Talking Shop With Heather Romero, Director of LSW's Interior Design Studio

June 23, 2022

Heather Romero, LSW’s Director of Interior Design, is a true Vancouver local. This is where she took her first steps, scraped her knees as a kid and learned to paddle a kayak. This is home, her playground, her studio. It’s also where she has grown into a seasoned interior designer who naturally articulates the region’s moods, scents and textures through the details of many impressive spaces and environments.

Heather Romero, Director of Interior Design
Since joining the firm in 2016, Heather has guided the interior design team through a catalog of world-class projects with some of SW Washington’s most prolific developers and clients. This includes innovative school campuses, modern offices, restaurants, government buildings and wineries, among others. From a humble start working almost exclusively with the architecture teams, she has been a part of the studio’s growth, evolution and the formation of a bold reputation that speaks for itself. Today, the team operates as a fully integrated component of LSW’s broader service offering and as a standalone service with a growing roster of individual clients.

To get some insight into the journey so far, we recently asked Heather to speak through a few of the biggest topics on the books for the LSW’s Interior Design Studio.  

Core Goal: Elevating the Human Experience of Space

Design is often a response to the world around us. The importance of creating interior spaces that heal, uplift, welcome and nurture users is vital - especially given the amount of time people spend indoors. The interior design team’s strong connection to sustainability and biophilic design, equity and inclusion and trauma-informed design is an invaluable asset to just about any of LSW’s project teams, which are becoming increasingly more interdisciplinary with new projects. 

“The studio is really focused on the human experience of space. We’re considering everything from a functional and aesthetic perspective. We want to deliver on the things that people - and specifically the owners - are looking to see for themselves."

Featured Project Above: McLoughlin Middle School and Marshall Elementary School

“When you enter a space, you automatically have a feeling - good, bad or something undefinable at times. That’s what we do as interior designers: create that experience. We are there to understand how people travel through a space and how it should function in an ideal scenario. And then offer a creative solution that is beautiful, life-giving for users and materialistically aligned with the client’s vision.” 

Interior Design and Interior Decorating are Not the Same 

Interior design is still a relatively fluid concept in popular culture. Even with growing recognition (thanks to HGTV and a handful of good reality shows), it’s still often confused with interior decorating or considered a very costly additional service - neither of which are true. 

“There’s a historic misconception about what interior designers do. A lot of the time people will mention that they hadn’t thought about hiring an interior designer, because they assumed it was a decorator or that it was just too expensive to even reach out.” 

Featured Project above: The Hammond Bar and Grill

“In Oregon and Washington, anyone can call themselves an interior designer - it’s not the case in all states. But I do think there is a lack of understanding about the level of expertise that certified interior designers bring to a project. We’re certified by the Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ), which goes hand in hand with our degrees through CIDA. We have to understand and comply with building codes and go through extensive training to understand the short and long-term impact that materials make in a closed space. The artistic side of interior design is well-known and represented, but there’s a very technical, detail-oriented side that is really critical to our work and reputation.”

We Help Clients Save Money  

There is a misconception that interior designers are a costly ‘extra’ service on top of architectural fees. The truth is that hiring someone unqualified or self-performing when you're starting a TI or new project can often be more costly than working with an interior designer.

“When interior designers are involved with the architecture team right at the beginning of a project, this allows us to make a bigger impact on the overall design and space planning features. We can help inform where main areas are located, how they function - path of travel, daylighting, views, and so on - and these can be some of the biggest cost-saving decisions any owner can make. A lot of the time, owners will try to save money on finishes like door handles and lighting fixtures, which definitely do add-up, but structural changes to the interior of a project would be a lot more effective. Being involved early allows us to make those recommendations.”

Featured Project: Hurley Development / Talents Construction Office

“Looking beyond foundational ways to save money, we’re also very knowledgeable and trained in material selections. We help clients by offering materials that are locally sourced, sustainable, durable and appropriate for the usage. To us, this really boils down to understanding clients and their budget, and then being able to offer solutions that really speak to their hearts and needs.” 

We’re the Creative Partner to our Clients 

We are constantly learning about the importance of connecting with nature on a daily basis. The sight of trees, smell of flowers, presence of natural light and fresh air all improve the way we feel, focus and function. It’s also important that people feel welcomed by a building’s points of entry, layout and window placement; that we feel seen and accounted for in every room and seating area; that we’re unconsciously valued by the flow of the environment. And then there’s context and honoring the people, culture and history of any community where a new building is being constructed or an existing one is remodeled. 

“We see ourselves as being in complete partnership with our clients. It’s our job to listen very attentively when they’re describing the feeling, vision and flow of the space. Personally, I always try to pick up on things they struggle to articulate and connect the pieces of their story together. We have to absorb a client’s vision, gifts and essence, and use these intangible concepts to transform a built space into a profound and personal experience.”  

Featured Project: The Green Leaf Uptown

“In our role you have to be flexible and you need to make space for collaboration. There’s never a hard right and wrong about a design - except when it breaks code. But design wise, oftentimes the first idea isn’t going to be the best. It’s a starting point - that’s where everyone is going to bring their ideas, add to it and help the concept evolve in the direction of the client’s vision. You put your ego aside and allow the process to unfold.” 

We Work Seamlessly With Architects (and Other Professionals)

As the design of any built space becomes more inextricably connected to sustainability and biophilic design, equity and inclusion, and trauma-informed design, there is an increasing need for interior design professionals who can weave these essential components together. That is precisely where Heather and her team are proving to be invaluable. 

“We love to collaborate with the architects. There’s a growing general trend where architects, interior designers, branding agencies, landscape architects - people from a whole spectrum of disciplines - are all coming together to help make spaces as equitable, climate-friendly, functional and as aesthetically beautiful as possible.”

Featured Project: Evergreen Place (The Vancouver Clinic)

“Speaking specifically to architecture, there’s tremendous value in us working together, because you need both disciplines to tell the whole story with conviction. A pivotal window placement can only achieve its maximum value when you consider everything around it and how it serves people who will use it - is it a moment to reflect or a place to sit down or something beautiful to look at when you’re between spaces? Let's ask that question from multiple perspectives and find out.” 

Under Heather’s guidance, LSW’s Interior Design Studio continues to develop with new projects, ideas and opportunities. That’s what every artisan hopes for: to evolve. Looking ahead, we are really excited to see their work capturing the hopes, inspiration and vision of clients across Southwest Washington and beyond.

View more of the LSW Interior Design Studio's work here.