Women Who Inspire: Whittney Parkinson
Photographed by Sarah Shields Photography
Whether you prefer perusing the pages of The Wall Street Journal or scrolling the virtual feed of Instagram, more than likely you've seen the beautiful work of Whittney Parkinson. Her fresh take on timeless design has repeatedly inspired me to think beyond what's been created before. Her signature style tests the standards of millwork, brilliantly mixes stones and finishes, and highlights the power of elevating every design detail. For starters, we are talking handsome sculleries to covet and gorgeous hidden pantry doors to die for.
1. WHAT ARE 3-5 THINGS YOU CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT RIGHT NOW?
Well currently, as we are in a national quarantine, my list is much simpler than it would usually be, and I think that’s a good thing!
Fresh air and my back yard. I’m so grateful we have a yard we can play in right now, and regardless of how much work it is, I’ll never take it for granted again - ha!
My health. Super grateful to be healthy in this time of uncertainty!
My phone. I do love being connected to the outside world somehow!
My laptop. For creating and keeping me sane!
My family. I can’t imagine being quarantined alone during this time. Grateful for these crazy roommates of mine!
2. WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE ROOM TO DESIGN AND WHY?
Hands down, the kitchen. Regardless of the square footage, this space is the epicenter of a home. The opportunity to set the tone for the entire house aesthetically starts here. Kitchens are also chalk full of material opportunity; you have tile, lighting, cabinetry, counter tops, back splashes, plumbing, flooring and hardware. There is so much opportunity to get creative. Beyond all of that though, it’s a space you can truly customize every square inch of, to meet the unique needs and wants for your client. I love creating those personal touches for them!
3. WHO ARE YOUR BIGGEST INSPIRATIONS?
My biggest design inspiration is Steven Gambrel. He challenges architectural elements like no one I’ve ever seen. He’s taught me to think outside of the box with millwork, and lighting placement, and I push myself more after studying his work. His balance of timeless yet unexpected design is unmatched. I just think he’s absolutely brilliant.
I also would consider my own family my inspiration. I design much differently now as a wife & Mom, than I ever did when I was single. My perspective for the efficiency and programming of a home has changed for the good!
4. WHAT'S ONE THING YOU THINK PEOPLE GET WRONG ABOUT INTERIOR DESIGN?
I think purchasing items for the look or the trend and not for the function of the souls who actually inhabit these homes is a problem. It’s easy to get influenced by all that we see on Instagram/Pinterest, but what works for one family isn’t going to work for another. I think people tend to forget about the individual in interior design, when that’s who we are actually creating for.
5. ANY TRENDS YOU'D LIKE TO SEE FLUSHED?
Boho/Moroccan inspired anything.
6. ANY TRENDS YOU'D LIKE TO SEE EMERGE OR RE-EMERGE?
After seeing the pendulum swing from warm tones in the early 2000’s to cool/grey tones in recent years, I’m LOVING seeing the marriage of the two in color palettes right now. They can absolutely live happily ever after together!
7. DO YOU HAVE ANY NO'S WHEN IT COMES TO DESIGN (ANY PROJECTS OR REQUESTS YOU WON'T ENTERTAIN)?
Yes, as someone who LOVES history, it’s really hard for me to entertain the idea of gutting historical homes to make them modern or trendy. I will only take on a historical project, if the homeowners value maintaining the architectural integrity of the home and keeping to its time period roots!
8. NOW LET'S GO A LITTLE DEEPER. TELL US ABOUT YOUR ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY AND HOW THAT HAS LED TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY.
Well, my father is an architect and my mother was an interior designer, so genetically I didn’t stand a chance. I grew up on job sites and in show homes, and I wanted to get as far away from this field as possible. I initially majored in Illustration and Animation at Ringling School of Art and Design, with the hopes of working for Disney & Pixar. However, after my first semester in Florida, I quickly realized my passion was in the field that I tried so hard to escape from - Interior Design and Architecture.
I transferred to Chicago and started my journey at Harrington College of Design. After graduating in 2008, I interned with my father’s firm, and it was truly trial by fire. I was immersed in large scale commercial and residential projects, right out of the gate! I co-owned the firm with my Father until 2016. I had my daughter that year, and decided I wanted to solely focus on projects that spoke to me and my aesthetic. Incorporating Whittney Parkinson Design allowed me that freedom, and also a chance to rebrand!
The rest is history.
9. AS A HIGH-END DESIGNER, HOW DOES YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS TYPICALLY UNFOLD?
After the proposals are signed, we start out with the mood boarding phase. The owners show me their inspiration images, and I counter with mine. This phase truly lays the foundation and a reference point for the entire project - of the mood and aesthetic we are trying to achieve. After that, we start in on conceptual floor plans and drafting. Implementing their family’s exact needs, function and desires are translated into floor plans. Lighting plans, finish plans, interior elevations and cabinetry drawings are created in house after that, and then come the specifications of ALL the design elements. The fun part ensues!
10. WHAT'S THE BIGGEST PINCH ME MOMENT OF YOUR CAREER?
Being featured in the Wall Street Journal!
11. HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE PRESSURE AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF BEING AN INTERIOR DESIGNER AND A MOTHER? ANY TIPS OR SECRETS?
I’ll be honest. I really struggled for the first few years of my daughters’ life, trying to find a balance. Creating is my passion. It’s a gift I don’t take for granted, but being a Mother is something I’ve dreamed of my entire life. I didn’t want to let either one down.
This past year we finally hired a nanny. She comes over 2 days a week, and I work all day, those two days. I’m still able to have breakfast and lunch with my daughter, and I just work upstairs in my studio. It’s the best of both worlds. I still tackle emails every day while she naps or before she wakes up. She has also been to her fair share of job sites in her 3-year lifetime.
12. WHAT'S THE BEST ADVICE YOU'VE EVER RECEIVED EITHER PERSONALLY OR PROFESSIONALLY?
I have a client who was one of the very first clients I ever had. He’s an incredibly successful entrepreneur. I studied how he treated his staff & people in general.
He always said, “Every day you should have a takeaway. Something you learned or failed at. It’s ALL important and vital to your success-good or bad.”
He was right. There’s not a day that I don’t learn something or reassess how I could have handled a situation better.
13. DO YOU HAVE A DREAM PROJECT THAT YOU HAVEN'T LAID YOUR CREATIVE HANDS ON JUST YET?
I’ve been really blessed enough to dabble in so many types of projects in the last 12 years, both commercially and residentially. There is a project I’m working on right now that has been a “dream job” of mine since I started. It’s a historical 1920’s house on a street that I dreamed of designing on when I was a kid! The owners appreciate the history and the architecture. They have given me so much freedom. I don’t know what more you could ask for! Hoping this project allows for more in that same area!
14. WHAT'S NEXT FOR WHITTNEY PARKINSON?
This past year I took my last commercial project, to solely focus on residential design. The reward I get from working with families on a personal level, is very fulfilling. The plan is to continue that. I know it sounds cliché, but I really am living my dream job. There’s nothing else I would rather being doing, than creating!
I’ve also only operated by myself, so I’m hoping to expand and hire employees within the year!
15. ANY WORDS OF WISDOM FOR NEWBY INTERIOR DESIGNERS? ANYTHING YOU WISH YOU HAD KNOWN WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED OUT?
Learn as much as you can about the business aspect. Designing is only about 30-40% of what we do. The other 60-70% is admin (ie: purchase orders, communication, marketing, taxes, proposals, invoicing, business admin, etc.). You can be an incredible designer, but being an even better business owner is equally if not more important. Learn those skills!
Is there a specific design of Whittney Parkinson's that inspires you most?