Designing for Social Savvy Clients

HPA Design Group’s very own Chelsea Dora-Shibley, VP of Interior Design, talks process in a recent interview titled “Designing for Social Savvy Clients”

With drive and a fresh millennial perspective, Chelsea Dora-Shibley, VP of Interior Design at HPA Design Group, started designing for HPA Design Group eight years ago. She brings her modern glam, Art Deco style to help create innovative, fun and comfortable spaces for her clients.

HPA Design Group operates out of Dallas, TX and focuses primarily on multi-family, student housing and senior living design. Founded in 1998 by Humphreys & Partners Architects, LP, the national, award winning firm currently works in 39 states across the country. With the changing market, the design group started to crossover into some hospitality spaces with two projects currently in the works.

What does your design process look like?

The most important thing is to research the demographic. You want to be designing for your end user as soon as you begin a project. We spend a lot of time on the forefront working with the client doing market studies, working with their marketing group and once we have that information we start the design process. We cater to the end user through the entire development. For example, let’s say we have a young professional apartment complex coming up in LA. Space within the unit is not that important to this audience as they are going to be more outgoing, spending less time in their units and more time utilizing the amenities. The focus becomes smaller units with upgraded appliances, flooring and lighting packages. Then the amenity package for the site will be upgraded with media rooms, Wifi lounges, game lounges and rooftop bars. All of these amenities have just become more of a feature for that kind of a market and is a big percentage of what we do: focusing on innovative amenities design.

Talk about designing for the end user. When are you brought into the process?

We prefer to be brought in as soon as the architect is engaged. When working through the space planning with the client, architects tend to think outside in and designers think inside out. If you can merge the two earlier then the end product is a lot more successful. Sometimes if it’s a renovation it’s just us and the client so there is a lot more creative leeway there.

How do you choose your materials?

It’s part preference and part knowledge of the project and how it’s going to be utilized. We like to enhance other features, like architectural elements, with lighting, wall coverings, accent tiles so that the utilitarian aspects compliment the overall design. We also pay attention to product life cycles. Wearability is very important. For student housing, everything has to be super durable and be prepared for any kind of damage where a senior housing facility you design to make sure your carpets don’t slip, that everything is safe. The material selection process becomes completely different depending on your end user.

What is your favorite part of designing?

My favorite part is the space planning because you really create and develop the overall product. If you have a bad flow and your rooms don’t make sense, no one will feel comfortable in them. You really impact the final product laying out the space with every aspect of the end user in mind.

What inspires you?

It can really come from anywhere. I’ve used a travel card, I’ve used fabric, I’ve used a mosaic tile, I’ve used wall coverings for inspiration. If you just find one interesting element you can literally build an entire 10,000 square ft. project around it.

A lot of my inspiration comes from tradeshows. I’ve spent time in LA, San Diego, NY, Vegas attending all these tradeshows each year and that’s when the European influences come out and new design trends are presented. It’s inspiring to see it all there.

What is your definition of good design?

I consider good design understanding and recognizing the balance between color, light, texture and space. All of those elements have to complement each other and respect each other. You can’t do a busy carpet with a busy wall and a heavy ceiling. You have to make the end user feel comfortable and at home no matter what the space is.

What are your favorite trends?

Some of my favorite trends right now are adapting design for technology and social media. It’s been pretty interesting in the last six months we’ve seen spaces start using photo booths and Instagram locations and hashtags. We all live on a charger, so we are creating spaces that allow people to have USB ports to make sure while you aren’t sacrificing your cellphone or your iPad you can still be interactive with the community. The technology with lighting has really advance and one of my favorite things to incorporate into jobs is LED lighting. Using strip lighting you can illuminate desks and wall features and ceiling features with little cost. It gives unique elements life in ways we haven’t been able to before. We also work with an MEP engineer for daylighting. We will find the decorative lighting we want, which we call the jewelry of the space, then we work with MEP to make sure all the daylighting qualities are met.

How do you incorporate technology into your designs?

It’s interesting how now you can essentially run a house, apartment, a building with your phone. Some of our clients are starting to use fans that you can turn it on and off, change the speed all with your phone. We aren’t doing heavy drapes for window coverings anymore and we promote roller shades on every project we do. And just the components of automatic control have become such an attraction to so many people. More people want it.

What are the challenges of design with social media in mind?

Last year we would have never thought of about social media. In the last three to six months, with some of our new construction set to open in 2017 and ‘18, social media has become a focal point in discussions. It’s free advertising for them, for us, for the residents. We’ve seen a huge surge in social media driving the design. It’s such a new element people are more excited about the rewards instead of the risks. But a negative review can become more viral than a positive.

What advice would you give to a new designer?

First, be patient. There are so many ways you can get involved in the design industry. It’s not always about the job, but it should always be about the career. You want to be working with someone you can see a career with, designing with someone you can see a career being made out of, do not work for the job, just take your time. Be creative, don’t let yourself get bogged down and just keep working and going.

What other industries to you follow?

Honestly Instagram has opened up this whole new world because designers, manufacturers, bloggers post and everything has become accessible. You follow people, then you are recommended to follow people then you are tagged by other people to follow new people. You can see the entire world in one scroll of your Instagram feed. I will take screenshots, I will tag designers and get excited. You find new vendors to get your products from and you find new clients who are following your designs. It’s definitely been an exciting tool for me.

What industries impact interior design the most?

Fashion is a big influence on us. We can tell by the Spring and Fall trends what colors will become big in the design world next year. Interiors is on average one year behind the fashion world, so if you are seeing pastels on the runways now then next year pastels will be huge in your fabrics, your furniture, your wall coverings and your paint. We definitely look to them as a huge forecaster.

What trend are you over?

Anything old world traditional. Anything too heavy or brown. I could never use brown again in my life. But that’s a trend! And I could tell you something different in three years.

A lot of senior housing facilities are used to old world traditional but the seniors of today are very different from the seniors of ten years ago. They are more active, they don’t want to feel old, so we are helping break the trend.

Anything else?

It’s very interesting to see how the hospitality world and the multi-family world are merging. Student housing provides the best opportunity to be creative because you can get away with anything and it influences young professional design. Students have the nicest amenities in their college dorm, so they want the nice amenities in their young professional home and it’s a snowball right now. What was acceptable ten years ago, just a media room and business center and leasing office, are no longer acceptable.