Lois Weinthal, Chair and Professor, School of Interior Design, Ryerson University

Lois Weinthal, Chair and Professor, School of Interior Design, Ryerson University

Lois is a professor and Chair of the School of Interior Design at Ryerson University in Toronto.

What is your morning routine?

During the week, the first hour is a rush to get the cats and my daughter fed (we try not to mix them up), followed by my husband and I going through our usual morning routine to get out the door. Every morning is fairly consistent, but in good weather I like riding my bike to work whenever I can. Weekends are different. People talk about being “weekend warriors” when it comes to working out, but I’m a weekend warrior when it comes to catching up on sleep.

Tell us about your career path.

When I was an undergraduate studying architecture, I knew I wanted to be in academia early on because the design process learned in studio courses allowed me to stay in the conceptual realm. After completing my undergrad, I worked in architecture offices in New York City on both small and large projects, which led me to ask questions about the relationship between theory and practice. I carried these questions over into graduate school where the curriculum was fluid and allowed for experimentation, much like the discipline of interior design itself.

I have great appreciation for practicing interior designers and architects, but I’ve always been more interested in the opportunity to ask questions about design, whereas the profession quickly moves into construction. I feel privileged to be Chair of the School of Interior Design at Ryerson, and I place student experience as the highest priority. I want them to have the best of both worlds where they can be rigorous designers and implement their ideas into practice.

What challenges do you or women face in your industry?

Interior design is a woman-dominated discipline – except when you look at the top award-winning practices, where it tends to be a balance of men and women. One of the biggest challenges is the reputation that interior design is secondary to architecture. Related disciplines often do not treat interior design equally, which is why it’s important for my students to have a strong foundation in “making.” This means understanding the tools and materials of the trade, but also being guided by an innovative design background so they can be leaders. Lately, designers are integrating more technology into practice, including computer numerical controlled (CNC) routers, laser cutters, 3D printers, and soon, robots. I think this worries some people, but there are innovative cross-overs happening between traditional practices and technology, such as robots knitting textiles. The next generation of interior designers needs to balance knowledge of technology with the skill of hand-sketch drawing.

What advice would you give to young girls who want to be the NEXT you?

Follow what feels right to you. If it’s not mainstream, that’s okay; it means you’re onto something else that has potential. Respect others, even when you don’t see eye to eye. Don’t be afraid to be vocal.

How do you separate work life from your personal life?

Working hours are for work, and outside of that is my time with family. But I tend to go into an evening “shift” to get through work.

What inspires you?

I’m always looking at design work ranging from theoretical text to buildings. When I see these or anything in between, I appreciate a rigorous approach where I can learn from examples. Something can look beautiful, but without logic or reason behind it, it doesn’t carry the same learning experience.

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