Southwest native Keely O’Brien moved to Oregon in search of a creative environment and seasonal weather. She graduated from the University of Oregon’s College of Design with a bachelor’s degree in interior architecture and a minor in architecture, and now works as an interior designer at Portland-based architecture and design studio West of West. GRAY caught up with the designer to learn about her approach, working abroad, and the trends she’s anticipating for the future.
What’s the best part of your job?
On any given week, I am working on three to four different projects ranging from small-scale retail to large creative workspaces. The alternating scales keep me engaged by helping me solve problems and translating solutions between projects. However, truly enjoying the struggle of the design process is one of [my favorite]parts. There is no better feeling than working through a design solution over and over [until] it finally clicks into place. When the design and the experiential concepts start to harmonize, that’s the best part of my job.
While in college, you were selected to work at the architecture firm Eco-id in Singapore. How did that experience shape the work you do today?
The experience of living in a country you know very little about, and having to adapt, work, and live, is irreplaceable. The time I spent in Singapore taught me countless personal and professional lessons: Stingray leather is a real material used in interiors, eat everything even when you can’t decipher what is in it, and always carry curly hair care products in humidity. Most importantly, I learned that every experience I have, and every person I meet, is an opportunity to learn something. It taught me to aspire to always be a student in everything I do, and soak in the knowledge of the people and places around me because that is the only way I will grow and become better in my career.
What are the top five things you think about when designing a space?
- Be inspired by the existing space.
- Understand the design challenges, as they tend to inspire the best design solutions.
- Focus on functionality for the client and users.
- Envision the user experience you intend to create before you begin designing the users environment.
- Never underestimate the power of texture, color, and lighting to create visual interest.
Where do you see Portland interior design trends heading in the next five years?
The city of Portland is in a period of growth. This expansion can be seen as good and bad, but either way, it forces the community to be involved in discussions about the city’s future. It is inevitable that with growth comes change, but as Portland evolves, I see the design world trending toward being at the forefront of that expansion.
What social media app can you not live without?
My friends and family would laugh at me for this because they know how bad I am with keeping up with my social media, but I do find that Instagram is really useful for the design community. It gives you the ability to connect with vendors, artists, and designers that you may have otherwise never found on your own. I also think it creates an easy to use platform for artists and designers to get their work out to the general public, making great design more accessible to everyone.
Five Questions For is GRAY’s candid Q&A session with design industry luminaries that delves into all things personal, professional, and occasionally humorous.