The program training prepared me to be creative and to be a knowledgeable and proficient designer.  When clients hire me, they know they are working with a trained, educated professional and interior design expert.

Something you wish you knew when first got started designing?

As a young professional and new business owner I had to really work to figure out how to manage and build a business and set aside a little time for myself just as passionately as I would engage in projects and time with clients.

What type of work do you typically do?

I’ve worked on a wide range of projects at different scales, budgets, and all across the US.  I’ve completed residential projects ranging from 1,500 sq. ft. to 6,000 sq. ft.  I’ve completed commercial offices ranging from 1,000 sq. ft. to 20,000 sq. ft.  I’ve worked on projects with teams that included architects, contractors, and structural engineers. 

Some projects have been complete teardowns where clients hired me to not only remodel the aesthetic but also create an entirely new layouts and space plans: moving walls around and completely updating kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom layouts.  I’ve also had clients hire to me to come in and furnish their existing space, helping them with selecting goods that properly fit the space and adding area rugs, art, and accessories…the décor that really brings the overall design together.  Every project is exciting and I absolutely love working with each unique client to come up with designs that fit their specific needs and aesthetic preferences.    

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently designing five projects – Venice Beach, CA, Westhampton Beach, NY, Brentwood, CA and Aliso Viejo, CA. Most of them are gut renovations but each project is completely different from the other. The styles are different, the scope of work is different, the scale is different, and the clients are different…and I love them all!

The Westhampton Beach remodel is 4,000 sq. ft. residence with a neutral color palette. It’s located on the bay and the clients want the interior to feel calm and soothing. We’re selecting finishes, furniture, and accessories that are organic in shape and outfitting the home with lots of yummy layers and textures. 

The Venice beach gut renovation is a 1,600 sq. ft. Spanish style bungalow. The clients want to update the original layout by expanding the kitchen and refreshing the style to be more modern, functional, unique, and eclectic. We’re implementing incredible details including one-of-a-kind custom cabinets and gorgeous custom tile.

What is your favorite ‘thing’ in your own home?

My white sectional sofa! I’ve always wanted to live somewhere large enough to accommodate a huge sectional sofa. They’re comfortable and spacious enough for lots of friends and family to gather. After years of living in small apartments in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City, I finally have a place in Newport Beach large enough to accommodate a sectional sofa.  I made sure to order a size that perfectly fits my Living Room. It brings the space together making it feel inviting and well balanced.  It’s my favorite place to hangout with friends, watch movies, read through design magazines, or scroll through instagram. I love it!

What is something on your bucket list?

Designing a boutique hotel, jet, or yacht!

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Charrisse Johnston, ASID, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C

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A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Columbia Business School with a BA in Behavioral Sciences and an MBA in Management and Marketing, Charrisse Johnston was a Wall Street strategic planning executive before going back to school for interior design. She attended UCLA Extension’s ARC-ID Program from Spring 2002- June 2006, graduating valedictorian of her class. While in school, she resuscitated UCLA Extension’s dormant ASID Student Chapter in 2004, along with Joanne MacCallum, her Studio I teacher. By 2007, the chapter had become the largest in the West and was subsequently awarded Outstanding Student Chapter of the Year multiple times. Charrisse served as a director on ASID’s National Board from 2008-2010 and helped establish the national Emerging Professionals Council.

Following her graduation, Charrisse spent 9 years at Gensler. As a Senior Associate, Studio Operations Leader and Project Manager at Gensler, Charrisse managed and designed educational and corporate projects. Her clients included USC, Hyundai Capital, Herbalife and LACMA. Additionally, Charrisse oversaw the office’s pro-bono and community service initiatives, leading service projects for the Los Angeles Youth Network, the Ecole Nationale Jacob Martin Henriquez in Haiti, the Inner City Law Center and the new LA County “Housing for Health” clinic and offices.

Charrisse most recently was the Principal and Interior Design Practice Leader at Steinberg Architects, where she established the firm-wide interiors practice for offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, New York and Shanghai. However, she recently gave notice to Steinberg Architects, and is moving to South Africa to start her own design firm along with her fiancé.

We were extremely lucky to get to ask her some questions, including the best career advice she’s ever gotten and what her future plans entail, before her big move:

Tell us about your work at Steinberg Hart.

