My name is Meredith Fraga and I am an Intermediate Interior Designer with IA Interior Architects in their Los Angeles office. I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Interior Design from Virginia Tech, and am originally from the Northern VA/DC area.

1. As a past Bienenstock Interior Design Competition winner, can you give one piece of advice to students entering our competition?

I remember back in school having a love/hate relationship with the design competition projects due to the “rules”… they often had more guidelines and rules than our non-competition projects. There was always that ONE guideline (or COLUMN! PSA – that’s every building!) that you wish wasn’t there. Although, yes, it’d be GREAT for it to not exist, these projects prepare you for a small fraction of the parameters you’ll face on projects as a professional; from clients requests, existing building conditions, landlord restrictions, or code. So rather than get frustrated with the “rules” or building given to you (because even in the real world they will be frustrating at times!), welcome the challenge and face it head on. I can promise you once you come up with a design solution that works holistically, it’s always the greatest feeling. We’re in this business to create solutions, and there will always be one (or many).

2. What is one thing you have learned as a professional that was not taught in design school?

Honestly too many to count! I will say that school prepared me well for the real world. There is only so much they can teach you in school, so I appreciate that the Virginia Tech Interior Design program gave me a holistic education and taught classes on many important facets like lighting design, professional practice, building systems, etc. and that we learned REVIT at an early stage. I think the hardest thing to teach in school is technical information, which you gain with experience, from your coworkers, and by doing construction documents and administration, and I think is what I’ve learned the most as a professional. Detailing, door hardware, exiting diagrams, building/ADA/Fire/MEP Code etc. – it’s a never ending learning experience!

3. How has your work experience changed due to Covid-19? How are you connecting with clients and co-workers?

Due to COVID, my entire office has been working from home since Mid-March of 2020. It was really difficult at first, but we’ve all gotten used to our “new normal.” We don’t anticipate going back to the office anytime soon due to the continual spike in COVID cases in LA. My work experience has changed mainly by having to learn how to communicate and collaborate with my coworkers while we’re all remote. Our office has a ton of pinup space, and it is heavy used; we constantly have planned or impromptu design charrettes which are super helpful to our process in SD and DD phases of projects. Learning how to charrette and collaborate for large design presentations while remote was hard, but we did it and were

really happy with the work produced. Communication has been key so we constantly IM and call each-other, as well as have daily team touchbases. Another challenge has been organization at my house; I have three projects in Construction Administration currently, so my home looks like a material library exploded! Control samples and submittals everywhere. As an office, we have a weekly design/technical highlight, and a weekly happy hour, to maintain office culture and chat about things other than work. 🙂

4. In your design work, where do you first find inspiration for a new client and/or job project?

While it’s always helpful to do research; the client/company, the building, site/city, etc. I’ve found it most inspiring to meet the client’s project team and end user. Speaking with them about what they want out of their new space, what their goals for the future are, and what works or doesn’t in their current space are always the most helpful. Getting a grasp on elements like how the space should make them and guests feel, how it should function, and what is should say about them are crucial to finding inspiration for individual projects, and then other things like concept and design features fall into place more organically.

5. Describe your first few years as a designer working in the industry? What challenges have you faced? What have been your strengths?

My first few years have honestly been better than I ever could have imagined. I got my dream job at IA Interior Architects right out of school. I worked for a year in their DC office, and then moved to Los Angeles, and have now been in their LA office a year. I have worked on a multitude of projects – large and small. Tech companies to a music production school. From Calgary, Alberta, LA, DC/Northern Virginia, Pennsylvania, to name a few. I’ve worked with not only amazing people from IA, but engineers, contractors, and of course, clients. I’ve learned so much from everyone around me, and continue to everyday. I think the largest challenge I’ve faced so far has been COVID; having to work from home, the change in project dynamic, and completely changing how I work. On the bright side, I am extremely grateful to have my job, and to continue to do what I love every day. I think one of my strengths has been my constant desire to learn. If I don’t know something, I ask a question or do some research. We’ll never know anything in this profession, especially since every project brings up new challenges, so I’ve embraced the fact and it’s made the process a little less overwhelming. 🙂

6. Can you state in one sentence what your career in design means to you?

My career in design is vital, as we spend almost 90% of our lifetime indoors, so it is my job to create healthy, functional, and beautiful spaces for all, while protecting the health, safety, and welfare of all that use them.