What Do They Know That Others Are Missing?
Marrokal Design and Remodeling is a 30 year old design/build/remodel firm based in San Diego. Besides offering a full range of design build services, including renovations, remodeling and new construction, Marrokal has another distinction; Every member of Marrokals' interior design team is a graduate of Design Institute.
The Secret of Their Success
It's no surprise that Marrokal's web site announces the company provides "the utmost in quality, service, and integrity in home remodeling." Given Design Institutes's reputation for graduating only the finest in the industry, there's a natural match with firms of integrity.
Still, suspecting there was more to the tale, we sought out our graduates to hear their thoughts about their education, their careers, and their advice for new entrants into the industry. Here's a bit of what they shared with us:
John Mills Davies ASID CGBP NKBA SOHO ASAI
At Marrokal since 2002, John originally envisioned himself as an architect and initially worked for a high-end residential architecture firm for several years. "One day Gary (Marrokal) asked me to establish the Design Center for Marrokal, in San Diego, and the next thing you know I'm designing most of the Marrokal projects, meeting with clients for their interior design and generating all of their graphic presentations. Then as our client base grew and the level of design rose we needed to add interior designers. Turning to Design Institute for referrals was a natural step, since I knew I'd be able to interview professionally trained designers."
Self-motivated, this graduate of the class of 1999 was always pushing himself to do bigger and better things. John saw Design Institute as a starting point for bigger things in his life and he looks back fondly on his DI experience. "I even taught there for a semester," he recalls.
"After I completed the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design degree at Design Institute, architecture was a natural progression for me. I wanted to understand it all from the inside out (in Le Corbusier fashion)."
"I was one of those kids who always knew he wanted to design houses" John confides. "My father - a licensed residential architect and college professor for 32 years - designed the house I grew up in. In fact, he designed the neighboring homes around where we lived when I was a kid. And as a youngster I was surrounded by architects - some of them of exceptional note - whose homes are studied to this day as examples of great work. This stuff just rubs off, I think."
Perhaps it was the ability to mess up his dad's studio that did it. "Mom wanted everything in the house kept in its place. But in dad's studio I would goof off and draw houses and cars and cats and stuff. And at first I wanted to be a car designer, but wasn't interested in living in Detroit."
"I was initially intimidated by the amount of math required in architecture. I decided to tackle interior design first at DI, got my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design, became confident of my abilities, and now work in both interior design and architecture.
He continues; "Today there is so much involved in my career. It's not just about design and architecture. It's also photography, graphic design, event planning, home staging, journalism, public relations, administration, employee management, and human resources. The list just goes on and on."
"And at the end of the day there is nothing better than the 'ah-ha moment' in the design and client process - the single moment of clarity when you suddenly know 'That's it'"!
"There's something to what Michelangelo described as freeing the form from the block of stone. A great design 'feels' like it's always existed, and I'm just setting it free. People really respond to that experience, and they honestly feel your passion. It's the thrill in what I do!"
John's advice: "First, find your passion! My dad told me years ago, if you choose design and architecture, be prepared to live and breathe it! It was appropriate and applicable advice."
"Because when it comes to interior design, DI is a great place to start and the sky's the limit if you learn to draw and are willing to work hard. Stay focused, realize that there are many ways to look at a design solution and there are no boundaries on what you can do or where your profession will take you! Nurture confidence in your work, check the ego at the door, and you will go far."
"Finally, you should remember that getting a degree from an accredited school like DI means you have options with your career. It's all about credibility and competence in the design field. You can work for someone else. You can start your own business. And if you can physically draw, you'll set yourself way above the competition. You'll pretty much be able to do whatever you want and write your own ticket."
As a classmate of John Davies, April Worrell - owner of Wor-ell Custom Interiors - was also raised in a creative environment.
With her grandparents owning Seattle's Wor-ell Custom Lighting, April spent her formative years walking through grand edifices like the Olympia Hotel and Four Seasons. She found herself intrigued by the intricacies of detail and craftsmanshipand from the very beginning she knew interior design could be a career where she could apply herself and enjoy the results.
Now an independent contractor to Marrokal, April's one of those individuals who enjoys keeping in touch with people. April's strong communication skills made her the first person John considered as his employer's needs expanded. Bringing her into the fold allowed him to care for clients requiring professional help with layout, tile, color, and finish.
After attending Arizona State University, April transferred to Design Institute - a move she still speaks about enthusiastically all these years later. "Whereas other schools teach theory and tear apart your work for not being up to code when they do not teach the code, DI was never like that." she says. "Everything about my education at Design Institute was about practicality. Everything was done to code, and the knowledge the instructors imparted was always real nuts and bolts stuff. The question that everyone always addressed was 'How can this be built?'"
Their attention to design detail, April observes, comes from the fact that all of DI's professors work in the industry every day and can refer their students to real buildings and projects that they're involved with. Her senior project - a hypothetical installation for a real building on Route 163 in San Diego - provided her the opportunity to measure and walk through the facility in ways that Couldn't be read in a textbook or expressed through a CAD program.
"I found the atmosphere at DI to be very welcoming, even as the work was challenging. Best of all, the teachers were approachable. I've used the experiences and opportunities I gained at DI, and then working at Marrokal, to get my work published and entered into contests. And we've won. A lot."
