In this episode, I have the pleasure of sitting down with our seasoned Interior Designer, Cathy Koch. Drawing from her wealth of experience in the furniture industry, Cathy shares valuable insights into the pivotal role furniture plays in shaping the ambiance of a space. From enhancing functionality to influencing aesthetics, she delves into the intricate relationship between furniture selection and overall design. Tune in as we explore the nuanced art of curating interiors for optimal comfort, style, and functionality. Whether you're a design enthusiast or industry professional, this episode promises to unveil the transformative impact of thoughtful furniture choices.

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Episode Transcript

Skyler: Welcome to another episode of Laying the Foundation. All right, everybody, welcome back to another episode of Laying the Foundations. I'm here with Kathy, one of our amazing interior designers from our Des Moines office. Kathy, thanks for being on the show.

Cathy: Yes, thank you, Skylar, for having me.

Skyler: Absolutely. Yeah, of course. Now, Kathy, you have a ton of really awesome experience when it comes to furniture within spaces. Yes. And I want to hear all about it. So tell me a little bit about your background, where you came from, how you got the experience that you have with furniture.

Cathy: Yeah, so actually before joining the CMBA team, I spent almost five years in a commercial furniture dealer. Oh, okay. So really spent time on the furniture side, which was great knowledge and foundation, coming out of school especially with it being my first job, to understand more about space planning and what's included. And it's just a whole other world out there on the furniture side. So it was really good background information that I was able to get some experience in before joining the team here.

Skyler: Yeah, absolutely. And it's nice to have, like, for people that are all working on the team together, they're all going to come in with different backgrounds and different angles or information that they've gathered over their time. Even the people that are really new, you know, I'm fresh out of college or whatever the case, you know, they're coming in and they're giving something to the team that's different than other people might use. And for you, you've got furniture in the bag. You know the ins and outs of furniture and that's so key. So tell me about how important furniture can be to any given space, because we design a lot of different spaces.

Cathy: Yeah, and you know, it goes across all sectors that we're creating more of these big open concepts that have flexible Spaces in them and there's this you know term flexibility And what does it mean and how does that enhance the spaces so the furniture can really make those spaces? functional at the end of the day too So I would never want to just leave a client with this big open space for them to be like okay figure out how to Use this now Now, it's just, it's really part of the discussion and the programming of how they want that space to work and the furniture can really enhance that functional aspect of it.

Skyler: Absolutely, yeah, functionality and yeah, definitely having like a good balance between like blank space versus something that actually has some furniture filling it and being used and things like that. So what sectors, I mean, you, have you just bridged like all of our main sectors? Probably even outside of that too?

Cathy: Yeah. Yeah, so I've really touched everything here at CMBA and in my past I really focused on the corporate side and that has spiraled into the education and healthcare sectors as well because there's lots of office spaces, there's lots of flex spaces. Collaboration again is another buzzword that's out there. So you know, how do we make these spaces be collaborative, flexible? Furniture's just a huge part of that.

Skyler: Yeah, absolutely. So tell me, within each sector, we can start off with like K-12, what are some of the key things that people are looking for when it comes to the furniture that goes within their spaces? What are some of the like, I don't know, this is like the second time I use the word angles, I guess. Yeah, no, that's good.

Cathy: I think across all sectors, but especially education, that choice of seating is a big thing. All students learn differently. I even like to remind the teachers when they're a little hesitant to let the students have choice of seating and have different styles of seating, even within the classroom, not just filling it with all tables and chairs, but can there be some soft seating? Can there be some stools or bar height seating or counter height so they can stand during the day. And when teachers are hesitant about that, I remind them that, you know, we don't want to be in the same position all day either. So the students are going to learn better if they can have that choice, if they can have that flexibility and really be able to move throughout the space. Or as they go from classroom to classroom, they can change their posture, they can focus better because they're not just in that sedentary position all day.

Skyler: Absolutely. Yeah. There's some health benefits, there's some mental health benefits, like it all kind of works together into making that space better for the people that are using it. You bet, and getting the students excited to be in their classrooms, too.

Cathy: You know, you want them to be excited to go to school. You don't want them to think about, oh, I gotta go sit at my desk all day. Right.

Skyler: Just so to make it more exciting for them and just help with that flexibility aspect. Yeah, absolutely. And I'm sure there's also kind of an angle to it of like what the space is going to be used for. So like this classroom might get used for more lecture type stuff versus like a shop or workshop where they're doing... I don't even know. I don't think we had workshop in our school. We didn't technically. So like I'm only like partially knowledgeable about what the heck that is, but like woodwork or welding or whatever else they're doing.

