On this episode of The Edge of Innovation, we are talking with interior designer, Amanda Greaves of Amanda Greaves and Company, about what it takes to be an interior designer.

Show Notes

Amanda Greaves’ Website: www.agcinteriors.com

Find Amanda Greaves and Company on Facebook

Contact Amanda Greaves Here

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The Difference Between Hospitality, Residential and Commercial Projects
Sound Quality in Restaurants
More than Meets the Eye – Attention to Detail
The Daily Gratification of a Designer
What Does the Future Hold for Amanda Greaves and Company?
Advice for Future Designers

Interior Designers: More than Meets the Eye

The Difference Between Hospitality, Residential and Commercial Projects

Paul: So now you focus on three areas. It’s hospitality, residential, and commercial. What’s the difference? I guess hospitality is like a hotel.

Amanda: Well, hospitality is a combination of a few different things. Hospitality, for me, started out primarily as restaurants, restaurant design. And this hotel, it’s a great undertaking for us. But yes, that is very clearly hospitality.

Then commercial, that has a very wide breadth to it as well. Office buildings, I’ve done a couple dentist offices.

Paul: What was the goal in a dentist coming in and saying, “I want you to design the office”?

Amanda: That was a small one. And to be quite honest, I don’t do dentist offices anymore because there are designers out there that are specializing in that.

Paul: Well what does that mean?

Amanda: There are certain needs that certain businesses require. For example, dentist offices, there’s a whole cabinetry language that has certain, shall we say, Ikea-type modules that fit together the way they need to for the chairs and for the lights and for the equipment that you use for dentists.

Paul: Modular. Yeah.

Amanda: And I had a choice a long time ago. Do I really want to get into this modular stuff that, you know, yes, it’s a matter of picking the right plastic laminate or Corian countertop or beyond that, and I chose not to. So whenever I had the next dentist, I politely referred them to another designer friend of mine.

We just finished some conference rooms at a biotech lab, and we’ve done three of them so far. And that’s a matter of making sure that they have the right equipment for their conference room, tables, getting all the furniture in, but also making it look good, have it be very interesting. When it comes to a lot of the technological aspects, such as the type of screen and how it works, that’s somebody else’s job. What we want to know is how big is the screen and how much space do you need for the equipment because then we will design around that.

Sound Quality in Restaurants

Paul: I see. So you sort of mentioned some restaurants. So one of my pet peeves in restaurants for fine dining, is I want quiet. Why are there so few restaurants that are quiet? Or maybe I’m just not looking in the right spot.

Amanda: Maybe you’re not looking in the right spot. We just had a meeting with a sounds engineer on Tuesday, in fact, and, with respect to New England specifically, there’s a lot of mom and pop restaurants around here. A lot. And a lot of the larger chain restaurants have the financial ability and the whereabouts to be able to get sound-deadening materials integrated within the design from the beginning. We did TWK, which is called the Waterford Kitchen in Winchester. And because there were so many different surfaces, the sound issue in that restaurant was negated, as opposed to what I’m working on in Groton right now. It’s one big open space. So the larger the space, the harder the materials. For example, if you have a sheer wall with just all glass windows and a concrete floor and plaster walls and just a hard ceiling, it’s going to loud in there. You have to soften it up. They have acoustical materials that you can spray on a ceiling. You can also get foam core boards that you can apply in various locations out of fabric or printed on them.

Paul: But is that a primary goal of building a restaurant?

Amanda: For some. When you’re building it new, yes, it should be because there’s two different ways you can go. You can build a movie theater and all of the sound gets absorbed, and you can hear people breathing if that’s what you really want. But you don’t want that much quiet in a restaurant because it’s awkward. Whereas, the complete opposite, if you go to a lot of the breweries these days, concrete floor because it’s less expensive. They may have brick walls. They’ve got steel on the ceilings and big windows. It’s all very hard, so it reverberates. It’s a very fine line, and there is a technical value to it. I don’t know specifically what that is. And that’s where I rely on the team member of the sound engineer.

Paul: Well sure. But I guess what I’m getting at is there is the sort of zeitgeist of being in a restaurant and the experience of being there. Well the food was great, and the service was great, but the atmosphere was… All of these things add up to a good experience or a poor experience. And I don’t know. I mean, like, from a psychological question, do you have a better experience in a noisy restaurant or in a quiet restaurant?

Amanda: Personal opinion.

