All things happen for a reason, goes the cliche.

But like many cliches, there is truth to it), especially when we are talking about my own journey into interior design. It was my job as a magazine editor that eventually awakened my “designer’s eye” so to speak.

While my roots in design go way back, it was all those photo shoots I styled, those magazine pages I designed and edited, and the overall visual work that I put in that honed my styling skills and led me to eventually start an interior design career.

My interior design roots

How did I get into interior design anyway? You may not have wondered about that while reading through my blog, but I’ve asked myself that question many many times—especially on those days when I felt like I wanted to just give up and go back to my first love (writing).

meme that says "ask yourself if what you're doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow"
Those internet memes have their uses sometimes—like pushing me to enroll in design school when I realized that I wanted to deviate from my publishing career and become an interior designer.

You’ll find out over at my very first Gal at Home entry some months ago that my mother had been (and still has) a very big influence on me.  And if I may just quote from that entry (and quite a long quote this will be):

Needless to say, my mother has been a very big influence. She is an artist, and before she retired, she was a photographer and graphic designer extraordinaire. Unfortunately, Mama’s oil pastel-drawing, crafting, and painting skills weren’t passed on to me.

What I did inherit from her was a particularly spectacular joy over fixing up our home. Our house wasn’t Architectural Digest-beautiful, but to me, it was beautiful. Back then, people weren’t creating vignettes for magazine shoots or Instagram posts; people were just fixing up houses in ways that made its occupants feel right at home. 

Mama had and still has that way with styling rooms—making them look so visually pleasing, but so comfy and homey at the same time. One of my best friends calls it “The Mariles (that’s my mom) Touch.”

The homestead (as we like to call it now) wasn’t always picture-perfect, and there’d be seasons when it’d be bursting at the seams with our stuff. But an entire day with Mama (and her army of helpers, myself included) on a decorating blitzkrieg through the house will completely transform the homestead.

On party days, we’d often hear guests entering the front door say “Wooowww” either audibly or under their breaths. Not in an Extreme Makeover: Home Edition kind of way, but in a “Wow, I wish I could live in this place” kind of way.  And that made me a proud homestead occupant, a proud daughter. Yup, I live here. And yup, my Mama did this.

The interior design publications that influenced me

While that chronicles how I got into home decorating, it really doesn’t say much about how I got into interior design per se. To that, I’d like to credit Real Living magazine, and subsequently, other friendly, approachable, yeah-you-can-totally-do-this-too kind of shelter publications like Domino, Real Simple, Better Homes and Garden.

Not the highly unattainable, astronomically expensive Architectural Digest types, no. I hoarded those magazines that promised “real living” as opposed to “designer living” or “millionaire living”, because:

1) I wanted to be real to myself and accept the fact that I had/have a budget and cannot afford a designer, and

2) I wasn’t (still am not) a millionaire who can easily plunk down a five- to six-figure amount for a chair or a side table.

I loved looking at the photos of “real people” who had real challenges, real issues and concerns, imagined myself among their ranks, and dreamed of the day when I too could have a beautiful place of my own.

Going to interior design school

Then in 2012, my husband suggested that I go back to school. The idea had been percolating in my head for some time, but I didn’t know if it was possible (I couldn’t quit my job, that’s for sure) and if it was worth doing a complete 180 from my career. I mean, I was already in a slightly managerial position, the pay was enough, I was making a name for myself in that industry.

So I did my research—and discussed the matter with my boss, who allowed me to study a couple days a week just so I wouldn’t quit!—and found out that I could study while working.

So I enrolled at the Philippine School of Interior Design.

photo of Philippine School of Interior Design
Earliest bird on the first day of school (that’s Sir Pojie Pambid, our professor for the Elements & Principles of Design class)

I chose this school because:

  1. It was easy to enroll into (all I had to do was pay the required tuition for one term)
  2. It was a working student-friendly school (having a flexible work schedule, I could go to school in the morning and go straight to the office after lunch),
  3. It had the words “Philippine” and “Interior Design” in it. I figured that would be enough of a reason to choose this school over the others!

I took the part-time student path and only enrolled 2-3 classes every term. As a result, I made very few friends, simply going for classes and doing all the projects and course requirements by myself. Only once did I have to team up with a group (and what great fun we had with that one!).

A springtime garden party setup
Our final exam for Elements & Principles of Design: Create a themed table setting. Ours was springtime garden tea party.

interior design students at PSID
With my EPD class groupmates

Then I got pregnant (hooo, boy). By my 7th month, I found it difficult to wake up super early to make the 2.5-hour trek to school in the morning—I had to hire a part-time driver to drive me to school then work—and juggle school work with office work (which wasn’t always done in the office). I had to stop schooling, much to my dismay.

But I did last three (part-time) terms at PSID, and while I wasn’t the best student, I definitely enjoyed my short time. I knew then and there that this is something I’d want to go into, and leave my magazine career for.

Motherhood and full-time work made it doubly hard for me to go back to school. I desperately wanted to, but I could not quit work as I needed income (duh). For months I was stuck in limbo, deciding if I should just go to a different, but much nearer school (University of the Philippines—which meant studying ID for a full 4 years), or suck it in (traffic) and go back to PSID (and finish in 2 years).

