September 4, 2020
If you’re looking to launch an interior design career in this modern era, chances are The New School Interior Design part-time faculty member Jamel Williams can relate. Between running his own design firm to moving his course curriculum online, Williams offered some wisdom for the self-starting interior designer.
“It’s quite interesting to be front and center helping students and professionals re-imagine the way design should be done in these circumstances,” said Williams, who is teaching Residential Interior Design for fall.
After graduating with an MFA in Interior Design from Pratt, Williams worked at a high-end residential firm before starting his own “one-man” business, To Be Designed. Although the pandemic pushed Williams to shift both his teaching methods and business practices, he prefers to focus on the positive changes the recent climate has brought to the interior design industry.
“Because people have been in their homes lately, they realize there are things they need to adjust. Maybe their homes aren’t working for their new needs in productivity,” Williams said. “I’ve been getting a lot of projects to redesign kitchens. Now you’re having breakfast, lunch, and dinner in your kitchen because you work where you live.”
Williams said he is still meeting his clients face-to-face, with the necessary precautions. His favorite projects are the ones with the most dramatic transformations — from restoring a Victorian home to selecting all new finishes for a 100-year-old house demolition and rebuild.
A few of Jamel Williams' designs : a Ditmas Park kitchen, and a Long Island City office.
He’s found that both business and education tend to have the same ebb and flow rhythm. As many students worry about finding positions, Williams reminds them to take advantage of the new technology.
“You do have the access and potential to have projects that are long distance,” he said, adding that he has himself utilized new marketing and advertising resources to connect with clients. “I get a little excited with the idea of how we work as designers to present ourselves in ways that still allow us to sell ourselves and our services.”
But he added that students have to keep up with software such as Photoshop and AutoCAD in order to remain current.
“Presenting a material sample is not as simple as it used to be,” he said. One challenge students face is packaging their materials into a cohesive presentation without making it look “cheap.”
“That makes my job more important for them, helping them think outside the box.”
The focus on working with professionals and adult learners is what excites Williams about his courses.
“I’ve always had a passion to help others and teach others – to improve their quality of life both educationally and professionally,” he said.
“That’s what’s great about [The New School’s continuing education program for Interior Design]. I know they purposely select interior designers who are working in the field to provide students a realistic view of the industry. I think that’s great.”
Williams has found that he has a similar drive and ambition as his students.
“It does help that a lot of them are career-oriented or have plans established. Some already have their own businesses,” he said. “It feels like I’m having conversations with people who are actually serious and people who have an entrepreneurial mindset but just need the extra push to make things happen.”