Cathy: Yeah, no for sure. Each subject, I mean, even the difference between maybe even a reading classroom and a math classroom or science especially. Science is such a specialty thing and can the students be able to stand while they're doing their activity rather than hovering over seated height desks. Or in language arts, maybe they are doing more reading or writing and creative work, so can there be softer postures in those rooms versus having all tables and chairs. But you know maybe math they're doing a lot of group work a lot and needing to push tables and chairs together. So you know people want to overlook furniture a lot as such a minor thing like oh we'll figure out the furniture later and it's

Skyler: like well no because it really does bring those spaces to life and it's really important. And like you almost want to have furniture in mind when you're designing the space itself too because if I'm gonna get something with wheels or if I'm gonna get something that needs to be moved in certain ways or put in certain places, I wanna know that before I design a space that might not work well with the furniture pieces that are gonna go into it.

Cathy: 100% and making sure that those rooms are big enough for all the furniture that's needed for that function. There's nothing worse than having a super tiny room that you're trying to cram a whole bunch of stuff into and then it just doesn't work either. So it is fun to bring that perspective. I know sometimes we're all guilty of getting stuck in a spreadsheet and knowing that classrooms or spaces need to be these certain sizes. And then, okay, but what shape of that room does it need to be? Does it make more sense to be a square or a rectangle? Or making sure there's no weird jets in it or columns in the middle of those rooms, just depending on function. So yeah, there's a lot that goes into it.

Skyler: Yeah, I'm sure a lot of that kind of just really goes into the idea of like collaborating with the full team. 100% yes. Just because you're the architect and right now you're working on you know designing the sizes and shapes and stuff of the spaces like work with the interior designers so that you know ahead of time how you can integrate what they're gonna put into the space

Cathy: with what you're doing in the moment. Yeah and I think our team does a really good job with that. We really throw our floor plans back and forth. We make sure not just one person's looking at it. It's a really great collaborative effort to make sure that, like you said very early on in this, that all of our perspectives are broadened because we also all have different project experience. Bringing that to the table as well so that we can create the best possible spaces.

Skyler: Absolutely. So jumping over to higher education, how do things differ a little bit? Are there some key differences that you see a lot when it comes to the furniture that goes into the spaces or kind of how they like to fill those spaces than you see in K-12.

Cathy: Yeah, I think we're seeing a lot more of it in the K-12 world with the flex spaces outside of the classrooms, but that is a big part of the higher ed portion of design is those spaces that the students can come together in outside of class and how do we keep them on campus so they want to study and aren't just leaving you know and going home for the how do you keep students on campus. At the Lindquist Center, they added a cafe to help keep people there so you can grab lunch in the building, you can grab coffee in the building, and you are just really how do you attract those students to stay there rather than going to the million other places on campus that they can go. So yeah, so it is fun that those campus spaces are becoming a little more corporate too. So it's helping with that blending of students as they step in, you know, from high school into college and then into that corporate world. How does that transition look? So that's kind of thought through too with some of the higher ed design.

Skyler: Yeah, kind of give them the, I don't want to say the illusion but in a sense, you know, kind of the feel, I guess, would be a better way to put it, of what things could look like you know once you're done with college you move into an apartment setting or something like that. You know kind of living in an area where there's a cafe downstairs you know those kind of fun which I know a lot of cities are kind of designing those kind of downtown spaces to kind of feel like that. That's a whole other topic.

Cathy: Yes, we could go a whole other podcast about that.

Skyler: Yeah, I know. Ideas, we've got to write these down. So what about like I don't know how much we do with like dormitories maybe?

Cathy: I haven't touched any of those. I know some in our other offices have.

Skyler: Okay, gotcha. All right, I was just curious if maybe like when it comes to the furniture that goes in there, I mean you're talking you know, beds and dressers and kind of the key stuff that students are gonna be using on the daily, I don't know.

