By Alexandra Rosario
The design world’s strongest players came out to speak about the role of women in the industry during a panel discussion at the Antiques, Art, and Design show at the Park Avenue Armory on Thursday September 22.
Interior designers Amy Lau, Celerie Kemble, Katie Ridder, Amanda Nisbet and Ellie Cullman talked about everything from women and men in the design workplace, to pregnancy, to having the time for everything the design world throws at them.
Amy Lau, Amanda Nisbett, Susanna Salk, Katie Ridder, Celerie Kemble and Eli Cullman. Photo courtesy Daniel S. Burnstein.
“I’m finding that today, there are many design firms headed by fabulous women. But are women competitive with each other in a malicious way?” asked Susanna Salk, who moderated the discussion.
“When I first started, it was all men working for me. I felt having men balanced things, I always had men project managers,” Lau said.
“Yet, my whole office at House Beautiful was women,” replied Ridder.
“But I do believe, there are certain women who just do not want to work with a woman,” Cullman said.
Nisbet suggested that it is a woman’s maternal instinct that makes her more attractive to clients than male designers. “My clients ask for things that are bulletproof for kids,” she explained. “I have kids and I understand designing for a family. Not that men don’t …”
Amy Lau, Amanda Nisbett, Susanna Salk, Katie Ridder and Celerie Kemble. Photo courtesy Daniel S. Burnstein.
“But there’s an inherent domestic ability for women,” finished Lau.
The panelists agreed that while women are not as fiercely competitive, sometimes, as Lau mentioned, men provide a balance because of their different approach to work.
Another topic concerning the non-traditional work atmosphere of the interior design industry was the issue of pregnancy. How do these women handle being pregnant during a project or having a designer who works for them become pregnant?
“I think that’s the great part of interior design,” Kemble said. “You can take on an interesting project without having to work full time.” She related a story about a time when she was on a consultation with a client, but the client declined to hire her because she was pregnant and did not want to be liable for her. “She had good intentions,” she said.
“If I were to hire anyone, it would be young mothers,” Salk said. “They are the only ones who can’t procrastinate! The most productive are those who are super busy.”
The question that seemed to elicit some of the most reaction from the panelists dealt with how they handle questions and interviews with the media.
“Before, I felt like magazines only focused on two major designers at a time,” Salk said. “Now if you open House Beautiful, up-and-coming and established designers are everywhere in editorial. How do you handle working with editors?”
“We can’t ignore them, it’s hard to make sure we do have true content out there,” Lau said.
“We get lots of questions. We call them the ‘Miss America Questions’ like ‘what could I never live without?’” said Cullman. “And we get them at least once a week if not more for the blogs.”
“But I am so grateful to all of the editors out there who have helped my career,” Kemble said.
Nisbet cautioned that her work comes first—that ensures she has things to share with the media. “I’m a designer first and foremost,” she said. “I have to keep designing so I even have content to provide these editors.”
The discussion concluded with questions from the audience. A male guest commented on working with women versus men. “I’ve worked with both men and women. Women by and large possess a much more collaborative community. I believe women care more about the whole, not just work.”
After the panel, the ladies headed over to the Potterton Books exhibit for a book signing for some of the designer’s latest editorial creations including Amy Lau’s Expressive Modern, Celerie Kemble’s Black and White and a Bit In Between, and Katie Ridder’s Katie Ridder Rooms.
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