Margaret McDonald, director of interiors in HOK’s St. Louis office, rejoined the firm last year after spending 15 years at Arcturis as a principal and design director.
In “7 Questions with Margaret McDonald of HOK,” McDonald shares the latest trends in workplace design.
How have office interiors changed in the past five or 10 years?
MM: “Technology has continued to change how and where we work. We no longer have to be sitting at our desks to do our jobs. This allows for a more creative approach to interiors, designing a variety of spaces that support the day’s activities, meetings, focus work, collaboration and community.”
Are businesses putting a larger focus on sustainable or green design?
“It has become even more important to attract and retain the best employees. They seek out companies that have sustainable practices and work environments such as access to outdoors, composting or alternative transportation policies. At HOK, we are part of the AIA (American Institute of Architects) 2030 Challenge and are committed to designing all new buildings, developments and major renovations to be carbon neutral by 2030.”
What are some recent examples of how HOK has incorporated function into an office interior without losing creative design?
“At the Square offices in @4240, they needed a highly flexible space that could support an enclosed meeting as well as open collaboration. Our design solution was to install a coiling garage door that could change the space with a push of a button while still providing the appropriate aesthetic look.”
Is there anything organizations can do today to improve design and function in their office?
“Technology has distracted us from thinking about basic human comforts. Almost any office today can take a closer look at the employee experience and de-stressing the workplace to improve productivity. Designs that give everyone access to daylight and views, options for working in different postures, and comfortable and welcoming gathering spaces that provide great coffee and healthy snacks will make a large impact in employee engagement and happiness.”
McDonald’s “St. Louis Character” feature takes a more personal look at what drives and inspires her.
“‘What Margaret is really good at is understanding how a business works before she understands what is needed spatially,’ said [McDonald’s former colleague and client] Susan Barrett, owner and president of Barrett Barrera Projects and its division, projects+gallery, in the Central West End.”
“‘Margaret takes it (interior design) beyond just a spatial solution,’ Barrett said. ‘She actually finds ways that the space helps the production of business. She sees how a simple design challenge is applicable to the (organization’s) branding, to marketing or how people feel within the environment.’”
What led you to pursue a career in interior design?
MM: “At first, I considered going back to get a master’s in photography, but then, socially, I was around a lot of people who were architects, so I ended up going back to school and earned another bachelor of fine arts focused on interior architecture. I look at what we do as very sculptural, understanding people, what their goals are for their business and the experience for their employees, the experience for their guests, the experience for their clients, and how to then create and shape that environment. I see it (interior design) as a really big crossroads of art and business and people; it’s so much about people and experiences.”
You mentioned that you get ideas from your peers from other HOK offices—nationally and internationally. Where else do you find inspiration?
“I read a lot, and I consume so much visual information from blogs, like Contour. I always read The New York Times. I look at lots of travel magazines and food magazines, design magazines, and fashion publications, like Vogue. And I travel to get inspiration. I’m going to Marrakesh, Morocco, in September, and I’m really excited about that—all the designs and patterns, the leatherwork, the rug makers. That trip is completely about seeing something new and getting inspiration. Interior designers are kind of geeky. It’s not uncommon that you get a photo from another designer where they’re in a restaurant, but you’re just getting a detail of a bracket, or a counter, or a tile. We’re always sharing ideas. And the team here at HOK brings in different ideas.”
What advice do you have for people considering entering your profession?
“You really need to enjoy working with people, understanding people and having empathy for what they’re doing and experiencing. All the time, I’m saying to the junior designers, put yourself in that space; think about how you’re moving through it, how you’re experiencing it. And what I love about what we do—there’s nothing that you do by yourself. It’s always a team in collaboration.”