The story of how I chose high end interior design as a career has many twists and turns. But looking back it seems inevitable because of one trait I’ve had for as long as I can remember.

In short, the thought of becoming an interior designer never entered my mind until I reached a professional turning point at age 28 (another great story, actually, but I’m saving that for a future post!). The reason was simple.  I had zero exposure to the world of interior design.  It was as if it didn’t exist at all.  However I always observed my surroundings without knowing where it would lead.

I grew up in a very small New England mill town, in a remote part of the city, in the woods, on a dead end street, with a nuclear family that stayed at home and rarely left the neighborhood.  This probably sounds like a lead in for a bad Lifetime movie, but this underexposure did have its benefits.

Being forced to be a “loner” taught me something fantastic; something that has been a key ingredient to my success.  I became an observer.  A silent outsider looking in.

It wasn’t until I entered the premium interior design world that I found that I had learned how to store visual stimuli into a mental idea book through the art of observation.  I found that as I needed inspiration, a stored image would come to the rescue.

So here are some tips on how to harness your own power of observation to empower you to pull from the “files” within your mind.

By nature, we have the ability to enter a space that we have never entered before and map our way through it.

For example, let’s say you’re on a road trip.  You need a break so you take the exit to “multi-plex” rest stop.  It’s a place you have no former knowledge of.  Subconsciously your mind immediately starts to drop pins to establish where you parked (second row next to the trash can, third spot by the tree), where the entrance is (by the knock-off sunglass cart and bank of vending machines), where the coffee is (next to the cheesy display with brochures of what to do while in the area).

You established where you were within a new space while being completely unaware you were doing it.  Steve Jobs and Apple didn’t invent this idea of dropping pins.   Your brain did.

We all have the ability to be in the moment.  It’s just a matter of reigning in that power to observe, learn, and gather ideas.  How?  When you enter a space, when you take a moment to really look at it, use the reactions that you feel.

If you feel that “something”, take a minute to soak it in.  Drop your pins.  Don’t just feel the “WOW” of the space.  Understand it.  Examine the shapes.   Examine the scale.  Look for repeated themes and what they are.  Look for the message because usually there is one.  The space is speaking to you.  The challenge is this: are you listening?

When a space feels special, chances are that others are experiencing it too. When you observe not just your surroundings but how others are experiencing it as well, you will see how you are not alone in your reactions. This will help you crack the code.

Observe body language.  Do people seem comfortable?  If the answer is yes than try to see why.  Is it the lighting?  What area are people drawn to and what is the reason?  How are people moving through the space?  Is it effortless or does it seem staggered?  If staggered, what are the obstacles causing the backup?

What seems to work and what doesn’t?  Remember, the décor isn’t the only factor that can establish the mood of the crowd.

Listening is key.  Do the acoustics add or subtract to the space?  The roar of the crowd is great for football games but not so much for a nice dinner.  A dance club is great to feel the bass, but not great when you want to pull off and have a sidebar with a friend.

If a crowded room doesn’t seem overpowered by the sound, observe why.  Are there upholstered walls?  Drapery as dividing walls?  Millwork screens?  Do these tricks help or hamper the space?  Look to see if people seem enthralled in conversation or preoccupied with their IPhone.  The way others react will tell a big story.

Listen to your innermost thoughts.  If you feel uneasy, there is a reason.  If you feel like you want to stay and unwind, then get inspired by that.  Observe your reactions.  It’s different for us all.  But when something speaks to you, listen to it!  Get intrigued.  Get curious. Get mischievous. Dig down deep.  Have fun with it.

I usually take about 5 minutes upon entering a new space and “semi” zone out if I am with friends or fully zone out if I am alone.  It’s ok that I look like a lost tourist sometimes. My eyes and my mind are working in tandem by speaking to each other.

It is possible to look and not think.  Have you ever looked for your keys to find that they are in your hand?

If I am having a strong reaction to a space (that WOW), I must devour it.

I am a visual junkie and proud of it.  After all, that is what’s so magical about any art form.  It has the power to alter the way people feel.  Once you understand what visually speaks to you, your experiences will take on a whole new level. You will discover how interior design is a very powerful art form.

Hey, it’s not for everyone but if you’re still reading this, chances are there’s a silent observer in you too.