I just left Steinberg Hart, a 60-year-old architectural firm where I established an interior design practice.  It was thrilling to be a Principal at a respected, medium-sized firm and build a brand-new practice from scratch.  I’m now Past Chair of ASID’s National Board of Directors where head up two committees. And I’m busy gearing up for my move and coming up with ideas for the new design firm we’ll be starting up later this year.

Why are you moving to South Africa?

It’s time for a change! Interior design is my second or third career depending on how you look at it. I was pre-med in college, then got my MBA and worked on Wall Street in strategic planning before founding an event planning firm.  Interior design came after that.  Now that I’ve served as Chair of ASID’s National Board of Directors and I’ve put Steinberg Hart on the map as an interior design firm, I’m ready for the next chapter. My fiancé is a native Captetonian who left South Africa to practice architecture across the globe.  So, we’re moving there to build our dream home and some rental properties, teach, and start our own design practice.

Where did you grow up?

In Princeton, NJ. I’m the daughter of Chinese immigrants and the oldest of four kids. Both my parents were both born in China, fled to Taiwan during World War II, came to the US to attend graduate school. They met here in the US, got married and became citizens.

What attracted you to interior design?

You know, I really didn’t know what interior design was when I attended the design program’s Open House. At the time, I was home with new baby, not working, and itching to get out of the house. UCLA Extension must have gotten my name from a mailing list of shelter magazine subscribers. At that Open House, I learned that interior design was so much more than decorating. I was still very intimidated, because I didn’t think of myself as an artistic person. So I took an art history course, followed by the Fundamentals class, and I just kept going. I loved that design is both a left- and right-brain activity and it engaged me on every level.

What inspired you to establish our ASID Chapter?

I wish I could take the credit but it really goes to Joanne MacCallum, my Studio I instructor.  The chapter had been defunct when the previous officers had graduated. Joanne was the one who thought we should start it up again, and for some reason, she thought I would make a good student chapter president.  It was because of her encouragement that I took on the challenge. She and I still laugh about the first meeting we hosted. She brought a dozen bagels (or was it donuts?) and maybe 2 other people showed up!

What is the last project you completed?

One of the most successful projects Steinberg completed is the historic PacMutual office building in downtown Los Angeles. The previous owner gave the building a terrific makeover and sold it for a record $200 million in 2015. The new owners wanted to take the repositioning a step further, and they asked us to come up with new amenities spaces that would further attract creative media tenants. We did extensive research and eventually gave them a hotel-like tenant lounge that’s a hang-out space during the day and an event space in the evening; a suite of meeting rooms of various sizes; a large multipurpose training room; a bike “spa” to store and maintain the tenants bikes; and a state-of-the-art fitness center.  Throughout the spaces, we allude to the building’s Beaux Arts legacy while serving the lifestyles and needs of today’s workers.

What are 3 qualities that got you to where you are today, professionally?

1) saying yes to new opportunities, 2) self-discipline, and 3) a genuine interest in other people.

What is one of your biggest challenges?

It sounds like a cliché, but I tend to take on too much and saying yes too often.  Last year I had some health challenges, which caused me to take a big step back and reassess my priorities.

What did your typical day look like in your last position?

When I was working at Steinberg, I would be up by 6, leave for work by 7, and arrive by 7:30/7:45. From 8-6, the days were filled with back-to-back meetings and conference calls.  I sat in an open office with my team so we were constantly talking and sharing ideas – I loved that!  I read and responded to emails throughout the day because clients expected that level of service, and I made sure to reach Inbox Zero each night. Around 5 pm, things usually quieted down enough for me to concentrate enough to work on proposals, write articles, etc. I tried to leave by 7 p.m. and not do any work when I got home.

Best career advice you’ve gotten?

Don’t be afraid to go for something you don’t feel 100% qualified yet to do. This is especially true for women. You need to stretch and take risks, and if you wait until you are totally sure you can do something, you’ll be left behind.

What is one helpful design resource you can recommend to students as they enter the field?

The reference book “Human Dimension and Interior Space: A Source Book of Design Reference Standards” is incredibly useful. I can’t tell you how many times I have consulted it. It tells you how much space to allot given all sorts of spaces – dining, learning, working, healing, etc.

Something you wish you knew when first got started designing?

