March 25, 2016

10 Questions With… Marlene Liriano of IA Interior Architects

If anyone knows Miami’s thriving design scene through and through, it’s Marlene Liriano. So it’s no wonder that when IA Interior Architects opened a regional office in the Florida design mecca earlier this year, it tapped Miami native Liriano as its managing director. Before joining the firm, Liriano served as principal and vice president of HOK’s Miami office and was a principal and interior design director at Perkins + Will for more than a decade before that. Here, Liriano talks about the one project that changed her outlook on design, her love of classic cars, and why Miami’s design scene is about to get hotter than ever.

Interior Design: As the managing director of IA Interior Architects’ new office in Miami, what’s one of the first projects on your agenda?

Marlene Liriano: To build a team of highly creative individuals who share the same mindset and goals, which is to deliver fantastic projects and gain client confidence on a long-term basis.

ID: You’ve been a member of the Miami design community for many years. What makes the city’s design scene stand out?

ML: I have practiced in Miami my entire career, and was born and raised here by Cuban parents. As designers working in Miami, we have the opportunity to be highly creative because of the cultural mix in our city. Miami as a city is dynamic, creative, and highly sought after for its climate and continued growth. Our clients take risks in designing their projects unlike other locations, even as close as a few miles away in central Florida.

ID: The IIDA recently named you international president for 2016-2017. What are some of the goals that you’ve set for the years ahead?

ML: I’m currently president elect, but I’ll start my term as international president in July. My goals include continuing to address the importance of commercial design and how it’s changing, continuing our focus on culture and brand by promoting the value of design to our client community via content, and [broadening] diversity by continuing our international outreach to Asia and Latin America. We want to see how we can get designers interested in putting together chapters in their own countries to represent us at a global level.

ID: What has been one of your most career defining projects to date?

ML: It would have to be a YMCA that I worked on a few years ago [in Miami]. The existing Y was an old, sick building in an impoverished neighborhood. A developer purchased the land and located a YMCA on the ground floor of a new low-income residential tower. During the opening ceremonies, a young woman with two kids walked in, looked around, and dropped to her knees. She was overwhelmed with emotion because, for the first time ever her children could go to a facility that was safe and healthy. She thanked [us] numerous times that day. Not all projects need to be high design or have a large construction budget to remind you of why this profession touches so many lives, and why I don’t see myself doing anything else.

ID: What’s the first thing you do when starting a new project?

ML: I listen to my clients. The client is always at the center of my design process, which results in trust and creativity. The greatest trait to have is the ability to listen so that I can walk in their shoes, dream what they dream, and turn their challenges into the best solutions for their projects.

ID: What are your clients asking for now more than ever?

ML: Creativity with full commitment to the project. More than ever, clients are asking for a high level of attention to their projects while expecting out-of-the-box thinking.

ID: Where do you go to seek inspiration?

ML: As designers, we’re constantly looking for things that inspire us. Our creative minds look for triggers that intrigue, provoke, and instigate us to create spaces that will ultimately impact people’s lives. We consciously walk through life looking in all directions and absorbing, documenting, and exploring what has already been created, and the possibilities that lie ahead. [My family] often can’t understand why a simple object or detail can make me smile, or why I compulsively take hundreds of pictures of buildings or spaces.

ID: I understand that you’re a classic car enthusiast. Do you find that your interest in cars shapes your work as a designer?

ML: Yes, I believe that the same rigor and creative thought that applies to interior design also applies to automobile design: the art of form, the perfect proportions, instituting the latest technologies, engineering sustainable mechanics, providing comfort and ergonomics, creating new color palettes and textures, and complying with safety regulations. For example, take a look at Ralph Lauren’s car collection and how his cars influence his fashion trends. Design is everywhere.

ID: Sustainability seems to be a common thread with many of your designs. Why is it so important?

ML: This continues to be an important topic with the younger professionals entering the workforce. They want to work for companies that genuinely care about sustainability and are not just using it for marketing purposes. It’s inherent in how we practice and it’s our responsibility to instill this in our projects for generations to come.

ID: What is your design style like at home?

ML: It’s transitional with a modern twist. What makes my house a home is our collection of artwork by traditional Cuban artists like Jose Mijares and Arcadio Cancio, along with more modern Cuban artists like Humberto Calzada and Gilda Sacasas. And very much in keeping with my love of classic cars —I own a 1966 Corvette and 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1—is my interest in interior design and furniture from the 1950s and 1960s, so I have a few pieces from this era. Regardless of all of this, it’s a comfortable place for my family to feel at home.

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