Cathy: Yeah, and just making sure things are high use too. You don't wanna put cheap Ikea furniture in those that people are gonna destroy the first minute they

Skyler: move in. Exactly. If you want to bring their cheap IKEA stuff, that's fine, but yeah we're not going to from the college's perspective. Yes, correct. Awesome, okay, and then now big transition over to healthcare. Yeah. That's its own entire world. What are we looking at as far as the kind of furniture that needs to go into healthcare spaces and how that's

Cathy: being used? Yeah, for sure. Obviously cleanability you have to touch on first because that's just a huge part of health care. Making sure that those, the people who are taking care of the facilities can just easily clean things. It's not a burden because filling those positions is tough. So how do we make it easy for them to just keep everything clean? But then another part of it is comfort. I think we're seeing health care really go more hospitality feeling, having a comfortable sit, not just having rooms full of really small chairs that people pack together in. I know the pandemic kind of helped with that. So, you know, we don't have as big, we no longer have these big waiting rooms just filled with chairs anymore, which is nice. So getting that mix of lounge seating. So that way, you know, if you do bring grandma to her appointment, you can stay in the waiting room and be comfortable and read a book or listen to a podcast and not, you don't have to feel like you're sitting in this awkward waiting room for a long time. So I think, yeah, comfort's a big thing we're seeing in the healthcare market right now. And again, furniture can help a lot with that.

Skyler: Oh, a hundred percent. Absolutely. If that's what I'm going to be sitting on, well, like you said, I'm in a waiting room or, or what if I'm like a patient? Are there kind of some key directions that they're going on with that?

Cathy: Yeah. And we could really nerd out too about patient seating. There's all sorts of different recliners that you can get now with all the safety features, and that helps your nursing staff as well, which is another big hit. It's just making sure that the nurses can easily maneuver patients through seating, and just that functionality. There's a whole other side of the healthcare part of it too, is that you have the patients, but you also have the providers right that

AD: you're thinking about as well. Absolutely. Yeah. Attention architecture professionals, are you looking for an employment opportunity that will provide you with a wonderful work culture and a competitive pay rate? Look no further than CMBA Architects. Our firm offers flexible scheduling, a casual dress code, and a great work environment that will help you collaborate and create. Plus, who doesn't love having Fridays off?

Skyler: To learn more about our available positions, visit the careers page at and apply to join the CMBA team. So we talked about kind of the restriction of space and kind of the difficulty of maneuvering through that. What about with budget? How do we work with people who might be working on a limited budget or obviously budget's gonna be part of the entire discussion when it comes to the planning and everything like that. What does that look like from the furniture end?

Cathy: Yeah, that's a really good question, Skylar, because it seems like we work on a lot of projects and budgets get tight, they just naturally do. True that. And it's a tough construction market right now, but people wanna look at that furniture number and go, whoa, we don't need that for furniture. And they're just surprised at the cost of it. But, you know, helping our clients realize that it is important to leave that number in there so that we can ensure that we're creating the spaces that they need across all sectors. And then also making sure that we're getting quality products for them and items that are going to be for weight limits for their customers that are coming in and aren't going to break over time or that they do have that dealership they can call when you know this chair breaks we can just make a phone call, get that place replaced, get that piece replaced and then just you know have that ease of mind with that rather than oh we broke another chair we got to go online and find something else. Right. Having that burden on that so how can we support them knowing that furniture is such a high use piece as well. And you know you pay for what you get with everything else you get. So I hate saying that. But yeah, it's a good conversation to have and to try and make people understand that it can really hurt the project if you do hurt that budget side of it because bad furniture can ruin a good project. I have learned that over the years also.

Skyler: Yep, yep. Quality over quantity or cheapness or whatever the case, yep, awesome. So when it comes, and you kind of mentioned this, and then I know you had kind of sent me some notes as well as far as some topics that you wanted to touch on, but when it comes to that process of getting those items, there's different ways that people can do it, but there's kind of like the, you can work with a dealer, and they've got their expertise and such that they're bringing into the fold versus we'll just go online or order off a catalog or something like that. What are the key differences that you have seen? And obviously, as somebody that's worked within the dealership side of things, what kind of experience have you gotten from that?

Cathy: Yeah, no, that's a really good question too, Skylar. So when you go through the catalog process, you don't get to see and touch and feel the pieces. You probably aren't gonna have that support of a dealer if we do work with a local dealer on that. Again, if the pieces break or you have issues with things, it's probably gonna be harder to get a hold of that 800 number or you're gonna find yourself just reordering a lot of pieces, which then they land and, you know, they end up in the landfill, which we don't want, or you're just constantly feeling like you're having to backfill your furniture. But we prefer the dealer relationship just because you can get a lot of support from them and we can go through, you know, there's the design process for getting your building built, there's actually a design process for getting your furniture selected. So going through that selection process of what your key points are, what you are that selection process of what your key points are, what you are looking for.

Post by CMBA
November 16, 2023