Leta Austin Foster and My Thoughts About the State of Interior Design

Irwin Weiner ASID - When I look at these great photos of a Palm Beach townhouse that master interior designer Leta Austin Foster took of a recent project (see slideshow above), it makes me think of how even the cream of American interior designers are having to work within tight budgets these days. I love the project and the results of her work, and budgets will always dominate the discussion when it comes to new home projects. But it just reminds me that with widespread economic uncertainty - Will I get a bonus this year? Will I be part of the next round of pink slips? - even the wealthiest clients are cutting back.

During the money-is-no-object days, Leta would have had free reign on her townhouse project. She would work her ingenious magic on spending wisely, of course, but she wouldn't have had to ramp up her efforts in thrift stores, tag sales, and inexpensive outlets for design solutions to meet a very tight budget. Interior designers are clever, and we can flexibly work within any client's restrictions, but these days it's a challenge to deliver high value in every single design vignette, room by room. For some designers, gone are the days of selecting museum quality furnishings to add a one-of-a-kind specialness to a space.

  • I know of professionals who once bought occasionally at high-end furniture vendors, and they've stopped all their high-end purchases altogether. This is a bad sign for the industry indeed, when vendors are missing all those occasional purchases from a large block of designers.
  • The "family casual" decorating trend and the bad job market is a combo influence that's turned out two consecutive years of interior design projects reliant, to a great extent, upon online catalog purchases and selections from mass market stores like Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, and Home Goods. 

Decorating With Sheets

  • I'm doing more hourly design work than ever before, and less commission work. That's a big switch I know many other designers are embracing to adapt to changing client demands. There seems to be more architectural design work for me with new clients and somewhat fewer decorating (commissioned) purchases.


  • It's hard for me to recommend an expensive fabric to most of my clients, even if it's the best design solution. I tend to apply most of my budget to basic case goods, and reduce the cost of upholstery, trims, and other finishes to show good value to my clients and stretch their budgets.

I know that the pendulum will swing in the other direction, but for now, I see interior design going through a major shakeout. How many talented young designers will have to leave the industry due to lack of work before they become entrenched and trusted entities? How many established designers will leave the industry or forsake their private practice? I'd love to hear your take on the industry, too. Leave a comment, and let's discuss. In the meantime, I doff my hat to Leta Austin Foster; even a tight budget can't dim the classy timeliness of her designs. Visit the Leta Austin Foster website, her boutique website, or her smashing Decorating With Sheets blog.


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