The newly appointed Managing Director of IA’s office in Seattle shares professional development tips for interior designers in the architecture world.
In honor of Women’s History Month, IA is highlighting female leadership within the firm. Where the conversation around women in architecture has recently bubbled to the surface—AIA’s posthumous Gold Medal award to Julia Morgan in 2014, and the proliferation of advocacy organizations like The Missing 32% and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, for example—IA Interior Architects demonstrates a position unique in the practice of architecture. Approximately half of IA’s offices are managed and operated by female architects and designers.
I am one of those lucky people who knew what I wanted to be when I grew up as a senior in high school. I was drawn to the idea of designing spaces after a drafting class, so I looked for a college that focused on collaborative design – the integration of architecture, interior design, graphic design, and fine arts into one program. During my college studies, I got a job with Iowa State University as a junior designer among the in-house designers and architects. While our sphere of influence was a bit limited, I saw a future for myself in this field.
I landed among architects at the onset of my professional career. Being in a male-dominated field—and realizing my good friendships seemed to be with males versus females most of my life—I found comradery with this group. But a few years into my career, I realized the limitations of this choice. It became apparent my colleagues didn’t really understand or appreciate the full potential of an interior designer within the architecture practice. At this stage, I looked for a change in my professional life. I wanted to find a firm where the line between interior design and architecture was so blurred that each discipline couldn’t be defined without the other. I found this 12 years ago at IA.
I don’t believe in the phrase “work/life balance.” The outcome of your life and your happiness is a direct result of the choices you make. It’s all life and it is what you make of it. You can have a fulfilling and stimulating career and be present as a mentor to your children at the same time. It’s about balancing and recalibrating the pendulum of life. I adopted twin girls at the intermediate stage of my career. Some may think of it as a setback to my professional life but I don’t see it that way. My girls were my chosen focus during the course of their primary and secondary school years. I set limits and boundaries with my work. I’m now at a different place where the girls are independent and I can balance my life in a different way. I still have limits because I still need respite from work and time to recharge, but those limits have altered. And they certainly will change again.
I don’t know that more women are leading, but they sure are more noticed and more celebrated. I have to say I noticed it at IA – when one after another, the managing directors hired on were females. I do look forward to the day when this is no longer a topic and we’re all on the same plane: A strong leader is a strong leader. Period. But for now, I happily celebrate female leaders in the spotlight as I’ve experienced what it can be like to grow professionally in a male-dominated field.
I’ve just been promoted to Managing Director of the Seattle office with my co-worker, former boss, and mentor, Dave Kutsunai, who was the reason I knew I wanted to work at IA. I didn’t know Dave very well when I first pursued a job at IA, but I knew of his positive reputation in the industry. I knew if Dave had chosen IA, there must be something special going on here. Just out of college I was an intern indirectly working under Dave. And now we’re business partners. Who could ask for a better business partner than your mentor?
Be sure to explore the many sides of an interior designer within an architecture firm versus interior designers in a standalone practice. If you find a passion or are drawn to the field, don’t shy away from pursuing it, even if you run into a few hurdles. There are many opportunities within this field for those who are especially organized, those who aspire to manage global accounts, those who have technical strengths, and those who are strong concept designers. There are so many avenues to take in this profession.
Kim Parsley, IIDA, LEED AP BD+C, holds Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Iowa State University. Her resume features professional highlights that include designer, workplace strategist, project manager, account manager, author and researcher, LEED specialist, and managing director. When not managing and operating the firm’s Seattle office, Kim can be found brewing craft beers, creating encaustic art, or hiking in the mountains.