Are You Looking For A Certified Interior Designer In Manhattan
Randi Halpern is the owner of Randi Halpern Interior Design. She is an independent interior designer with 28 years of professional experience. Her projects have included the design and renovation of commercial and residential interiors. From drawing up the initial floor plans, strategic space planning through selection and specifying all decorative elements she guides her clients through the interior design and renovation process.
I do not just enhance the look, but I also improve the function of the space.
I practice creative problem solving as part of the interior design process for development of interior environments.
She works with a client's individual needs, their visions, and their budget to derive creative solutions. By identifying the customer's challenges at the start of the project, the finished work feels integrated and effortless.
Randi Halpern Interior Design began in 2007. After spending years at different architectural and interior design firms gaining experience in various capacities - working as an interior architect, producing construction documents, the planning and design for corporate offices, Randi landed a position as the Interior Design Director of an architectural firm that was just breaking into restaurant design.
The owner asked me to start his interior design department, and I worked at the company for about 14 years. I did not think I'd ever leave. There was a time the firm got very slow. Randi started to do some job searching. She found that most design firms deal with tight deadlines by often working late at night and weekends. Working for another employer was no longer a possibility because of new parental responsibilities with young children.
Randi eventually picked up several freelance consulting jobs. Her reputation got her even more requests and referrals from previous clients. Ms. Halpern finally started her interior design consulting business in 2007 after freelancing at various design firms for two years.
Q: What was the toughest thing you went through when opening?
Randi: Learning new computer programs to keep up with the industry. I had been at the same firm for a long time as a director. I was hands-on with the design and project management level, but I was not doing production work (not like I would have to produce when if I worked on my own). I Have been doing all my drawings, all of the design work, attending every meeting, and sourcing & specifying all fixtures, finishes and furniture selections. That is still the case, though I now have learned many new computer skills.
It was a challenge; my kids were young. They were not both yet in school. I was newly single. When things would slow down a little bit, I would put in much extra time in learning these programs that I was not able to invoice to clients. Though with each new project I advanced my technological skills.
I collaborate with architects quite often; the architect might do a certain amount of the drawings, file the projects with the New York City Department of Buildings. I will do most of the design work. It depends. Sometimes I will be brought into a project when an architect has been hired to do the design and planning, and I will work on the selection & specification of furniture, finishes, and lighting.
On other projects, I might be doing all the space planning, layouts, and construction document and just have the architect filed the project with the Department of Buildings for me. Occasionally, a situation needs a lighting designer, or another functional consultant, which I will refer and coordinate my work with theirs. I would like drafting help when I get bogged down. However, at this point, I have not hired anybody to do that. I would do that on a freelance basis. It depends on how much work and where the phases of my project are at any given time.
Q: Where are your projects based?
Randi: Mostly in NYC. Most of my projects have been in Brooklyn and Manhattan, occasionally in Queens or Long Island. I am open to traveling elsewhere for my projects.
Example: If all my projects were in the midst of construction drawings or specifications then I would need help. Otherwise, I would do everything myself.
Q: If you had to start over from day one what would you have done differently?
Randi: I would have saved money to have gotten my business started. I would have done more planning in corporate strategy, marketing, and had the time to take courses in the computer programs I had not yet learned. Since I had to transition right away because the work was coming in, it just happened organically.
Even though I was freelancing for other designers, I was not getting the opportunity to learn these programs in the other offices. I was typically consulting at senior level working on specific design concepts, selections, and space planning. I was not doing the production work per se.
Q: What is the toughest part about having an Interior Design Business in 2017?
Once you pass the NCIDQ exam, and you live in a jurisdiction that has a license or certification, you can immediately register as a "Professional Interior Designer."
It is the highest credential you can get. I am a big advocate of this because of the training and the structure of doing this type of work sets us apart from the “Decorator.” Interior design is a hybrid of interior decorating and architecture because we are working on interior space architecturally and aesthetically.
Q: If a customer was to choose between your business and three others just like it why would you suggest they at least give you a try first?
Randi: I have the ability to critically discuss the relationship of the human body, the user experience and the culture of an interior environment. I work at the human level, how people live, how they work, etc. I can analyze the relationship between the human body and space critically and create interior environments that are visually pleasing and highly functional.
I have a vast knowledge of architectural finishes, textiles and furnishing resources, so I bring the best options to my clientele. I provide an invaluable service in guiding clients to their ultimate vision. Presenting ideas, they might have never imagined. I follow my instincts, and I encourage them to do the same, and that usually serves as the inspiration, innovation, and imagination that sets me apart.
Q: What is the number 1 way you currently bring in new customers?
Randi: Word of mouth, referrals. The other day someone found me on Yelp. The potential client lives in Seward Park Co-op. They had been looking to work with someone local.
Q: Has the Internet played a significant role in your business as it has become more prevalent?
