Interior Design: Outside-In and Inside-Out

February 13, 2019

By Laurel Danielson

I’ve been working as an interior designer for 29 years, and most of that time has been at SRG. The fact that SRG values the impact of interior design and integrates interior designers from the beginning of a project has made it easy to stay, and I’m involved in such interesting projects.

Interior designers must create interior environments that are not only aesthetically pleasing but are also functional, safe, and adhere to building codes, regulations, and ADA requirements. Codes are continually changing, so even though my years of experience have taught me a lot, there is always something new to work with. I’m a big proponent of professional organizations such as IIDA and GBCI which both require continuing education and are therefore great resources for ongoing learning.

My approach to interior design is service-driven, and the design is developed with the clients to fit their particular needs. There’s not the standard, one-size-fits-all design. Interiors can really set the tone of a space, and it’s important we work with the stakeholders to make sure we’re making the right statement. Interiors are the spaces people actually spend time in and interact with, and interior design has a huge impact on the way a building is perceived.

Pike Place Market Renovation

It may be a unique perspective among designers, but I enjoy large, institutional projects. There are typically a variety of interior spaces to design within a large project such as the lobby, assembly and meeting rooms, office workplaces, break and food service areas, and other specialty spaces. This variety can make it feel like I'm working on several small projects at once. We work on developing the big idea with the architect for the exterior and interior and carry that idea throughout the project, inside and outside, and all the way down to the furniture selections.

Plus, with large-scale projects, you work with a big team over a significant amount of time, and it’s exciting to see something so collaborative come to life while you create these strong professional bonds with the owner, team, consultants, and contractor.

Particularly when working on the furniture phase of a project, which takes place during construction, the interior designer becomes an important liaison between the owner and architect. For example, if adjustments to power locations or casework need to be made to accommodate the furniture, the interior designer will need to be sure that’s coordinated with the architectural team.

Library and Student Services, Portland Community College

Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) has been the trend with most large projects over the past 4 years. Co-location of the project team – architect, owner, contractor, and subcontractor trade partners – into “one big room” near the jobsite is a major part of IPD projects. Interior designers on IPD projects are typically full time on that project and co-located with the team. While the time away from the main office can be a downside, the benefits of collaboration and a meaningful role on the project typically off-set that.

Large, public projects need to have a timeless and enduring design. They need to look good for twenty years or more, so you can’t let your ego or excitement for trends get in the way of the overall vision. When it comes to color, we consider the interiors for public space and the ability of the client to refresh or replace finishes. Durability and cleanability are also priorities for most institutional projects. We consider what needs to be a long-term material and keep those elements neutral, what can be medium-term, such as carpet, and incorporate some color and style there, and what are short term, such as accent paints where you can really explore pops of color.

My most recent project is the Multnomah County Central Courthouse. The concept for the interior is to provide a light-filled building that will endure the test of time and reinforce the vision of transparency in justice. The best access to the spectacular views looking out over the river are given to the public. There is also a large art installation, and we worked closely with the artist to let her vision and palette for the installation inform our decisions for furniture and materials.

It’s wonderful to work with artists on public projects thanks to Public Art Programs like this one that started in Oregon in 1975 or this one that started in Seattle in 1973.

Multnomah County Central Courthouse

Choosing materials is a very detail-oriented aspect of the work. I enjoy the challenge of finding the best solution that each project can afford. It’s all about prioritization: what are the most important elements versus what can you give up to reduce cost? That happens on every project.

Another story from MCCCH was that the original carpet we chose was overbudget. We were able to work with the manufacturer to design a carpet that reduced cost but performed the same and maintained the look by using a different yarn. That’s another advantage to large projects – when we can place orders for a large quantity of something, we have leverage to work with manufacturers and distributers in a way that benefits everyone.

Multnomah County Central Courthouse

SRG strives to utilize sustainable and healthy materials. It’s certainly a challenge for designers to stay current with so many materials. Maintaining a deep understanding of every interior material is nearly impossible, but keeping up with these advancements is an integral part of the service we offer our clients. It’s not only the technical aspects and sustainability components, it’s also durability, cost, color, trends, patterns, and textures, and balancing all these components to design the timeless public spaces our clients need.

This is just the sort of challenge that I enjoy! I like solving problems and getting in the weeds with all the details of interiors. Every project presents unique challenges, so no two are alike. There are so many different aspects to draw together, and so many different people to work with. It keeps things fresh and makes it a joy to come to work every day. Sometimes overwhelming, sometimes humbling, always rewarding.

Interior design is about listening to clients and the whole team, building and sharing knowledge, and cooperatively finding the best design: inside-out and outside-in.


Laurel Danielson


Senior Associate