Being able to accurately predict how long it will take to accomplish a given task. When you’re in school, the only limit to the amount of time you work on something is your own stamina and the assignment’s deadline. But once you’re working, it is crucial to work efficiently so you don’t blow the fee. Unfortunately, when you are just starting out, you tend to spend twice as much time as you estimate … and your estimate is already going to be longer than a more experienced person will take.  So there is definitely a learning curve!

Who do you admire and why?

My mom. She came to the US at age 20 to attend law school, having already earned a law degree in Taiwan. She earned her JD in 2 years rather than 3, in order to save tuition, while working at a factory stringing beads and sending money home to her parents and sister. I learned the meaning of hard work and responsibility from her, and only now do I fully appreciate how she raised my siblings and me (4 kids in 5 years) on a modest income.  She used to sew all our clothes, cook dinner every night, clean, do yardwork, teach us Chinese and make sure we practiced our instruments, all without any complaints.  I can never repay her for the sacrifices she has made for the four of us!

Where do you go for inspiration?

I go inside my head – I read! I try to read anything and everything I can get my hands on, and not just design-related stuff, although I subscribe to a slew of design magazines too. I read everything from the news and restaurant reviews to research studies, political analyses and whodunits.  I get bored easily, if you haven’t figured that out already!

What is your favorite thing in your own home?

My Knoll Womb chair and ottoman. It was an unholy splurge made during a moment of weakness, but I absolutely love it and have no regrets! There are only 2 problems with it: 1) it is so comfortable that I always fall asleep in it when I try to read, and 2) my cat seems to think it’s his cat bed. I really need to get it reupholstered because it’s looking pretty grubby.

What is something on your bucket list?

Eleanor Schrader’s art history courses opened up a whole new world to me. It’s like that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy lands in Oz, opens the door, and sees everything in Technicolor! All those buildings and paintings she described to us so vividly absolutely captivated me. Of all those spaces, I would love to visit two in particular: the Hagia Sophia and the Pantheon.

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Frank Slesinski, Slesinski Design Group, Inc.

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As current ASID LA Chapter President, Frank Slesinski has made great professional
strides since his 2009 graduation from the UCLA Extension ARC-ID Program. He splits
his time between LA and Palm Springs weekly (“usually 2-3 days [a week] in the
desert”), and his projects consist roughly of 80% residential, and 20% commercial. He
credits ASID with helping him get to where his is today, stating “it has literally shaped my career, connected me with wonderful colleagues and resources, and help put me on the map.”

Where did you grow up?

Worcester, Massachusetts about 45 minutes outside Boston.

What attracted you to interior design?

I was always fascinated with beautiful homes; as a boy I rode my bike for hours navigating the neighborhoods of my hometown, dreaming of what lay inside those front doors. Worcester had every style of home: Georgian, Spanish, Colonial, Contemporary, Ultra-modern.

What are you currently working on?

We are currently reimagining a large contemporary home in Nichols Canyon; I would call it, “Bali Modern.” There is an oak tree growing through the home from the front foyer through the upstairs master bedroom and roof to the sky beyond. There is a stunning canopy of green over the house. We are also finishing the renovation of an Hancock Park Spanish bungalow and expanding the roof deck of a luxurious historic gothic-deco condominium building in Hollywood. We completed the first stage of the roof and lobby two years ago. It’s always nice when old clients come back with more work!

What are 3 qualities that got you to where you are today, professionally?

Diligence. Respectfulness. Honesty.

What is one of your biggest challenges?  

Work/Life Balance. I think of clients’ projects 24/7, and sometimes it is difficult to pull back and just enjoy the fruits of one’s labor.

What does your typical day look like?  

Each day is different. I spend 30% to 40 % of my time on project management; which keeps me on the road several hours most days. The bulk of my time is spent working on client presentations and shopping. Squeezing in time for paperwork is important to keep on top of billing!

Best career advice you’ve gotten?  

As current president of the ASID LA Chapter, I would be remiss if I did not say, “join ASID.”  I was first a student member, and after graduation - an Allied Member. It has literally shaped my career, connected me with wonderful colleagues and resources, and help put me on the map.

What is one helpful design resource you can recommend to our students as they enter the field?

Once again, ASID membership – get to know their Industry Partners because they are your best resource for product information and expert advice.

