By Lauren Randall
Design is a part of everyday life, from the comfort of one’s living room sofa to the structure of a downtown building. While the goal of interior design is to create an object, space or environment that is aesthetically pleasing, it also seeks to improve the health, safety and welfare of a client or an individual inhabiting a space. Design is first about the person, not the product.
Isaac Boroughs explored these ideas in his video, “Solutions for People: Interior Design,” which won second place in the national 2016 Interior Design Education Video Competition. This competition was sponsored by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA), Council for Interior Design Qualification (CIDQ) and International Interior Design Association (IIDA).
Boroughs, a 2016 graduate of the Fay Jones School’s interior design program, has since started his career at Emily Summers Design Associates, an award-winning, high-end commercial and residential architectural and interior design firm in Dallas, Texas.
Boroughs advises other interior design students to keep an open mind when it comes to choosing a career path.
“Consider all of the avenues that a career in interior design can lead you down: architecture, graphic design, product design, furniture design, lighting design, exhibit design, museum curation, art history,” Boroughs said. “The list is never ending, but you just have to start somewhere.”
If he uses his talent the way he did in the video, he will change the way people view interior designers and improve the lives of individuals he works with, said Kimberley Furlong, an assistant professor in interior design.
“I am proud of Isaac’s accomplishments to this point, including his being recognized with this award,” she said. “His future will hold many opportunities that I hope bring him great personal and professional fulfillment.”
Yet Boroughs’ love for design did not begin until after he started classes at the University of Arkansas. He had scouted out universities with his initial interest in mind: music education.
After realizing music was not his real passion, Boroughs considered several different majors – such as kinesiology, nursing, business and architecture – before he decided on interior design. Each major had a significant deal breaker, and Boroughs scheduled an advising appointment to help with the decision-making process.
Sheri Lynn Tuck, the school’s academic counselor, changed the way Boroughs considered his career path. After discussing the pros and cons of the architecture school and program, the two reached a conclusion.
“Sheri Lynn looked at me and said, ‘You don’t really strike me as an architecture student, though. You’re more interior design,’” he said. “I still hadn’t considered interior design as an option. She told me a bit more, and then I took a leap of faith.”
Boroughs later recognized that the location of the interior design program within the architecture and design school at this university is unique compared to many other universities, where that program is part of the college of arts or home and consumer sciences.
“Ours being part of a school that makes a focus on holistic design such a high priority really makes it stand out,” Boroughs said. “Especially toward the end of my design school experience, I began to realize that design is design, and the lines between architecture, interior design and landscape architecture exist, but are very faint and porous.”
Furlong has worked with Boroughs since his second year as a design student. Not only was Boroughs her student, but also her teaching assistant and collaborator. She was his faculty advisor on the award-winning video.
“When I met Isaac, he was a second-year student, and I quickly became confident he was in the right field and would grow to be an impressive interior designer,” Furlong said. “In his final semester with us, he proved to be one of our most sought-after graduating seniors. An interior designer’s portfolio is perhaps the most important tool they have to communicate their individual strengths and values. Isaac has one of the best student portfolios I have seen.”
Design school had its up and downs, but overall Boroughs took away a broad spectrum of knowledge from his experience, and said he wouldn’t trade it for the world. During his time here, he researched how perfume is made to design a perfumery laboratory, studied how people sit and what muscles are most impacted to design better work spaces, and made promotional and competitive videos that explain why interior design is an essential profession.
Design has become a lifestyle for Boroughs, and he notices the little things such as code violations in restaurants or interesting aspects of a building’s structure, he said.
“When I go to upgrade my phone, I have to see how the product is designed, the interface, the graphics, how everything is designed to affect humans and the user, before I’ll commit to buying it,” Boroughs said. “It’s not really that I incorporate design in my everyday life now. It’s that now I’m constantly aware of the undeniable fact that everything we come in contact with on a daily basis was designed.”
Interior design is more than just finding interesting décor that is pleasing to the eye. An interior designer leads client meetings, makes construction drawings, and conducts site inspections of projects. While designers are concerned with the aesthetic of design, this isn’t important if the design is not well suited for the end user, Boroughs said.
“If you look at an office building, an interior designer selected the chair that a person sits in eight hours a day and made sure that it was ergonomically suited to every possible body type that could possibly ever occupy the chair so that it benefits the health, safety and welfare of the user,” Boroughs said. “If you look at a home, the interior designer could have possibly picked the sofa that you nap on daily or the shade that blocks the sun just the right way so that the eastern sun doesn’t blind you in the morning when you’re fresh out of bed.”
Throughout his college career, Boroughs made it his goal to not have a particular design aesthetic define his work. Each project was a clean slate that developed organically.
“When I start a project, I look at precedents of similar project typologies, and I let that inspire me. Not formally or spatially, but rather looking at what was done well, what wasn’t done well, what was a missed opportunity,” Boroughs said. “From that point, it is all about what makes the most sense for that particular project, in that space, in that time and what can withstand the use, trials and problems that we can anticipate in the near future.”
Energy, effort, thought and compassion are requirements for an individual to be successful in the field of interior design, Boroughs said. Yet, when work becomes overwhelming, it is important for designers to step back and remember that their job is supposed to be fun, he said.
“When I just can’t look at a drawing anymore or I’m getting very frustrated, I get away from it. It could be going for a drive, it could be going shopping, it could be going to the gym or going for a run, but it is so, so, so important to step away from the work when the work becomes a chore,” Boroughs. “And I think it is so important because, as designers, we intrinsically love what we do.”
Boroughs and Laura Cochran, a recent architecture graduate, partnered in a fall 2015 studio taught by Furlong and Greg Herman, on a project that won the first place award in a competition for the use of brick in their design. Boroughs and his partner worked to determine how brick could be used on the interior and exterior of the building. The inspiration for the project came from Edward Durell Stone’s historically significant mid-century modern design for the university’s Fine Arts Center, completed in 1951.
“There was a lot of research done on theater design and theater systems, since that was a major component of the renovation,” Boroughs said. “After that, it was a mission to tie together historical design intentions and new design intentions to better serve the changing and growing university as a whole, and make a sophisticated design that was a new and better place to be for students across campus, theater students, fine arts students, and the patrons to the programs that the complex serves.”
This award gave Boroughs confidence in his skills, and was one of the most difficult projects he faced in school, he said. The project took about 12 weeks to complete, which is a short amount of time for most professional interior designers to develop a project.
“The most difficult part of the project was probably having to cultivate a renovation of a 100,000-square-foot complex, an addition that was about 50,000 square feet, rework the site and landscape design to support our changes, develop a full interior scheme, and reach a level of detail that made the project believable in such a short period of time,” Boroughs said. “But, oddly enough, that was the most rewarding part of the project as well. It showed us that we could conquer a massive project and succeed in a short period of time while trusting our design skills.”
Though Boroughs said that his skills and inspiration come from a variety of places, he knows that his success could not be possible without the support and encouragement from the faculty members and his family and friends.