Randi: Yes, mainly for product sourcing. You can see a variety of the products quickly before deciding to make the trip in person. In the old days, we used to have a substantial physical library at our offices which housed all types of product catalogs, files, and finishes. Now, I use the internet mainly for that. Though I always gather actual finish samples and advise my clients to sit in the furniture before purchasing.
Q: What about using the Internet for generating leads?
Randi: It is a vicious cycle. These companies want a monthly fee. I would rather invest my time and money into a networking group, getting to know people in person. If I had the luxury to do these kinds of things I might but I have always preferred the face to face meetings after having a discussion by telephone. I like the process of referrals. I prefer to use people referred to me as opposed to finding them on the internet.
Q: If you had to take a look six months to a year into the future, where would you like to see your interior design business be?
Randi: Partner or collaborate with a crafts person builder type who has been doing construction, but is also a creative craftsperson. It can be an architect or a general contractor. The ideal collaboration would be a design-build scenario to offer to my clientele.
Whether it is a partnership or just a cooperation and we can start to approach projects as such because of the ingenuity of doing that sort of thing. Design-Build is having the design and construction done by the same company instead of bidding projects with multiple contractors.
Q: Can you share with us examples of how using your service helped save money?
Randi: Interior Designers are “problem solvers.” I can work the project from start to finish to create solutions to simplify your life! We must always be at least five steps ahead when focusing on decisions, and understand how each one impacts the next. Every decision made on function, color or style affects the rest of the decisions made. Designing an interior space is like putting a puzzle together. The Designer can implement your style, direct, guide, and stay focused on overall plan…. all while saving you time and money.
I am a liaison between the contractor, trade workrooms, fabricators, installers, vendors, and resources. So bringing that expertise, I save people time which in the end saves them money.
A client may have a particular challenge in the way their space functions. Having a design professional analyze the area and presenting you with planning and layout options could be a significant cost saving. For example; instead of knocking all the walls down there may be real solutions in re-configuring the existing space with fewer construction costs. We can simply reuse things you have - whether it be the lighting & electrical locations as opposed to chopping away at the ceiling or the walls to move fixtures. I always explore the space and present all good possible options that help clients to make final decisions on the best way to proceed with the project.
In regards to specifying furniture, finishes, fixtures and products, one of the ways I save you money is by preventing the end user/client from errors in purchasing items that may not fit or work properly. I have extensive resources and the expertise to make selections on the elements that will work for each project. My knowledge and know-how prevent you from making costly mistakes. Beyond the time and cost savings by having extensive knowledge of sourcing, there may also be trade discounts on furniture.
If the client is interested in higher-end products, I have accounts at the design trade market showrooms, whose products are only accessible through a designer. These showrooms have much higher discounts for interior design professionals some of which I will pass on to the client.
It is not the same as going to Crate and Barrel, or Pottery Barn, Room & Board, etc. The retail stores do not offer substantial trade discounts if any, however, I work with many of these types of products and the savings is related to the sourcing, decision making, and ordering process than if the client goes it alone.
When it comes to selecting finishes or doing a renovation of your apartment, but you want simple solutions, a clean job, reasonable price points I would source products that would work for your situation. I would give you all viable options of materials and price ranges which tremendously helps each client in making right decisions.
If you want to have a new wood floor, I could show you white oak which would begin at $3.60 per square foot for a 3 1/2" wide-board, where a 7-inch white board of walnut or the same wood might run you $8 a square foot. I have the working knowledge of the cost of many materials, and I present them within the budget and aesthetics each particular client.
A customer may love walnut. I would say to them, this is the least expensive I can find walnut for you - it is this much, but if you go with white oak and it is this much, we can add a stain, for a lot less money than the cost of natural walnut. Alternatively, maybe you love the white oak in the natural state.
It usually comes down to presenting options for materials and building products. To source, something that looks great and keeps within the client's price point instead of something that might be high end would be substantial cost savings. We call it value engineering. Everyone wants beautiful and well-made things though not everyone can or wants to pay for that.
Many times when the contractor bids come back, we can see what items are driving up the costs. As an example; there may be a lot of lineal feet of baseboard (new baseboard throughout a home) that the client wanted to be natural wood species but the quantity plus cost exceeded the budget, a more cost effective solution would be to use a painted wood baseboard and select a great paint color.
If you use a painted wood baseboard, it is going to be a lot less expensive than a premium wood species. While it is a different look than what was originally wanted, the cost savings lets you use the savings somewhere else or not spend it at all. I can save people money by utilizing individual sources that build cabinetry. I would outline the differences in the how a particular company's fabrication may cost more than another company. Alternatively, if you do it this way with that material, it is less money than if you do it that way. The buyer saves time being presented with viable options to make the best choices for the project.
Q: Do you work on one project at a time, or take on multiple projects?
Randi: It depends on the size of the project. Currently, I have a project that started as a kitchen renovation and to design a wall unit in the living area. The client wanted to reconfigure the entrance to the kitchen which turned into a larger project since the foyer and dining room spaces were affected as well. It is actually under construction at the moment. We ended up demolishing most of this portion of the apartment which turned out to be quite advantages in solving some other design issues. So we are now finalizing everything as well as purchasing, so the construction and installations remain on schedule.
