“Every woman has a purpose/Nothing happens by chance/This is your life here in your hands/You gotta fight to take the stand” ~ Ay Yo by Melanie Fiona
July’s Hue of the Month is an aspiring interior designer based in Florida named Marilyn Russell. She’s a student and career changer who proves that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. Marilyn has a good eye for color and effectively uses color to create balance in every space she touches.
Name: Marilyn G. Russell
Current City: Orlando, FL
School Name and Degree: International Academy of Design & Technology (IADT)
Current Employer or Business Name: Historian for the Interior Design club at IADT and Blogger for Marilyn’s Design Studio www.loveaffairwithcolor.com
Design Specialty: Color, Kitchen & Bath, High-End Residential
Professional Associations and/or Certifications: Student Member of IIDA, ASID & NEWH, which is the Network of the Hospitalilty Industry
Tell me about yourself.
I am a Jamaican native who spent her teenage years in Boston and is now living in Florida. I am married with three children, two boys (21 and 18) and one girl (13). I have a Bachelor’s degree in business management and am now pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Interior Design. I love school. If I could afford to be a professional student I would. I’m even thinking of obtaining a Master’s degree in Interior Design. In fact, I’m headed to London in two weeks to study the history of interior design for a semester. My hobbies include photography and sketching. I take photographs every chance I get. You should see my mack-daddy camera with its multiple attachments. I can’t wait to share with you my findings in London. Sketching is another favorite pastime. I sketch different interior designs when I have time. It’s very soothing to me.
I’m a laugher, and loudly too. I embarrass my friends sometimes. I’m always laughing at myself. Laughter is good for the soul. My favorite quote is “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds” from Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”. This line to me says stop the self-inflicting doubt and believe in oneself.
Tell me a little bit about your design background. How did you get started in the industry.
I’m relatively new to the industry. It is my love for interior spaces and redesigning and restyling my own space that has propelled me towards obtaining a degree in interior design.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in interior design?
I decided to pursue interior design shortly after learning my mother was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. She was only 66 when she passed, four months before she was to retire. She told me the day before she died how proud she was of me and to continue developing my craft because I was so good at it. I honed in on how my mom never got a chance to do all things she wanted to do. Which is why, at that moment, I decided that life was too short to not pursue my passion. Therefore, I said goodbye to my 15-year insurance adjusting career and now here I am.
Describe your first interior design project.
My first project was a residential project for school, which I absolutely loved, although it was quite time-consuming. We (the class) were given a 3,000 sq.ft. floor plan in which the only condition was to redesign the space (move rooms, walls, etc) using tools we previously learned. This was my second space planning project and was quite challenging. What I learned was that a design job takes a considerably amount of thought, research and reworking until the desired outcome is reached. In the end, my professor thought my floor plan, project and presentation was the best. Something I’m very proud of.
How do you define your personal style?
My personal design style is contemporary with loads of color, comfort and elegance. I believe in color. It doesn’t have to be obnoxious or scary. I also love the mixes of old with new, rough texture with smooth texture or the expected with the unexpected. Opposites do attract.
What inspires you?
Colors and people from other cultures inspire me. It’s weird, but when I look at something, I see color first and then go about examining the details of the object to see if it fits. Regarding people of different cultures, I enjoy learning about other people’s perspectives, and their beliefs if you will. I like to hear what other people think or why they feel the way they do; I might just learn something. Being open-minded is such a blessing.
Marilyn's Living Room
What is your dream interior design project? If you had the money, resources and a ready and willing client what would you create and why?
My dream project is a nightclub/dance club because I love music and love to dance. Lucky for me my husband is a DJ. Give me a 5,000 sq.ft space and watch me work my magic with colors, lighting, space planning and creative aesthetic features to create a booming atmosphere.
Who is your favorite interior designer? What are some of your favorite design vendors, stores, books/magazines, and websites?
Two of my favorite interior designers are both named Kelly. U.K.’s Kelly Hoppen for her timeless elegance and America’s Kelly Wearstler for her creative and bold implementations of color.
My favorite stores are Crate and Barrel, Design Within Reach, West Elm, Pier One and Room & Board. Favorite vendors would have to be Lee Jofa, Kravet and Robert Allen for their innovative textiles, furniture from Holly Hunt, accessories by Jonathan Adler, and paint from Benjamin Moore. My favorite magazines are Interior Design and Architectural Digest. I’m currently reading The Story of Architecture by Jonathan Glancey and Colors, What They Mean and How to Make Them by Anne Varichon. My favorite website for sourcing products is TODL.com, which is exclusive to interior designers.
What do you find most rewarding about your job as an interior designer? What do you find least rewarding?
The most rewarding aspect of interior designing is when the customer or my instructor is completely satisfied with the project. Seeing my project on the Hall of Fame at school gives me a high sense of accomplishment. My second favorite part is interacting with people. The least rewarding aspect is that there is never enough time. It takes a lot of time to plan, research and implement. Time is the most valued commodity and should be respected as such.
As an African-American interior designer, do you feel that African-Americans are under-represented in the design industry? What do you think should be done to encourage more African-Americans to become interior designers?
Without a shadow of a doubt, a resounding yes, African-Americans are highly underrepresented in this industry. There’s an article in the March/April 2009 ASID ICON issue titled “The Face of Interior Design: Why Isn’t the Profession More Diverse” that discusses this very issue. The statistics are: 78.2% Caucasian, 13.5% Hispanic, 4.8% African-American, 2.8% Asian. The article states that some of the reasons for lack of diversity are cultural, lack of finances and unfamiliarity of the profession. Even in my classrooms, the lack of representation is quite apparent and disheartening. I don’t believe that minorities are encouraged enough to explore the arts as a career. On the other spectrum, I don’t see where the interior design field in the United States is inclusive of other cultural perspectives. Many people are familiar with a traditional, contemporary, etc. design style. But what about Asian interiors, African interiors, and such. The only time these cultural design styles are implemented is when the customer requests it. I think more education about the profession should be at the forefront for educating and encouraging our fellow African-Americans to pursue interior design careers.
What advice do you have for other African-American interior designers reading this interview?
My sincere advice is to create opportunities for yourself where you believe and/or are led to believe there are none. Learn to circumvent the word “no”. And always believe in yourself despite what letdowns or obstacles may be at the forefront (these are temporary only challenges).
What is something you would like the world to know about you or your ideas?
My ideas are mine and generated based on my love for design, creativity and inspiration. I absolutely love finding diverse pieces and putting them to work in a space. I want the end-user to look at my design and say that’s the hand of Marilyn G. Russell. Don’t find fault about my ideas or anyone else’s for that matter. Instead of criticizing, take the time to learn what I’m thinking or what may have inspired me at the time of creation. If you see something inherently wrong, then steer me in the right direction as I would for you.
Where do you see yourself as a designer 10 years from now?
Owning and expanding my interior design firm. A color expert. Becoming LEED, AP certified and pushing sustainability where possible. And, designing my own furniture line called “The Marilyn” for production.
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