Norell, an Interior Designer in Philadelphia

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Your Corporate Black Girl

I can't pinpoint exactly when I decided I wanted to be a designer but I was drawing floor plans for my future house in middle school. I grew up in north central Connecticut and I was always interested in buildings and how they function. I thought I wanted to be an architect but after two years of struggling in architecture school, I wasn't too sure anymore. I transferred schools and changed my major but continued to take architecture classes in my free time. That was when I discovered that what I really I loved were building interiors. After graduation, I moved to Philadelphia to pursue a graduate degree in interior architecture. I now work in the healthcare studio at an architecture firm in Philly. I chose to work specifically in healthcare instead of residential or corporate design, because healthcare spaces are complex, always changing, and have a huge impact on so many people- healthcare professionals, patients, and their families. Healthcare design impacts us all.

How would you explain your job title to a child?

I work with architects and engineers to develop, create, and build the inside of hospitals, doctor's offices, rehab centers, and other medical buildings.

Diversity is a concept that is open to interpretation. What does it mean to you?

Be yourself, know your worth, and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself.
— Norell

While racial and gender diversity are extremely important, I also believe in diversity of talent, passion, and temperament. I enjoy meeting people who are different from me. Not only do I learn more about my world, I often learn a lot about myself too.

What were important steps you had to take in order to be at your current position?

I interned for my current employer during my final semester of grad school. I took another internship shortly after graduation at a much smaller firm. Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door, network, and understand work environments and culture. Interning at two totally different firms helped me figure out what I should focus on learning during the first few years of my career.

Do you know the percentage of black women working in your field, if so how much?

Less than 2% of registered architects in the US are black. I don't know the percentage of black female interior designers but I doubt it's higher than 2%. I am the only black interior designer in my firm of about 100 people.

What challenges have you experienced in the workplace?

Being the only black woman in the room can be lonely and is often times exhausting. Knowing when to speak up or when to walk away from a conversation is a skill that I'm still perfecting.

What are some things that you love about your job/career? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

One of my favorite parts of the design process is design development. That is when we sit with the client, understand how the new building/space will function, and design the best solution. It's messy and frustrating at times but it's also exciting and one of the most creative parts of designing a new space. One of the things I am most passionate about is the intersection of architecture and social justice. In five years, I plan to be a licensed designer working on projects that focus on design justice.

What advice would you give someone trying to pursue your career or any related career?

The architecture and design profession is extremely competitive but don't let it intimate you. Ask a lot of questions, work hard, join a professional organization/association to network, and take multiple internships if you can. It can be a tough field but if you're passionate about design, don't give up.

What advice do you have for someone first coming into a professional space?

Be yourself, know your worth, and don't be afraid to stand up for yourself.


I love to read, write, and listen to music. I blog on the side and I'm a news junkie.

more info about Norell | Instagram - @nafergie | Twitter - @nafergie