What is Interior Design? A (Closer) Look.

As part of Radius Gallery’s Show, Design / Desire (08/24/18 – 09/22/18), a show I guest curated featuring Ty Best from Caste Design and a host of talented artists, I’m doing 5 written installments regarding my role as an interior designer.

What is Interior Design?

As a relatively new profession, Interior Design is constantly evolving and is often confusing to the general public.  Interior design is the art and science of creating or renovating an interior environment to achieve a healthy and more aesthetically pleasing environment for those using the space.  People generally understand that I, as an interior designer, research, plan, coordinate, and often manage the projects of enhancing the interiors of buildings.  This spans from conceptual development to space planning, programming, site inspections, communication, to execution of the design. What may be surprising are the fundamentals and elements that go into my process as an interior designer.

What began 100 years ago as Interior Decoration, two pioneers, Elsie de Wolfe in the U.S. and Syrie Maugham in England, are considered the first professional designers.  Independent of one another, they created the profession as a direct departure from the small dark spaces that were their upbringing: Victorian architecture and interiors.  They each responded with an approach that was light (even white), cheery, more open and the public noticed because it felt good and functioned better at that time. 

As home expenditure increased after the 1950s, interior design and decoration books / magazines were published and largely accessible to the masses. Universities and art schools began to teach the principles and practices of interior design, creating curriculums that expanded the field far beyond just decoration.  As the interior design profession evolved to create specialties, regulation became enacted, and the effort to achieve interior environments that aid in quality of life and safety for all users became paramount. 

I pride myself in creating environments that are beautiful, functional, safe, and inspirational.  My background is in interior architecture and design, so my approach is designing the whole environment from the inside out.  This includes moving walls, framing views, and creating highly functional spaces that are adorned beautifully.  Structural changes and decisions regarding plausibility and safety are always made with an engineer, architect, and / or contractor in the conversation.

Interior design is a creative pursuit, however, it relies heavily on research, listening, study, findings, and fundamentals.  We’ve all been in an environment where no design thought was taken into account. Ugh. Conversely, we’ve experienced environments where the principles were askew.  Yikes. There are 6 design fundamentals, known as the Principles of Design, which serve as the basis for interior design.  They are scale, proportion, rhythm, emphasis, balance, and harmony.  These principles and how they are evaluated determine whether an interior is magnificent, mediocre, or just wrong.

Principles of Design:

Scale– Refers to the entire perspective of the space.  The objective is for objects to be harmonious in dimension and mass.  Objects relate to and enhance each other.

Proportion– Measures the ratio of the parts to the whole. This is a mathematical equation that also settles in as a feeling: The Golden Ratio, which is also widely found in the natural world.

Rhythm– Informed by the flow within a room, then throughout the environment. An environment follows a beat and isn’t erratic.

Emphasis– The importance of a focal point or points within a room or space.

Balance– Achieving equilibrium.  This can be obtained via symmetry, asymmetry, or radially.

Harmony– Creation of a feeling of unification and an agreeable whole. It all makes sense and it’s timeless.

While design fundamentals serve as my guide, Design Elements are the minutia that inform every fine artists’ work. These have been defined and refined over the course of history. The design elements are light, color, texture, pattern, line, space, shape, form, and mass.  Each element informs and enhances the interior environment and have symbiotic relationships with each other.

Design Elements:

Light– Whether natural or man-made, light is the element that without, the other elements have no significance.  An interior environment relies on many layers of lighting to succeed: general, task, ambient, and decorative. I am of the school that the more layers and options to operate the layers, the better.  Also, the accuracy of color, texture, and pattern depend 100% on the quality, quantity, and temperature of light.

Color– Perhaps the most evocative of the elements, color and its effects on human behaviors have been widely studied.  I’ve done extensive research on how to evoke behavior through color.  What I would put in a preschool is quite different than a restaurant.  Color is also deeply personal and subjective as certain colors remind us of seasons, experiences, and memories.

Texture– The actual tangible surface of a material.  Texture enhances an experience in an interior environment and adds another sensory element to a space.  My aesthetic has been consistently texture driven.  I’ll often use texture in lieu of color for subtlety or restraint.

Pattern– The order of an arrangement of forms on fabric, wall coverings, rugs. Pattern can be small, medium, and large in scale, and I often use them strategically in tandem with other patterns.

Line– Used to create width and height, or the appearance of activity, movement, and flow. Horizontal line is considered secure or restful; vertical achieves expanse or tension; angular is more hyperactive; while curvilinear denotes softness. I’ll often use a combination, with one prevailing to give the overall desired emotive effect.

Space– Whether small spaces or expansive, the amount of space or appearance of such, makes the human psyche respond positively.   We crave small spaces, we crave larger spaces.  It often depends on our mood and our background.  I find it equally important to carefully balance positive space (filled area) with negative space (unfilled area).  Traffic space is always an important negative space consideration for function and sanity.

