Kris Yenbambroong Home Office Makeover

The Perks of Self-Education with The Design Cure

Even though it’s 2016, the interior design industry has remained as traditional as it gets. Even the classes you take to get your BA teach hand-sketching skills. The truth is, we live in the digital age, and there are plenty of modern tools designers can adopt to speed up their design process. However, learning these tools doesn’t have to be a daunting task – all it takes is discipline, and a bit of self-educating to get you in the loop.

Here, Jessica Ruiz Lee, founder of The Design Cure, shares her story in becoming an independent designer, life on the road, and her generous gesture in helping other designers learn how to speed up their style board workflow.

How did you get where you are today?

Well, the short answer is, I went the traditional route. Growing up around the San Fernando Valley, I was surrounded by a world of possibility. My family consisted mostly of health professionals, but I was a bit of a black sheep and always had an eye for detail, specifically for design. While my brothers and sisters were outside playing, I would be spending hours playing with doll houses. So, the first chance I had to go to art school (The Art Institute of Santa Monica) to pursue my passion for interior design, I went for it.

Four years later, I graduated with a BA in interior design and had an inspirational summer semester abroad in France. I got a lot out of the school experience, including a truck load of student loans. From there, I bounced around L.A. from one freelance job to another, and landed a great architectural job in Pasadena. A few years later, after the market crash, I ended up in Vancouver working for an architectural firm. Around 2015, I digitized my portfolio and made the leap of faith in becoming an independent designer again. I started getting a lot of jobs online and that’s where I am today.

By the way, I know other designers that did not go to art school, who are very successful due to discipline and a knack for self-education.

Jessica Ruiz Lee

Photo courtesy of Jessica Ruiz Lee

Can you remember when you were first introduced to the world of design? How and when did you know this was a field you wanted to get into?

For me, being introduced to doll houses when I was young was probably the leading influence in my life. I remember being amazed at how rooms that were constructed the same way could have so many possible variations in appearance.

In your opinion, how does design affect health and wellness?

There are known key design factors that affect the health and wellness of its occupants such as natural lighting, acoustics, indoor air quality, ergonomics, as well as having soothing colors, materials, and shapes. I believe design is a very personal thing. For instance, I may find a certain room design to be soothing and comfortable, while another person may find it to be stressful and uncomfortable. In the end, it boils down to the individual. Before I go to the drawing board, I try to get as much information about my clients as I can. 

If you had to choose, would you prefer designing residential or commercial spaces, and why?

I really love to work on office spaces. Each company is unique and I like to represent the personality of the company and their brand identity into my design. I find office spaces to be a bit more challenging, and the process tends to be more collaborative. Plus, there is a little less competition, as most designers I have met with enjoy residential projects. That being said, I’ve worked on some pretty fun residential homes as well.

Office Design by Jessica Ruiz Lee

Photo courtesy of Jessica Ruiz Lee

You’ve been featured in all of the major design publications, including Rue Daily, Vogue, Lonny, and My Domaine to name a few – which project in particular do you feel put you on the map?

I would have to say it was Kris Yenbambroong’s home office.  It was one of my first projects with a client that was so well-known. The publicity has been snowballing ever since and I’m super grateful for the attention it’s bringing to my designs. On a cheesier note, I’d like to think that my design is playing a role in making Kris’s amazing work even better.

Kris Yenbambroong Home Office Makeover

Photo courtesy of Laurel & Wolf

Speaking of Kris Yenbamroong, you were recently featured in the L.A. Times for his office makeover – what was the most difficult part of this project?

Before Kris’s office was cluttered and unorganized. When we talked, I realized that it was directly affecting his ability to focus. I tried to free up floor space as much as possible and utilize wall space instead for storing his cookbooks. I wanted to open up the room to be as susceptible to natural light as possible, use natural colors, and try to reduce clutter wherever possible with a compact storage system, using a clean, minimalistic approach.

Kris Yenbambroong Office

Photo courtesy of Laurel & Wolf

What are 3 tips of advice you can offer interior designers who are updating their personal office in or out of their home to maximize productivity and creativity?

