Interview with award winning interior designer Susan Quirke

When you want to transform the interior of your house, you may find that sometimes, the task is actually a bigger one than previously expected. It may be that executing your idea entails reconstructing the interior and as we previously mentioned, this is when you turn to an interior designer. This is the person that is knowledgeable about a vast array of aspects concerning interiors, from renovations, to the intricacies of decorating. One such interior designer is Susan Quirke of Quirke McNamara Consultancy. Not only has she worked on large scale commercial and residential projects, but she is also a Plentific Pro. We spoke with Susan and found out what caused her to become an interior designer and how she approaches her projects…

When did you first develop an interest in interior design?

I’ve always had an interest in design and even when I went to college to study psychology, I did some interior design courses on the side. After I finished college, I got a job in with some Architects in Ireland working as a project manager. It’s then that I really realised that I wanted to follow my passion for interiors and I was lucky to work on projects in both roles while studying design. As a result, I gained both practical and academic experience.

What finally pushed you to become an interior designer?

Once I saw both the management and creative sides that I mentioned above, I knew I definitely wanted to be an interior designer. I wanted to work in the creative field as well instead of just managing the process. Although now running my own company I have the best of both worlds and I have to be organised in order to run every element of the project. I also have to come up with the ideas and source the materials etc.

What are some of the challenges you face as an interior designer?

People always think it’s a very glamorous and fun job but really, that’s not true. It’s all about deadlines and budgets and yes, there are creative elements of course but within specific budgets and parameters. You have to work as part of a team and while you may want everything sleek and minimal, the engineer may have other ideas. You have to be very patient explaining everything to the client whilst also working with the contractor on site to make sure your vision is carried out exactly and nothing is misunderstood. You can spend long days on a cold building site and you have to be able to keep a lot of information in your head as you are really the only person who understands the complete vision and end result.

What is your favourite thing about being an interior designer?

Being involved in the overall aspect of the project as I also undertake the lighting design, it’s a complete process. I design everything on my projects, from the kitchen, to the bespoke storage. So even though that makes it a stressful process, it’s also exciting and inspiring coming up with a new concept. I also have been lucky to have some great clients that allow me to express my creativity and it’s very enjoyable to work with them closely on their needs. I love the freedom of being able to add my own twist as that usually excites them. Every project brings new challenges and I’ve been lucky to have a very varied portfolio of work so every day is fresh and exciting. My favourite thing is getting out on site and not having a job that keeps me stuck in an office. I get to spend time managing the process and seeing the project take shape.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Everywhere! The beach, nature, trips abroad. Anywhere except programmes about interiors as I can’t watch those – it’s like being at work! I love garden design and fashion design and a lot of inspiration also comes from there. I love seeing how things are built so a trip to a bespoke stairs company or joinery workshop to actually see a piece coming together is inspiring to me. When designing, I usually look at the space plan to begin with and experiment with shapes and different options.

What example of interior design have you encountered recently that you love?

I love Fabio Novembre’s work and also Zaha Hadid and David Adjaye. Hadid’s vortex chandelier and her House Bar are really beautiful pieces. I design in an organic style and I really appreciate her style. Shu Milano, a nightclub by Novembre is also a really great space. It’s totally modernist and inspiring. I don’t really follow trends or fashions, its more about looking at shapes in nature or a great fashion show. I was a big admirer of Alexander McQueen’s work as well.

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When you have a client, what is the design process usually like?

Firstly, I want to understand the client. For example, if I’m dealing with a couple, I want to know both of their needs and requirements for the space as well as how their taste differs. I also spend some time in the space looking at all the details such as how much natural light there is, how high the ceilings are and all the technical elements to consider. Then I work on the space plan which is key to a successful design. Everything comes from that plan. Then, we work up the details and present the plan to the clients, taking all their comments on board. It’s a great feeling when you present something outside the box that they had never imagined and they love it. Once we have the space plan set out, we look at lighting and materials and work through each element in detail. I also project manage the complete venture so I am there to make sure everything goes smoothly. I present to the client and keep them updated throughout so they see all the materials and light elements and understand how they will work together.

What tips can you give to those looking to pursue a career in interior design?

Realise it’s not a hobby and that the hours are long. There is a lot more involved than some TV shows illustrate. You have to manage budgets, be very organised and know how to communicate effectively. It’s not just about being arty, as being efficient is incredibly important. Try to get some work experience and put together your style file with things that inspire you, then create a portfolio of work. I’m always amazed by how many students turn up to interviews with no portfolio. We are in a visual industry and first thing a designer wants to see is your portfolio of work so they can assess your abilities. You have to have passion for design as many students are horrified by the prospect of working Saturdays or long evenings to finish deadlines.The ones who have the passion however, are excited to see the projects come to life and that really stands out in a person.
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