"In turn, these successes have allowed me to collaborate with other designers whenever I've needed to. I then make myself available for other designers at Marrokal. I'm fortunate, because I'm working at a very collaborative company - a company of integrity. People who work at Marrokal tend to do what they say they're going to do, when they say they'll do it. This is a rare, but very positive, characteristic in the construction field."
Sounds like April's found her niche in life.
April's advice: "Live your dream. As my professor in my senior year said, 'You can save the world through design.' Earning my degree in interior design from Design Institute gave me an education I've been able to apply to the real world for the past 10 years. I've been able to support myself because of that education."
Working with John and April since this past fall is Donna Brewer, graduate of the class of 2000.
Donna started out in kitchen design and also has worked for a variety of local builders in San Diego and Riverside County.
"It's funny how you get into this business" she says now. "When I was in tenth grade, I had to write an English paper on my dream home. The instructions were to discuss how it would be built, and in an effort to make it interesting I put it on a Hawaiian beach and walked the reader through the house. I designed every inch of the house all the way down to the dock on the beach."
That was when she knew a career in the design field was for her.
Business College opened different opportunities for her, though, and one thing led to another. Next thing she knew, Donna had invested over 15 years as a pharmacy technician. She was well-paid, had five weeks of paid vacation annually…but design was never far from her thoughts.
"I would help friends and family redesign their homes and would often take art classes at the local college,"she recalls. "I was always involved in design in some form or another."
After a back injury (and on the advice of her doctor) Donna decided it was time to change careers and return to her first love. She earned her DI degree at night…and she was off and running!
Her favorite part of the education she received? "My teachers were amazing - they were architects and designers working in the field. They'd give me actual plans and blueprints they were working on and give the students a free hand to change things around and turn them into our own plans.
"Everything we did at that school was really hands on, providing valuable experience. It's made all the difference in my new career. Now I LOVE what I do!"
Donna's advice: "No matter what career you start in, you can always pursue your dreams and get your interior design degree. Don't be afraid because it's such a great experience.
Life takes us all in interesting directions, and Kelly Smiar is no exception. Graduating with the class of 2001, she passed over her original desire of architecture in favor of a marriage and two daughters.
Then came the divorce, the waitressing job, and the realization that life could offer her something better if she followed her heart and did what made her feel alive.
In this case "something better" was defined as learning to design interiors. "I loved getting my degree at DI" she says, despite the stress of simultaneously going to school, working and taking care of two small children. "I found the environment to be creative, challenging and exciting, all at the same time. Sure, it was a lot of work, but it was a great experience. I learned a lot there!
Now, after walking that path for the past 8 1/2 years and as a consultant to Marrokal, Kelly has realized it was the smartest career choice she could have made. "Every single day I love my job. It's what I was supposed to do. And I feel very fortunate, because for me this is not work."
Kelly's advice: "Whatever you pick to do with your life, be sure you love it. Everybody works hard at their career, so yours should be something you're truly passionate about.
I absolutely love what I do and I'm entirely engrossed in it. That shows in my work. Design Institute nurtured that."
In addition to providing a fine education, a degree earned at Design Institute is flexible.
That is what Catt Catterton determined when he graduated in 2001, unsure of what kind of interior design he wanted to specialize in. So he became a jack of all trades, master of none.
Of course, that was all before he attended an exhibition where a lighting company invited him to focus on lighting design, including lighting layouts for restaurants, hotels, offices, and even airplane hangers. He's never looked back.
Today he's in business for himself, consulting for Marrokal and coordinating with designers, contractors, electricians, and project managers. "My job is to translate what the client has in their heads to the guys on site, confirming it works with the overall vision of the project."
"The guys and gals at Marrokal have graciously worked me into their projects." Catt says. "It's wonderful to work with builders who design first and build second. They have tremendous respect for their designers, which allows for a climate in which I get introduced to clients who are as excited as I am about the project. The energy is always great and respectful," he reports.
"DI is incredible" he enthuses. "You get a bachelors degree that's infused with all this art and construction. It doesn't get any better than that. The school is intense, but amazing and 100% worth going there!"
"When the lighting company picked me up I was able to start up an Auto Cad department for them. That allowed them to receive and send out plans directly over email. A skill I had learned at Design Institute. Then I was asked to put together period pieces for custom homes, and I was able to draw on the history of interiors that had been drilled into my head by my DI instructor. I was very confident once I got out into the profession and realized the quality of my education.
"Here's the thing" he continues. "When you leave DI you're more ready to hit the ground running than you may realize. There's nothing out there related to design that they don't cover in their classes. You learn everything that's possible from working with professionals, and get real world, first hand knowledge on every subject in the business doing design. I'd even like to teach there myself in the future."
Catt's advice: "Design is a great career to have, and the sky's the limit. Do what you love, and people will sense the energy you bring to a project. It's infectious, and I find people will hire you for your attitude alone. You will definitely find something out there to fulfill you if you just put your mind to it. That means you can have fun…and make a little money while you're at it."
Taking Good Advice
People doing what they love don't consider it work, and that's the pattern we found in these stories. Each DI graduate gained a tremendous value from their education. Each is working in a career that they love. Each is increasingly successful.
These similarities are hardly coincidental.
Learning more about our graduates, their careers, and their thoughts on how they've created their own exciting future from a DI education could be as simple as speaking with our Director of Admissions. Following in their footsteps could just be a matter of contacting Paula Parrish to learn more about DI.