Linda Elliott Smith has been an interior designer for nearly a quarter of a century. She began her practice in 1983 and, in 1985, started her own interior design firm, Smith & Associates, which specializes in contract, hospitality and residential projects.

Smith not only possesses a long history in the practice of interior design, but also has been an active and outspoken leader for the advancement of the trade itself for many years. During 2003 and 2004, she served as president of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID); she has served as a volunteer leader for that organization since the 1980s, and has been named an ASID Fellow, which the organization calls “the highest honor the Society can bestow on its members” that not only acknowledges “the achievements of the designer as an individual but also recognizes before the public and the profession a model interior designer who has made a significant contribution to interior design and society.”

Smith’s activities on behalf of her profession go far beyond her involvement with ASID. From 1997 to 1999, she served as president of the National Council for Interior Design Qualification. She also spent two years with the now-defunct National Legislative Coalition for Interior Design, where she worked to promote “the recognition of and right-to-practice for interior designers across the nation.” A BFA from O’More College of Design in Franklin, Tenn., she recently served on that college’s Board of Trustees.

While practicing in Tennessee, Smith was a vocal advocate for state licensing of interior designers, a goal that was subsequently achieved. She then became the first interior designer appointed to state’s Board of Architectural and Engineering Examiners, where she served two four-year terms appointed by two different governors. All told, she served as secretary to the board and chairperson for the board from 1993 to 2000.

These days, Smith says, “my design practice is fairly limited,” with her focus mainly on existing clients and any “fascinating new challenges” that come her way. An increasing amount of her time and attention in recent years has turned to education and training, which she administers through her Dallas-based professional development seminar firm education-works, of which she is president and co-partner. Smith calls education-works “an outgrowth of my design practice,” as well as of the extensive training work she performed as an ASID volunteer for many years.

Smith attended last year’s CEDIA Electronic Lifestyles Forum in San Francisco, as well as the CEDIA EXPO in Denver. This month, she will attend the CEDIA Electronic Lifestyles EXPO in Las Vegas, where on Friday, April 20, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., she will conduct an interactive session called “Understanding the Interior Design Process and the CEDIA Member’s Role.”

“I love technology,” says Smith, “which is why I work with CEDIA. It’s fascinating to me.”

Smith recently gave CustomRetailer some of her time to discuss interior design, how it relates to electronics installation and integration, and what electronic systems professionals need to know about working with interior designers.

In your experience as an interior designer, how often have you worked with the people who are designing and installing entertainment and automation systems in the home?

The projects I worked on in the past really consisted more of audio systems. It’s been a while since I’ve done anything as sophisticated as what we’re seeing in terms of home integration these days. We talk about it in our seminars, certainly, about the need for expertise in that area. The technology is changing so rapidly that it’s very difficult to keep up with it, unless that’s your area of specialization.

How much does an interior designer need to know about home entertainment and automation to effectively work in a home, especially if the installers and integrators are also on site?

I’ve had courses in acoustics, so I know a little bit about acoustics. I can talk somewhat intelligently about acoustics, but I need to be able to trust someone that knows way beyond my level of knowledge.

It’s the same way as I know about plumbing. As an interior designer, I don’t deal with how the pipes run and all of that, but I select fixtures for what they do, and then I have to depend on those who have deeper levels of expertise to guide me or to collaborate with me so that I make sure I cover all the bases that need to be covered.

Have your experiences with electronics installers and integrators been, on average, good or bad?

I don’t really have any horror stories. I’ve worked with some people I thought were very well qualified. On the whole, I’ve had really good experiences. And you learn that you go to someone who has a good reputation before you even recommend someone to your client.

What do electronics professionals need to know about interior designers? What do you need from them, and how should the two disciplines, ideally, work together?

Well, obviously, I think it’s a collaborative relationship. But I also think it would help if the electronics installers had a greater understanding of what interior designers do.

We normally—and particularly in residential projects—are the primary facilitator on the job. We usually act as the client’s agent. We act as the major facilitator, and we’re juggling a lot of different areas, not just the electronics or the home integration system area. We’re usually dealing with all aspects of a project from A to Z, if you will. And I will say that not just electronics designers and installers, [but] most people don’t really know the full extent of what interior designers do, how they’re trained, what really goes into getting a job from start to finish.

What should they know?

Well, there’s a whole hour class out at the Electronic Lifestyles Forum that will tell them about that (laughs)!

But part of what I think is critically important is that I’m looking at the whole of the project, and understanding that the decisions I have made as the facilitator or as the program designer have rationales behind them [regarding] what the client has asked for. If someone—and this is a worst-case scenario—then comes in and says, “Well, I have to put this here and I have to put this here and I have to put this here,” and other things have been planned that would conflict with that, what happens is that almost a domino effect goes into play. It knocks this one over, and then we have to fix that one, and then we have to fix that one, and then we have to fix that one…

So it’s not that the designer is being arbitrary about some things. It’s a matter of everyone working together from the front in. That’s what I think is critically important—that all the team members are on board at the outset so you can avoid those types of pitfalls.

The impression I get is that the interior designer views his or her role as the overall project manager.

Usually that’s the case, particularly in residential projects, and even in some commercial projects; it depends on how large the commercial projects are in terms of whether there’s an architect and an engineering team and so forth involved. But primarily, in residential projects, the interior designer is the one who gets called in first.

As past-president of ASID, were you involved in starting a relationship with CEDIA? Had a relationship with CEDIA existed previous to your tenure?

