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Down the designer’s road

On pursuing a career in Interior Design


By Andrea J. Portugal

DREAMING BIG the author designed this modern bathroom for PSID’s upcoming graduation exhibit

DREAMING BIG the author designed this modern bathroom for PSID’s upcoming graduation exhibit

A pipe dream. This is what a career in Interior Design was to me for the greater part of my adult life. I’d looked up the definition of a pipe dream, and all the green lights went on—an illusory or fantastic plan, hope, or story. Nothing could be more fitting. I am from the cable TV-generation of girls who grew up holding TV schedules with great reverence. Our lives were planned around the timeslots of our favorite shows, and we couldn’t afford to miss a show, because there was no going back. Downloading episodes was still unheard of. If you wanted to watch something, you had to know when it was on and you had to plop yourself down in front of the TV to watch, pesky commercials and all.

The author (far right) with her groupmates for the upcoming exhibit

The author (far right) with her groupmates for the upcoming exhibit

Apart from the Gilmore Girls, I would regularly watch home makeover shows. The fashion makeovers were cool, but it was the home transformations that really got me giddy. The entire process of seeing a house in its sorry state, taking it all apart, and putting everything back together with a seemingly grand swoosh of a wand was like cake frosting to me. I ate it all up wanting to be a part of that world, especially when the homeowners were reduced to tears at the sight of their resurrected homes. I’d think to myself, “Is that how powerful a space transformation could be, that you would be moved to tears by it?” As I grew older and gained a deeper appreciation for the spaces I moved, worked, rested, and basically lived in, I realized that it does matter. We are greatly affected by the environments we are placed in. And so the pipe dream became a goal. I’d parked it in my “Bucket List for Life,” thinking that it could be something I pursued later on when I could afford it. And when I learned how to draw. Oh, did I mention that I could not draw to save my life?

I took up Business Administration for my undergraduate degree and went on to get my grip on the rungs of the proverbial corporate ladder. I spent three years going through the cycle of learning, failing, getting back up, succeeding, then going back at it—all the while still dreaming. It was a beautiful season of growth for me, and there were times the pipe dream seemed to grow more and more vague. After all, I had taken a total of zero steps toward honing my yet-to-exist drawing skills.

It’s funny though how the bigger shifts in our lives can be brought about by these small seemingly random moments: a chance encounter with an old friend, a casual catch-up conversation, a seed planted. I’d spoken to a friend from college who’d gone on to pursue a second degree in Interior Design at PSID (Philippine School of Interior Design). She said one thing that changed everything for me: they teach you how to draw.

In 2013 I enrolled in the Basic Course at PSID, head filled with dreams and heart filled with child-like enthusiasm. I met some of the most creative people I’ve ever met in my life, and even found that I wasn’t alone in having a drawing handicap. All my professors were practicing interior designers, and I took pride in the fact that I was learning from industry veterans. It was like learning from the masters. But as with any learning experience, the giddiness and glitter soon wore off to reveal the grit and grime (in our case from pencil lead and ink) underneath. Inevitably, I came to terms with the fact that this was not going to be an easy path to go down on. Some of my batchmates chose to step off it—either because they realized it wasn’t for them or because they’d felt that they’d learned enough for the particular direction they wanted to head to. Many of us persevered, and it’s incredible how impactful it is to just know that you are not alone. As cliché as it seems, it’s true. Even Jesus had his band of brothers around him, and in this journey, I was as good as the company I kept.

Over the past three years, I have questioned my worth, my capabilities, my sanity, even my purpose. My sleep debt increased by crazy proportions, and I began feeling aches and pains brought about by endless hours spent drafting and drawing. I missed dinners with friends and had to pass on some planned trips. And while this is beginning to sound like a dreary story (admittedly, it did feel pretty dreary at times), let me tell you that it isn’t—far from it. Because in all that, there always lay a choice. How much do I want this? That’s what it always boils down to. Not everyone is blessed to find that one dream they’d fight tooth and nail for, and I had found mine. I was not the best. As I said, I was surrounded by amazingly creative geniuses, but my greatest competition was always myself. Term after term, I’d make it through knowing that I was better than I’d been when I started.

It is often said that you should find something you’re passionate about and pursue that. If the pursuit of this pipe dream has shown me anything, it is that it goes beyond that. Because there will be days when this thing will feel devoid of any passion. Not even a crumb. It will feel like a black hole. But it is in these moments that you realize whether this dream you’re after is still something you want to pursue anyway. It isn’t in the mountaintops where the “Aha!” moments happen. More often than not, they occur down in the dark, shadowy valleys, when you’re all bent out of shape and questioning every decision you’ve ever made. And when you come to that quiet “Aha!” moment thinking, “I do still want this. I still have it in me to push myself,” then the pursuit becomes worthwhile.

I’m graduating this year. As I write this, we are preparing for our batch exhibit, a graduation showcase called “Evolution” to be held from Sept. 29 to Oct. 31 at the Square Building at Greenfield District in Mandaluyong City. In the exhibit, my batchmates and I will showcase a timeline of the history of different interior design trends from the past, present, and future, and how they affect each other. I admit that it’s no mean feat for our batch, but we are committed to taking on the challenge. I see it as a culmination of a season of learning and growing into our own skin as interior designers. It feels like the end of the beginning, surreal and scary at the same time. But we’ve all made it this far, and so I have high hopes that we will push forward even further still. I myself am driven by the desire to create spaces that can move people and stir up a sense of comfort and belonging. Ah and needless to say, yes, I’ve learned how to draw.

Andrea Portugal is an interior design enthusiast who is over the moon about having the chance to pursue this dream. A graduating student of the Philippine School of Interior Design, her ultimate goal is to one day leave her mark in the industry, perhaps with a piece of furniture as iconic as, say, the Eames chair.

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