Whether hunting down a rare piece or making a bold career move, Diana Walker’s focus is on being a proactive interior designer at the benefit of her clients.
Thanks for joining us, Diana! Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into interior design.
I come from a convoluted path to Interior Design. I was going to be a fashion designer, but majored in French (obviously to a 14 year old this was a means to an end) and then decided that this was not working as planned.
When I married, I went back to school and I changed my major to Psychology and worked in social work but I changed divisions to an area that catapulted me into Design. I was already helping all my friends do their homes after hours. I was going to specialize in design of schools and day care centers, but I was introduced to a company that had a strong art business where my friend worked as an art consultant, and I began immediately surpassing her success. I think it was more because I cared what people had to look at and wanted them to like their surroundings. I was asked to do increasingly more complicated projects, and decided to go back to school to learn how to explain why I knew these things would work and pick up the skill and knowledge base to defend my designs.
I entered a Certificate of Design Program, 192 hours of instruction at University of Houston Continuing Ed program taught by the cream of Houston top Designers and Professors at that time. It was life altering to go back to school and love everything I was doing. I had my own business, but I was also training other designers for the company that handled the art and design divisions and caught the eye of a developer who had me do all his properties in other states and Texas. Having that experience was another opportunity to grow. He was the owner, developer, and the finance man for the projects he built and was mentoring me along the way to understand how to manage the projects and construction process.
When they stopped building aggressively, I had my 2nd child and needed support and a less intense travel schedule.
At the suggestion of my friends in ASID, I applied at a prestigious firm in Houston with 18 designers. This was the second biggest moment for my career, because we worked on multimillion and outstanding projects. I was a key designer on many award-winning projects, and came to love project management as much as the design. I have to admit it was sad to leave this cocoon of amazing designers who worked on each of their own projects but also were a strong network of support for each other. When the owner retired, we all left and started our own firms (1995) and as a testament to the firm’s apprentice like environment, we were able to sustain our clients and the work that was established through the firm. I am celebrating 32 years in May of being a Designer.
I can’t believe I have been working that long! The days go by very quickly, and when you love what you do, you don’t feel like you are working.
What would you describe as your style? Influences? Designers you emulate?
I have a very clean lined, classic, timeless appeal to the interiors with a more contemporary aesthetic. The larger firm was a mixture of people who specialized in a particular style. The owner, and being part of her team, loved more contemporary and modern, simple, livable spaces and she approached everything like an architect and expected excellence in every decision. The project management was equally important because clients didn’t have a clue how to manage the work and could never do it themselves. We collaborated with clients, but brought the skills and design abilities they didn’t have to create wonderful interiors. That is what I still emulate. I am constantly asking myself, ” What can I do to make my client love their home, and feel they had a hand in the final outcome?”
The influencers are every designers work I ever see. You can’t stay isolated and come up with new ideas. I love the looks of Suzanne Lovell in Chicago, Perkins+Will, Lauren Rottet, Barbara Berry, Mary Douglas Drysdale, Thomas O’Brian, Axel Vervoordt, because they represent interesting details, tailored, classic, and clean aesthetics and create spaces with a stunning architectural backgrounds with seemingly simple but carefully planned designs.
When you enter a room can you tell if it has been professionally decorated? What are the tell tale signs?
Scale is everything, color and balance of details shows when a true professional has been given the ability to use elements that enhance the room. I believe a room needs to be stunning BEFORE anything is put into the space. The home speaks to me and tells me what it needs. With clients who love more color in the background, this needs to be carefully worked out. Bad furnishings can ruin a space. Furnishings that are bought, even if they are very expensive pieces have to speak to the owner and have to be right. I have made some mistakes, but then had to work hard to remake or rectify the scale with other elements.
I hate to see the cords and poor lighting in an expensive home. That tells me that they didn’t really care to get this right. A piece of furniture missing for another year, would be worth spending more time and money on lighting and controls. Most Interior Designers know the concepts behind lighting, but don’t know how to update the home or use current lighting techniques to enhance everything to the best.
Texas is a state that does everything on a massive scale. What are some projects you most proud of and why?
Actually that is not true, but property values and affordability of land and houses seems to make for larger houses on smaller lots. We aren’t as restricted for land as some cities and finally there are many urban styles coming to the city of Houston to rebuild downtown with young hip owners with a refined style.
I had the opportunity to work on several large homes in my early years from the ground up that were so expressive of the client and manage the project for the team. It was a chance to bring my years of expertise to help clients enjoy the process. Then when I went out on my own, I carried that same skill and attention to other projects 1/2 that size. It thrills me to do any size space. I am currently one of 20 designers selected for a show house that is a country estate built in 1920. I took a small room, 10×13 that was the lounging room. It was actually a back entry for the owners, and has the most wonderful walnut paneling with round concave corners, plaster moldings and ceiling, and I saw the charm, but also four openings and one closet! The placement of the furnishings and details I chose for this room, were the reason the room feels spacious and welcoming
Are there any rules you must follow when decorating your own space? When should you call in a designer?
My space or someone else’s own space? Like my clients, sometimes I will go for several years before making changes, primarily because of some changes in health or in family dynamics and finances just don’t allow that change. I am currently organizing and eliminating things that don’t work for me anymore because I have my first grandchild that is going to visit. Suddenly I needed a rocking chair and more space for baby stuff that will come with the parents when they sleep over. When my Mother moved in with us, it took some really careful editing for us. I am upgrading quality of windows, now contemplating a move to work from home in a few years. Kitchen upgrades and bath upgrades are normal things I work on for clients. The old layouts in homes don’t work for today’s clients.
My advice is don’t be in a hurry. Think how you want to use the space now and how this will be used to support your life. Call in a designer for planning and helping you sort the possibilities and determine the plan. You need a guide and someone to keep the vision and help you evaluate decisions. Find someone that works with you and not someone who dictates to you.
We like rugs. Tell me a little about the various ways your incorporate them into your designs.
I choose a rug at the start of a room whenever possible. I love all kinds of rugs. I appreciate great creativity and modern and post modern designs, and all the abilities as a designer to customize, but people are very hesitant to have customized rugs.
Why do you rely on area rugs?
Warmth, color and texture to add something that is missing in the space without it.
What is the biggest addition they make to a room?
Unifies the overall space and adds some texture to the room other than the textiles used. Is critical for hard floors and wood floors for making the biggest difference in open spaces.
Do you have a particular type, size or color rug that you like to include in your work?
No, just what I feel will work for that specific client taste, color, design, and size. Sometimes a rug adds the artistic quality for the room, at other times it provides the cohesion to multiple conversation areas in lofts and other size rooms with many wide-open spaces. I get a range of pricing and style likes from the client before I design and propose options.
Any that you avoid?
Anything that is too difficult to maintain and won’t be durable for long term. Too many wonderful choices are available today. I go to appointments were clients pay money for some very poor quality rugs, and they are the wrong style or don’t add to the character of the room. They may match the furniture too much. I know that they could have avoided all of this by educating themselves more about rugs and taking the time to check out rugs to try at the house so that we could both view them together.
I also hate rugs that are put onto carpet.
Anything else to add?
Be yourself and slow down a little to learn about your tastes. Plan your space more efficiency, and get your plan right before building, no matter how long it takes. If you are a designer, you know you can help your clients with better planning and organization of their space utilization. Be up for a challenge, but know your limitations and express this. Also, allow a designer to use their gift to achieve a better environment. I bet they will be your best clients. If you are a client, find a designer who can give you the chance to have the home you want to live in. Allow them to take the design a step farther than you would normally envision.
Appreciate every day for the opportunity to express beauty!
Thanks for your time!
You are welcome.