Saturday, May 21, 2005

Top Designers of 2004:
Interview with Marcie Harris

LF+DG: Our interview with the Top Designers for 2004 continues with Marcie Harris of H/S Interiors. Marcie is a busy woman and we managed to catch her for a few moments. So, Marcie, you were one of our top designers in 2004 in terms of business with Landfair Furniture, why don't you start by telling us about your background?
Marcie Harris: Hi Mike and Bev! I will attempt to answer your questions now... I actually have to put my thinking cap on! I sold real estate in the 80's and started accessorizing the new homes I was selling to enhance their market appeal (as interest rates were 14% and climbing!) This lead me into a business partnership with H/S Interiors staging model homes for builders.
Mike: What does H/S stand for?
Marcie Harris: H/ stands for Harris (me) and Severson (my mother) who is my business partner in the model home furniture business. She has always been the best truck driver - goes back to the days when we started and couldn't afford real movers so we did all the moving ourselves - and our backs can attest to that now.
Bev: So you are an entrepreneur?
Marcie Harris: Absolutely! While I enjoyed the 'decorating' part of putting together builder models, I knew I was lacking in formal design training and so I went back to college to earn my BFA in Interior Design from Marylhurst University in 1996. I am an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers.

LF+DG: Who or what influences your designs?
Marcie Harris: I am influenced by just about everything that is put in front of me! One of my favorite areas of study is architectural history and so when I travel I relish visiting architectural sites. I shop like a madperson, I read copious amounts of design and shelter magazines each month and I also learn a lot from my own clients!

LF+DG: How do you define good design?
Marcie Harris: Well, of course, first and foremost good design must enhance the health, safety, and welfare of the end-user. While just about anyone interested in this field loves the access to gorgeous furniture, art, fabrics and accessories, good design is primarily about enhancing people's lives so the client can not only live in beautiful surroundings that reflect their interests and personality, but also enable them to live each day to their fullest capability. "Universal Design" and "Green Design" are areas that we now think of as 'specialties" but I believe will soon be standard requirements for all credible design proposals.

Bev: Whoa, Marcie, Mike just got lost with talk of "Universal Design" and "Green Design".
Mike: How did we switch to Green cars and Universal joints?
Marcie Harris: Ha, Ha! Certainly there is correct terminology for this concept - but my interpretation of Universal Design is creating an environment that is end-user friendly - for all age groups and for users with physical limitations. It is not just about ADA compliance. For instance, a space designed for a young family could have lower vanities in the baths for the kids - perhaps with a pullout cabinet under the sink if someone in a wheelchair needed to use it. It is about proper lighting - reducing glare, proper task lighting. It is about proper flooring - seamless changes in flooring materials so someone with limited ambulatory abilities won't trip on the edge of a surface change. It is about wider doorways and hallways and making bathrooms more accessible and safer with proper grab bars and turning radius and wheel- in showers. It is about a space that if you suddenly broke your leg - you would not be helpless in your own space. It is about aging in place.

Bev: It could be about aging "boomers"! And "green Design?
Marcie Harris: Again, we've heard a lot of this lately. My interpretation of Green Design is that designers and architects need to be educated about the 'lifecycle" of the products they specify. This is not only the recycling capability of products, but thinking about what it took to make the product in the first place. Obviously we can't evaluate everything - but if more pressure were put on manufacturers from designers and architects regarding "green design", I believe the industry would react accordingly. I have a client with a child that came down with environmental sickness after they moved into their new home. The off-gassing of VOC's from the various products (osb board, carpet glue etc.) was enough to keep her out of one whole year of high school. This was 8 years ago and things are improving - but it is still a huge concern.

LF+DG: Ok, a change of pace. If I walk into one of your client's homes, will I say, "Ah, this is a Marcie Harris designed home!"
Marcie Harris: Since a lot of my design work in the past has involved model homes - I have had the opportunity to be my own client over and over again (with, unfortunately, the budget constraints that go along with me!) So I'd say a lot of my models have a similar "look." As I moved away from "staging" to working for individual clients, I broke loose from that, however, and lately I've been incorporating some more 'modern' touches meaning a more streamlined look - more mid-century modern; traditional forms simplified- not as much embellishment; a "quieter" look. I still adore traditional interiors but find the 'modern' look to be appropriate in many environments today.
When I work with a client, I interview them thoroughly and have them do a lot of homework themselves before we get started purchasing or selecting finishes. They may start out thinking they don't have any preferences, but when we are done - they certainly know their likes and dislikes - and this is my goal, to give them an environment that speaks to them.

LF+DG: Do you use a presentation board with your clients?
Marcie Harris: I rarely do except for commercial jobs. In residential design a lot of the approach is educating the client as to what is available to them. This involves many 'field trips." Once the client and I have a contract, I immediately render furniture and cabinet plans so they can get a real sense of what I am trying to achieve with the design. I am big on hand drafting and rendering - being the dinosaur that I am.

LF+DG: How do you charge for your services?
Marcie Harris: I charge by the hour- and this is my primary compensation. My fee starts from the time I leave my office to the time I leave the client. On custom orders I charge cost plus a small mark-up. I may not make a lot reselling furniture to clients, but I find they trust me with all their decisions and there is no problem if they decide to purchase something 'retail.' I feel this industry is becoming very SERVICE oriented. Much of what I do is not just about picking out great stuff, but getting it implemented in a well organized manner is often just as important to my clients.

LF+DG: We find that designers with whom we work have all sorts of other creative outlets. What other creative things do you do?
Marcie Harris: My work is my creative outlet. Give me a pencil and ruler and I'm happy. I relieve stress by gardening and painting and entertaining family and friends. I try to travel somewhere interesting at least once a year. My daughters are dancers and their performances generally keep my social calendar full.

Mike: It fascinates me how women can do this dance. This dance of balancing wife, mother and career woman. How do you manage?
Marcie Harris: My career as an independant interior designer has enabled me to schedule my appointments around my children and still work a full week. I was setting up model homes with newborn babies; and my sister, a design student that works for me, has done the same with her three kids. My work with individual clients has grown as I have had my schedule open up once my girl's got their drivers licenses! Although sometimes I work 7 days a week - doing my books on Sunday afternoon, I never feel put out. I have a very understanding husband and that helps too. Plus he's great at loading a sofa once in awhile!

LF+DG: Anything else?
Marcie Harris: Bev is my favorite design source in the Portland area. I feel her place is the coffee shop at "Friends", since I always find an interesting designer to talk to there. Her complete and undivided attention to us designers really makes our lives so much easier - THANKS BEV!

LF+DG: We didn't prompt Marcie to say that. We love to see Marcie and are happy she feels that way about Landfair Furniture where there are always fat free animal crackers. You can reach Marcie Harris at H/S Interiors rmkm4@web-ster.com 503-341-2333.

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