“Why do we do what we do—in life, in our careers, in our relationships—if we don’t share our experiences so someone else can learn from our struggles to lessen theirs? Or share our successes to accelerate their rewards?” pondered Erika Moody, president of Helix Architecture + Design, when asked about the importance of mentorship.
“If you believe that is possible, which I do, then not only do you mentor, but you always stay curious and listen to others who have wisdom to share,” she added. As the International Interior Design Association’s (IIDA) President-Elect of its Board of Directors, Moody firmly believes in the transformative power of mentorship in shaping the future of the interior design industry. The organization’s dynamic Student Mentoring Program—an initiative that annually connects hundreds of students with experienced professionals across the country—allows them to step out of the classroom and immerse themselves into the real world of interior design.
“For our profession, mentorship will empower the next generation of designers to tackle tomorrow's design opportunities. It’s a non-negotiable. We have to mentor and always be willing to be mentored," she said.
So what is the foundation of a successful mentor-mentee relationship?
“This fosters trust over time. Throughout my career I have been given incredible mentors, some for the duration of a project (a really grumpy but brilliant owner’s rep comes to mind); some for technical training; some for inspirational guidance, all encouraging me to stretch from the comfort of who I am to seeing who I could be,” she explained. “Many have remained with me throughout my entire career, including one I contact whenever I have exciting news and he gets as excited for me as he would for his own children. My best mentors are counted as my closest friends. I truly am a collection of all of these people and so much stronger, bolder and better for their abundant guidance.”
Tyler Hatton, design specialist at WSA and vice president of student affairs at the IIDA Ohio/Kentucky Chapter, shared a very similar experience: “My most impactful mentors have been designers who I both admire and trust. They have impacted my professional journey by inspiring and motivating me to do my best work, encouraging me to seek the right answers, and supporting me when I felt a bit lost.” Fast forward to today, it is Hatton now in the role of a mentor, providing advice and guidance. He recommends keeping the following in mind: “A mentorship experience is something that you can tailor to your own professional needs. It can be a formal program, like through your school, office, or professional organization; it can be casual, like having quarterly coffee with someone you look up to professionally.”
Eve Horstmann, associate interior designer, GBD Architects and IIDA Oregon Chapter’s vice president of student affairs, agreed: “Mentorship does not need to be overwhelming or time-consuming,” she said, urging emerging designers to treat everyday moments as opportunities to learn or teach something new. “Start small and go from there,” she recommended, looking at mentorship as the key to empowering people and breaking down barriers to success and belonging in the design industry. “Mentorship has enabled me to have confidence in my abilities as an interior designer and say yes to new and challenging project opportunities and leadership roles within my firm and the Oregon A+D community. My approach to mentorship is the direct result of being a mentee: I aim to provide the support and resources I once longed for,” she added. “Creating a safe space for both mentee and mentor to show up as they are as individuals is key. People thrive when they feel seen and heard.”
“Sometimes clarity can be difficult without the insights of others,” said Christine Gould, senior manager A+D, workplace and health at Kimball International, who serves as IIDA Illinois Chapter’s vice president of student affairs. To her, it’s all about meaningful conversations that often lead to unlocking vital resources, growth opportunities, and broader networks, all of which are crucial for navigating and understanding the industry more effectively. “The profession of interior design is incredibly multi-faceted and we hold ourselves to an extremely high standard. This level of excellence doesn’t come without continual investment in personal and professional growth,” she added.
Unafraid of the industry’s ups and downs, Gould sees the beauty of the interior design profession in the diversity of experiences it offers. “Each individual's journey is unique, often filled with unexpected twists and turns. But I truly believe each life experience is a stepping stone to the next, unlocking discoveries and relationships along the way,” she said. “This is an industry full of people who want to lift others up and we’re so lucky for that.”