Shelly Rosenberg Uses Interior Design To Change Lives
Photograph by Stephen Karlisch.
What was it like professionally?
To justify the change, at an ego level and among design friends, I looked at the science behind design. It’s not just me who wants this godly life, you know? There were more angles to it. What I discovered is that there is an incredible amount of scientific research based on evidence that interior design has great power to affect the health of society. I’m paraphrasing a researcher who said, because we’re inside 90% of our day, architects and designers have more power to affect health and wellness than real physicians. It’s not just about how aesthetics can make you feel or even affect your immune system. We can go further – let’s look at the quality of the water and the air, the gaseous release of the toxins that fill our homes from disposable furniture with glues and foams filled with these chemicals forever. It’s a rabbit hole.
It’s a lot. How do you use this?
I teach my clients. I start talking and teaching designers and architects. I am not getting negative. You can scare people and get compliance but that’s not my MO and I never feel like it works as well as showing people all the amazing benefits of things that aren’t very difficult or expensive, like getting a Brita water filter.
In short, this approach reaches everyone. I don’t care if you are motivated by money, by mission, or want to be famous, I have the argument that it’s better to build more universal spaces that support more people. for your bottom line.
How did you end up among the 26 (out of a billion applicants) selected to work on this year’s Kips Bay Show House – which Architectural summary called “the ultimate place for high-end interior design“?
My best friend Amanda Lang and I went to the inaugural year of show house Dallas. We felt like we could do this, it might help the cause, give us a national stage to talk about disability and accessible design. But, if we were selected, I didn’t even have an employee, I was afraid I would never succeed. She said she would help. Her daughter has Rett syndrome. And my heart goes out to them. It’s another level.
In the app, I asked if anyone had already set up a disabled room in the show house. I was a little afraid that they didn’t want anything political or sad. It’s supposed to be a matter of luxury. But it happened.
How did you deal with this, you and your zero employees?
We overworked ourselves, but we succeeded. Amanda and I hired a small-scale entrepreneur, Sam Graham’s 2g Habitats. We needed him – we work here alongside designers like Martyn Lawrence Bullard, who has maybe 75 rock stars, and we work from carpool lines, making chicken nuggets while ordering wallpaper. Our husbands were both a little frustrated at the time.
How did the experience play out in your ensemble projects?
National media recognition – even a small drawback in AdPro (Architectural summary) – it’s a little snowflake that starts to snowball, where they start to think of luxury rooms for certain needs, grow old in place, and begin to understand that this is an important thing to discuss.
If I can plant seeds with all the other designers and architects, then they run with it, we start to evolve as a society. I am not a big businesswoman. I am a creative thinker. A nurturer. But I have bills to pay like everyone else. It took me a while to figure out what my business was. As usual, I asked the families for advice on what they needed, and it turns out they don’t want a consultant. Everyone said, I don’t want email anymore. I want you to come to my place, take my hand and do it for me. And I want to be in people’s homes to design. Not just writing and advice on the website. So I may be working with one or two clients at a time right now, implementing an inclusive and one-size-fits-all design that fits their lives.
The goal is to earn enough money to, at some point, create a foundation where the income can be donated to families who cannot afford to hire a designer. At Dallas ISD, 80% of our students are below the poverty line. There are so many Dallas in desperate need of help. I’m wired to work with the underserved – not the typical design customer, but I plan to change that.
The interview has been edited for brevity.
Take a virtual tour of the Kips Bay Decorator Show House here.