Today, the New York School of Interior Design celebrated its 2019 graduating class. As is customary at commencement day ceremonies, the school conferred honorary doctorates upon two accomplished individuals, who then in return shared their experiences, anecdotes, and advice with the assembled graduates. This being NYSID, the information imparted by designers Nate Berkus and Elaine Griffin was particularly worth mining for gems of interiors-focused wisdom. The speeches vacillated between serious and humorous moments. At one point in her address, Griffin stated, "So while, yes, it’s important to share your creativity with folks who can write big checks, nothing feels better than sharing it with people who can’t." Elsewhere, however, she joked, "If there are 111 students graduating today, I can guarantee you that there are also 111 different ideas in this room of what is the perfect white." Below, AD PRO shares the two speeches' 12 most memorable—and educational—quotes.
On designers changing lives:
". . .There has never been a more exciting and dynamic time to be a young designer out in the world creating beautiful spaces, and even changing lives. Yup, I said it. Changing lives."
On the lessons he learned from his first job as an assistant at an auction house:
"One, play to your strengths. I was a really awful assistant, but a great designer who instinctively knew how to put a room together. I didn’t let the 'terrible assistant' part define me. Instead, I focused on what I could do. Secondly, I realized that working for someone else was not for me. It was wildly important to me then—and still is—that I get to set my own schedule, and live and work by my own rules. So, that was how I found myself, at 24, the founder of Nate Berkus Associates. A firm that I still have today."
On what designers are really doing:
"What we are really doing, as designers, is mining for stories. Stories about where someone has come from, where they hope to go, and who they aspire to be. What makes someone’s heart sing, what makes us different, what makes us the same. We all want to see ourselves reflected—in each other, in our communities, in the world, and especially in our homes. This represents me—I see myself in this. This is your work as designers. It’s not just about which finish, or what cabinet, or which paint color. Not really."
On listening to clients:
"Everyone deserves to live well in their homes . . . When you get quiet and really listen to what people reveal about themselves, and honor what they hold dear and create spaces for them to have those things, it’s a big deal."
On believing in yourself:
"Give yourself permission to be inspiring . . . give yourself permission to believe you are inspiring. That is a big one. Permission to believe that you are inspiring to the people in your life. That’s not to say you won’t make mistakes or fall flat on your face. My talk show was canceled after two seasons, because I was really bad at cooking chickens. And more to the point, I hated doing it. True story. . . . But here’s the thing: My talk show ending opened up other exciting, better opportunities . . . things that I was genuinely passionate about, that inspired me. That I cared about."
On why interior designers are superheroes:
"Everyone in this room is a superhero, because we’ve all been given an incredible superpower: We are creators. We have the supernatural ability to see a completed room where there is nothing. To see light where there is darkness. To look at 12 finishes and instinctively know that only one is right. If most people dream in soft pastels, we dream in Technicolor brights."
On the importance of looking—and what she did while working for Peter Marino:
"You’re going to get understanding by looking. Be a visual sponge. Go everywhere, and look analytically at everything you see. Ask questions. I learned about proportion when I worked for Peter Marino by pestering his in-house furniture designer with 20,000 questions about the dimensions he specified in his drawings. This was my favorite way to spend my lunch break, much to his chagrin."
On how the eye is a muscle that needs to be trained:
"Here’s a confession: As a neophyte designer, I hated Art Deco. Loathed does not begin to describe how I felt. But it’s our job as interior designers to serve our clients by interpreting their vision for their homes—and not just imposing our stylistic will on them; dictatorial design is a no-no. So I knew that Art Deco I would have to learn to love. I spent nights at Barnes & Noble (this was before the Internet), studying the shapes, colors, and textures that made Art Deco chic . . . It took a lot of work, but today, if Barbra Streisand, one of the world’s biggest collectors of Art Deco furniture (seconded only by Cher, naturally) called me to do an Art Deco house for her in Hollywood, I could design one that she’d be proud to call home. Your takeaway here is that your eye is a muscle. The more you train it, just like your biceps, the better it is."
On the idea of soul in interior design work:
"I want to leave you with the secret of being even better still: And that is, soul. If you will seek the soul of everything you do—of your clients, of a table, of a tree whose colors you look to for inspiration, or of a child that just asks for a pretty pink bedroom—if you will seek the soul, and not yourself, in whatever you create, you will be unstoppable. And that, graduates, is my wish for your future, in everything you do."
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest