Celebrating South Louisiana Women in Design

As a woman-owned business, we know that one of the most powerful business tools available is the support of other women! In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked South Louisiana women leaders in design to share their experiences. We learned how they got their start and their best tips for women starting their own careers in design. 

How Six Female Leaders Got Into Design

Everyone comes to their career in a different way but we love seeing commonalities among these design leaders. Many had artistic endeavors in their early life that led them to explore a more creative field. In their own words:

Deborah Steinmetz, Principal Founder of Steinmetz & Associates

“Since High School, I have been interested in creating elements and spaces. I knew I wanted to major in Interior Design when I first attended LSU. What I enjoy most about Interior Design is problem-solving and creating functional aesthetic environments. I enjoy the various aspects of the design process from initial analysis, interaction with clients, suppliers, and other professionals, and project management to see the project through implementation. There is always something new to be learned and shared with our clients.”

Jill Traylor, Director of Interior Design/Principal at Eskew Dumez Ripple

“I was constantly redesigning my bedroom and moving my furniture around when I was young. I’ve always needed a creative outlet and I love all things design related. I love creative problem-solving. It inspires me to know that the spaces I help create can positively impact people’s lives. Every project is different and there is always an opportunity to learn or try something new.”

Justine Camalo Hebert, NCIDQ. Owner and Principal Interior Designer of J Design Interiors in Lafayette, and visiting assistant professor, UL. 

“I grew up obsessed with creating and making art. In high school, I got accepted into an Arts Academy and my teacher, Kathy Reed, introduced me into the field of architecture and interior design. I love working on a variety of project types and I especially love renovations. It’s thrilling to see real transformations!”

Mary Mowad Guiteau, Director of Interior Design, Partner at Holly & Smith Architects 

“My dad was a developer at heart. I loved watching him design buildings when I was young. Since then, I always wanted to be a designer. I love a challenge! Space planning and problem solving are my favorites” 

Paula May Peer, Principal at Trapolin-Peer Architects

“In high school, I started to really notice the difference in well-designed clothes, graphics, and the spaces around me. I started exploring ways to create my own interior environments, then pursued a college experience that had a design based architecture and interiors focus. I love creating places for people to live…. especially multi-family projects because they offer design opportunities at a very personal scale, but within a larger complex project. I am also partial to an open, modern, and clean-lined aesthetic.”

Terri Hogan Dreyer, Owner + Founding Partner of NANO Architecture | Interiors

“I come from a long line of architects, designers, artists, and engineers. I always loved to draw and was able to draw in 3-dimensions quite early in my childhood. I wanted to be a dermatologist or an architect when I was younger. I found skin fascinating on how it could hold all our blood and organs in our body. Yet later in life, I fell in love with architecture and design, whether interior or exterior; that creating the interior or exterior skin, if you will. I was more successful in creating images to express my ideas than writing for sure which led me into this profession which I am eternally grateful for. You must love what you do to work as much as we do;  it is not work, it is an obsession.”

Challenges Facing Women In Design

As leaders in the field, we wanted to know what challenges they have faced. So many professional women encounter similar challenges and it can be helpful to know that you’re not the only one! 

Being A Woman In A Man’s Field

In the US more than 70 percent of interior designers are women, but only 25 percent of architects are women, and just 10 percent work in construction (with only one percent working in the field). It’s common to go from an office with mixed genders to an installation or construction site dominated by men. Navigating both these worlds can be challenging.

“When on the construction site, I’m often the only woman in the room,” says Jill Traylor. “Many times, I’ve felt underestimated and had to work harder to earn the respect and trust of the team.” This was a common feeling among our female design leaders. “I have made a point to learn and understand the technical side of design (budgets, constructability, schedule) so I can offer valuable input into conversations,” says Mary Mowad Guiteau. “To me, one of the most important aspects is to establish professional credibility, and sometimes that is more difficult for a woman in business.,” says Deborah Steinmetz. “As a young designer, I was frequently the youngest and only woman at the conference table.”

Terri Hogan Dreyer notes ”It can be challenging to be taken seriously about AEC topics, especially about topics that involve construction and not interior design. Ultimately, women in design have to ‘show up’ with respect. No one is going to give it to you, you need to take it.”

Design Is Much More Than Decoration

Justine Hebert also explained a big challenge that many of us face: people not understanding all the technical components that go into design. “There is a misconception of interior design versus interior decoration. The public is not clear on the differences and what designers can offer.”

Tips For Women In Design

Even though we all face challenges there are so many ways to make it through! These leaders in design had many tips for women just starting their careers. Being a designer means continually learning, building confidence in yourself and your career, and making sure you stay inspired! 

Keep Learning

“Constantly educate yourself.” says Justine Hebert “Research trending design topics and learn how elements are constructed (design versus constructability). Ask questions! Visit showrooms and conventions like Neocon to experience furniture and finishes in person.” We know just how helpful conventions like NeoCon can be in not only learning about trends in design but meeting and learning from other designers. 

Another way you can learn is by finding a mentor. Terri Hogan says that mentors can really help you when you’re first starting out. “Identify attributes in those mentors, and other people you admire, and seek to emulate them.” Deborah Steinmetz, agrees “I have been fortunate to have great mentors throughout my career. Seeking out a mentor is very important in building a career.”

Mary Mowad Guiteau says to “go for it. Learn the technical side of it,” and at the end of the day, design is still a business: “think like a business person.”

Build Confidence

It’s not easy to be the only woman in the room! Building confidence is a necessary skill for women in design. “Do not be afraid,” says Terri Hogan, “be still when you need to be and be a warrior when you know you can be. Always draw, build, and create: this drives the independence in your ability and confidence.”

Part of building that confidence happens when you are on the job. “Learn to work well in teams and not to be afraid to share your ideas,” says Justine Hebert. But keep an open mind: “don’t be afraid to create your own career path in the industry,” says Paula Peer. “Soak up every opportunity to learn and grow – then follow the spark of what keeps you excited!”

Gain Inspiration

Keeping yourself inspired is key to being a great designer! “Travel, explore, and find adventure while you are young and have less responsibilities,” says Jill Traylor. “It will do so much to inspire your work and creativity.”

Inspiration can be found in many different places, Deborah Steinmetz keeps it local. “It is important to become involved in the profession through advocacy as well as in participating in professional organizations. Involvement in the community as a whole is important contributing talents to worthwhile causes is good for the community and good for me personally. I have met some of the most inspirational people through engagement in the profession and community.”

But when travel isn’t possible just make sure you don’t take life too seriously! “Enjoy living,” says Terri Hogan, “have fun and laugh! You cannot be serious all the time about this profession… you will lose perspective.”

Supporting Women in Design 

One thing is clear, Louisiana women are a powerful force in architecture and design. Thanks to past and present female designers who are passionate not only about designing great spaces for their clients but also about encouraging the next generation of leaders, the future is bright for women designers and the industry as a whole! 

For more information and resources about Louisiana women in design, contact the Women in Architecture committee of AIA New Orleans

KV Workspace is a Woman-Owned full-service contract furniture dealer providing planning, design, specification, procurement, and installation services for all of your project needs. To learn more about KV Workspace please get in touch with Marie Richoux and set up a meeting. Send an email to marier@kvworkspace.com to schedule. 

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