Lessons from Masterclass: Interior Design

Be skeptical of data and models

Our emotions are more pliable than you think

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The reviews for this Masterclass: Interior Design, taught by renown interior designer, Kelly Wearstler, are almost universally disappointing. Many lamented at the lack of tangible knowledge covered e.g. techniques and tactics employed by an Interior Designer to make a room feel larger for example. While I share in their complaints, but I came away impressed with the course. 

The defining takeaway for me is Wearstler’s working process. She does not come into a project claiming to know everything. Her ability to systematically deconstruct, identify, and leverage the features of a physical space is masterful. What she implores us to do to get to know a space seem simple to outsiders. For example, she suggests you view the space at all times of the day to get a feeling of how light plays with the space e.g. every hour for 24 hours. Then research how that may change over the different seasons, if it does at all. The sort of detail she encourages us to go into is frankly unexpected. Prior to taking this Masterclass, I viewed Interior Design as an art, Kelly Wearstler has mastered both that and the science of it. 

An interior design project comprises of two distinct parts: project & client management, creative work. Wearstler stresses the importance of the project and client management skills, but those skills are not the focus of her Masterclass. She focuses on the art behind Interior Design and not the science. I believe this is why the majority of the reviews for this class are negative. In the next science, I have written down all the science (i.e. practical techniques) mentioned in the Masterclass.

I have noted down all of the practical advice contained in this Masterclass i.e. things you could use today to enhance a space: 

  • When working with patterns, experiment with colour and the scale of the pattern. You can change the tone of a print by tuning these two parameters accordingly.
  • To draw the eye around a space, consider adding lights on different levels. For example, lighting on the floor, at table-level, eye-level, and on the ceiling. This will have the effect of making the room feel larger than it is.
  • Always opt for lighting that is dimmable. Dimming and brightening of lights changes the mood of a room more easily than re-arranging and redecorating. 
  • Draw a bird’s-eye sketch of the space. This will help to evaluate whether the space is balanced.

The creative-side of Interior Design can be broken down into this art-side and science-side I have been talking about. The science is an objective mastery over the functional inputs a space e.g. lighting, materials, colour, texture, patterns, furnishings. The art-side is a little more troublesome to put into words. The most important element is coming up with the story that will ground the direction of the room. It could be as simple a story about a family reading together, laughing … crying. Client-input forms the basis of the story. Wearstler then adds her own little spin.

Next on the agenda is to deconstruct the space. She likens her process to designing a boat, you have to think about every square inch. So that is what she does. Once you understand every part of a space, and how it lives and breathes through the day, month, and year. You can look to conceptualise how the physical elements (materials, lighting, colour, texture, pattern, furnishings) may contribute to the telling of the story. 

Some of the ways she draws inspiration is by creating vibe trays. She explains that this is like a mood board but for materials. The process of adding and removing things from her vibe trays is a core part of the creative process. The goal of which is spark new ideas. She goes through this process for each of the different physical elements. For each idea, her team develops a prototype. This is done as a form of validation – to see if it actually does add to the story of the room and if it fits with the other elements. 

The process is similar to how a startup would work today. Iterate, prototype, and test while keeping their end-user and customers in tow. The goal for a startup is to move towards their vision. For Wearstler, it is to move towards a better telling of the story for each space. 

That is the ultimate lesson from all of this. 

She recounts the story of how she got into Interior Design at the end of the Masterclass. Stumbling into it, her first job was to help redesign the kitchen of her neighbours which she did cos she needed money. She got so many referrals she ended up continuing with it. The science of Interior Design it is not necessary to begin. She started with no formal training whatsoever. We can use instinct to judge what looks good and feels right. Learning the science behind why a space feels nice will come with experience. 

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