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Making A Change: How Jennifer Levy Successfully Went from A Commercial Photographer to Interior Designer

October 23, 2017

Jennifer Levy

After a seasoned career as a commercial photographer, Jennifer Levy decided on a career shift and enrolled in the Interior Design Certificate at Parsons to gain necessary interior design skills. Levy went on to create CAVdesign—an interior design company helping people solve their design problems by combining the practical with the imaginative. She has since published two design books and has had her work featured in magazines like Dwell Magazine and Apartment Therapy. She chats with us about her decision to change careers later in life, what excites her about interior design today, and why a tape measure can be the key to your (interior design) success.    

What prompted the shift to interior design? 

I changed careers (after age 40 by the way) for a combination of reasons: I had always loved interior design, and had the chance to photograph some wonderful interiors while working as a photographer. I also loved making things (bookshelves and simple carpentry). But, my work as a photographer was requiring me to travel a lot, and after my son was born, it became clear that in the long run it was going to be difficult to sustain that career. Design had been calling to me for a while, and I started by taking some classes just for fun. The final decision came after gutting my house and rebuilding—I loved seeing it take shape, and decided this was what I really wanted to be doing. 

What drew you to Parsons at Continuing Education, and the Interior Design certificate?

Because I was transitioning into a new career, I needed to continue to work while I was studying and would not have been able to do a 4 year, or even a full-time 2 year program. With [Continuing & Professional Education at Parsons], I was able to spread my classes out in a manageable way while still working. I also knew that the program attracted a wide range of students, including a lot of international students and people like me, looking at a second career. I appreciated that diversity.

What was your experience like in the certificate program?

With the certificate I got a great base in terms of skills, but more importantly, the teachers really encouraged us to explore design thinking, and work out projects on a conceptual level. I looked forward to my classes for the interesting discussions we would share, and I felt we all had a real commitment to getting the most of the educational opportunity. 

Do you feel that the certificate helped you in your professional goals? If so, how?

The certificate definitely helped me in my professional goals. My clients and prospective clients appreciate the fact that I have some formal education in the field. The design process is something that I apply every day, and I had the chance to practice that in the program. I also still use the skills I learnt in the program—specifically space planning and furniture planning—often, as well as creating design boards for clients. 

What excites you about interior design today? 

The gravitation toward incorporating vintage, local, or crafted pieces. I think Etsy and other shopping sites have made it so much easier to source and buy bespoke and artisan-made pieces. 

What do you do on a consistent basis that keeps you motivated and passionate about the industry you’re in?

Getting out of the office is important, whether it’s browsing stores, going to a museum, or just taking a bike ride in the park. I’ve noticed that inspiration strikes when you stop trying to reach for it. 

For someone looking to redesign—either on a small or large scale—what is one piece of information they should know before going into the process? 

I really can’t do only one, so here’s two! First, get a tape measure and use it. A lot of mistakes can be avoided (like buying out-of-scale furniture or a refrigerator that doesn’t fit into the door) by checking things before you buy them. The second one is to be patient. We all want the process to fit into a neat time frame, but reality doesn’t work like TV—there are too many variables. Allow more time than you think it will take.

Fast Facts

Favorite piece of furniture in your home:   

The Bertoia chair I inherited from my grandparents. My grandmother had great taste and I consider her my design muse. Seeing it in my home reminds me of our connection. 

Favorite guilty pleasure: 

Detective novels

One place you look for inspiration:  

Museum of Modern Art (free with a New School student ID, by the way).

Where can people find you online?   

http://cavdesign.com, IG: @cavdesign

Written by Leora Zauderer.

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