By Susan Elise Campbell
Linda Gerace-Skinner, formerly of LGS Interior Design Group, is evolving her business designing luxury homes and commercial spaces into an open workshop concept that she believes is unique to the region and will benefit both her design team and clients.
Her Saratoga-based company is Interior Designs Atelier and in this new iteration she is replicating the larger and highly collaborative design studio she worked at for eight years in Minnesota.
“Atelier is French for workshop or studio, and it is my experience in an open workshop system that I have brought back home to Saratoga,” said Gerace-Skinner. “My goal is to spark creativity, because when designers work together in one room we feed off each other’s ideas.”
She said that as reps came into the studio with their samples and the design team had “lunch and learns,” there was “a fabulous collaboration that made each one of us better designers. The benefit for clients is that you are always bringing the best to the table, and as a designer you get even better that way.”
“A collaboration of other ideas and solutions builds a better project, although I don’t talk through every project as I might with my cabinetmaker or custom contractor,” she said.
Gerace-Skinner may have relocated out-of-state for a time, but she always maintained a client base and a townhouse in Saratoga. For three months in 2012 she was on site every day for three months at 15 Church St. in Saratoga Springs, remodeling the bar, restaurant and two condominiums upstairs.
Gerace-Skinner said she planned the location and length of every pendant light over the bar at 15 Church and then hung them.
“The electrician said this was not in the scope of his work, so I did it myself,” she said.
When she left International Market Square in Minneapolis in 2020 it was right before COVID, and by the end of the pandemic Gerace-Skinner was eager to recreate a buzzing atmosphere “where you can be your own person but don’t have to drive to designs centers in New York City to pull samples” for projects.
There were 100 vendors representing at that design center and Gerace-Skinner has started to build a sample library from her downtown space at 3 Franklin Square.
“It’s a beautiful building but the space is small,” she said. “I need three times the square footage to accomplish my vision and hope to be moving into the larger location this fall.”
Samples of anything from tile, lighting, fabrics, flooring, furniture and other materials that a designer could work with are under one roof, and growing.
“I would like to expand on the business and invite other designers to come in, rent some desk space and utilize the system,” she said. “Everything is at your fingertips and if you have a question or need some help on a project, you can turn to your colleague and get advice or confirmation.”
Gerace-Skinner knows of no similar business model in the area.
Interior Designs Atelier is described as a full service design firm, meaning the designer makes all the selections, confirms purchases, works with contractors, and acts as a mediator and an advocate for the client “to make sure everything is implemented correctly,” she said.
“The owner of 15 Church Street is probably one of my biggest fans,” said Gerace-Skinner. “When he called me to do this job, it was quite the gift even just to design a whole restaurant.”
Gerace-Skinner said her model client is one who trusts her but also challenges her to convince them why her selections are better choices.
“The process of explaining it, and the feeling once they understand why it works best that way, is very compelling for me,” she said. “I think clients would describe me as a good team player, I get along with everybody, and make them feel comfortable in their roles.”
Gerace-Skinner said when she acquires something for the home she buys it for the long term, so classic styles and high quality are important to her. She does the same for her clients. This preference was developed decades ago as a designer for L. & J.G. Stickley, known for craftsmanship and fine detail in its furniture for well over a century.
“I do have very expensive tastes and never look at the price,” she said. “I just want the best possible product that meets the job and if it doesn’t meet the budget we find something similar. But most of the time the customer falls in love with it and can be accessorized with less expensive ones and changed over time,” she said. “You’re not replacing quality items.”
But, she said “there are always ways to cut back. You just have to get very creative so clients feel good about what we did.”
Gerace-Skinner said it was very easy to start back up in Saratoga after being away eight years because she felt like she never fully left. Clients would call her for remodels or if they moved, to redesign their new place.
“But I never expected the business to be this busy this quickly,” she said.
That the interior design industry is competitive is good for business and good for clients, she said.
“Why do people select me for their projects in stead of someone who wasn’t gone for eight years?” she said. “I think it comes down to people trust those people they like to work with. I take a lot of pride in humanizing this process and in listening to my clients, because I design for them and not for myself,” said Gerace-Skinner.
“There is so much branding and stylization of looks today, but design is a blend,” she said. “Clients come to me because they don’t want that singularity. They want their house to be unique.”
Not every designer is a perfect fit for every customer, but Gerace-Skinner said there is enough talent and enough work for everybody.
The current staff includes a second designer, Diane Meyer, whose career overlapped with Gerace-Skinner’s at Stickley. There is an assistant designer, a purchaser/operations manager, and an opening for a second assistant.
Visit interiordesignsatelier.com for more information.