Interview with John Clegg

April 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Many times as students we wonder where the journey after graduation may take us. For one Iarc alumnus, John Clegg, his path led him overseas where he assists with The Society for British Interior Design (SBID) in bringing the NCIDQ exam to Britain. SBID is much like IIDA in the U.S., focusing on setting a standard for the interior design industry. In addition to his full-time job, being Regional Director for SBID requires him to plan networking events throughout the year, promote professional membership, and serve as a resource for people outside of London.

Although John has a passion for interiors, he almost became a theatre major. “I wasn’t that great of an actor, but thought that I may have a chance looking at set design. That led me to interiors and IARc, which at the time was still Housing and Interior Design.” Growing up, John mentions, he had an immense Lego collection and would spend hours building things and would not be satisfied until it was exactly the way he wanted it. He also had a strong interest in history and castles. “The thing that I liked about Interiors as opposed to architecture was that it was more about style and involved far less math!”

How did your education prepare you for the work field?

“UNCG prepared me very well because it made me think. The professors that I had helped me understand concept, context, and stressed the importance of craftsmanship. My degree gave me the very core values, beliefs, and knowledge that underpin my career today. If I were to say a few ‘thank you’s,’ it would be to both Novem Mason and Rob Ventura; I still get compliments on my handwriting. To Lucinda Havenhand, I can read buildings. And finally to Tommy Lambeth who stresses the importance of international travel – which led me to study and eventually end up living in the UK for over 7 years.” 

How has working outside of the States changed your design thinking and philosophy?

“I have had the privilege of working with some of today’s most talented designers and thinkers.  Alongside that, I have been able to travel extensively and see so much of the world – architecture, art, and fashion.  The main thing that has really changed my outlook is realizing how large and diverse the world is.  I love learning about different cultures and societies.  The world is about people, our projects are about people – and without understanding who they are and where they come from, it is impossible to do our job well.

One key influence that has changed my outlook on design is the influence that globalization has on it.  Today’s society is becoming so homogenized that all too often you can’t tell if a building is in Sydney, Australia or in Budapest, Hungary. Buildings need a sense of place and a contextualization – they don’t sit on their own.

My main passion, however, is to create an affordable and obtainable design, something that most people would be able to afford.  So often times, design is seen as a luxury -expensive objects, expensive fees, expensive homes and buildings.  We need to create a situation where design is not a luxury – everybody interacts with design everyday.  It’s all about the details and the overlooked moments.”

If you could give advice to design students, what would it be?

“My advice to students would be three-fold:

  • Travel – See the world.  Don’t spend lots of money. The trips you do on a shoestring following a passion are the ones you will remember forever and continue to be inspired by years later.  You will never recapture them.  They change you and can forever alter your life if you let them.
  • Internship – Do as many as you can to get as much real world experience and build up a stronger portfolio as quickly as possible.  Having a strong portfolio outside of student work is the best way to get ahead in the field.
  • Learn to live on a shoestring budget – The first years of your career you won’t earn much.  It’s like college without the classes. Try working for companies that you really WANT to work for, even if they aren’t paying much.  You will meet interesting people, get a chance to be bohemian, and learn to savor life.  Go to the cheap midnight cinemas, eat at hole-in-the-wall diners, and go dumpster diving for your living room furniture.  Drink cheap Cava – out of paper cups while dressed to the nines.  Necessity is the mother of all invention. Take a risk and learn to do things yourself. Not having much money is a great way to experience life at a time when you don’t have as much to lose.  Put yourself in situations that you wouldn’t normally and follow where they take you – you don’t know where you will end up, but that’s the beauty of the situation.”

Concluding on his transition from college to career, John has this final thought:  “Most European and international students live abroad for some period of their lives. Make sure that you consider opportunities other than those found in NC, DC, Atlanta, and NY.  There is a whole world out there – and a lot of routes that you can take to get there. Just find the one that’s right for you and make it happen.  I came to London 7 years ago, with $2000 in the bank, one night in a hotel room booked, the clothes that I could fit in a back pack, my laptop, and a 6-month work visa…7 years later I am still here with a residency permit, and have had the chance to work with some amazingly talented individuals – and have had some wonderful opportunities.”

Contributed by Kathryn Frye, [3rd year]

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