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Interior design plays a pivotal role in shaping perceptions and influencing the behavior of people entering a space. It’s the first impression that greets visitors and employees and sets the tone for their experience. Whether it’s a bustling office, a welcoming retail store, or a hospital lobby, the interior design of a commercial space has the power to evoke emotions, establish brand identity, and ultimately impact business success.

We asked three of our interior designers, Kayla Smith, Jennifer Saylor, and Holly Varvaro, about the impact of first impressions, creating a welcoming atmosphere, and making a commercial space more inviting.


Kayla Smith | Interior Designer: I’ve been an interior designer for four years and have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design from the University of Central Missouri.

Jennifer Saylor | Interior Designer: I’ve been an interior designer for a little over five years and have an Associates of Applied Science Degree in Interior Design.

Holly Varvaro | Interior Designer: I’ve been an interior designer for 23 years and have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design from Maryville University.


Kayla: The first impression really sets the tone for each person’s experience with the space. As soon as they approach the building and walk in, we want them to feel welcomed and pulled in. If a space seems intimidating, sterile, or tense, people aren’t going to enjoy the space and it will greatly affect their mood, experience, and overall wellbeing. It’s similar to our first impressions of people when we first meet them.

Jennifer: Creating a strong first impression is important to the design of a building because it establishes the foundation on which a person will base all their other opinions of the space once they enter the building. Most importantly, you want it to be a positive first impression. If the building is not welcoming or well laid out, a person is less likely to enjoy visiting it and unfortunately, a negative first impression can sometimes be more memorable than a positive one.

Holly: First impressions are the most important as we know. I recently went for an appointment in a building I have never been in. The first thing I noticed past the front doors was a strong, dated design aesthetic. I immediately felt anyone renting in this space may have outdated means and methods in their daily business practices. I say this as I realized I was judging their professionalism based solely on their aesthetic choices. I know that the public will always do the same, right or wrong, and may not even know the reason behind the emotion. We must create welcoming, inviting, comfortable spaces no matter what service our client will be providing.


Kayla: A welcoming atmosphere starts with the exterior of the building, as that is what someone sees first when approaching the building to enter. Inclusive/universal design considers all types of potential users of a space, and therefore the design is meticulously developed so that people of all ages, abilities, cultures, etc. can experience the space equally. Examples of inclusive/universal design include ramp entryways along with stairs, automatic door options, multi-sensory ways of presenting information, wayfinding that considers different languages and colors that consider color blindness, the list goes on. For the interior, incorporating calming color schemes and textures, providing options for different seating preferences, and tying in biophilic aspects to the design are a few ways to create a welcoming environment and a pleasant end-user experience.

Jennifer: Interior Design can be used to create a welcoming atmosphere by making a space that is well laid out and inviting. A functional space is critical as you don’t want to exclude users from being able to interact with elements within the building and navigate the space appropriately. A pleasing environment that is well lit, with a nice balance of materials and colors also helps in creating a welcoming atmosphere. If possible, using natural light and outdoor elements can be helpful as well.

Holly: The designer toolbox – color, textures, & comfort of furnishings are all carefully thought out and cultivated by our team members. As example we use soft tones in healthcare, clean fresh colors in food service spaces, etc. We have studied how color theory affects the patrons within our designs and use this knowledge to utilize color and textures enhance the end user experience.  When we provide comfortable seating with plug-ins, as another example, we are giving the end user creature comforts until their next doctor’s appointment or meeting with their accountant.


Kayla: Overall space can sometimes be a challenge, especially when remodeling an existing building. Sometimes we are crammed for space, but there are still minimum sizes we have to maintain that vary depending on room type and usage. This often requires reworking the floor plan a few times before finding something that works well. Room adjacencies are important as well. Some types of rooms might benefit by having more than the minimum required space, in order to provide areas of privacy and to respect everyone’s personal bubbles. Some types of buildings don’t allow for many soft surfaces or materials, due to cleanability. Bringing in natural textures, forms, and colors through materials can help the space feel more relaxed. Natural lighting plays a huge role in how a building impacts the overall health and wellbeing of the end users.

Jennifer: Challenges to making a commercial/institutional space more inviting are making it universally accessible. It is challenging to make a space that fits the end need of every user, but in trying to keep the building or space as user friendly as possible, it allows it to be more inviting. There are also now a full range of products available to Interior Designers that are more aesthetically pleasing and work well in a wide range of interior environments. Commercial or institutional no longer has to invoke images of stark or sterile environments as these type interiors often are not reminiscent of an inviting space.

Holly: We are competing with commercial/institutional spaces feeling cold, too purposeful, and utilitarian to feel warm. Whenever someone wants to describe a space as cold, they often use the term institutional, despite its actual use. Again, we refer to use of color, creating spaces adjacent to natural light sources, and adding texture or interest through art or sculpture. We need to create areas of interest and beauty to distract from that institutional feel.


Kayla: We always have to think about durability and cleanability, but certain finishes and materials withstand certain cleaning products/procedures better than others. It’s important to talk with the client about their cleaning procedures, and about what goes on in each individual room to make sure all needs are being met. Bringing in wood tones, soft textures and colors, and natural light help tremendously with adding comfort to a space. Luckily, we can do this easily as there are several durable, cleanable materials out there that look like wood or other natural materials. Providing options of how someone can experience the space is a way of minimizing any potential stressors for a variety of end users, allowing for flexibility for each individual’s needs and preferences.

Jennifer: We balance functionality with comfort when designing a commercial space by putting function first then working to select products that are comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. The market has come a long way in product offerings that meet some of the stringent requirements required by code but meet the visual and physical aesthetics that create a comfortable and welcoming environment. There are a wide variety of finishes, materials and colors that are beautiful and physically pleasing that are incredibly functional and comfortable.

Holly: We must provide comfort, however, create it utilizing products that stand the test of time. If we are sticking with the current trend of a residential feel to all spaces no matter the use we have to give the illusion that this is a comfortable chair to perch on however, it must stand up to thousands of patrons in any given time period and still look just as good and not provide a maintenance issues to our client. Extensive knowledge of materials and their capabilities is key to creating the desired aesthetic an inviting space that performs in an institutional manner.


Kayla: When the project allows, large glass windows that look out to the exterior always helps to relate the interior to the exterior. Any opportunities to allow natural light to filter into a space is a great way to connect the interior to the exterior. Using similar color tones or natural textures that mimic that of the exterior can also make the overall design feel more cohesive.

Jennifer: You can create a cohesive look from the exterior of the building to the interior of the building by bringing architectural elements and materials from the exterior into the The interior can also reflect certain design shapes or elements that appear on the exterior of the building as well. Or by creating views on the interior of the exterior of the building can help bring the two spaces together. Engaging an Interior Designer early in the design process can assist with making sure the interior of the space works with the exterior shell. Designing a building from the inside out can also alleviate concerns about where spaces fall in relation to each other and ensure that the client’s space needs are met. The exterior shell then becomes a part of that overall design/layout and helps to envelope the package as a well-designed building from start to finish. This allows for a more positive first impression for the end user.

Holly: I often take inspiration from exterior materials, shapes, and rhythms to add interest to the interior. There should be a comfortable flow from the visuals you experience outside to what you see on the inside. Color palettes should communicate from the outside in. If the building is accented in blue on the exterior a version of it should make an appearance, in prominence, on the inside. Scale is also important. Do you have a soaring building façade? Then you want high bay spaces that are light filled. Low ceilings will take away the feeling of grandeur. Did you plan for a beautiful landscape to accent the building? try to create a visual connection to those plantings. It will help the interior feel open and light filled.

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