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DI Details Newsletter June 2010 Design Institute of San Diego

A Graduate With Style

Impacting Lives from the Inside Out

Can I Get That Green Chair in Blue, Please?

Anne Kellett wins award for CATaquarium

LIBRARIAN'S CORNER - Magnificent Plants, Magnificent Photography


A Graduate With Style

With the graduation ceremony completed, Sarah Watlington headed to Point Loma to work on her latest project - a collaborative design effort with Michael Soriano of Onairos Design.

"This is actually my third professional project. It's a small restaurant that's still in the construction phase, so it's too early for photographs," Sarah explains. The concept? Taking a "Little Italy-type" pizza place and turning it into the Sessions Public Restaurant - a moderately priced, mixed cuisine dining spot and a complete departure from the existing space. "It's going to be really eclectic; kind of old warehouse meets natural history museum, if that makes any sense." says Sarah.

Hitting the ground running is par for the course for Sarah who, halfway through her junior year at DI, got lucky and received her first assignment: Designing the Red Door Restaurant in Mission Hills.

"My parents had been thinking of opening a restaurant and partnered with Ric Libiran, owner of Café Blue Restaurant, purchasing what used to be Parallel 33 on Washington St. in Mission Hills. That gave me the opportunity to showcase my design skills and to put a really nice project into my portfolio."

The restaurant was a two for one deal because it shared the kitchen with the restaurant next door, previously called Blue Lotus, which Sarah also got to design, turning it into The Wellington Steak and Martini Lounge. "It was a real hands-on experience, and we did everything - gutted the places, construction, signage…the works. I got to handle every aspect of design, which was an education in itself because there are things you just can't learn in the classroom."

The result: The client, while admittedly a trifle biased, is "really, really happy with the way things turned out."

"I got really lucky and caught a break. To say I owe my parents is an understatement." she says. That may be, but her results also led to her relationship with Soriano and more work, so luck only went so far. After that, talent and training had to take over.

"I got an extremely thorough design education," Sarah notes of the time she invested at Design Institute. "I came out with comprehensive computer skills and technical knowledge that I've already used and am very glad that I have. Attending Design Institute was definitely one of the more interesting and worthwhile experiences I've had."

DI helped Sarah learn about much more than interior design, though. "It's true that DI provides the tools and gives you the education you want and need to put you on the path to a successful design career. But I also learned how important it is to be sure interior design is the direction you really want to go. Because if you're not fully committed to this being your life's work, you'll be limited in how much you'll take away from the education they provide to you."

So what comes next for Sarah? "Well, the next few weeks I'll be completing the Sessions Public assignment. It's an amazing opportunity, and I want to see it through to the end. But after that…who knows? I want to do some volunteer work, then travel and go to architectural graduate school."

"I grew up in San Diego, and really love it here. Still, a big part of being a good designer is experiencing other cultures and meeting other kinds of people, so I'm looking to try other places. I may land on the East coast. Or Europe. Or Canada. At this point it's hard to predict."

"I believe design - like so much of life - should be fun and not be taken too seriously. I don't like pretention, but do recognize that good design can have a deep emotional impact on people's lives."

"I want my designs to be enjoyed by everyone and to make people think. I'm not afraid to jump into any kind of assignment and I enjoy getting my hands dirty," laughs the San Diego native. "I don't want to be a designer who just stands on the side and watches - I know that people will have more respect for my work if I'm in it up to my elbows. So I'm involved in every step of the process, and in turn I'm gaining a much better appreciation for every detail that needs to be addressed."

Before dashing off to her next commitment, Sarah offers a word of advice for those right behind her at DI: "Be passionate about what you do, and never take things at face value. If you come up with a concept you believe in and take professional risks, you can truly make a name for yourself and force people to recognize your style despite all the competitive noise and mediocrity that's out there. Just never be afraid to explore your own talents - you'll go much further than you ever thought possible."

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