Interview : Chasing Your Design Dreams with Hilary Unger

Interview : Chasing Your Design Dreams with Hilary Unger

We continue our series of interviews for those of you interested in how the mind of a designer works and for all our young readers looking for a strong carrier in this fascinating field. Here us Hillary Unger from Perianth Interior Design:

  • Freshome: What determined your passion for design? Tell us about the moment when you decided this is the way to go.
  • Hilary Unger: My passion for design started in fashion. I always admired my Aunt Fran for her fabulous color sense and style. Part of my childhood memories include having “towel” fashion shows with my sisters and friends. We would create as many zany styles with one bath sheet as possible as we strutted down our runway (I mean driveway!)!  Because of my love for fashion, I thought I wanted to go into fashion merchandising. The moment I graduated with a degree in Textiles, Merchandising and Design, is the moment I decided to become an interior designer.  I literally picked up my diploma and realized that I didn’t want to do fashion at all, but interior design. It took me seven years to get back to it, but at that point, I went to NYSID (New York School of Interior Design), completed my second degree and started working at a great firm to get experience.
  • Freshome: Can you remember your first design project? Describe it a bit, whether it is a gizmo you worked at as a little kid or something that was sold at a large scale.
  • Hilary Unger: My first design project was my parents’ Living Room. I took it on as an assignment in one of my undergrad design classes. I got to interview my parents, put together a presentation for them and guess what? They actually let me implement the house for them! It came out great and was one of the photos of my portfolio that helped land my first design positions.
  • Freshome: What field of design are you most interested in? Do your works have anything to do with it ? (We are asking this because not many designers do what they actually want)
  • Hilary Unger: Yes, I really love residential design and that is what I mostly do. I also like commercial projects (offices and hotels) and look forward to becoming more involved in those types of projects in the future.
  • Freshome: Chronologically describe what you are going through (feeling and thoughts) on your way to work.
  • Hilary Unger: It sounds corny, but I almost always look up at the sky the minute I walk out of my building, I take a deep breath as I am thankful for another great day. I only have 2 blocks to walk to work, but I still can’t get there fast enough. I always realize on my way to work that I’ve forgotten my water bottle again!!!
  • Freshome: What is the most frustrating aspect of your job as a designer? And the most rewarding one?
  • Hilary Unger: The most frustrating aspect is the collection of money. The most rewarding is when I get clients coming back to me every time they move, three and four times! Also, I love receiving emails like the ones I received the other day saying “the curtains look incredible!” and “everything looks great, thank you!”
  • Freshome: What is your favourite book/magazine on design? How about your favourite site?
  • Hilary Unger: I think Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is my favorite book. It’s not a design book, per se, but I think it’s about imagination, which is really what design is.  It talks about the motor of the world, inspiration, freedom of the mind or the control of it. Without freedom of the mind, no design would exist a all. I really like them all and can’t get enough of the blogs. They almost make me dizzy, though, because there’s too much information. I have to take it in doses and just look up exactly what I am interested in at the moment.
  • Freshome: What inspires you?
  • Hilary Unger: Music (believe it or not, the Top 40!) The sun or a sunny day.
  • Freshome: From your point of view, is design an art or a science?
  • Hilary Unger: It’s definitely an art. If it is a science, it’s not an exact science. I always say that window treatments are like art and not an exact science. When I schedule installations, I tell my clients that it may take longer than one day to be completed, as inevitably adjustments need to be made to make them perfect. If something is not perfect right away, it’s not a mistake, just an organic process to make it work with all of the existing conditions and unexpected effects.
  • Freshome: Tell us something unusual that happened in your carrier.
  • Hilary Unger: I had set up an afternoon of tradespeople to meet at a clients’ apartment to measure and give estimates. One of the vendors and the client got to talking and it they learned that the client once owned a house on the Caribbean island that this vendor was from. It turned out that the vendors’ family on the island knew my client. It’s true when people say 6-degrees of separation!
  • Freshome: Let’s say you entered a contest. You have to come up with a design for the first house on the Moon built for extra-terrestrial living. How would your project look like?
  • Hilary Unger: It’s so funny you asked this! I was literally just having a conversation about this the other day with a cousin of mine who is studying mechanical engineering at WPI. He researches rocket design and we were talking about living on the moon and how cool it would be to design a house on the moon. He was saying that because the moon does not spin, half of it  is permanently dark and half is permanently in the sun! I thought that my shades vendor and lighting consultant would do really well there!!!! I would design a house with super strong and thick glass walls and a concave glass ceiling/roof that is one seamless telescope so you could see all the way
    to earth or other planets as if it’s a big screen. The glass would all be one-way privacy, so no-one (not even fellow extra-terrestrials) could see in from the outside.
  • Freshome: If design were a product, what would it be and how would you design it?
  • Hilary Unger: If design were a product, it would be a tape recorder or a mind-interpretation machine, because it would just listen to the requirements of the client, and then design would be based on their paremeters. You have to have a jumping-off point from which to design and without it, the sky’s the limit. The design would be simple. A round box that with lights that show 1. Priorities 2. Goals. 3. Expectations and 4. An ability to translate the client’s words into images with a screen for images.
  • Freshome: If you had no limits (money, resources), what would you create?
  • Hilary Unger: A bridge to London with lots of fun hotels and destinations along the way!
  • Freshome: Share something you would like the world to know about you or your ideas.
  • Hilary Unger: That my clients are actually the ones that give me the ideas, whether they know it or not.  Just by talking with them, I can feel what the space should look like or be.
  • Freshome: What do you think of our site?
  • Hilary Unger: It’s very organized and I love the designs you feature. The format is simple, which makes it pleasurable to move around. I wish you had a separate section for just lighting.
  • Freshome: What advice do you have for young designers or architects reading this interview?
  • Hilary Unger: Always listen to what’s inside and be true to your sense of who you are and how you want to create. There is plenty of room in the world for more design. You never know when that next great mark will be made.


  • Sammy April 23, 2010 at 13:44 PMLogin to Reply →


    I’m looking for some help, please! Just bought our first house and working to a tight budget. I’m usually pretty good at matching expensive with cheap to get the bling factor but am struggling for ideas for the bedroom. I want my room to look like this:

    (My entire house is probably smaller than these rooms;-)But only really have a max budget of £1.5k for the bed, mattress and furniture. Can anyone advise a good place to get “the look” for my teeny budget?


  • Bldr Lv April 24, 2010 at 20:53 PMLogin to Reply →

    Hey Sammy,

    You could try, measuring your room, and make some sketches of your dream bed, search the internet for some tehnical adivices, material use and stuff like that, and then head out to companies that make custom furniture. Sometimes is cheaper to create something custom than buying it, and custom has a great advantage, that you can live your dream. So start doing it!