Shape– The two-dimensional outlines of things / spaces. This a consideration in desired effect for balance and harmony.

Form– The three-dimensional configuration or construction of things / spaces.  Does the form follow function?  Does it make sense logically and aesthetically?

Mass– The actual or optical density of an object or building.  Is it too heavy?  Is it wimpy?  Do I want the effect to be monolithic or airy?

All of the above principles and elements inform each turn in my approach to interior design (and probably life, to be honest).  I’ve always described the practice of interior design as a logical art: a balance of problem solving, creativity, rules, and breaking rules. My days are spent with an incredible amount of thought going into every decision and detail.  Interior designers are curators of many different mediums (lighting, art, furniture, textiles), craft (excellence in the trades), technology, and architecture (what a human experiences as they live in and use the space): multi-faceted, impactful on a daily basis, important, and often over-looked.

complete renovation of one of the rattlesnake’s oldest farmhouses

Known as Foxglove Cottage, this former B & B was purchased by a young family hoping to save much of the building, both structurally and in exterior character. Confluence Construction was the general contractor on this magnificent project, where a tricky process of engineering ensued.  The home was gutted, then redesigned by Becky Broeder with custom finishes & high end fixtures throughout.  Each piece of lumber was hand selected at Heritage Timber by Becky and Bruce, the cabinet maker.  Considering sensitivities to artificial light and allergens, this home was thoughtfully designed to maximize daylighting.  Selection of healthy, mindful, regionally sourced materials prevailed, and locally made custom furnishings are being built to further fill the space.  The result is a light, airy, customized environment that truly reflects the personalities of the homeowners & the architecture, and displays Becky’s texture-driven aesthetic.


hospitality design expo 2016

I attended my first HD Expo, the largest design expo I, personally, have ever attended.  The venue was at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and I had a hunch it was going to be a good experience from the minute I got there.  The kind gentleman at the reception desk upgraded me to a Penthouse my first night at no additional cost.  Talk about studying hospitality interiors.  I got to take in an incredible environment, first hand.

Here are a few photos of my decadent pad on the 62nd floor, the top of Mandalay Bay overlooking The Strip:


After switching gears and meeting up with my travel mate, Shannon, I wandered the three day show that welcomes over 10,000 designers, architects, and hotel owners and features more than 800 hospitality design manufacturers and vendors.  It was a productive venture.  I opened new accounts, learned about innovative products, services, and solutions, developed existing relationships, and gained an incredible amount of inspiration.

It’s an exciting time for lighting.  I discovered a couple of made-in-California companies I am happy with, as well as familiar stand-by companies.


Innovations in materials and great geometric looks in tile:


The sky is the limit in wall panels, made of nearly anything and everything, creatively adding interest, texture, lighting accents, and acoustic performance:


And my favorite plumbing fixture at the show.  I read about American Standard and their innovative new faucets that are made through a 3D printer in Metropolis Magazine on my way down to Las Vegas.  The water actually flows through each tiny channel creating a great flow and look:


Thanks for taking a look.  Here’s to great design!


a look at BBD’s latest interior design project

Here are some images of Becky Broeder Design’s most recent completed interior design project, a large remodel in Montana.  Inspired by Montana’s High Line, where the client was born and raised, this forested mountain home recalls the airiness and beauty of the prairie.  Becky designed every detail: custom cabinets, trim, crown, locally-made doors and much more.  Each detail was hand-drawn then masterfully crafted by Montana’s finest. Careful thought went into multi-layered lighting, functionality of spaces, and adherence to the consistent design aesthetic of Montana’s serenity.  Becky relied on her signature texture-driven approach, using natural elements such as stone, wood, and metal to create a peaceful and beautiful interior environment.  Balancing public spaces to entertain guests and family with  private spaces to relax and recharge were important considerations.  Every opportunity to make this home highly functional on a technological level were also taken.

These images show the kitchen, breakfast nook, and dining room, featuring a wall of custom built-ins:

S Home (23 of 27)
S Home (22 of 27)
S Home (21 of 27)
S Home (20 of 27)
S Home (19 of 27)
S Home (18 of 27)
S Home (17 of 27)
S Home (16 of 27)
Schley Home (14 of 27)

las vegas market

Last week I took the opportunity to attend the Las Vegas Market.  I went because, over and over, I hear, ‘I want what is unlike what everyone else has.’  I saw some really amazing things.  And spotted lots of trends.  As a designer, I don’t put much thought into trends, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.  There are design elements I kept seeing, some of which I have always had an affinity for: warm-toned metals (brushed and shiny brass), rose quartz colors everywhere (blush pink), horns are prolific (Montana’s contribution to style?), lots of African prints (seems like this is an every other year thing), high-gloss lacquered furniture seems to be taking the place of mirrored furniture, more tufted furniture than one can imagine, and raw wood case goods and accessories abound.  I love looking at what’s new, hot, trending, for the same reasons I love Fashion Week.  That said, I aspire to set trends versus follow them.  The most exciting part of attending Market for me was thinking about what I wasn’t seeing.  Gathering inspiration, especially where furniture is concerned.