Paul: I guess it is.

Amanda: Depends on the people, depends on the day, depends on the season.

Paul: Have you ever had somebody that says, “I want a loud restaurant”?

Amanda: Never.

Paul: Okay. So we’re narrowing in here a little bit.

Amanda: Well, and that’s it. I think for some of the more affluent restaurants that we have the ability the design with, they have resources to have a sound engineer come in and give us the proper advice as to, “You have this many square feet. You have these types of surfaces. This is the type of solution we are suggesting in order to get your sound down.”

Paul: Interesting. Yeah, we went to a restaurant that opened a couple of years ago, not fine dining at all, but I was just shocked at how loud it was. I mean, we literally had say, “Is there anywhere else we can go?” We couldn’t even hear each other. And it was just, like, how did you think this was a good idea?

Amanda: Sometimes they don’t think of it at all. And that’s unfortunate, and then you can go into a lot of places where you see they thought on it after the fact, and you’ll see the colorful squares on the ceiling, or you’ll see some sort of what looks like a wrapped piece of foam core or something and fabric up on the wall.

Paul: I see. It was added on.

Amanda: Adds on later. Yes.

Paul: I see. But isn’t those subtleties, I guess, those sort of intangibles, are what a designer brings to it.

Amanda: Ideally.

Paul: Is you don’t know… Well, you shouldn’t see it. It should just feel right, I guess.

More than Meets the Eye – Attention to Detail

Amanda: Correct. I still don’t necessarily have a mission statement, if you will. But for me, as a designer, everybody always says, “Oh that must be so much fun. You get to play with fabrics. You can pick your paint colors.” And yes, it is a lot of fun but—

Paul: There’s a lot of details.

Amanda: There’s a lot of details and the pretty pictures that have on my website are, quite literally, just a day with a photographer running around stylizing saying, “Take a picture of this. Take a picture of that.” What those pictures don’t tell you is the year, year and a half of time, effort, and daily energy that went into creating that. And so when we started the conversation, we were talking about relationship building, and, as far as being an interior designer, my feeling is it goes way beyond just the interior of buildings and spaces. It goes within the interior of a relationship. I get close with my clients and I find a lot of value in that. And lots of times, when their projects are done, I don’t hear from them, or they don’t hear from me. And it’s fine. It’s a project-oriented industry to be in.

The Daily Gratification of a Designer

So it’s the journey. It’s the daily gratification that you get. And for me, a successful project, as beautiful as we want it to be at the end of the day, it may not be the most amazing kitchen design you’ve ever seen, but, good god, did that team get along well. And, you know, if we had a problem, we’d fix it. Or thankfully, we didn’t have many problems. The client was great. We communicated. We were on time. We were on budget, give or take. You know, maybe there was a few things compromised, but to me, that’s a successful project, beyond what it looks like at the end.

Paul: Yeah. Absolutely. I’ve also said that it seems, when you’re working in a professional services or service-type business, it’s not necessarily how you handle it when it goes well. That’s important. But when things go badly, it’s how you handle it and get it back on track. And that’s critical. So I imagine you have a lot of experience when, oh my gosh, they put this in the wrong spot. They did something, and a builder put something in the wrong spot. We have to deal with that. And then shepherding or counseling all of the participants through that sort of, “Oh, my gosh, we messed up.” How do we deal with that?

Amanda: Yeah. I have been hired onto projects whether they’re just starting or they’re halfway through to actually be the liaison. A few years back, I was working on a restaurant project, and I dubbed myself the translating mediator because the concepts and the thoughts that were coming from the architect that had to be translated into what the contractors could see on site and the difference between what was on paper and the actual physical abilities, it was like we were working in two different states, let alone the same room itself. And as a translating mediator, yes, I was definitely involved in the design. By the time I was involved in that project, it was more just let’s manage these personalities. Let’s make sure that the architect and the contractor don’t go at it in the parking lot and kill each other. So I had to be the liaison. And for me, I found great value and I learned a lot. When I work with my contractors, instead of me coming in saying, “This is supposed to be over here.”

And they tell me, “Well, it can’t.”

And I say, “Well, please tell. Educate me. Please tell me what I don’t know. I want to learn.” And for me as a designer, it makes me a stronger, smarter designer to work with my team, as opposed to just distributing an idea and saying, “Here, go ahead and do this.”

What Does the Future Hold for Amanda Greaves and Company?