My most recent new project is a combination of two apartments. There is an architect involved, so we are collaborating. The architect has designed the layout and will file all the documents with the Department of Buildings to obtain the building permit. We are just starting to talk with the client about design elements, materials, and their ideas and inspirations. I will be selecting and specifying all of the finishes (flooring, cabinetry, tiles) fixtures (plumbing fixtures & appliances, lighting) as well as the furniture. My drawings and specifications will be included in the General Contractor bid documents. Since the layout has been finalized, I will now begin to create elevation drawings to design the kitchen, bathrooms, and any custom cabinetry throughout the apartment. This project is quite a lot of work though I would be available to take on something new pretty soon.
Q: Has Fixer/Upper (Chip and Joanna Gaines) Had any impact on your business?
Randi: I had not heard about them until now. I do not watch those shows. I just looked them up on the internet as we are talking. I am curious about it because they are methodology is something I mentioned earlier [design build]. They seem to be a design-build team. I see its HGTV and these type of shows present a false representation of the actual process. The problem most designers and contractors have with HGTV is that all of us in the industry know what it takes to see a project through from beginning to end. When a client has been watching HGTV, they come to us with the notion that design can happen fast, cheap and beautiful, so we have to break it to them.
All of us professionals know this does not happen that fast in real life. There are some great ideas presented in these shows, and they do an excellent job on creating. However, I do not think this is good for the industry because that is what the general public is seeing thus expecting. In real life, there are many factors involved, and we are regularly - looking at and weighing back and forth to make decisions before you actually can go ahead to the next stage.
Q: What projects have you worked on that you like to do more or less?
Randi: When I first started in the interior design industry, I was working on the design and construction of corporate offices. There was lots of space planning, which was fun and strategic. I would like to work on more creative commercial spaces especially hospitality and restaurants. I love doing residential projects even if only selecting furniture, finishes, paint colors. Ideally, I like having a mix of projects; variety is fun.
When I first started my business, one of the first projects I had the opportunity to work on was a retail store, which was great, it is a real specialty. The client, who was also a good friend, never had a store before. There should have been someone who could have advised on the retailing, marketing & sales approach. I was not versed enough in that particular area. The design of the store was beautiful.
Over the years the client began to hire people to help her with the retailing aspect, the store transformed in a positive way. They made many changes to the original design, but they commented that the space, as originally planned, "had good bones." If I were to work on other retail projects, I would want to collaborate with a company who knows what they want to do marketing wise for their retail space.
I have worked on many restaurant design projects, so I understand the process of how a restaurant operates. When designing corporate office space, I have to interview all of the people in the office to understand the flow of the work and the mission of the company. It is not always the same in a retail store; it is a whole different layer of marketing. The knowledge of how each business functions always helps me create the best design concept to be able to enhance other people's businesses. Understanding how people live or want to live in their home enables me to create a design that enhances their lives.
Q: Is there something in the works that you plan on rolling out in the next six months to a year?
Randi: To be able to hire a crafts-person who can build many of my designs because I will have enough clients to support that. I would also love to be able to work more on creating and be in a position to hire someone to do more of the production work.
Q: What do you love most about your business?
Randi: I like finding out about people, how they live and how they work. Learning about people is the most exciting aspect of any project; it helps me design for them. How does someone live, how does one want their space to function? I think what excites me the most - I look at myself as an engineer or artist, so I have to be good with more than color or fabric and furniture. It is very exciting and gives me much pleasure to work with people and collaborate with individuals who have design challenges. Not only on the aesthetic level but to enhance the function.
Whether it is a residence, a restaurant, or the experience in a hotel lobby, I want to make the best use of their space. How do they work in their kitchen? How best to layout the living room so they can do all the things that they want to do? Whether its specific tasks, watching tv or reading. The most exciting aspect overall is to help a client have a space that enhances their quality of life. I want to make their space function better so they can enjoy it.
Good design affects our life. It is not just about beautiful things but to live and work more positively. My passion is more than sculpting out space and selecting decorative elements, but to make the world a better place.
Q: Tell us about yourself. What do you enjoy? What motivates you? Tell us about your past careers.
Randi: I love to garden! I enjoy listening to and seeing live music. I often go to see art because art inspires me - (ex. photography, sculpture, paintings, installations). Anything creative is inspiring. It encourages me to think of new things or look at things in different ways. Alternatively, adding to my library of inspirations.
Wrapping Up The Interview With Randi Halpern Interior Design!
Interviewer: Benson (a/k/a The Brooklyn Local Review
Interviewee: Randi Halpern of Randi Halpern Interior Designer
Edit and Proofread By: Benson (a/k/a Brooklyn Local Review) and Randi Halpern
Images Permission: Randi Halpern (Randi Halpern Interior Designer)