I had a serendipitous moment, happening upon Design Icon, Thomas Pheasant.  He spoke to our fairly small group about his plight, his talent (yes, he’s not ashamed to admit that he’s a supreme talent, and in the most endearing way), his career, and his process.  I was thinking as he was talking, ‘I am exactly where I need to be’, which is something I questioned after 4 hour delays and three lay overs to get to a place I could drive to in a day.  Thomas is an incredible interior designer who truly enhances the interior architectural environment.  I’d say he’s modern neoclassical, but in the most approachable and modern, crisp, comfortable way.   He’s the master of making neutrals divine, and even makes color a neutral beautifully. And he designs furniture. Really nice furniture, for Baker and McGuire, and his Studio collection makes my heart sing.  Take a look: http://www.thomaspheasant.com/interiors/

He spoke heavily about finding your aesthetic, staying true to your creative self, and practice. He’s encouraged me to look elsewhere for custom or vintage sources and to regularly draw again.  I have always felt particularly drawn to designing furniture, even before I could create an entire interior to house it.  My Grandpa was a furniture maker and I was his shadow from a very young age, living right next door to his shop.  It was impressed upon me in the best way.  I made my first monstrosity of a piece, my own design, out of pine then stained my two least favorite colors now: golden, then red which turned it orange, in 1987, when I was 14 years old.  I loved that thing, even though it was out of square in so many ways and a horrendous color.

I’ve had the incredible opportunity to be able to design furniture and have it made locally.  We live among world-class artisans and being at Market reminded me to continue to use them.  My collaborative efforts in designing and creating furniture will never bore me.  I find a lot of joy in delivering something ‘unlike what everyone else has’.  It’s been so fun for me to be inspired by what I’ve seen, yet reinterpret it, tailored to my client, influenced by what my head chews on.

Here are a couple of photos of some showroom eye candy. I LOVED Christopher Guy, in particular…  Enjoy!

Market ex

Christopher Guy Showroom


Cyan Design-


Kravet Showroom-


Some other random showroom shots-


the skinny on building materials

I discuss the impact of the built environment on human health and wellness a lot, and I do so because where we use our bodies is just as important as what we put into our bodies.  The construction industry is seeking to meet new demands to improve, or at least not diminish, human health and wellness.  Focusing on building materials and finishes is a great place to start.

An emerging concern is whether or not a material contains toxicants.  Toxicants are chemicals synthesized or concentrated by manufacturing that are harmful to our health.  They may negatively impact the functioning of respiratory, neurological, endocrine, and other bodily systems.  And even though we’ve come a long way in reporting data that relates to recycled and regionally sourced content, we still know very little about a materials ‘ingredients’ and how they will affect an occupant’s health.  We now know, after decades of delay between science and practice, that lead and asbestos are not to be used at all costs. We are, however, still in the incubation phase of regulating toxicants.  And beyond that, it’s rare that a product even declares what it is actually comprised of.  The newest version of LEED rewards projects that source at least 20 materials where the manufacturers have fully disclosed the ingredients it contains.  This is proven through third-party entities and published on the Health Product Declaration online database.    It is my hope that just like the FDA requires compositional data from food manufacturers, we will have the same access to a product’s ingredients in the building industry.  And just like those that choose to eat artificial, bad-for-you ingredients, there will be consumers / builders who will still opt to go the unhealthy route, which is unfortunate.

As a LEED AP,  it was drilled into me years ago to be aware of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) in products such as paint, the presence of formaldehyde in particleboard, and the toxicity of flame retardants on furniture and stain guard on carpets.  However, we’re learning more and more every time I turn around about the real threat of a lot of common building products and finishes to human health and wellbeing.  A recent study showed that minimizing VOCs in an office environment significantly improved cognition.  This isn’t just great for the inhabitants, but for business’ bottom lines, as well.  Healthcare environments have eliminated formaldehyde, which in turn has led to a reduction in asthma symptoms by over half.  These types of measures have been shown to be more cost effective than clinical treatments of related illnesses.

What can you do?  If you’re embarking on a new project or remodel, early planning is key.  Hiring a qualified design or building professional who knows how to navigate through the threat of ‘green washing’ is a good route to go.  If you go it alone, research, research, research.  There is information available that is trustworthy.  Here are a couple of third party organizations that certify, report, or catalog healthy materials: Cradle to Cradle, Pharos, and GreenWizard.  In my own practice, there are times when it’s unavoidable to source some less-healthy products because of durability, code, availability, cost, but when I have the opportunity to substitute a ‘good’ finish with a ‘bad’ finish, I feel it’s my obligation to my clients, family, and friends to do so.