Something you wish you knew when first got started designing?  

Clients hire you for your talent and point of view – don’t be shy about expressing yourself and knowing the value of what you bring to the table.

Who do you admire and why?  

I really admire the late Albert Hadley of the celebrated Parrish Hadley firm in New York. First and foremost for his incredible talent, but also because he was the consummate gentleman and quite humble; he was not afraid of calling himself a “decorator.” His firm nurtured some of the most brilliant designers today whose careers I admire (Bunny Williams, Brian McCarthy, David Steinberg, to name a few).

Describe your personal style.  

It may be an overused term, but I would call my personal style “eclectic.”  I love mixing different periods – Asian and English pieces with Mid-Century to very Modern. Our homes reflect our experiences and travels, so why limit our expression of how and where we have lived and what interests us?

Where do you go for inspiration?

I take constant inspiration from my surroundings – including those things that “work” and those things that “don’t work.”  I’m always curious as to how and why things come together, or not. Travel is always important, as well as my garden, and even Instagram and walking the PDC; you name it.

What is your favorite thing in your own home?  

Since you said favorite “thing,” I guess I have to eliminate my husband and two dogs – so I guess would say our large abstract painting by the New York artist, Helen Iranyi.

What is something on your bucket list?  

I would love to design a boutique hotel.  

 

 

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Rocky LaFleur

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You may remember him as a guest speaker if you took Fundamentals with Eleanor Schrader, or crossed paths with him at the Pacific Design Center (PDC) or an event around town. This month we are not spotlighting an interior designer as we typically have in past months, but rather Rocky LaFleur, who has become a central fixture, guru, and mentor many in ASID. Having his finger on the pulse of the interior design industry in Los Angeles and Paris, we were excited to ask him a series of questions because he boasts a unique and unparalleled perspective.

There is no question he cannot answer, or seemingly anyone who is better connected than he. Rocky recognizes students are the future designers of the Industry, and donates much of his time to the enrichment and growth of those who are interested.

You may have heard the whispers of Paris in the halls at school recently. Rocky has invited UCLA Extension ARC-ID students to join him in Paris for Design Week next month (January 17 – 21, 2018). While students are fully responsible for all aspects of the trip themselves, they will be seeing the latest materials, designs, colors and learning the lay of the land of Paris, first hand. Here is what he had to say:

Where did you grow up?

A small town of 430 people in South Dakota. I am the oldest of nine children.

What attracted you to the industry?

Creative nontraditional people.

Current occupation within the industry?

Hospitality sales for Needler Fauchere.

What are 3 qualities that got you to where you are today, professionally?

Listening, empathy, and curiousity.

What is one of your biggest challenges?

Organization.

What does your typical day look like?

Up at 5:30 read the papers and meditate. Go to the showroom in the PDC and jump on the carousel. Ending dinner with design friends.

Best career advice you've gotten?

Never expect from other people what you expect from yourself.

What is one helpful design resource you can recommend to our students as they enter the field?

The PDC and its people. Get to know them.

As someone who is in the thick of the LA Design scene, how do you suggest students break into the industry and get involved?

Show up. It’s always been and always will be about relationships. Go where designers go and see what designers see and speak up and introduce yourself. Get on mailing lists, event lists. Museums and art openings. Lectures. Parties. Make friends in the industry.

How have you been involved with ASID, professionally?

I got involved with ASID when I moved to LA forty years ago when I knew no one. Got on committees and attended events and made friends. These are still my friends today who shared with me how to be good in this business and a how to receive value from community. And as time moves on and enormous challenges change this business ASID helps keep me in the current world of business and design. I show up and give back. ASID is the base of my design universe for sources, clients and satisfactions.

Who do you admire and why?

Interior Designers who have great passion and want to make a difference.

Where do you go for inspiration?

Nature, museums and travel.

What is your favorite 'thing' in your home?

Huge map of old Paris.

What is something on your bucket list?

Japan, a culture that draws me and I want to experience before my time is up. Keep moving!

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Laura Muller, Allied ASID

Laura Muller, Allied ASID, is the CCO/Founder and Principal Designer of Four Point Design Build Inc. (www.fourpointdesignbuild.com), a full service residential and commercial interior design-build firm based in Los Angeles, with clients nationwide. She has been designing, developing and building diverse residential and commercial projects in Southern California for over thirty‐five years.

