Many of us only wish we could put together a room, office, or an entire room with mind-blowing flair. It is more than just adding a few decorative plants or an area rug. Interior decorating is more than just the generic definition: the art or process of designing the interior decoration of a room or building. According to Merriam-Webster, the designer's goal is to produce a coordinated and harmonious whole in which the architecture, site, function, and visual aspects of the interior are unified, pleasing to mind and body, and appropriate to the activities to be pursued there. These designers are often found working in other industries like architecture and engineering. Yes, there is much more involved than finding some cute throw pillows.
As a profession filled with women, it may seem hard to stand out or be seen but the enchanting and artistic Niki McNeill shatters that notion with her creativity and depth. Ms. McNeil brings beauty and functionality to any space that needs inspiration and magnetism. Despite her hectic schedule, Ms. McNeil spared a few minutes to allow us to delve into her passion.
How did you get your start?
After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2007 with a degree in psychology, I knew that I wanted to go into interior design but I had no experience or education to start with. So I enrolled in the Interior Design program at Meredith College. Unfortunately, this was right before the building/construction industry hit a really low point in 2009 along with the rest of the economy. So, after I studied abroad for a semester in Florence, Italy in Fall 2008, I decided to leave the program in 2009 and move to Atlanta where the market is much larger and work my way into the industry.
I did lots of things to pay the bills and worked for several designers for free 99. It was challenging, but so rewarding. At the end of 2012, I went back to school to finish my degree in interior design & studio art and I graduation in May 2014. That's a long story, and I've technically been working in the industry for years, but I still feel like I'm just getting started!
I see you studied in Italy. How has that affected your aesthetic?
Studying in Italy really gave me a great foundation of art history, classical architecture, and clean design. Florence is an amazing mix of innovative design and Renaissance history. I think it has definitely impacted my love for mixing styles in a cohesive way.
What is your design process?
I believe the best design comes out of thorough programming (assessing the client's needs, wants, & requirements) and then finding the best solution for them within their resources. Once I have a vision for the design, I create a streamlined installation plan to ensure the project is completed on time and on budget. I'm always trying to push my clients past their comfort zone into what they really love.
What tips can you give to someone that’s looking to DIY on a budget?
I am a thrift store junkie. I have written some of my tips for finding the best deals on my blog and I sometimes post my really good finds on Instagram. My best tip is to go with the exact item you want in mind; don't just go searching for something!
What’s your favorite room to design?
I love designing office spaces! One wouldn't think that offices are fun, but I really enjoy the space planning process, selecting finishes like wall coverings & carpet as well as lighting.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
I'm really inspired by music. I have eclectic taste and listen to everything from my favorite band, Little Dragon, to Nancy Wilson, to Radiohead, and lots of jazz and soul.
Who are you design or creative idols?
Watching Candice Olson on HGTV inspired me to look into the profession and most recently, working with Chip Wade on HGTV's Elbow Room was a great inspiration! He has a mechanical engineering background, so the way that he designs is so different - in a great way!
Let’s talk hair: I notice you wear your natural hair. Has that been an issue in your profession?
No! In fact, I feel like my big hair has become a signature that makes me stand out.
Are there challenges?
I do think that as an interior designer it is difficult to break past the preconceived notion that our job role consists of only decorating. Interior design involves so much more than coordinating colors and patterns.
Give us a day in your life. What is your typical day from morning to night? Any rituals?
Currently I work full time for a commercial design firm in downtown Atlanta, but I live in the suburbs! I have a long commute, which I drive half of and ride the train for the rest. When I'm on the train, I read my daily devotion and get my heart/mind prepared for the day. Once I get to work, every day is different! Our firm does over 1,000,000 square feet of space each year, so needless to say, we work at a very fast pace. I'm constantly juggling multiple projects at various stages of construction. By the end of the day, I make my trek back to the burbs and after dinner and a short break, I'm working on my own residential design client projects. I work a lot, but I love what I do, so it doesn't always feel like work!
What is the legacy you would like to leave behind for other aspiring interior designers?
I am really inspired by McKissack & McKissack and their history of building a family construction business into an organization that manages billions of dollars of construction. I love that they have maintained their values and integrity while being a powerhouse in their industry. Long term, I'm hoping to leave a legacy like that for aspiring interior designers. Short term, I just want aspiring designers to know that you can be successful in the industry with perseverance and staying focused on what you do best.
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