Q&A with Featured Designer, Zoë Feldman
Zoë Feldman is an interior designer known for her modern take on classic styles and her eco-conscious design techniques. We recently chatted with Zoë about her design style and how she is working to make the industry more eco-friendly.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I studied at Parsons School of Design in New York and worked under AD100 designer Alexa Hampton at the design firm, Mark Hampton, Inc. When I moved to Washington, DC I started my own firm, Zoë Feldman Design, in the historic neighborhood of Georgetown.
What was the most important thing that you took away from your experience at Mark Hampton, Inc. that sticks with you today?
Alexa was a big proponent of the fact that this is a service industry. We aren’t above anything and we’re here to serve our clients. She was a humble designer. I’ve tried to take that same mindset into my own business and instill it in the people who work with me now.
What were some of the early struggles you experienced when first beginning your career in interior design?
Initially I struggled with the client side of things. I knew design and felt confident in my abilities, but learning how to interact with those hiring for my design knowledge was something that couldn’t be taught in school. Putting a money value on my work was a struggle, and learning how and when to set boundaries was something that I quickly learned was a skill that would only come with time.
Being a Florida native and now working in DC within the historic Georgetown District, how would you say these two places have influenced your aesthetic as a whole?
Getting to shape the insides of some of Georgetown’s most historic homes has really fed the more classic side of me. There’s so much incredible architecture in this city and I’d be remiss to think that it hasn’t refined my aesthetic over the years.
Florida brought the fun. It taught me the importance of bringing the outdoors inside and letting go of structure and rules. The organic, whimsical, casual side of my design aesthetic is the brainchild of Florida’s sunny, come-as-you-are mentality.
Where do you seek inspiration for your design work?
Ask my staff, I’m always pulling out good, old-fashioned print books and flipping through designs of those that came before me for inspiration. The internet is a lovely place but it can be limiting in ways you’re often not aware of.
We love that your office has brought environmental concerns to the forefront of your mission. Can you tell us more about how you bring this into your design work and your day-to-day office routines?
Taking care of our planet is incredibly important to us. The unfortunate reality about our industry is that it can be incredibly wasteful. As a firm, we’ve committed ourselves to trying to turn the tides a bit, no matter how small the impact. We source vintage as much as we possibly can, and we seek out ways to align ourselves with eco-friendly companies and makers. We give 100% of our consultation fees to a collection of charities, like The Sierra Club and Charity Water, and we match it if/when the client signs on for our services.
We also realize that our responsibilities extend beyond our clients. We’ve taken dramatic steps to greening our office… a place where a lot of papers flow through. We’ve gone digital in every place we can, and conscious of our recycling practices in places where we can’t.
What’s your favorite project that you’ve complete to date? What made it so special?
On our website, I love the project titled “Historic Capitol Hill.” The building had beautiful bones and the client was passionate about the process, a perfect scenario. Even though we took much of it down to its studs, we brought it back to life with a commitment to its architectural integrity. If we found good wood, we made sure to utilize it in other parts of the home. The project was a labor of love and I’m very proud of the finished product.
What are the most common decorating mistake you see clients making?
Scale is an easy one to mess up. It isn’t uncommon to walk into a client’s home and there’s pieces that overwhelm the room, or vice versa, pieces that leave too much empty space. It’s a delicate balance when pairing.
The most common thing I see though isn’t necessarily a mistake, but rather a hesitancy. People shy away from making bold decisions because they’re not confident in their design eye. That’s where I like to come in and guide, push them to think outside the one color/one style mindset.
What’s the best part about owning your own business?
I love the process of building the team around me. It’s rewarding to see that I play a role in the happiness and wellbeing of others, as well as helping to shape their future, as Alexa Hampton did for me.
What’s the most difficult aspect of owning your own business?
See above, and in a different respect, this is also the hardest. Knowing when to be authoritative and when to crowdsource is a constant lesson.
What advice would you give to someone starting a design business?
Work under someone experienced in the industry for a significant amount of time and soak in as much as you can. If you can make all the mistakes under an established person’s name, the better. I wish I had spent more time with Alexa Hampton and saved myself some hard lessons.
We know you have a life outside of work. How do you set boundaries between work time and free time and balance everything?
This is a dance every day, even now as I’m quite a few years into entrepreneurship. I’m constantly having to check myself on where I’m allotting my time. I don’t necessarily agree with women who claim that women can have it all. The truth is, if you’re crushing it at work, you’re most likely lacking a bit at home. Or if you’re the best mother/friend you can be, there’s a huge chance that you’re absent at work more than you want to be. There is no easy answer, just a commitment to try and keep the scales even as much as possible.
What’s next for you? Any exciting projects coming up?
We just launched a huge green initiative and we are all so excited to work through the steps of helping it grow. We’re committed to doing all we can to make a difference in our environment, and to inspiring others to do the same.
I’ve always wanted to explore the regions of India that have given the design industry so many incredible textiles.
An app you cannot live without?
What IG accounts are you loving right now?
Favorite way to spend a Saturday?
Outside with my family, on a beautiful day.
Personal style icons?
Something you’ve always wanted to learn?
How to think before I speak
What is your motto?
Know the rules and then break them
What do you do to relax?
Best advice you have been given?
Hire people better than you
Most prized possession?
The Alex Katz my grandmother got me as a wedding present
Go-To white paint color?
Describe your style in 3 words.
Refined, eclectic, time-honored.
Favorite design rule to break?
Framing contemporary art in classic frames
Best plants & greenery for styling?
Blossom branches, Bells of Ireland, Fiddle Leaf Fig, Palm Fronds
Favorite design trend right now?
Vintage sculptural furniture pieces