With each passing year, it seems that interior designers have increased their purchasing of portable lamps and lighting fixtures and are more keenly interested in keeping up with the trends and technological advances happening in the lighting industry. In fact, at the fall American Lighting Association (ALA) Conference in Nashville, there was a seminar focused on helping lighting retailers partner more closely with interior designers.

According to the latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 54,900 people working as interior designers. The report states: “Employment of interior designers is projected to grow 13 percent (for the period 2012 through 2022), which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. Designers will be needed to respond to consumer expectations that the interiors of homes and offices meet certain conditions, such as being environmentally friendly and more easily accessible.”

Lorraine Rogers-Bolton

The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) counts 16,000 practicing interior designers in its membership, divided nearly equally between commercial and residential design.

Lorraine Rogers-Bolton – a leading member of the South Florida interior design community and president of the award-winning Rogers Design Group in Palm Beach Gardens – has increased her focus on lighting.

“I take a lot of continuing education classes [ASID membership requires 20 hours of CEUs] and the ones I’ve been choosing [lately] involve lighting. There is just so much change going on in that area,” she commented. 

Renowned for creating homes that are sophisticated yet warm and inviting, Rogers-Bolton stays well-versed on lighting developments especially when it comes to selecting the right color temperature for her clients. Since homeowners have so much exposure to LED lighting in the news – and in the aisles of home centers – they expect their interior designers to be knowledgeable about it, too.

Tim Stumm of Morrison Supply

“I have one high-end client who wants every light in her 8,000-sq.-ft. home to be LED,” she recounted. Challenges such as color-matching and binning issues make an interior designer’s job more complicated than in the past to ensure the right choice.

For guidance, Rogers-Bolton works with a lighting consultant to provide a lot of the premium recessed lighting and fixtures. In some cases, she consults with local lighting stores [using their stock], and at other times, she needs to have custom fixtures made by a manufacturer.

“More than ever, the consumer is so much more knowledgeable about what is available and what they want,” Rogers-Bolton stated. “They’ll share their Pinterest pages of inspiration and their list on Houzz with us.” That is a degree of involvement that wasn’t there that long ago. 

At the ALA Conference seminar, panelist Joe Rey-Barreau (a registered architect and lighting designer, who is also an Associate Professor in the School of Interior Design at the University of Kentucky) added, “The role of lighting has changed. It used to be the last thing that people thought about, but that is changing. Designers and architects are overwhelmed by the interest consumers have in lighting and I think there is an unprecedented opportunity in the lighting industry for showrooms.”

Seminar panelist Marcia Knight, ASID, of Marcia Knight Designs in Nashville, has noted an increase in consumer awareness as well. “I attend the CEU-accredited seminars on lighting to get updated, plus I will utilize the knowledge of local showrooms such as Graham’s Lighting,” she said. “I depend on the experts in that area whom I have developed relationships with.”

Panelist Tim Stumm, of Morrison Supply in Dallas, recommended that lighting retailers interested in expanding their relationships with local interior designers should make a “war room” for designers to use – a conference room equipped with coffee, soda, or other refreshments – on a moment’s notice. “They don’t want to meet their clients at Starbucks or at their home to go over blueprints,” he advised, adding, “Prepare a place for them to come and they’ll be there all the time in your showroom.”

Another strategy the ALA Conference panelists suggested was to hold CEU-accredited lighting seminars in your showroom and invite the interior design community. “If you do a CEU class in your showroom, you won’t get everyone to come and probably won’t get immediate business; it’s a long-term strategy,” Knight remarked. “Showrooms with lighting labs are a terrific way to show my clients the different types of lighting and color temperatures. It’s wonderful when I have a relationship with a showroom where I can send a client and I know they will be taken care of without my having to be there with them.”

Stumm concurred, “[This business] doesn’t happen overnight. You might only get one designer a month coming in, but in five years, you’ll become their go-to source.” The panelists agreed that lighting showroom personnel should take the initiative in getting to know their local interior designers.

“Make the designer feel empowered,” Stumm said. “Give them respect; they deserve it. Start knowing their needs and wants, whether it is their preferred finishes or manufacturers they like to use. It’s like dating; you don’t ask them to marry you on the first date. You learn their likes and dislikes and you can pull those catalogs that you know he/she would be interested in.” 

“Make them feel welcomed,” Knight added. “I may be looking for a specific product, or I may be looking for inspiration. I’m not just there to kill 30 minutes before meeting my next appointment.” She also recommended getting involved with the International Interior Design Association (IIDA). “They do a lot of 5K runs and perhaps you can sponsor something, like the beverages. You may feel like you’re reaching out and not getting any return, but that’s because these designers are just getting to know you. It’s going to take eight months to one year. If you’re shy, it might take longer; if you’re outgoing, perhaps less. I wouldn’t cold call though,” she commented.

Interior designers are partnering with builders a lot more. Stumm mentioned that an interior designer he works with regularly specializes in new homes for empty nesters. In short, expanding your interior design business requires a long-range commitment, but these experts assure that the effort is well-worth it.