Heather on Balancing Technical and Creative Perspectives -
Pleasant pallets of colors, textures and symmetrical arrangements are naturally attractive, but a more difficult balancing act is making a space beautiful while adhering to the technical details.
We spoke with Heather Dewaard, Senior Interior Designer and Sales Training Manager at Dwell, to hear her story and learn the role of balance in a well-designed space.
Tell me about how you came to be senior designer at Dwell. What’s your story?
I became interested in interior design my senior year of high school. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do since I was graduating soon. A teacher—whom I never even had a class with—said to me, “Heather, I see you as one of those people that designs movie sets.”
That got my wheels turning and I decided to take the interior design class offered at West High School. From there, I decided that interior design is what I wanted to do.
I went to Kirkwood and received a two-year interior design degree that was very specialized. I took a lot of design classes and a few selling-type classes. At the end of that, however, I decided I wanted my bachelor’s degree as well and so I went to UNI. I finished their program in three years instead of four, taking extra credits and summer classes. At the time I wanted to be done with school but in the end, I’m glad I participated in both programs because each made up for what the other lacked. Kirkwood gave me the basics of design and I learned the more technological side of things at UNI.
So after I graduated from UNI, I went looking for an internship and I actually ran into Dwell a couple of times. I went to the Parade of Homes and saw a home that they had furnished. I dismissed it at first, because I didn’t know much about Dwell. I didn’t want to just be a furniture salesperson so I never contacted them. I was chasing after architecture firms but I never got any calls back. In the end it comes down to who you know, and my husband and his family were good friends with the man who did Dwell’s banking. I called Cheri, had an interview and it wasn’t until I started working here that I realized the amount of interior design we really do.
I completed my internship and on my last day Cheri asked me what my plans were. I told her I hadn’t figured it out yet and she said that if I wanted to stay on for a while until I figure it out, that I was welcome to. So I did, and I just hoped she wouldn’t notice that I never left.
What has changed in the time that you’ve been working at Dwell?
Since I started here only seven years ago, things have completely changed. When I started, we were small enough that we didn’t really have to write down what people ordered. It was all in Cheri’s head—I don’t know how she did it. I couldn’t work that way and so I created this tracking program by customer name and vendor. We also used to draw floor plans and furniture templates by hand. Little by little, our technology grew. We implemented a new computer program that tracks our product and creates invoices, and now we use AutoCAD to draw floor plans and furniture templates on the computer. I think that’s played a huge part in how much we are able to do now.
What are some of the strengths you have developed as a designer?
Design is the perfect combination of technical and creative. Normally it’s a fight between those, but this occupation allows me to do both of those things. You have to be very technical; to make sure that the space planning is correct, to make sure that you’re going to have 36-inch traffic paths, make sure to get your window treatments down to 1/8 of an inch, that sort of thing. But there’s that creative side of mixing textures and finishes, gradating color, and so on.
You also have to be able to recognize what people want. Clients don’t always know the terminology or how to express what they want. They can show us pictures, but even those fall short and usually come with a modifier like, “well, not exactly like this.” That’s where we have to be able to understand people’s needs and forecast how the room needs to function according to their lifestyle and create a design based on that.
Decorating a room is embellishing it, making it look pretty, but design takes it to the next level. Design isn’t decorating; we have to create a space that someone can use as well as enjoy.
What contributes to your style of design?
There are a few factors. I am the oldest of six and so I am your “type-A this is how it’s gonna go” personality. I like things to be balanced. I like symmetry. That’s what feels good to me.
I have also gleaned things from the people I work with. I’ve seen things that other people have done and that inspires me. I do this via social media as well and this helps to push me outside my box.
What’s the most difficult thing you do?
Probably the stuff that comes with every job; just dealing with the things that don’t go right. Something gets backordered, maybe something gets discontinued or delayed and you didn’t know until you already placed the order. Then you have to inform the client and find something to replace a piece you were really excited about. It’s that initial moment when you find out after planning it out with everything ready to go. It’s all in the air again and dealing with that can be difficult.
As far as the design side of things, the biggest difficulty—but also kind of a fun challenge—is working with a couple that has two completely different styles. Working to get a couple or family to come together when making those decisions is a little bit difficult, but also more worthwhile in the end.
What do you love about your job?
I was just thinking about this recently and I realized that it’s changed over time. When I first started here, I loved drawing the floor plans, but I don’t have time to draw my own floor plans anymore. Now, I turn that task over to someone else who can whip it up quickly and then I can spend a majority of my time on what has become my new joy, which is specking product. Our vendors are always changing up what they have available, so I like discovering new pieces and using them for a customer’s home.
I also really enjoy space planning. I like arranging a room in such a way that it’s going to elevate the appearance of the room. Going over the layout with a client and moveable furniture templates make it very easy to alter things should they change their mind about something, and it also gives us both an opportunity to visualize it. [Chuckles] Our customers always say that our templates look like little dollhouses.
We have so many people who come in saying they purchased something online or at a different store, and it’s usually too big. In a large store, big pieces look small until you get them into your home. That’s what’s so great about being able to offer floor plans and design services to our clientele. They can have confidence when they’re buying the pieces and we can have confidence when assisting them as well.
The best part about my job is at the end of a presentation, when the client is speechless because they’re just so excited. They can’t stop saying, “I love it,” and that makes it all worth it to me. I’m excited about what I do and I’m excited about their project and when I’m working on something, I’m looking from every angle, but when all of that comes together and they recognize that and love it, that puts me over the moon.
Contact Heather for a quote or to schedule a consult.