I was asked by ASID last year—I was out of my position as an officer at that point—to speak on behalf of ASID at [last year’s] Electronic Lifestyles Forum. And that was really my first introduction with CEDIA. [The forging of a CEDIA-ASID relationship] could have happened a little prior to that, but I didn’t have any relationship with CEDIA, and I was not aware that ASID was working with them in any way until I was asked to do that.

Has CEDIA come to speak at any ASID events?

Yes, absolutely. In fact, I just talked with [CEDIA Industry Outreach Liaison] Dave Chic and [CEDIA Industry Outreach Events Assistant] Courtney [Vogel] at the Interiors 07 conference in San Francisco, which is ASID’s annual conference. They had a booth there, and they presented a program. And I know that even here in my Dallas chapter of ASID, CEDIA has had a presence at an event called METROCON, which is a big trade show and educational expo type of program that happens every year in August.

So is the relationship between ASID and CEDIA right now mainly that you’re showing up at their events and they’re showing up at your events? Is there anything else more formal taking place, any initiatives that are being undertaken jointly?

I don’t know of any off the top of my head, and I haven’t heard anything. I know that certainly it’s a nice opportunity for collaboration because of the expertise CEDIA has. It lends to working together, and making each other aware.

Again, getting a greater awareness of what each other does, what your strengths are, where you have some weaknesses that you need to fill in—I think it’s a good combination when I think about what we’re being asked to do in the residential marketplace and in the commercial marketplace; there are some incredible opportunities in corporate environments and things of that nature with integrated systems.

What do you plan to talk about at CEDIA’s Electronic Lifestyles Forum, and what do you hope to achieve by attending?

What I hope to achieve personally is to gain greater insight.

Actually, CEDIA asked myself and another [ASID] past-president, Don Bowden, to attend its huge conference [CEDIA EXPO] in Denver last fall, and that was really interesting because I got to take some continuing education classes that are geared a little bit differently than the way ours are geared. It was a real educational opportunity for me, because I got to learn more about how CEDIA members conduct business, the types of things that they are learning in their programs and so forth.

My purpose in going to the Electronic Lifestyles Forum and the presentation I’m going to make there is to really try to communicate in greater detail, “What is an interior designer, what do we do, and how do we work together with CEDIA members? How can we work better together?” There will be a dialogue about how we can better work together.

I had done a survey of ASID members [about] what they’re looking for in terms of how they like to work with industry partners. It was just a very simple survey that I’ll talk about there. It’s applicable to CEDIA—it’s not as applicable in some ways as others—but it still is pertinent in terms of just communicating how designers like to work and collaborate with others.

What was the most striking finding of that survey, and how does it apply to CEDIA members?

Part of it had to do with respect for one another. A lot of designers talked about respecting time. A lot of that has to do with some of the industry reps that call on designers, so that’s not quite as applicable to CEDIA members, because we’re usually trying to interact with them in a little bit different way. But just respecting one another, which I think is applicable to anybody in any business where you’re trying to collaborate.

You’ve been a longtime advocate of state licensing of interior designers. How does being licensed by the state benefit you as a designer?

Number one, it shows that I am committed to professionalism, that I [was] willing to do what had to be done to be considered a professional. Number two, it shows there is an accountability system with me in terms of the state saying that I am a licensed professional. That holds me a little bit more accountable than other people, because if you’re not doing what you need to do, you have the potential to lose your license.

It just shows an ongoing commitment to meeting certain standards of practice and professionalism.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about licensing electronics installers. Do you feel, as someone who has been licensed in her own profession, that this would be a good thing or a bad thing for the electronics professionals?

I probably will reserve judgement. I can see the pros and the cons in terms of getting into governmental regulation.

I like the idea that CEDIA is really self-certifying right now, which I think is an interesting component. To the public, it is an effort to police its own membership, to provide a level of quality that is not necessarily mandated by the state.

Having fought the legislative battles in the trenches for a number of years—and interior designers are still only regulated in 26 states—it’s a long haul to get that whole legislative seal of approval, if you will.

How can electronics professionals learn more about interior designers?

ASID has a web site nationally [www.asid.org] that has a lot of information. In fact, there’s one document that was produced while I was president called “Facts and Figures about Interior Design.” It really discusses the practice, the types of practice, and [provides] lots of statistical information. If you want to know the length, the breadth and the depth of interior design, that’s a document that’s out there that ASID funded. And there are other types of documents on the web site that tell a lot about interior design.

There are [ASID] chapters in every state, and I would encourage the electronics professionals to interface with those chapters. Many times, there’s a chapter office in the major city wherever the chapter is domiciled. For example, we have a chapter administrator for Texas who happens to be located in Dallas. The chapter administrator for Tennessee is in Nashville; the reason I know that is that I’m originally from Nashville (laughs). So there’s usually a chapter office somewhere or a chapter administrator, and those administrators are listed on ASID’s web site. The administrators can tell you about events and significant happenings in and around the chapter.

What electronics stuff really excites you as an interior designer?

Going to CEDIA EXPO was just awesome last year. Talk about being bombarded! I didn’t know there were that many different kinds of cable, but there are (laughs)!

I think the idea of the seamlessness, of how these pieces of technology can be integrated into the interior environment [is exciting].

One of the things I got to do [in Denver] was that I was on the team that judged the design part of the competition for CEDIA. I got to see a lot of really phenomenal installations. Just to see how this can be integrated almost [to the point] that it can be hidden, how it can be in your face and yet so subtle—it just fascinates me. If I were going to get heavily back into practice again, I’d probably want to go there, just because of the technology involved.

Some of our readers actually have interior designers on their staffs.

I think that’s very smart. I truly do. Between electronics designers and installers and interior designers, you can do some incredible installations. CR