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With a strong and lengthy background in community outreach and service, Laura consistently spearheads large charity “passion projects” with organizations such as ASID, Ronald McDonald House, Step Up on Second, and others. Laura’s key passion is to reduce youth homelessness by raising awareness about mental illness, and building community connections that inspire hope, and firmly believes that together we can build a better tomorrow for all those in need.  

We wanted to know more about Laura, and hear her advice for students who are emerging into a new field. Here is what she had to say:

What are you currently working on?

We currently have 9 projects at some point of development or completion.  Current projects include a 10K sf and 4K sf commercial tenant improvement, a 34 room Hancock Park historic restoration project (interiors and exteriors), and some very cool residential remodel expansions in areas such as Culver City, Venice, and Calabasas.

What attracted you to interior design?

As a former set designer/builder and performer, (and for as long as I can remember), it was always a passion to discover how space, lighting, path of travel, furniture and people work together to influence and express a clear message or feeling.  In theater, EVERYTHING on a set has meaning, and how people interact with “things” is very intentional. It is fantastic how completely powerful design really is! It was a perfect match to take those intuitive talents and focus them into a design-build business, where these skills I learned over many years, it is EXACTLY what I have the great pleasure of doing every day.

3 qualities that got you to where you are today:

Persistence, resilience, and faith.

What is one of your biggest challenges?

Time. There is never enough of it.

What does your typical day look like?

I start my day at 5:00am with a prayer, coffee and 30 minutes of dedicated social media updating and engaging. I’m at the Studio by 7:00 am and I plan the day, update calendars, send emails.  By 10:00am the team is all in, and we’re in full-swing with designing, drawing, site visits, resourcing, managing projects and fielding the unexpected until 5:00pm.  I, personally, will stay at the office at least two days a week for quiet design work, as I tend to be most creative later in the afternoon.  Shoes off, coffee in hand, drafting board, music, and I am in heaven.  The other days I’m out by 6:00pm for family time and/or design events.

What is one helpful design resource you can recommend to students as they enter the field?

Get involved (I mean get REALLY involved) with your local chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).  Convert your student membership over to Allied as soon as you graduate and go to the events.  Call your Local ASID chapter office and volunteer your service.  The rates are fantastic your first years out of school…and you won’t be sorry.  Here you will continue to grow with professionals who are MORE than ready to guide you along your emerging professional journey.

Something you wish you knew when first got started designing?

I wish I knew more about budgets, timelines, contracts, clients and real-life expectations. It’s a BUSINESS first. I learned that very quickly. I had a wonderful, gifted, and patient mentor who allowed me to jump in 110% and make mistakes in a very contained condition. I learned fast.

How did you find your mentor?

I’ve had many mentors.  Some came to be way of chance.  I would say, fate! Some have come virtually and thru research. I’ve had some very important and very special mentors guide me via ASID. But my most important mentors have come to me via UCLA.  I am blessed to have had the very best guardian angels and some very strong women and teachers in my life who lift me up, and challenge me to greatness! 

Best career advice you’ve gotten?

There are no stupid questions, take risks, be kind, give back what you take, work your ass off, be authentic, get and BE a mentor, and “…persistence and determination alone, are omnipotent!”

Who do you admire and why?

I admire anyone who is kind. Kindness and integrity are two very important and valuable acts that transcend all professions, lifestyles, and profit. At times kindness, tolerance, acceptance, integrity, truth and forgiveness can be difficult, and that’s what makes it important.

Where do you go for inspiration?

I travel. It gives me time to listen to my heart and restores my creative spirit, and soothes my tired eyes.

What is your favorite thing in your own home?

My family…and my Keurig.

What is something on your bucket list?

Singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl. In the meantime, I’ll take Ireland.

When did you attend UCLA’s Extension ARC-ID program? 

2005 – 2008 (2008 graduate with distinction)


 

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Darra Bishop, Allied ASID, President, ASID LA 2017

Darra Bishop describes her personal style as “Mid-Century Modern, Mod, Vintage Industrial but with a healthy dose of unconventional thrown in for good measure,” and says one of her favorite things in her own home is a pair of vintage orange and white glass Holmegaard capsule shaped table lamps.

