Member Spotlight: Tallie Paz

This month's AWA+D Member Spotlight shines a light on a bright star in the design world. Tallie Paz, an interior designer at HLW and Education Chair of AWA+D's Programs Committee, is a intriguing, charismatic young designer who clearly has her sights set well as her aspirations. Read on to learn about her fascinating past and her thoughts on the future.

1.    Biographical InformationI’m originally from Israel. Before moving here 7 years ago, I attended Tel-Aviv University and majored in East Asian studies and Linguistics, with a minor in Japanese. I never finished my degree; my heart was just not into it I guess. I needed a creative outlet as I had always liked to draw, I actually wanted to be a fashion designer as a kid. So when I moved here I knew I had to sign up to school, and the Art Institute of Los Angeles was conveniently located nearby and offered graphic design, web design and interior design programs – I was debating which one to go for and finally decided on interior design. And I loved it! I was able to finish a 4 year degree in just 3 years while still working part time because I didn’t take any time off… no winter breaks, no summer breaks, just plowed right through it.After graduating I used the connections I made at my internship to get information about different firms in the city, their style of work, culture and niche in the industry. I decided to apply at a firm that is known as very busy, dynamic, with high project turnover, and also somewhat of a sweatshop. I wanted to get as much experience as I could in as little time as possible and that firm was definitely the right place to start. Basically I wanted to hit my 5 year mark in terms of field experience in just 2 years. I’m now working at HLW International, commercial interiors and some building repositioning projects that are more architecturally involved. I love the challenge.

2.    Why did you want to become an interior designer?I never really planned it. It was something I had interest in but never really considered it as a career, honestly I’m not sure why. When I looked at the curriculum and course description for the interior design program everything looked so interesting and intriguing, so I just went for it. Kind of on a whim.

3.    Who have been your greatest influencers? Why?My mother, who is an artist. Her background is actually in IT, art was always just a hobby but it was her real passion, and I grew up around that as a way of life (her paintings and sculptures all over). When I realized I could be creative and make a career of it I had to try it. She always pushed me to use and refine my talent and skills through education.

4.    What do you feel are some of your most important achievements?I graduated as valedictorian after only 3 years, while working part time (at H&M) and interning part time (at Knoll). I won a number of ‘best of quarter’ awards as well. Working throughout my time at school helped me stay grounded, avoid gaps in my resume and of course, make money. I was able to pay off my student loans after less than 2 years out of school and am now debt free.

5.    What are some of the insights of being a woman in your occupation?I find that the title of interior designer is definitely easier for people to digest (as opposed to female architects), and this position is still quite dominated by women. However, my office has actually more architects than interior designers, and yes they are mostly men. I also still find some resistance occasionally when I meet with clients, brokers or contractors and they immediately put me in that box where I’m supposed to just deal with the pretty little things that feel nice (aka throw pillows), and then seem a little confused (rather than impressed) when I talk about construction elements or budget or walk them through documents that I drafted. I think that as women we have the upper hand though, and most people might not realize it, but we are literally designed to adapt and respond faster and better than men. And working on commercial projects where things go very quickly and sometimes design needs to happen on the spot, in the field, that’s where I find a lot of opportunities to excel, creatively.

6.    What excites you creatively, spiritually or emotionally?I have done a lot of traveling and seeing new places and experiencing different cultures to this day gives me the best form of inspiration. There is a kind of pure, almost innocent curiosity that I find when I visit a new place. Humbling interactions with strangers and memories that last forever.

7.    What do you think/hope your occupation will look like in 10 years?For me personally, I hope for a leadership role, with opportunities to mentor and be mentored, because learning and developing goes both ways and should never stop. I’m hoping technology will continue to evolve to make our lives even easier, and I’m wishing that our industry will start to appreciate design as a process that takes time, skills and above all talent that isn’t cheap. In an ideal world, designers would bring home the same salaries Hollywood movie stars do.

8.    What role do/have you played in AWA+D and what is the importance of the organization in your life?I’m currently active as chair of education as part of the programs committee. I also try to go to the monthly salons that I find really helpful with getting ideas about my next steps and hearing others’ experiences, or just having a relevant conversation about design that isn’t ‘work’. I think when you have your job and feel secure it can very easily become this sort of grinding routine, and sometimes inspiration is hard to come by. I find that almost every AWA+D event I attend gives me a little (or a lot!) of that inspiration I crave.

9.    What advice would you give the graduating class of 2015?The market is great right now and it’s a good time to graduate. But stay on your toes, research different opportunities and go after the one that is right for you, which might not necessarily be the most glamorous firm or the one with the exact type of work you want to do, it should just be the right place to start.

10.    Any final thoughts or words of wisdom?Setting goals in this career is not only important, it’s crucial. At the same time, being able to keep up with options and possibilities and maintaining an open mind, because you never know what might impact your career path, be it an economic crisis, relocation, pregnancy, there are many things that can set you off path or just put you on a different trajectory. Hit the ground running :).