Published December 10, 2020
Crafting Her Own Story
Featuring: Rydhima Brar, R/Terior Studio
By Jen Levisen
EVERY SPACE TELLS A STORY
The Forum’s Editor, Jen Levisen, sits down with Rydhima Brar, Founder + Creative Director, of R/terior Studio, a full-service commercial and residential design studio based in L.A. R/terior Studio launched in early 2020, right before COVID changed our world seemingly overnight. Rydhima shares her start in the industry, how she’s made 2020 work for her, and why cocktails and design are a match made in heaven.
JEN: Rydhima, it’s so great to chat with you today! I love the focus your studio, R/terior Studio, has on storytelling from a design and project perspective. How did that come to be?
RYDHIMA: I’ve always believed that your space should tell your story through the experiences it creates. It should create a narrative special and beautiful enough to manifest a fantasy and put a smile on your face every time you enter it. A narrative that evolves and grows as your relationship with the space deepens.
JEN: I love that. Tell me what sparked your interest in the design industry?
RYDHIMA: Design has just always been there in the back of my mind. I was born and raised in Kuwait. My father is in the construction business there and from a very early age I was surrounded by his work, by finishing materials — opulent materials, fabrics, etc. He would show us the work that went into creating these spaces and that stuck with me. I also fell in love with art when I was little and that stayed with me. Arts and crafts projects when I was younger, oil on canvas as I got older, building and making things — anything I could do to constantly be creating.
That creativity moved to the back burner for a while when I moved to the U.S. for school and pursued degrees in business and finance. But honestly, design was always there. Even as I pursued a career in marketing, I always gravitated toward projects focused on the customer experience and ones that had design elements.
JEN: When did the design move to the forefront for you again?
RYDHIMA: When my husband and I settled into a new space in Los Angeles, and I had the opportunity to design our condo with my vision and on a strict budget. This process helped me better discover my aesthetic, and as I got more and more involved in the project, it became such a huge outlet for me. It became my “me” time, my Zen time. We certainly had some challenges, so that was interesting in terms of design, but that almost made everything better. My goal was to have our space completed in time for the holidays, and the feedback I received really gave me a boost of confidence to start pursuing design again as more than just a hobby.
I was working full time as a product manager at a bank in L.A., but after the birth of our daughter, I took some time off to focus on my family and really think about what the next phase of my life should look like.
JEN: So, where did you start?
RYDHIMA: I took a few interior architecture classes at UCLA; I took some foundational classes that reintroduced me to the more technical components of the job. But having been in the workforce for 10+ years at that point, and having a baby, going back to school full time just wasn’t feasible. I knew I needed learning opportunities, but I also knew I needed to get my feet wet. I ended up getting a part time job with a local designer here in L.A., as well as a part time job at a local art gallery.
JEN: What sort of projects did you get to work on?
RYDHIMA: I did a little bit of everything with the designer — picking up samples, basic floor plans, sourcing and pricing. This firm was more focused on residential design, so the role allowed me to really explore all facets. On the other hand, at the art gallery, we would work directly with design firms who sourced work for larger hotel chains, corporate offices, medical practices, etc., so I was able to explore the commercial design world, too. I established relationships with local artists, which has been such an asset. I was really able to dig in and start working on both ends, developing a 360-degree view of the industry.
JEN: At what point were you ready to start your own studio?
RYDHIMA: I was at those two jobs for almost two years, and toward the end was able to get a few of my own small projects – a few residential ones, and a small office for a start-up in Santa Monica. The feedback on those projects gave me the confidence to go full time with R/terior Studios at the beginning of the year.
JEN: Oh, my goodness, and then COVID happened. What has this year been like for you?
RYDHIMA: Project-wise, at the beginning it was just full stop. For more established designers, work definitely started to pick back up again, but for myself, as someone who is brand new and not well known in the industry, I had to think through how best to position myself while remaining sensitive to all that was going on.
JEN: So much has happened this year.
RYDHIMA: Exactly. Going out and marketing my services just didn’t feel right. I leaned on my personal network — family, friends, etc. — to expand my reach and see how I could be of service. See if they needed help transforming their existing spaces to meet their new needs – home offices, study space, things like that.
JEN: How have you been able to work and connect with clients?
RYDHIMA: It’s all been virtual, through Zoom and online. Initially I was able to do quite a few Zoom consultations with clients looking to update their home offices and create spaces for their children to do their schoolwork. That work led to the piece in Forbes.
JEN: So exciting! How has it been on the commercial side?
RYDHIMA: Definitely slower. And that’s where I’ve been looking for new ways to market myself and get my name out into that space. Online with my website, and social channels, through Mortarr, through memberships with ASID, IDS and NKBA.
JEN: Your website has a blog component, which I love. Was that something you always wanted to include?
RYDHIMA: The blog was definitely a result of COVID. When I initially launched, the blog wasn’t a part of the site, but with the spring being a slower time the addition of the blog felt like a great way to get myself and my message out there.
JEN: Our team is a big fan of your Cocktails & Interiors Series!
RYDHIMA: Thank you! That series is definitely a passion project of mind. A goal of mine is to design a boutique bar, or a hotel lobby bar. I’ve always loved going out to bars and restaurants, and the ambience and atmosphere of the different places. My goal with that series was to start exploring those possibilities and have a little fun. The idea is about how your favourite cocktail can be the inspiration of an interior and translate that into your space. I have had a lot of fun coming up with a list of cocktails and inspiring interiors along with them!
JEN: So, what are your goals for 2021 and beyond? Any dream projects?
RYDHIMA: Goodness, if this year has taught me anything it is be ready to pivot. Both personally and professionally. But as far as next year and beyond, I’m looking forward to growing my portfolio, both residential and commercial. With our current environment, I’ve used this time to read up on trends and the industry and educate myself. In September, I started an online program with the University of Pennsylvania, Design Thinking for Social Innovation. It’s geared toward architects and designers who work in public policy and urban development, and it’s allowed me to further explore my interest in the impact of design on a neurological perspective. Which is looking at how color, texture, space, etc., impacts individuals.
As far as dream projects, I’d love to expand the Cocktails & Interiors series and start exploring the possibility of a partnership with a spirit company or a bar & restaurant.
JEN: What advice would you give to younger designers or those interested in interior design?
RYDHIMA: The best advice I received was to find my why. If you’re able to determine your why and find your niche within that, the clearer your goals become, and the clearer your path to those goals become.
JEN: Rydhima, thanks so much for chatting with me today.
RYDHIMA: Thank you, Jen.