I was able to find a part-time, Singapore-based job (as content writer for SG-based interior design website which allowed me to quit my job, but freelance work didn’t prove much easier and I still couldn’t find time to go back to school.

Then a few days before my 32nd birthday, my husband showed me something he’d found on the internet: A legit “open college” that would allow me to continue studying interior design while working.

sketching and looking at material swatches
Photo courtesy of New York Institute of Art and Design

I enrolled for the complete Certificate course in Interior Design with the New York Institute of Art and Design. It gave me online access to 6 very thorough and extensive units composed of reading, audio, and video materials, and 3 years to finish the entire course in my own time. 

The course outline was pretty comprehensive (check it out here), and I loved that it still allowed me to put into practice what I learn through projects that I had to mail to my instructor. The latter would then send me an audio file of her critique of my work and mail me back my projects with remarks. 

Since I didn’t exactly trust the Philippine Post Office (twice NYIAD sent me materials, and both times my packages “got lost” in the mail), I have them send all packets to my mother-in-law in NYC, and she sends them to me via courier. A bit roundabout (and more expensive) way of getting my schoolwork checked, but at least I am able to still study—without having to stop working. I justify the cost with the convenience.

One downside I’ve seen so far is that I have to corroborate the practical designer info they give with designers based here in the Philippines, like, for example, how to charge clients, and the unit of measurements used (since they’re US-based, they use the English system, whereas we use the metric system). But otherwise, the course content is pretty much universal.

While I cannot actually get licensed here in the Philippines—I haven’t inquired, but I doubt that the Philippine Regulatory Commission will accept or accredit the online courses I took—the course makes me eligible to receive the Design Society of America’s Residential Interior Design Qualification Certification (RIDQC). A bit expensive though, but will consider it when I finish!

It’s been a few months with NYIAD, and since freelance work is no joke at all, it’s taking me a while to finish unit 1 of the course (Note: I started the course in 2015 and finished in 2017). But slow and steady wins the race. I love learning (call me a geek), and I love looking at design from theoretical and practical perspectives. Researching for my job at Cromly is actually aiding me in my quest for design knowledge because I have to make sure the stuff I write for the site is legit.

It’s writing for Cromly that actually led me to another fantastic design resource: Jackie Hernandez’s School of Decorating. I mentioned her in a previous blog entry about styling my bookshelves, and I was immediately drawn to her exact, almost-scientific approach.

The concept behind her blog Teal and Lime (as of 2021, the site is no longer live) and online decorating school is that anyone can learn interior decorating—even if you don’t have a designer’s eye. So her techniques are very specific, textbook-ish even, which is great because not everyone can hack it the way a designer can.

It’s like knowing about the rules of decorating without getting into theoretical concepts. Jackie says so herself that she is an expert at explaining very difficult concepts and ideas in layman’s terms, and reading her blog confirms this as fact.

So when I clicked on the School of Decorating tab on her blog, I was immediately intrigued. It required paying “tuition” though, but her course came with a comprehensive video library of different decorating rules and techniques (with her as instructor), video interviews of other design and decorating experts, and lots of downloadable worksheets and style guides, like the ones I’ve screen-capped below.

Jackie Hernandez School of Decorating
This worksheet from the Free Decorating class is actually about how to “shop your own home” so that you can re-style any space in your home without having to buy anything new.

When I enrolled, I also joined SoD’s online forum on Facebook, which allowed me to meet other students from all over the world. In the group, we can post photos of our own decorating projects at home, and ask for opinions or help, even with something as simple as buying furniture, accessories, or appliances.

Clearly, I’m geeking out over this, because as you may already know, I love reading literature about anything I’m obsessed with, and right now, I’m obsessed with interior design. So all those free worksheets and guide books and cheat sheets totally reeled me in. My SoD education is also proving to be a great supplement to what I’m learning in NYIAD, because it puts into practice all those theoretical design concepts I’m currently studying about.

To add, SoD teaches you the principles of interior styling, while NYIAD focuses on interior design, two related areas that are actually quite different.

Of course, writing this blog is “forcing” me to put what I learn into actual use. I’m having trouble writing consistently (as writing for such a blog entails making actual design and decorating projects, which often have to take a backseat to freelance work). But I’m quite excited with some ideas I’ve come up with based on the things I am learning from my ongoing education.

I’m even able to use the things I’ve picked up from my schooling in some of my freelance projects (like last month’s Real Living Space 2015 project). Even if I’m spending a lot on it, I know for sure that I’m getting my money’s worth.

So if you are interested in learning about design more than what you read in blogs (like my own) or in magazines, I do recommend getting an education—whether enrolling in an actual interior design school, a legit online university, or an informal decorating school. 

Design isn’t a trivial matter at all. I really do believe that it helps one’s critical thinking skills—there’s a lot of analytical, psychological, and even existential thinking involved. But even if you don’t trust your own decorating skills, do know that interior design isn’t something that is only reserved for the “creative” people. It can be learned.

(This is also the reason why, in 2020, I created my online homestyling course, where I teach all about educating yourself in interior styling and design principles that could help you create a home you enjoy living in!)