    1. Bring nature indoors – I’ve found that things outside the home spark my creativity. Therefore, I try to bring nature outside inside.
    2. Get rid of junk drawers – I’m not a fan of desk drawers; more often than not they end up being junk drawers. I say if you don’t need it, get rid of it.
    3. Have an outdoor view – Place your desk facing a window and let the natural daylight surround you.

Uncluttered Office

Photo courtesy of Laurel & Wolf

How has Laurel & Wolf helped give you exposure and access to new and interesting projects?

Laurel & Wolf has been great. I would recommend other designers, especially those wanting to get a start in this career, to try their platform. Laurel & Wolf allows me to work on both residential and commercial projects, plus, I get access to clients I would not otherwise have access to. I’ve had great success with winning bids because I’ve been putting systems in place that allow me to create first-look style boards for different bids very quickly. I use Photoshop for this process and if anyone is looking to learn how to do the same, my husband and I have recently launched a free tutorial series for other designers who want to learn how to do this.

Tell us about the tutorial series you are hosting, helping interior designers perfect their style boards using Photoshop…

One of the problems with today’s interior design education is that it has not yet grasped the digital world. It’s still teaching the same hand-drafting classes that it has the since the beginning. So, you’re not taught important digital tools like Photoshop and Sketchup, and if you can find these classes, they’re usually not specific to interior design, making for a very frustrating learning curve.

I was also suffering from this and luckily, my husband (coming from a career in visual effects, graphic design and digital illustration) taught me how to create striking style boards with Photoshop. This increased my design speed significantly and allowed me to stand apart from other designers on the platform. Together, we’ve started a free tutorial series specifically for interior designers. It’s focused on teaching how to quickly make beautiful style boards in Photoshop that can be used over and over again across different types of rooms and clients.

The Design Cure Tutorials

In your opinion, how have tools such as Photoshop and Sketchup affected the design process?

Based on more and more virtual home design platforms (like Laurel & Wolf) popping up, offering services at a lower cost than physical companies, it seems clear that this industry is headed into a digital era.  This is similar to how the visual effects, graphic design, publishing and music industries have been evolving over the last decade. I believe that tools such as Photoshop and Sketchup are a big contributor to this movement because they can show a client what they’re going to get before they get it, and clients are learning to expect this as a standard. That being said, it’s safe to say that these are essential softwares for a designer to have in their toolset in order to keep up with today’s and tomorrow’s interior design industry.

Work-life balance is different for everyone – as an interior designer, how do you keep yourself focused, fresh and creative?

The big one for me is travel. Since my husband and I left our office jobs behind in 2015, we’ve been in a state of constant mobility. The new lifestyle has had its ups and downs but a big “up” has been having the freedom to live where ever we want. Since becoming independent, I’ve noticed a huge increase in my creativity and passion for design.

Visiting and living in locations like New York City, Boston, Cleveland, Vancouver, and Chiang Mai, Thailand over the last year have sent my head spinning with ideas for designs. At the same time, I’ve had to really dig deep to discipline myself to stay focused on my work and not get caught up in the vacation mindset that can sometime creep up when visiting new destinations.

Jessica and Brian_Design Cure

Photo courtesy of Jessica Ruiz Lee

What are your go-to colors and materials that make a space feel zen and fuel happy thoughts?

For a soothing look, I tend to go with earthly colors like blues and greens. I also like to choose patterns that represent natural elements like waves, and water.

Calming Palette of Materials

Photo courtesy of Jessica Ruiz Lee

What’s next for The Design Cure?

As far as my design service, my goal this year is to double the amount of quality clients I received last year. And judging by the current progress this year, I seem to be on course, with fingers crossed :). I also want to see what kind of doors I can open with this travel lifestyle that I am living.

One of the challenges to growing as a designer is that I’m not settled in one single area. Because of this, I’m not able to take advantage of cornering a specific area’s market. However, I’m trying to capitalize on the benefits of not being strictly tied to just one area and this new digital age is surely helping me do that.

As far as the tutorial side of things, both my husband and I are really hoping The Design Cure tutorials will become a great resource for a lot of designers looking for an affordable online education. Who knows, if things go well, we may even end up opening an online school specifically for digital interior designers.

The Design Cure Logo

Interested in learning from The Design Cure? Check out their free tutorials here: