Making a Silk Purse from a Sow’s Ear
How interior design can transform any space into one you’ll love
When doing any construction or remodeling, an interior designer will be an essential part of achieving the results you want. We were fortunate to speak with Jennifer Ungar, an interior designer with 25 years of experience, for some insight into her field.
What inspired you to enter the field of interior design?
My mother and grandmother. Each was involved in the design industry, albeit in different eras and different segments of the industry. My grandmother was the Creative Director for the Geilich Tanning Company, which she and my grandfather owned. They produced luxury leathers for upscale fashion houses. For example, she was instrumental in designing the now ubiquitous Jack Rogers sandal and was often written up in Women’s Wear Daily. My mother is also very fashion forward and design conscious. She had her own interior design company, importing objets d’art from Europe.
What type of projects do you do?
Mostly interior renovations of homes, apartments and offices – taking old space and transforming it. Making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, as they say. Homeowners become excited when planning a renovation, but getting to the finished product can be challenging and frustrating. One of the specialty services I offer is to take the hassle off the client’s back by becoming the Project Manager and taking full responsibility for the project. I have experience working with contractors and tradesmen in Israel and can anticipate and solve problems that most homeowners would overlook, particularly chutznikim who are not familiar with how things are done here. In addition, even for someone who does not need a full Project Manager, a professional interior designer can find and implement solutions that ultimately save clients money and keep them from making costly mistakes.
What’s the difference between an architect, an interior designer and an interior decorator, and how do they complement each other?
I am so glad you asked. While there are definitely overlaps, we each have our own specialties and backgrounds. Generally, building architects design structures, for example, a house, hotel, apartment or office building. They lay out each floor, design the structure, choose materials, decide on the technical details for electrical wiring, plumbing, lighting, etc., and bring in specialists as necessary, such as structural engineers, electrical engineers, lighting consultants, etc. One of these specialists is usually an interior designer, as well. Some architects will do their own interior design. However, since it is not their specialty, they will not provide the attention to decorative and design detail that a good interior designer will. Interior designers, as the name implies, usually work on interior spaces. They have been trained to understand and read architectural drawings and professionally lay out and design architectural drawings for the interior space. This is important because the interior designer must know, for example, which walls are structural and can’t be moved with out an engineer’s involvement and which are non-structural and can be moved. Similarly, it is often critical to know how, where and if it is realistic and cost-efficient to relocate plumbing lines so that kitchens and bathrooms can be rebuilt in new places. An interior designer also assists with paint colors, furniture placement and reupholstery, fabric choices, window treatments and choosing, framing and hanging art. An interior decorator is usually someone who has a knack for design but no formal training. Most of the time they cannot draw up a written design from which a contractor can work, but they can make suggestions and help someone choose furniture and decorate their space.
What should someone discuss with an interior designer before hiring?
Here are some of the most important issues to clarify:
- Explain why things are laid out in your space the way they are, what you want to change and why.
- What is your overall goal with the renovation?
- What is your budget?
- Show her photos of the kind of look you imagine for each room.
- Does she think you can accomplish your goals within your budget? If not, does she have other ideas for you to consider?
- Can she give you references?
- How does she charge?
- Is there a written contract between you and the designer?
- Does she have contractors she can recommend with whom she has worked?
- If you already have a contractor, has she ever worked with him? Is she willing to work with him on this project?
- What are the stages of the project and how long does she think it will take?
Is there a noticeable difference in interior design in Israel and abroad?
I have never worked in Europe, but between here and US the differences are tremendous, which makes the need for an interior designer here that much more critical. Let me explain. There are many more choices across the board in the States – from furniture styles to housing styles. It’s much more challenging here. Not only are the choices more limited, but, for example, it is also often difficult to get samples of anything – tiles, paint, fabric swatches, etc. In the States, those things are taken for granted. Every supplier has samples that you can take home. So here you need to work with someone who has good relationships with suppliers so that they will lend samples—even if only on a one-day basis— or someone who has enough experience to be able to see different things—one fabric here, one fabric there—and know that they will or won’t look good together. As anyone who has made Aliyah knows, doing business in Israel is not the same as doing business abroad. Having the relationships in place and knowing where to shop could be the difference between success and disaster.
What do you think is your strongest skill that comes across in your work?
My husband says that it is uncanny how I can walk into a room and notice every detail. And more than that, he says, I can intuitively envision what can be done to that room or space. One of my clients described it another way. She said, “Jennifer can see through walls!” meaning, I can see the end result even while the current walls are in place. This is a critical skill when working to revamp a space, make it more spacious, lighter, airier, etc. Most clients need this assistance while planning and shopping. When the project is done, what I most often hear is, “Now I see what you meant! You were so right!”
Any creative angles when dealing with a lower-budget project?
Absolutely. It is imperative to know how you can get the best bang for your buck or shekel. Sometimes people think they have to do x. But when I look at the whole picture, I may be able to suggest something far less expensive which would accomplish the same goal. Obviously the first thing is to try to use or repurpose furniture and things one already owns. But I have many other secrets too! How do you try to keep impartial to your own tastes and opinions when working with someone else’s? It’s not a problem. I try to zero in on exactly what my clients want and focus accordingly. Even if their taste is not my own, I can still help them create the home or office they are hoping for. In fact, due to the many kinds of design ideas I am able to share with my clients, they find it easier to develop their own look.
How do you advise that your clients get inspiration on what they would like in their home?
That’s a great question because many clients don’t always know what they want and, if they do, they have trouble explaining it. I always refer people to the website: houzz. com. It’s an incredible resource. The best I’ve ever seen.
What comes first, planning or shopping? (i.e. sometimes you may not know what to do with a corner until you find the perfect piece of furniture or accent for the wall.)
Definitely planning. If you want to achieve a certain look and feel, you need a plan. There are times when a client has a particular piece of furniture they want to use as a centerpiece and that is never a problem. It just becomes part of the plan. If, later, the client gets a new idea or finds something spectacular she wants to include, we find a way. It may mean changing the plan. But there’s always a way.
Any specific project that you really enjoyed or that stands out in your mind?
Yes, the White House. My husband has known Donald Trump for years. Soon after the election, President-Elect Trump called to ask for some ideas for the White House. In particular, he was concerned about the Oval Office, the main banquet hall and the bowling alley in the basement. I agreed with him that the Oval Office wallpaper should be changed to the color gold since that was always his signature look, but I nixed the big T logo on the wall behind his desk. He had the White House Chief Butler forward photos to me of the banquet hall. It was beautiful. It just really needed new wallpaper. And President Trump hates bowling so I suggested he take out the bowling alley and turn it back into a pool as it was under President Kennedy. We talked about some concepts he liked and I developed a plan for him. The White House? Are you serious? No, but you can always dream 😉
Jennifer can be reached at 052-448-7050, www.jenniferungarinteriors.com or email@example.com