Hello! My name is Danielle Capo and I graduated from a Bachelor of Interior Architecture in 2013. Whilst being a very intense degree, this course was something I wanted to do since I was 14 years old and I remember my graduation day as being the most rewarding and exciting day of my entire university experience. I learnt an enormous amount about design and the world surrounding me, in particular an elective I did in my final semester, People Place and Design, was one of the most valuable subjects I ever studied as it reinforced the degree to which design impacts on people’s behaviour, actions and emotions.
My career path has taken me to a field I never really knew existed, nor expected I would be in, particularly so soon after completing my degree. I was very lucky to land a job quickly after finishing Uni. I sent my résumé direct to the company – I didn’t wait for an advertisement. One bit of advice I’d give students – there are jobs waiting for you that aren’t advertised, so send your résumé out to companies before they advertise, otherwise, no-one may know you exist yet!! Within a week of applying I was sitting at my new desk starting my first job after Uni, and almost two years later, I am at the same company and have learnt an enormous amount in a such a short time.
I work for a company called TOGA – a Property Development and Hotel company. I work in the Development and Construction division, currently on hotel refurbishments, as a Project Coordinator. I assist the Project Managers with coordinating refurbishments from start to end. We work with various design firms, provide them with the brief and they send the proposed design to us to assess and finalise. My role involves viewing and assessing the design proposals with the Project Managers, gathering quotes and placing orders, and coordinating the delivery of projects between the designers, subcontractors , hotel managers and head office. My job is not to design as such, it is more to oversee the design and check everything – e.g. will proposed fixed/loose items fit, will the materials used be practical and long lasting, is the layout efficient, does it meet the budget, can suppliers/tradesman selected deliver the project by the completion date, and of course, is there a WOW factor! My team and I make design decisions in house when required, and often, we do need to change things around due to unavailable stock, unsuitability of the design or budget constraints.
TOGA still do a percentage of design in house between the in-house Head Interior Designer and employees with architecture and design backgrounds. I have had the opportunity to design whilst I have been at the company, but the majority of work I do now is on the management side of the design process. The exposure I have to realised and completed design on-site, during and after completion, has really broadened my knowledge. I’m quickly learning the types of design decisions that can lead to flaws and defects, and what steps can be taken to prevent them. I’m able to learn this because working on the management side of design means part of my job is to deal with defects and issues directly – I’m able to note them on site inspections, I receive feedback from subcontractors and hotel managers directly, and from this, I am able to find out what the causes and solutions to any issues are that arise. This ultimately assists with my thinking in design, because it increases my awareness of the parameters and boundaries that exist, and will alert me to design accordingly.
Some more advice I would give to students studying this course is to always stop and take a breath and try and absorb everything as best you can whilst you are at Uni – there is no rush to complete the degree, take as long as you need to ensure you have taken everything on board thoroughly. I decided to extend my degree an extra semester by postponing my remaining three electives to do in a separate semester after finishing all core subjects. This was one of the best university decisions I made, because I actually gained a lot from focusing on grad studio separately to everything else, and then focusing later on three electives and juicing everything out of them to learn other skills and knowledge that are still related directly or indirectly to design.
Any work experience you can get whilst studying will help you! I would advise to never underestimate the experience you can gain from working in a casual job (whilst still studying), even if that job, at the time, seems completely unrelated to architecture and design. Sometimes, you see yourself going in one direction after university, and then find yourself in a field slightly different to what you had anticipated, and those skills acquired from your casual job are suddenly relevant in your post-graduate job.
I worked in a pub my entire time studying at university, and whilst I did complete work experience at different firms, working as a Duty Manager at the pub gave me the foundational skills needed for the work I do every day now as a Project Coordinator. My university degree has opened my creative eyes for the design side of my job, and my casual job built my confidence and organisational skills and helped me to understand more thoroughly the hospitality-refurbishment field that I work in; I view design not only from the eye of the customer, but through the eyes of the staff and operations management too. So never close off an opportunity to work a job unrelated to design just because it is not purely design-related – if you keep yourself open to all aspects of the world, not just visually and creatively, but strive to experience being and living in various environments, it will help you with your design.
To any students reading this, if you are passionate about design, hang in there no matter how challenging this degree can be, because once you are finished, design can lead you down so many avenues. Always remind yourself of your motivations – why are you in a design field, what drove you to be here? My drive was that I could not stand seeing poorly designed interiors with no thought, love, character and purpose behind them. I have a genuine concern on how poor design affects peoples’ well-being, physically, mentally and emotionally. That concern is what lead me to be here.
I wish any students reading this all the very best of luck in your studies and journeys after university – be open-minded, be ready for any opportunities that prevent themselves, and make the opportunities happen yourself, be observant to everything around you, and find the love in what you do. I really enjoy my job and am lucky to work at a fantastic company. Even though I’m not designing full time, I am still surrounded by design which is always exciting, and I’ve found that I’m working to my strengths by applying my university experience to a management career path.
Travelodge Wynyard – Rothe Lowman
Travelodge Perth and Travelodge Macquarie – WMK
Travelodge Newcastle – Lyn Pritchard Interior Design
Medina James Court – SJB
Vibe Sydney Fino Par – Toga in-house design
Photographs: Travelodge Wynyard & Travelodge Perth – TFE Hotels, all other photos Danielle Capo