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While she is busy as current sitting President of the ASID LA Chapter, owning her own residential design firm, bespoke design, as well as being a partner in a boutique hospitality design firm, make | model | method, with a UCLA Extension colleague, Meredith Pominville, her dream project is to design a veterinary clinic one day. “Even the ones on the cutting edge of technology leave a lot to be desired in terms of function and comfort. No one wants to be at the vet, it should be designed to be as comfortable and pleasing as possible.”

We wanted to know more about Darra and how she got to where she is today. Here is what she said:  

What attracted you to interior design?

I spent a good deal of time as a child and young adult helping my mother paint and furnish our homes. We moved around a lot, and every new place was a chance to create something beautiful. Interior design remained a deep interest to me, even through my careers in sales, marketing and advertising. I have always felt that one's surroundings can have a material effect on one's mood and outlook.

What are you currently working on?

I currently have 2 larger house remodels and one small, but interesting garage renovation. I love integrating a client's personality into their home. One of the house remodels centers around 2 properties - one house that is being converted into an AirBnB in Topanga that we are designing with a real beachy playful vibe - think bright encaustic concrete tile and bold colored furnishings paired with soft muted linens and breezy fabrics. The garage conversion is on its face an office, but digging deeper, I am creating a very special display / retail area for a client and his extensive childhood collectables. I am very excited about this project because it will end up being an unconventional and deeply personal space for the owner.

What is one of your biggest challenges?

To be a successful owner of a design firm, you need to work ON your business not just IN your business. That means always looking for prospects even when you are too busy to think about additional work. It is difficult being a rainmaker and balancing that with the day to day demands of interior design projects.

What does your typical day look like?

I try to spend at least 2 half days a week at make | model | method so my business partner and I can strategize and find the types of boutique hospitality (independent restaurants, coffee shops, hotels + retail) projects that we want to do. Since our formation in 2014, we've been very busy with mostly multi-family renovation projects and really want to pivot to doing more restaurants and retail, etc. My typical days are divided between project management of projects in construction and design work for projects in the schematic design phase. Every day is a little different which keeps things interesting, but is also very challenging, especially if all you really want to do is shut yourself in a room and get some drafting done!
 

Best career advice you’ve gotten?

Identify 30 people in your industry that are potential ambassadors for your services. Maintain and deepen these relationships, as your business will be 70% referrals. Hopefully you will have repeat clients, but it is important to have enough prospects and potential jobs lined up do that you end up doing the projects you want to do, not just whatever comes your way so you can pay the bills.

3 qualities that got you to where you are today:

1. Curiosity
2. Diligence

3. Honesty/Transparency

What is one helpful design resource you can recommend to students as they enter the field?

Join ASID. Take advantage of ASID events. These events bring together industry professionals and Industry Partners and will prove to be amazing resources for your design questions and sourcing or specification needs. I have IP resources that I can really lean on when I need an expert - from fabric to lighting to hardware and plumbing - we can't know it all, but we should know where to get the answers our clients need.

Something you wish you knew when first got started designing?

I wish I had been better at communicating my value as a designer. When I first started out, I was excited just to have clients! Understanding that what we do is valuable is a great help in standing behind and sticking to your design fees.

Who do you admire and why?

I am a big fan of Charles and Ray Eames. They lived and breathed their work, had a family that produced their designs, and created things that are timeless (and tremendously comfortable)! There are many designers and architects whose work I admire, but I mention the Eames because I also admire the way they created their work.

Where do you go for inspiration?

Everywhere. Retail stores, Coffee shops, The movies, Pinterest, Shelter Magazines, different cities and countries.

Where did you grow up?

I moved around a lot as a child, living in a few cities in Pennsylvania as well as Paris, France. I went to college in Pittsburgh, PA so I tell people I am from Pittsburgh

Where do you currently live, and how does it influence your work?

I live in the Westside of Los Angeles, but before that, lived for 8 years in Downtown Los Angeles. Living in DTLA absolutely influenced my work. My favorite projects are loft or live work spaces.  I love that you can design around how a client wants to use their home instead of the home's layout dictating how it is to be used. DTLA also has so many and diverse hidden gems from an interior design and architectural standpoint.

When did you attend UCLA’s Extension ARC-ID program? 

I started in 2005 (part time) and ended up being the first class to graduate with the MIA in 2011.