What most of us see as a house, some see as a home, a living space, that brings out the best in us, fills us with positivity, and increases our productivity and happiness quotient. In our busy lives, we tend to ignore these finer details and a home just becomes a place to hang your hat. But Swati Goorha, our next featured entrepreneur in the TWI Woman of Substance series, has a vision that transcends these everyday run-of-the-mill setups. Let’s find out more about her, and her design aesthetic, and how she transforms the lives and surroundings of her clients.
AM: Hi Swati, and welcome to TWI’s Woman in Substance series! Tell us a bit about your background, where you are from, what is your education etc.
SG: I consider myself a global citizen building on my Indian heritage, cosmopolitan US values, and cultural learning from travel/living across continents. I am also multilingual with varying level of fluency in Spanish, Hindi, Korean, Japanese, and French. This love for languages stemmed from my passion for other cultures and the constant exploration and traveling. I love art, music, international movies, and books. Reading and learning are essential to me. I completed my Masters in Interior Architecture & Design (MS) from the Westphal School of Design at Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA. I also have degrees in marketing and communication.
AM: How did you know that architecture and interior design were your calling in life? What do you most enjoy about these fields?
SG: My parents were travelers. I toured many historical cities and sites with them as a child. I was always intrigued by a mix of color, art, poetry and architecture on these trips, and this deeply influenced my career choice. Interior design pulls all these aspects together to create a space that affects the people who inhabit the area. My favorite part about what I do is becoming a part of people’s lives. Their mood and lifestyle are influenced by the kind of environment they inhabit, and I get to create spaces that impact them deeply. Each client is unique, and I treat them as such. Each time is a new lesson on how to look at their home based on their life and experiences.
AM: What style of architecture do you most identify yourself with? How do you incorporate this into your designs?
SG: This question was much easier to answer when I started professionally in architecture and design. I was always attracted to modern organic architecture by Zaha Hadid and Santiago Calatrava. However, the more I travel the world, the more vernacular nuances I notice in architecture. Why certain things were adapted to address the local climatic, cultural, and geographical needs deeply moves me now. The function of the building, whether it is an adobe house built of mud and brick in Morocco, or a grandiose statement meant to inspire awe like the Versailles in France, equally inspire me. The more I travel, the more I learn, and the more I expand my perspective. I never thought I would say this, but I am attracted to historical buildings and the details in them. In my design, I find myself using such historical information in their most utilitarian and straightforward form and reexamine and reintroduce them in modern homes of today.
Every space I design is as unique as the people who inhabit the space. The only common factor between all the space I design is the use of color, pattern textures, and architectural details. I love pattern and texture play, and I like to create design narratives that tell the story of the people who live in the house.
AM: Can you describe your process? How do you procure your clients and what services do you provide for them?
SG: Everything starts with an exploratory phone chat followed by an in-home consultation. I sit down with the client, requesting the key decision-maker to be present. I spend time to understand my clients’ wants and aesthetics and the project scope. We create a detailed Statement of Work (SOW) after the initial in-home consult. This SOW effectively serves as a road map of how the project will run. Once the SOW is approved, our work begins.
Most of my new clients come via word of mouth. Each of my projects speaks for itself. I am also active in the local community, and they recommend me. I am currently President of New Providence-Summit, Rotary Club, and on the Board of Junior Twig, and the VP of the Overlook Auxiliary Board. Additionally, my work has been featured in various publications, and I just wrapped up a show house for the Valerie Fund called Grace’s house. All these projects have also generated demand and enquires.
I have a full-service interior design firm. We do everything from a single room, kitchens, and baths, to complete home remodel. We also do small to medium commercial projects, including offices.
AM: Do you, in general, go for more color or do you prefer to be muted in your canvas?
SG: Color all the way. In nature, where ever you look, there is color. If you looked at classic buildings with local and historical nuances e.g., the interiors were full of color, pattern, and texture. In my book, not doing color was never an option. We don’t see the world in greyscale, so why should the space we live in be tonal!
AM: Are you a solopreneur or do you have a team working for you?
SG: I have a talented team of design and project management professionals that are passionate and supportive of making our design firm a success. We are a small firm and offer hands-on white-glove treatment to our selective clientele.
AM: What sort of tools or techniques do you rely on? Is there a standard framework that you gravitate towards?
SG: We are a paperless, fully automated office. We use several architecture and design software, including AutoCAD, Sketchup, Photoshop, and Illustrator. We also use project management and accounting software, including IVY and QuickBooks.
AM: Do you tend to do projects that are brand new or do you also do makeovers for say, a kitchen or living space? That is, how much of your work is remodeling versus creating?
SG: We do both. We have several projects where we were involved from the inception of the project, working with the builder and the architect to finalize the design for construction. We also have come into finished new builds and undertaken the space, lighting, color, and furniture specification. In addition, we do homes where folks have lived in for a while and are looking to give it a new life with more modern amenities and space plans. We have also worked with our clients by giving their fixer-uppers a new life. The variety of projects we undertake are as varied as our clients’ needs. We do it all!
AM: What is the most common misconception you encounter among your clients regarding timelines or costs of a project?
SG: The clients who work with me understand that interior design is custom. Each project is bespoke, and there are no standard templates. This is the reason each client has to work with us to get into details of project scope and expectations. My clients know that HGTV shows aren’t a true reflection of quality and time, effort, or pricing of the project. Another common misconception I run into is people presuming that designers only pick colors, wallpaper, and furniture. We do much more. We think of ourselves as the planners for people to live a better life, with our comprehensive interior solutions providing them with a fulfilling physical and mental experience in the spaces they inhabit.
AM: Do you tend to see gender discrimination in your area of work? How do you address it and create your own niche in the industry?
SG: Initially, when working on the project sites, I would see contractors walking in with a preconceived notion of working with a younger woman project manager. There are still sporadic instances of tribalism, but there has been a sea change in perspective since when I started in the industry. I remain professional in any of these situations.
AM: Name 3 books or movies that you love and have influenced your life decisions.
SG: Books- I am an avid reader and to pick from the sea of literature is a very tough task! The cult favorite remains “The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand” on how to stand for one’s belief in design and architecture. A recent read “The Goldfinch by Donna Tart” enlightened me about the underground world of art collection. I love all books by Haruki Murakami, with his modern take on magical-realism of fantastical worlds and characters. But my favorite list varies every month as I find new journeys with new books.
Movies- “Gone With The Wind” for its grandiose sets. “Forrest Gump”, with the journey of a person through various eras and new towns. “The Shape of Water” for its use of color to denote mood and the story. Movies to me are about visual joy, colors patterns, and movement. The story matters but so does the interplay of sets and colors. I have a long list of visually stunning movies e.g. “Amelie,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Life of Pi” and so many others!
AM: What are some of your plans for your company and where do you think you’ll be in 5 years?
SG: I want to continue to deliver exceptional design for my customers, and work with them in repeated capacity, as they go through their life journey. I’d like to expand across the US with multiple offices, and expand into other continents as well!
Swati, thank you so much for this interview, and we wish you all the best in your future endeavors!