Nayra (left) and one of her interior design mood boards / Courtesy photos

In with the Old, Out with the New

A conversation with an interior design student

On a formerly gray and drab, now sun-drenched weekday morning, I sat down with Nayra to discuss one of my favorite topics, interior design. Nayra is a Brazilian American interior design student studying to get her BFA at Georgia State University. She brings a uniquely Brazilian, secondhand, and community-focused perspective to all her design projects and design opinions. She spoke with Georgia Voice about her design inspirations, her favorite and least favorite trends, sustainability, and more.

Quotes have been edited for clarity.

What are the main paths you can pursue when studying interior design?

Commercial and Residential. Residential would be designing someone’s house with them and commercial design would consist of office layouts, hospitals, hospitality or hotels. People are really hiring interior designers to make functional, loungey workspaces. These open-space offices have been more popular since COVID-19.

They’re trying to bring people back into the office. So, they have couches and everything, but there’s no private space. They have private rooms, but everything is transparent. It’s like, you guys are missing the point. People didn’t just want to stay home just because of comfort, but for privacy too. I’ve heard negative feedback from people who work in these kinds of offices; they miss their cubicle or at least the option of privacy, but I feel like the open thing also has to do with monitoring. Whether they’d like to say that or not, I think it’s to monitor people.

What is your favorite era(s) of interior design?

Oh my God … definitely the art deco in France, that was really important because it helped create the popular ‘70s design styles and the Art Deco revival of the ‘80s.

Who are your favorite interior designers of the past?

I really like Karim Rashid, he was really popular in the ‘90s. He exemplified that bubbly Frutiger Aero Y2K vibe. Also Oscar Niemeyer! These are more architects, by the way; interior designers usually work with the architects, but the architects put the stamps on the designs, so they often don’t get credited for their work. But Oscar Niemeyer, and I like Vivian Westwood, even though she’s a fashion designer.

Who are your design inspirations?

My grandmas and my mother! They collected antiques, and I love antiques and things from the street that people throw away. When we first came to America, we were shocked to see couches in the garbage and stuff like that. We just couldn’t believe that people just threw whole pieces away, because … we just don’t do that, or … I don’t know, we break it down and reuse it.

I like to do everything with a budget, even if it’s not necessary. I think a good design comes out of those sorts of constraints. It’s affordable and reused. Everyone in Brazil recycles, and everybody buys used. You still see furniture from the 1800s and handmade things. One thing about antiques is that they last forever, right? That’s why artisanal things like that inspire me so much. I don’t know how it’s become so popular to buy things just to throw away or redo your house with vinyl flooring that will turn into garbage later because they have to peel it and redo it versus a hardwood floor that people still have. Just rebuff it and redo it.

I do wonder when or why that shift from high-quality materials to lower-quality materials happened.

It’s just cheap … it’s cost-effective and uses cheaper labor. It will all turn to garbage, it’s plastic. I would love if they recycled it, but I doubt it. But in terms of sustainability, I think things will change and people will be looking to hire interior designers who are sustainability certified, so that’s good! It is going to cost more upfront, but over time it would cost less because you won’t have to redo it.

That’s true, I feel like that’s something people don’t consider. Like the house flippers. How do you feel about house flippers?

I love a good house flip, but I don’t like the “landlord special.” I honestly think people should get in trouble for that — painting over damage and mold and stuff like that is a problem! They just put vinyl flooring over stuff, and I see people painting granite countertops, wanting to take the vintage tile out of their bathroom. I understand people have different tastes, but work with what you’ve got.

Speaking of the present, are there any current interior designers or architects you like?

It’s so hard, because everything is this sort of pseudo-brutalist European square building now. So I’m not sure … I’m just such an old head, I try to incorporate the old into the modern so that it makes a new thing. I don’t really look at the current. Aside from Karim Rashid, he’s pretty current. I do like the English Cottage vibe, too.

Every time I go into class it’s like, what’s trending is what needs to be done. It’s almost like a rule. Everyone just agrees that the trend is the new thing because no one wants to see anything outdated. Personally, though, I prefer quality over it being new.

