Who Said the Sky Has to be the Limit?
Watch out everyone, Joelle Drury is coming through! This Design Institute of San Diego graduate has only been out of school for 5 years but is already making waves in the industry: she has worked on 2 projects honored with the IIDA Calibre Award, was recently published in Contract Magazine, has worked for notable clients such as Larry Flint, has tackled enormous commercial projects ranging up to a half a million square feet, and is now managing a team of designers at Shlemmer + Algaze + Associates Interiors and Architecture (SAA). She is a powerhouse of ambition and energy. Even when sitting down for an interview, no questions need to be asked; she has a plan and is ready to get straight to business.
Although Joelle has always been ambitious, her drive started off directionless. When it was time to go to college, she couldn't decide between radio, art, therapy, writing and interior design. She polled her friends and family and interior design was hands down the profession they chose for her. "They totally called it...it's such a good balance between the left and right brain, which I need." Her mom loves to tell the story of when Joelle was 8, got on a bus, went to Home Depot, and bought 2 cans of paint, supplies and a new light fixture. She came home, got the ladder, painted the room and installed the fixture, all on her own.
When it was time to decide on a school, this San Francisco native came up with a plan of attack. "I literally toured every single design school in California and made a spreadsheet of how much the program cost, where it was located, if they were accredited and what the campus was like." After all of this research, Joelle decided on DISD because of the small size, long standing accreditation, professional instructors and price. The research paid off: "I loved it [at DISD]. I would never have left if I didn't have to! It felt like a think tank. It was a very energetic and inspiring environment. The more classes I took, the more I got into it and the more fire I got."
While in school, Joelle worked at Ikea doing their kitchen cabinet designs and then for a general contractor doing residential design. "I was his client interface, so I did the design and handled the client. It was a huge learning experience, especially about the constraints of the built environment and client mentality."
It wasn't until she took Jinny Black's ID II class that she started seeing commercial design as her true calling, which is how she ended up in her current position. Joelle recalls her current employers' reaction when she came into the interview and they saw her work. "They specifically said, 'This is a great portfolio!' They saw the work I was doing and the projects I had at DISD and it was just so connected to the work they did. There was a direct correlation between what I was doing in school and what I was doing at work."
Joelle was pleasantly surprised by how prepared she was after school. "Those core elements that they hammer into you, you just don't realize how much you're going to need that." She recalled a class where the instructor had the students move around in a wheelchair. "I still think of that every day and it affects the way I plan spaces." She points out that even if a design meets ADA guidelines, it may not be comfortable. So she goes above and beyond the basic requirements of the law when appropriate.
Though she left DISD with a résumé full of skills, AutoCAD ended up being a crucial one. During her first few days at SAA Joelle felt a little lost. "So when they handed me AutoCAD work I said, 'I know how to do that!' It gave me a comfort level in a big world." The longer she was there, the more she realized just how valuable her time at DISD was: "Now being in my position, I can see from far away just how wonderfully the education aligns with what you're actually dealing with in the real world. They can't teach you everything but they get you as far as they possibly can. And it was so much appreciated."
SAA consists of an interior design and architecture department with over 100 people. They also have two sister companies: an engineering firm and construction firm. This meant Joelle needed to put in some extra effort in order to get noticed. She wanted to be indispensible. "I did all the things that no one else wanted to do. I got to know everyone in the office on a personal level so that they could not envision the company without me." Her approach obviously worked because not only did she make it through layoffs, she also moved her way up and has been given enormous responsibility, including the role of project manager for their latest project: their own new office space. Having to design for designers is obviously a lot of pressure. On top of that, it was a very unusual space which required some clever structural feats. If that wasn't enough, there was only a 4-month turnaround! "It was hardcore fast and super intense. There were acoustical issues, lighting issues, work station space planning issues, structural issues, the list goes on." But Joelle finished the project on time and within budget, and it came out so well that people walking down the street will look through the windows, come in and ask what type of company they are.
Joelle will be the first to tell you that the commercial interior design world can be stressful and demanding, but to her it's worth it. "I love what I do! If you're really focused on working hard and not taking anything for granted, the world is your oyster!" With this kind of passion, Joelle has no plans to slow down. She is focusing on getting more hospitality and retail design projects. "I feel like those are the spaces that speak to me." She is still learning to effectively manage a team, write proposals and make money on projects. She is fully aware of the importance of the business aspects of the industry and how they will facilitate her future successes. Even though she's come so far, she still sees so much room for growth. "That's why I like the industry. There are a lot of directions you can go. I never stop thinking about what's next and what I want to do. I'm not sure what shape [my career] is going to take but I know if I set something in my mind, at some point it will happen. I'll get there." If the past is any indication, it's true that for Joelle, even the sky is not the limit.
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