Partnership for a New Generation of Design Professionals

There I was, surrounded by an enormous room, its multiple intertwining staircases zigzagging from one platform to another, climbing over 100 feet with a 3,000 sq. ft. skylight at the top. No, I was not climbing the staircase in Hogwarts Castle or looking at a painting by M.C. Escher. This was the Great Western Staircase at the center of the New York State Capitol Building, designed by architect Isaac Perry (built 1883 – 1897). This, most captivating of interior environments, invited me to travel across space while invigorating me with new ideas.

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This was not my first visit to the capitol. Just six years ago, a political science major, I was one of a hundred student interns working in the 2006 legislative session, an assistant in the office of assemblyman Robert Reilly. And while I lived and worked in Albany, I experienced this magical space daily. This singular interior environment is special to me because it inspired my pursuit of interior design as a career.

Now as an interior design student, I’ve returned to lobby key legislators on behalf of the interior design profession in New York State. On my agenda for the day is a meeting with assemblyman O’Reilly. He welcomes me into his office, this time not as his intern but as a student and future interior design professional. I am here as a member of a coalition lobbying on behalf of Interior Designers for Legislation in New York (IDLNY), specifically targeting the Higher Education Committee. Our focus is Assembly and Senate Bill A9132 / S6336, sponsored by Assemblyman Charles Lavine. This bill would amend the current law to permit Certified Interior Designers to enter into a partnership with architectural design firms. Currently the state law only permits architects, engineers, landscape architects, and land surveyors to legally partner in these design-focused professional businesses. Not interior designers.

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What does this mean to me? When I become a Certified Interior Designer, I may become an employee of an architectural or engineering firm, but I will not be able to reach the position of principal or partner within those practices. Our proposed partnership bill would include Certified Interior Designers in such legal partnerships. This is a crucial move for interior design students and future practitioners like me. We are looking to advance our professional status within the environmental design professions. Assemblyman O’Reilly, along with others we met in Albany, had no objections to this. Most legislators were, however, unaware of the true nature of interior design work, often calling us “decorators”.

In our meetings with each assembly member, we corrected their long-held and inaccurate perceptions and worked to persuade them of the importance of the partnership bill. Though the average person doesn’t fully understand what a Certified Interior Design professional actually does, its important that lawmakers know that interior designers are required to have a thorough knowledge of the most current thinking about human health, safety, welfare as well as the codes and standards that apply to them, and that we identify, research, and creatively solve problems pertaining to function.

On that long day in Albany our group–Martha Siegel, Linda Fake, Bill Spink, Samantha Pelkiff, Ruth Lynford, Jan Dorman, and me–visited more than half the members of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. At the end of the day we were able to report back to Charles Lavine, Assembly Member Chair of the Higher Education Committee, that our group had successfully contacted each committee member, and that most support our bill and none have expressed opposition.

As the end of the 2012 legislative session draws near June 21st, we wait to hear if the bill is voted out of the Higher Education Committee, and sent to the Assembly floor. In a perfect scenario, the bill passes both the Assembly and the Senate, then signed into law by governor Andrew Cuomo.

Before leaving the capitol, I passed through the Great Western Staircase one more time, clearing my mind and envisioning my future as a Certified Interior Designer, partnering with a well-respected architecture design firm in New York. I am optimistic about our bill’s passage.

Together with more proactive involvement from interior design students, emerging professionals, and our community of designers we are working to promote and secure our place as serious contributors to the designed environment. My generation is prepared to practice and support a larger and more invigorated view of our profession.

Carlo Chiulli works as a freelance design consultant and interior designer, focusing on residential, hospitality, and retail spaces while completing his B.F.A. degree at the New York School of Interior Design. He serves on the boards of the IIDA New York Chapter, NY11+, and IDLNY; and he sits on the ASID National’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC) keeping design professionals and students informed about opportunities and changes to the profession.

The spelling of Assemblymen Robert Reilly was corrected on 6/6/2012.

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