It’s important to know that there are options. Many manufacturers are preparing themselves for the inevitable trend of consumers requiring more information on products’ impacts on their health and wellbeing, and are taking strides in providing more data for us to make informed decisions.

my biophilia

As a person who thrives in nature and outdoors, I find a little irony that my greatest passion is creating interior environments.  But it’s beginning to make sense to me. When I’m indoors, shades are up, doors are wide open if it’s not freezing outside, windows open sometimes even if it is freezing, plants and flowers surround me, and my dogs are always close. In my practice, my favorite and most used approach to the interiors I create for people is to intuitively interject natural elements everywhere I can.  Whether it’s through natural finishes like real stone or organic cotton, or sneaking in day-lighting where possible, I love spaces that remind me, even if just subtly, of being outside.  Turns out, I’m not alone and all these billions of dollars in studies are stating the obvious:  What feels good to us-  gardens, animal companionship, views, sunshine, are actually proving to be good for us.  Duh.  And it’s catching on in a massive fashion. Empirical evidence shows that even a brief experience with nature can elicit a restorative response in humans.  Biophilic design is design of the built environment that reconnects us with nature and it’s been shown to be essential for providing people healthy environments that produce less stress and actually contribute greatly to the users’ health and well-being.

The term, ‘biophilia’ literally means, ‘love of life or living systems’.  Unlike a ‘phobia’, which are aversions and fears that overtake people, ‘philias’ are attractions and positive feelings that people have toward habitats, organisms, and natural surroundings. As humans, we have an innate biological connection with nature.  We are captivated by a crackling fire, sunrises, crashing waves, and for good reason.  We can’t not love these things.  But for decades, we’ve created sterile built environments doomed with interiors that are plain, toxic, devoid of any daylight, and causing us to die a slow, painful death both psychologically and physically.  I’m thrilled that biophilic design is not merely a trend, instead, it’s going to be how we design built environments from here on out.

Next time you are in a commercial or hospitality environment and REALLY feel good, ask yourself why and try to pin it down.  Every time I am having this experience I can unanimously point to natural elements whether it’s actual green things growing, daylight, natural materials.  Then, next time you’re in an environment you are bummed out by and loathing, try to figure out why.  Sometimes, it’s the colors of that environment, sure, but bad color comes from bad lighting a lot of the time.  Bad lighting is not a part of biophilic design.  Sadly, I’ve found myself going through this analysis often in medical settings- environments that should feel the best to us.

Here’s a great paper on biophilic design if you’d like to learn more: http://www.terrapinbrightgreen.com/reports/14-patterns/

Above is a kitchen I designed using many biophilic elements: maximized views; controlled day-lighting; natural materials in walnut cabinetry and flooring, travertine, granite, metals; plants and flowers; non-synthetic fabrics.

Thanks for reading! BB

sneak peek of details in my master bath project

I’ve been accused of being a perfectionist.  It’s also been insinuated that I am a control freak when it comes to details..  I’m okay with all of that because it returns results like these!  Of course this level of thought and execution could not happen without collaboration with the best tradespeople.  I like to surround myself with people with the same level of drive for excellence, because when I do, the outcome even surpasses my expectations.  Take a look:


In Line Drain with pillowed glass tile inlayed.


Cut pillowed glass mosaic to fit stone cladding seamlessly.


Winter Sky Marble niche in Island Stone Cladding.

fireplace facelifts

We’ve been doing a lot of fireplace updates lately with several more in the queue.  Understandably, since the fireplace is THE focal point of the room that it lives in.  And when it’s dated and / or out of scale, it screams it.

Here’s a glance at the transformation of one we did last year.  On this project I had the picklewood ceiling stained to a walnut tone and  eliminated the bulky built-in that greeted entrants immediately as they entered the living room which also blocked the incredible view of the entire valley.  I added outlets in the boards that create the sunken floor so that the owners could easily float lamps in the space without cords everywhere.  I had the walls painted a sophisticated light grey, and added a Big Ass Fan. We covered the face of the fireplace with black slate cladding and replaced the dated brass insert with a modern and clean Mendota gas insert (wood fireplaces are banned in the city of Missoula due to air quality issues).  Then, designed a custom built-in into the left end of the fireplace to house the clients’ large amount of stereo equipment, now easily accessible, well insulated, and no wires or cables ever seen.  We will be facing the hardware-less door with a piece of art.  Since we were driving for a more approachable modern look, we opted not to add a mantle or hearth, just kept it clean and strong.  Lastly, we furnished the space with timeless pieces such as an Eames Lounge and Ottoman and a custom made Joybird sofa.  Big change!