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Tara has a head for design

LISA KING, [email protected]

Tara has a head for design

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Interior designer, not interior decorator, says Tara Headley, who has to constantly make the distinction between the two.

The commercial interior designer said her work included more than choosing colours and décor and fluffing pillows, and is a bit more technical and included aspects of architecture.

Headley, 26, who lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia, graduated from Queens College in 2008 before starting studies at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. There she did undergraduate studies in interior design graduating in 2012, then completing her master’s degree in interior design from SCAD School of Building Arts in 2015.

During the time she was studying for her master’s, she won several awards, including the International Interior Design Association’s (IIDA) Best of the Best award in social relevance, International Design Association’s (IDA) Gold in commercial design, and the Chair’s Award for most outstanding senior project from the Savannah College of Art and Design.  

She also won the IDA Gold in conceptual design, IDA Gold in institutional design and the IIDA inaugural National Student of the Year award.  The IDA Emerging Designer of the Year and the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Network of Executive Women in Hospitality (NEWH) award.

“Most people know interior design from watching Home and Gardening Television (HGTV) and those home improvement shows, but people do not know there is actually the commercial aspect to it which included architecture,” she said.

Even though interior designers are not allowed to call themselves architects because of lack of professional requirements, Headley said they deal a lot with structures, space planning and the way people inhabit a space is taken into consideration. “It is all of that on top of choosing paint colours and furniture, but a lot of it is structural . . . . We deal a lot with building codes so my firm works a lot with engineers and architects,” Headley said.

Why did she choose interior design, or did interior design choose her?

“According to my father, I grew up talking about designing houses.

“Later on I was involved in art so that was always part of my core being,” Headley said.

As fate would have it, while at Queens College, Headley attended a college fair and learned about Savannah College and their interior design programme. “There were programmes about architecture but the programme in interior design stood out. Before that I did not know that interior design was a profession.”

Headley made the bold decision to apply “to just that college and I was accepted”.

The most memorable piece of work for which she has won an award was her graduate thesis where she designed a physical space and a research project on promoting peace and cultural understanding between the United States and Iraq through experience design.  Her design was a museum to show the story and struggle of the people of Iraq and empathise with them.

“I find that the media was giving them a bad portrayal and I wanted to rectify this and change the western world’s view of people in the Middle East . . . . So that people would not assume that they are all terrorists,” she stated.

That project won the IDA gold in commercial design and the Chair’s Award for Most Outstanding Senior Project. She was the Emerging Designer of the Year in 2015.

She would also work for world-acclaimed firm Hirsch Bedner Associates, the leading luxury hotel interior design company in the world. 

“It was a very good experience, but I think it was too big a firm for me, because they have such a big reputation; I did not feel like it was personable enough,” Headley said.

She now works for a smaller firm in Atlanta called Hendrick and they do corporate interior design for office towers and office spaces.

“It is not for everybody to work with the big dog or the top company. It . . . looks good on your resume that a large company would want to employ you, but it did not quite have that feeling of integration for me,” Headley said.

Headley’s future plans are not concrete, but her family have been prodding her to have her own business.  Though she is not yet sold on the idea, she wants to get some more experience in the international arena and work her way up the tiers until she is project manager or principal interior designer of an established firm.

“For the work that I do and the work that I want to do, I do not think Barbados is ready for it because of the codes and rules and regulations that are so strict.  The way things are done I do not think Barbados is ready for that way of design,” she said.

Pointing to the various codes that she has to follow in her design, she said it would be pressure on her to try and push that a little bit more in Barbados.

“Not meaning to cry down Barbados, but that is something they can move to and be stricter”.

Additionally, she spoke to the upfront cost of designing and implementing an office space that takes into consideration building codes, space layout, how much space is needed and the capacity of a room. “There are scientific theories on how light affects people in a space, how open views affect productivity; it is not just throwing it together because it looks pretty.

“In a space with a sea of cubicles, that person in the middle will be less productive than that person sitting at the window,” she said.

With her passion being cultural design, Headley said she was fortunate that most of her projects at school allowed her to work on that type of project. Her most memorable was a Caribbean Cultural Centre she designed for second generation Caribbean immigrants, providing a space where they can go to learn about the culture of their parents – how they grew up, the food and art among other things.

As an only child, she admits that her parents, Joel and Margaret Headley, poured their all into her and financed her college education, twice.

“I started out with the firm understanding that my parents sent me there to learn. I intended to do them proud so . . . I gave 110 per cent in every single class. Even if it was a prerequisite and not associated with my degree I excelled in it, which allowed me to stand out with the professors,” Headley said.

She said her father was a jack of all trades and built all the furniture while her mother would always enter her in art competitions. 

“My father always pushed for me to do something with art. He worked in the bank for over 30 years but always wanted to be a chef. He knew what it was to work somewhere but to always have a passion for something he was unable to do, so he always wanted me to pursue what I wanted and was fully supportive.

“They are happy with the results of my labour and the space I have carved for myself in the industry,” Headley said, while adding that her mother loves to brag, albeit a little too much about her accomplishments. 

Headley is adamant that hard work was crucial to achieving dreams and advised that self-application was crucial. “I was always a talented artist but I never slacked on it. I always put in the effort and not just slide by in the class,” she said.

She also made it a point to join many organisations associated with interior design and volunteered with school organisations where she got to interact with and network with people in the industry, which cemented her in the interior design world. 

“Networking is the most important thing; it is one of the ways you can get a job.  People hire people they know or get recommendations from people they know,” she said.

Added to that, Headley said she was always very organised, strategic and punctual. 

“The more organised you are the less the work seems. There is always time to party, if you plan it in,” Headley said. (LK)