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Interview with Karen Lutz by Debbie Bortolussi

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Commercial Interiors with Karen Lutz


2000-01-01 00.00.06-30

PHR Resources Ltd., President – Debbie Bortolussi had the opportunity to speak with the founder of Tembo Design – Karen Lutz who is also the Creative Director about her thoughts on Commercial Design within Office Interiors.

Find out how Karen is changing the commercial interior design landscape while remaining passionate about design — read the full interview below!

DB     What do you see the trends are in 2015 for commercial design?

KL      The color trends for this year are going back into deeper darker tones and a lot of    concretes, grays and whites. Blue Paisley is the colour of the year.


Colour of the YearCapture

  • Textures provides a three dimensional interest to the space.       Without it; the space feels boring and flat! Keeping it simple helps prevents the space from becoming overly busy. I find that too much clutter can be overwhelming and actually impact how people function.
  • Colour gives life to the space. If you are on a budget; simply painting and adding colour can bring life to the space and it makes it feel more active.
  • Over the last 2 years I see more of a sculptured wall panel covering rather than the traditional flat wall paper.       Some of the newest wall panel’s products I’ve seen involve recycling of wine barrels. The wood from the barrel is laid up in various heights, lengths and sizes onto a panel. I love the red wine version of this because there is some color in the wood from the wine.
  • Wood continues to find its place in commercial interiors. It is used to add grounding an earthly quality to the space.


 PPG Global Color and Design Trends 2015photo credits PPG Industries


DB     What have you contributed to the Professional Associations or have you mentored anyone.

KL      I would say my single biggest contribution to the local association was the sponsorship program. These were started from scratch; and in conjunction with the creation of the first web page for IDIBC (Interior Designers Institute of BC) the premise to sell suppliers ad space on the website; the idea was born. I singlehandedly raised over $10,000.00 the first few months of the program. Over a period of about 15 years through various different IDI boards it was further refined and developed; and grew to become the most successful fund raiser for IDIBC over this time period.

If I had to pick one thing that I enjoyed the most out of all the years volunteering for IDIBC and NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification now known simply as CIDQ) it would be the five years I spent on the practicum committee developing the practical part of the exam. It was interesting and gratifying to be a part of something so important in the development of other designer’s careers.


DB     Are the offices becoming pet friendly, do they accommodate bike and locker storages for the employees that commute?

KL      Pet Friendly Offices are a new trend over this last 7 years.   Bike Racks – Storage Areas, Lockers, and more showers are being added as more and more people are biking or walking to work.

  • Flexibility in working hours…. No more 9-5 thinking in the office; with more flexible schedules and rotating work hours; people are becoming more productive. People know what they need to do to get their job done. The restrictions (fewer restrictions) don’t work anymore.       The time windows of starting their jobs have changed. Office Productivity has changed. People are less stressed in some cases.
  • Technology is a trade off. Demands on our time as a Designer have changed due to technology and the demand has increased exponentially.       For example; prior to AutoCAD and drawing based computer programs, changes on drawings used to take several days. It can now be done sometimes in a matter of hours, or even minutes.
  •  Reception areas – This is one space that has truly changed in function. A lot of Business Offices no longer even have a receptionist.   There may be a bell or door chime that you ring when you enter the office.       Someone will then come out and greet you. In many cases the style and function of the reception area has decreased in size.       This helps with adding value to the rentable square footprint by adding this space to productive workstation or office areas.
  • Kitchens -The companies want employees to stay in the office during lunch and coffee breaks so they are much larger and designed for that function of bringing the team together.  You now see TV’s, ping pong tables, microwaves, state of the art fridges, beverages, Coffee Machines for Café Lattes, Espresso etc.     Staff Lounges are filled with beautiful comfortable furniture.   Kitchens now have a view as they want their team members to stay in the space.

DB       How do you stay on Budget when you are building out new office space?

KL        With years of experience I design to their budget. I don’t over design. I find it very helpful to work with budgets provided by contractors. When a customer      wants a change in the design you walk them through the pros and cons and discuss the impact of that change.  

DB       What are the Top 5 things you would tell someone who is going to lease out new office space and start building out the space?

KL        Here is my 5 tips!

  1. As a client what is your Potential Growth over the next 5 years?
  2. What are the amenities you need in a space?
  3. Would you be willing to share a common meeting room in the building to bring down your costs of the build out?
  4. How do you want to build your office space out? Do you want as much natural light as possible?
  5. When you walk into your office what is the office culture you want to project – more traditional, contemporary, state of the art technology or tech vibe.


DB       What is the Trend for flooring that you see?

KL        The trend this year for flooring is to use:   Office space – carpet tile– easy to replace and recycle.   Kitchens – Vinyl plank flooring that gives more of an upscale look and reasonably priced.

 DB       What advice would you give a new and up and coming commercial designer?

KL        Two things come to mind immediately;

  • New commercial designers really need to start learning the business from the roots.   When working for large design firms they should try to get a varied amount of experience; and not get pigeon holed into one area.   They should reach out to a seasoned interior designer to get mentored and coached.

Most importantly; new graduates should take the time to learn from a seasoned designer and not try to start their own business the minute they step out of school.  There is a lot to learn through project experience and often what happens when they try to take on too much, too soon out of school; expensive mistakes can be made which doesn’t help the client or the designer.  Be patient!  You will learn better from others experiences and be a better, more competent designer for it.

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