I’ve really wanted to live in a beautiful prewar building and something I’ve found while apartment hunting in New York is that a lot of those buildings are owned by terrible landlords. Similarly in Atlanta, so many buildings are owned by either terrible landlords or massive property management companies. I feel like these entities only care about building fast, cheap housing so they don’t care about what the exterior or the interior of the building looks like. How do you feel this directly impacts interior design trends?

I was always asking, if I learned interior design here, can I take those skills somewhere else? And in London, if you have an old building, you have to be certified to know how to work with old materials, because they want to preserve it as much as they can. So, you have to learn those things there, but I don’t think that you do here. I think they should be required to upkeep the building and be fined if they don’t. And these conglomerate apartment complexes that are the same building over and over again are owned by one company, and you’ll see the exact same apartment somewhere else. So like, “they” … I don’t know who “they” are, but “they” do own most of the houses and have a monopoly in the state. How much money are they making? And they’re not responsible for any of that, because they’re a business; there’s no one person to blame.

What design advice do you have for someone who lives in one of these boring gray apartments?

I have a gray rental apartment right now, with speckled walls and speckled ceilings. Ugly! And it’s gray gray, not even neutral gray. But the way I spiced it up was by bringing all of my very colorful, bright old furniture into the space. If your space is dark, get light furniture. If your space is bright, you’re lucky, you can get dark furniture. Leave a walkable path, make aisles. If you put anything in the walkway, it could make your small apartment feel even smaller. Utilize the corners in your apartment. Hang things anywhere you can without destroying your apartment. Mirrors! Mirrors really help open up the space. Cool lamps, mixed textiles (like putting fun pillows on the couch), and rugs. Plants! Plants help … real plants help. Anything that can make your gray apartment look cozy, you should utilize it.

What interior design trends do you hate?

I hate painting over the granite countertops! Painting the outside of the building gray, painting the inside of the building gray, and the gray wood as well. The gray wood is ugly and outdated. Fake marble. I hate people destroying an old house with old crown molding and tiled bathrooms, completely gutting it and making it gray. The beige moms that paint their kids’ toys, that’s really sad. Fake plants … RGB TikTok lights … stop, stop!

I have a pet peeve when people try to look for a rule book when it comes to design: “Oh, I’m doing this rustic style, so I have to do *everything* in this style,” because it looks like you just picked a catalog room from Rooms To Go and they came and put it together for you. I think people need to learn a lot more about nuance and mixing design styles. It makes your house more comfortable if it’s not set up like a prop room; it will make it a happier place to live. You’d be able to buy things without thinking, “This will ruin my house’s aesthetic.” Some people really like rules … Does that make it a good house? I don’t know, that’s up to them. People should look at actual magazines and design books from the eras they’re inspired by as opposed to what modern people are saying about it. Look at what it is, not just what Pinterest thinks it is.

What trends do you like?

I’m happy that people are adding a lot more color to their house and feeling more comfortable with color. I like upcycling and thrifting, the English Cottage vibe, the ‘70s mid-century modern.

You kind of started speaking on this earlier, but if you could elaborate more, where do you think interior design is headed?

I think commercially, the need for interior design will increase, because this generation just cares a lot about aesthetics and going with the trends. So. I could see it going negatively where people just adhere to the trends. Trends are dictated by what’s popular on TikTok and Facebook, but I also see the need for people who specialize in sustainable design becoming more prevalent. And for residential [design], I see a lot of people working with interior designers to try and recreate the past in a new way. I don’t see the career declining or going anywhere. If anything, it’ll just change. The architect designs the outside, but they don’t care what the inside looks like, which is why they need us.

Anything else you want to share?

Interior designers don’t just decorate a space, they also are responsible for ADA requirements and fire exits in buildings. Also, to speak more on Brazilian design: there were a lot of socialist movements happening in Brazil in the 1960s, so Oscar Niemeyer designed a lot of ‘60s modern architecture in Brazil, and that was really significant. It kind of defined that beach white modern style that we still use today. His buildings are so original and unique. He used socialist thinking for all of these things. Due to this, often in Brazil design is less focused on the individual and more on the community.


Editor’s note: Nayra requested her last name not be included in the article.