Paul: Right. So, yeah, I mean, you’re guiding people. You’re really counseling them and guiding them, and so now, you’ve been doing this a while. What’s the future hold, do you think?

Amanda: You’re the second person to ask me that question today. That’s a very good question. This inn has been, or this hotel project that I’ve been working on, has been… I used to dream about it when I was a little girl, how I wanted to design restaurants and hotels and just how glamorous and fun and exciting it would be to have people roam the halls of this building that Amanda Greaves designed and how wonderful. Now I roam the halls of this unbuilt hotel at night when I’m sleeping, and I know every inch of that place because of the plans. And so it’s a very different reality from what the fantasy/dream-type concept was. Somebody asked me the other day, “Would you do another hotel?”

And I said, “I need to get through this one first.” I would love to. I think my design firm, I have some great people working with me, and they are excited about the residential aspect the same way I was years ago. But now I want to get a little bit more of the hospitality ring. You asked about my ability to say no the clients if I don’t have the breadth. I don’t have the intention of growing my business from a staffing perspective because what we have right now, we are managing, and we are managing very, very well. And we enjoy what we’re doing, and, yes, there’s a lot of stress involved with big projects and difficult clients and even wonderful clients, but I’m not building an empire. That wasn’t the intention. There are times where I look at my name on the door, and I’m like, “Hmmm” Like it just… I relate to it, of course, because it’s my name, but I don’t think that it’s all me.

Paul: Right. I understand.

Amanda: So moving forward, I’m going to be here for many, many years, but I think the type of projects and the scope of projects that we do may make us a bit of an adjustment. There may be more development opportunities. So getting away from the personal residential and doing a little more development residential may be on the horizon.

Advice for Future Designers

Paul: What would you give as advice to a young person saying “I want to be her in 10 years;” “I want to be her in 20 years”?

Amanda: A, get your education for the interior design because that is a lot that needs to be learned. But before any graduate of any interior design company comes out and decides that they want to start their own company, as with probably any and every industry, experience is the most valuable lesson that can ever be learned. I know what I want with my company and how I deal with my clients because I have years and years and years of practice. There will be times where, as a young person breaking into the industry, you’re not going to like what you’re told to do. You’re going to want to do it. You’re not going to do it right. Somebody is going to tell you that you made a mistake. You’re going to be unhappy about it. But getting through those difficulties or those challenges make you stronger as an individual. It also teaches you the reasons why. And you may not know it right up front, but three years later, you might say, “Oh, right. This is why they wanted me to format it this way, because it makes it easier moving forward.”

So question things as necessary, or rather question, I’d say, just be very curious about everything that’s around you. And don’t be so quick to think that you know everything already because even if there’s opportunities to have owned a home or designed your own home, or, yes, you’ve done three kitchens and you’re 50 years of being on the earth and whatnot, it’s not the same as running your own business because there’s a lot of details that need to be captured.

Paul: Very cool. So is there anything that we haven’t touched on that you’d like to talk about?

Amanda: Oh, I’m sure. But, today, today, no. I feel as if we’ve covered a lot, and we’ve gone over who I am, what we do, where we’re going, how we got here.

Paul: And your staff is wonderful.

Amanda: Thank you.

Paul: So you have great people and great puppies, and you have a great website — visit that. In the show notes, we’ll have contact information for your company. And if there’s anything that you would really like our listeners to see, we can include that as well. So, for example, one of the things Ben Nutter was talking about, was he did a 3D model of a house he built, and so we have a picture of that with the podcast so that you can sort of see this 3D printing that’s been done. So just things like that.

Amanda: Yes. We certainly have some of those, for sure.

Paul: Yeah. It would be fun to do that. So we’ve been talking with Amanda Greaves of Amanda Greaves and Company, and she is an interior designer, headquartered in Beverly, Massachusetts. How far do you go?

Amanda: From home?

Paul: No, how far would you go. Groton’s not close.

Amanda: Groton, no, Groton’s a good hour. We just actually finished decorating some houses up in Thornton, New Hampshire, which is a good two hours from here.

Paul: Wow. So you’re willing to travel.

Amanda: We are willing to travel. Depending on the client, depending on the project. There are some that are just cost prohibitive for us to be involved. But then there is a lot of projects that we can do remotely and a few visits here and there. And we get it.

Paul: Very cool. Well thank you for coming.

Amanda: Thank you very much for having me.

Paul: Excellent. Alright.