A collaboration now in its 10th year between Florida State University and the Ringling Museum recently brought a group of rising seniors earning a degree in interior design to Sarasota’s Ca d’Zan, the palace that John and Mable Ringling built for themselves in the 1920s as their lavish winter home.
The FSU event was an intense, four-day seminar/workshop organized by Ron McCarty, keeper and curator of the 59-room Ringling mansion on the bay, and by Karen Myers, associate professor of interior design at FSU.
The purpose of the annual summer practicum is to provide students with hands-on experience in a big custom house, and to expose them to a range of resources that these designers will need when they enter the workforce.
While in Sarasota, they explored a furniture restoration studio, fabric showrooms, a studio specializing in the application of gold leaf, antiques emporiums, galleries that specialize in leadingedge modern furniture, and even a business that focuses on the meticulous process of Old World French polishing.
“Mable Ringling’s house becomes their laboratory each summer,” said McCarty, who personally takes the students around and creates projects for them. “We look at heritage textiles and pose the problem of a client who wants to use a vintage fabric or an out-of-production wallcovering. Where does a local designer source these things, and how does a designer see the project through from beginning to end?
“The students learn how to find things locally, and they see for themselves the workshops and studios where the materials they need get created. This field experience is valuable, and the students all love it.”
This year, 12 rising seniors and three graduate students made the trip to Sarasota.
“The Ringling Museum has become a branch campus for our students,” said Myers, the FSU professor. “They actually get out into the field and see what kinds of things they will be called upon to do for clients when they are working in a big firm or have their own business. What’s really wonderful is that the Ringling Museum and Sarasota are so rich in resources for our students. We don’t have to travel far to see and do a lot.”
Florida, in general, is rich in design professionals. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 1,424 interior design firms in the state, a little more than in New York and a little less than in California. By contrast, North Dakota has 11.
Job prospects for interior designers who are starting out are generally better in high-income areas, because wealthy clients are more likely to engage in costly remodeling projects, and they want custom features. Wealthy Naples and Sarasota have a high concentration of interior designers, and while the recent recession culled their numbers, work for interior designers is coming back strong in high-end residential work, as well as projects with architectural and construction companies. The hospitality industry is another.
Many of Sarasota’s name designers have degrees from Ringling College or Art + Design. They came to Sarasota from all over the country as students, but many of them stayed after completing their degree work to build careers here.
Other professional designers have moved here in mid-career (with an eye toward retiring in Sarasota), with the intent of still serving their clients in northern cities while building a new client base in Sarasota. Some of their northern clients inevitably end up here, too, building second homes or retiring to high-rise condominiums that need a designer’s help.
One of the things the FSU students (and all design students) are learning in the classroom is that it’s a good time to be going into the profession. Homeowners with properties at all price points are increasingly using the services of interior designers for additions and remodel jobs with kitchens and bathrooms getting the most attention.
Kitchen designers are in big demand, but jobs in the healthcare industry are also expected to increase as the industry aims to house an aging population in style. Designers will be challenged to make these facilities functional, safe, beautiful and as homelike as possible.
Look for more interior design careers in the hospitality industry — hotels, resorts, restaurants, convention centers — where outstanding and original design attracts more business.
Interior designers will find their services valued at architectural, engineering and construction firms, where, according to Bureau of LaborStatistics, they can earn more money than the median annual wage, which is about $47,600.
The bureau estimates that between now and 2020, employment in the interiordesign field is expected to grow at least 13 percent. Employment of interior designers in specialized design-services firms (green and sustainability, medical, spa, schools, hospitality) is projected to grow 20 percent. About 25 percent of interiordesign graduates end up self-employed.
“Whatever specialty our graduates go into, we groom our FSU students to work at a very high level in the design world,” said Myers. “Semesters abroad, and specialty programs, such as this collaboration with Ringling Museum, help insure that our graduates have seen a lot and done a lot outside the classroom by the time they earn a degree.”
Once they get their college degree, aspiring designers must pass the National Council for Interior Design Qualifications (NCIDQ),” continued Myers, “and then we expect them to apprentice for two years under a working interior designer.”
To be able to put “ASID” behind their names, interior designers must also pass that test administered by the American Association of Interior Designers. And then there is the licensing process established by the State of Florida.
That official license number goes on the designer’s business card and website, too. This is important information for the consumer because anyone can now call himself or herself an interior designer or interior decorator and advertise their services without meeting the standards set by national or state testing.
Qualified designers can save their clients money by showing them how to avoid costly mistakes, while helping homeowners to make their surroundings comfortable, safe, unique and beautiful.
The FSU students already know that.