Design / Workplace culture

Work Hacks: Katie O’Hara, interior designer

Katie O’Hara is equal parts creative designer and civil engineer.

Katie O’Hara. (Photo courtesy of Katie O’Hara)

After earning her civil engineering degree and working in the field for six years, Katie O’Hara discovered she wasn’t satisfied.
She switched gears to pursue a master’s in interior design, and since then she has struck the perfect balance between technical smarts and artistic talent.
Currently, O’Hara is the owner and founder of Katie O’Hara Design. Drawing from her technical background and her knack for integrating commercial and company logos with mixed textures, materials and textiles, O’Hara has started a lucrative business that brings joy not only to her clients, but also herself.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” O’Hara says, “a combination of exhilaration, awe, pride and satisfaction. Seeing the client’s reaction makes all the long hours and hard work worthwhile.”
One of her most notable projects to date is her interior design work for the University of Delaware’s Horn Program in Entrepreneurship, located on East Delaware Avenue in Newark. The project maintains the original integrity of the building’s structure while providing an open, community-minded space with natural woods and bright colors (one of O’Hara’s trademark design concepts).
Here’s how she designs a balanced work life.


What is your design background/design aesthetic?
My design background is partially technical and partially creative. I hold a civil engineering degree and practiced for about six years when I realized that I was passionate about interior design.
Completing a master’s degree in Interior Design enabled me to combine these two areas in every design project. The technical foundation ensures design that’s feasible. Aesthetically, I’m passionate about preserving the architecture of buildings because I see it as an opportunity to honor their past while adding contemporary elements.
Each building has a story to tell, intertwined with its tenant, so I incorporate that aspect into each design. I also am committed to creating places that inspire people, promote a sense of discovery and courage collaboration.
What’s the first thing you do every day at work?
Tea first. Then I organize my day addressing the list of tasks to complete for each project and for my business.
How often do you check your e-mail?
I check it throughout the day unless I’ve reserved time to focus on a client.
How does each new design project make you feel, once it’s finished?
It’s a surreal feeling. It’s a combination of exhilaration, awe, pride and satisfaction.
Seeing the client’s reaction makes all the long hours and hard work worthwhile.  I could argue that creative projects never feel finished to the designer because there’s always something to tweak, but that’s another conversation.
What is the most gratifying part of your job?
I solve interior design problems for clients while beautifying and enhancing the environment. It never gets old.
When you need to take a break, what are you turning to?
When I need to take a break, I head outside. I grew up in the country and stepping on a trail or spending time on the water restores me. I also will turn to my amazing circle of friends and family because laughter is so important.
What’s your design and computer gear (program preference/ones you use the most, Mac or PC)?
Do colored pencils and vellum paper count?
Personally, I use Apple products. For my business I own a PC so I can use AutoCAD, SketchUp Pro, Adobe Photoshop and InDesign.
What’s one way in which you believe your day-to-day work is better now than it has been in the past? Is there something you do now (or don’t do) that has made a big difference?
My day-to-day work is better now because I have a solid understanding of my internal process and how I work best. I now allow myself to pause, to take breaks.
I have a healthier work/life balance now than I did in previous positions. I think the quality of my work is better because of this.

Companies: The Loft

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