Coffee & Conversations: Jessica Bossiere, Interior Design Principal

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Jessica Bossiere, or “J-Boss” as she’s affectionately called, has been an interior designer for more than 20 years. She was recently promoted to Interior Design Principal at HH Architecture, so we discussed her career path, the best parts of the industry, and the exciting future ahead – and why interior design is all about people.


What do you love about what you do/why is it important to you? There are a lot of things to love about what I do as Interior Design Principal, but solving a design puzzle is at the top of the list. Connecting with people and listening to their needs and wants, then creating a space that meets as many of those objectives as possible is extremely satisfying. Space planning is more than just square footages and space types – it’s really understanding how people are going to use the space. What are their needs at any given moment? What conveniences would make their experience better? For example, thinking beyond the adjacency of the reception area and conference room – providing thought on the needs of visitors and staff members when using the space is just as important as the placement on the floor plan … perhaps they need a place to take a phone call, access to refreshments or restrooms, or ease of technology, just to name a few. These don’t all appear in a space plan but providing rationale behind the size of a room and what goes in it is necessary to create a successful design.

Why should it be important to others outside the industry? There is no one-size-fits-all design. Each design is curated for a client. Each decision that we make is based upon the information we collect through interviews, facility tours, surveys, and getting to know the organization and their mission. Yes, there are typical pieces to the puzzle, but we all know that a stack of bricks can be piled in a multitude of ways.

What do you wish people outside the industry understood about what you do? I often tell people that I am an interior designer and they have a gleeful reaction followed by, “How creative! You must love what you do.” Yes, I do love what I do but not for the reasons that most people think. It’s more about creative problem solving than over-the-top, elaborate design elements. Don’t get me wrong, I love a moment of awe, but the real work is making the space work for the end users and ensuring that the space aligns with their process.

Was there a pivotal moment or person that inspired you to get into this industry? In 9th grade, I took a technical drawing class in school that taught me about all sorts of drawing techniques. I was not particularly strong at sketching and freehand drawing but when you put a straight edge in my hands, I could draw all sorts of things. I found something that I enjoyed and was good at. The next year I participated in a job shadow and I chose to go to an architectural firm to see what it was all about. I had a great day with lots of trash paper and little mini-mock project that I enjoyed very much. After the day, I really started to reflect on that experiences and talked with some of my friends telling them I liked the experience but really wanted a bit more “color.” At the time, there was no HGTV or Pinterest and the design world was fairly vacant from our everyday lives. So, when my friend, Sandy, suggested interior design, I thought, ”I don’t want to pick pillows and furniture for people’s houses.” She said, “Commercial interior design. How do think the inside of shops and hotels and businesses get designed?” I had never thought of that before. That conversation was the “aha!” moment that started my journey to becoming an interior designer.

What has your professional journey been like since then? I had a wonderful experience majoring in Interior Design at Virgina Tech and found my first job here in Raleigh, where I was able to cut my teeth on some great interior fit-ups for many of the developers and building owners in the Triangle. These projects were fast paced! We were often presented with a new tenant that needed a permittable set of drawings within eight weeks of the kick-off. Within a year or two, I was managing a whole set of buildings/owners and continued to do that for the next 10 years.

After my two kids were born, I wanted to branch out and gain experience with bigger and different project types. I was fortunate to get a position working on some great projects with companies in RTP, like Cisco, Biogen, and Blue Cross Blue Shield. I had the opportunity to develop a pilot program for office space that linked directly to how people work and move throughout their day. This is the point in my career when I really connected the dots of people and space and thinking beyond the basics. It was also during this time that I became acquainted with HH Architecture through a project manager I worked with at Blue Cross Blue Shield – Steven Hess. He connected me with this wife, Kristen Hess [HH Architecture CEO]. When I met her, I was blown away by her enthusiasm for my career path as it related to the projects that HH Architecture was working on at the time. I had never done public work, but she made is sound so glamorous. And who says architects aren’t salespeople? I was hooked and have enjoyed being part of the HH team for the last 7+ years.

What’s a recent project or role — professional or personal — that you’ve enjoyed, and why? I think the role I am most proud of across my entire career is Teacher. I truly enjoy helping others to learn. Sitting with someone one-on-one, reviewing and discussing a particular detail, process, or design is something I always look forward to. Those are the moments I get to connect with designers and is so rewarding. It is my “fun work.”

Along those lines, you’ve often supported interior design students through panel critiques and portfolio reviews. Have you participated in any recently? Yes! I recently had the honor of being asked to judge the national Steelcase NEXT Student Design Competition. Professors from 80+ interior design programs across the country send their students’ best work–only two projects from each class are allowed to be submitted. Steelcase facilitators then distill entries down to the top 56 projects for judging. We reviewed eight projects each and filled out a comprehensive judge’s form, assigning point values according to a whole host of criteria.

Wow….so much time and attention to craft these submissions! They each had between 28 and 35 pages of design work. I really wanted to make sure that I gave each submission the time it deserved, but I seriously underestimated the time I thought it would take to review them all.

Finally, I presented my top four submissions to the rest of the judging panel when we all converged in Dallas in January. It happened to be the coldest day of the year – so cold, that school had been canceled. The heat in the space was on the fritz, but we were all committed and powered through with our coats and scarves on. Each judge presented their top submissions and we all voted … and voted … and voted again. As we narrowed it down, we walked away with our top five semi-finalists and five honorable mentions.

Then, in February, the judges all met again in Grand Rapids at the Steelcase headquarters where the semifinalists presented their projects to us. I immediately thought back to being a student and how difficult it would have been to stand in front of a panel of judges made up of principals from top firms. I’m pretty sure I would have cried – more than once. But the students powered through their nerves and impressed all of the judges with their ability to eloquently and thoughtfully share their projects with a 15-minute presentation and 10-minute Q&A.

The judges debated over who they thought should be the winner and why. This was an interesting process, and some judges were swayed back and forth, while others stood their ground. It was a tight race, but we were able to determine a winner.

Overall, the experience made me excited by the new generation of designers. These students showed me that they have a hunger for design and are ready to share their unique outlook for a multi-generational workplace.

What excites you about the future of interior design? Do you foresee any challenges for the industry and how do you propose addressing them? Well, design is always changing, and I think that is pretty exciting. If it were always the same, no one would want to be a designer. We have principles we build on to ensure we are creating good design but there is always some new force. Technology will continue to evolve the world of design, but we will always need the human connection – the story behind the design. The advancements of AI will inevitably affect architecture and design but maybe not always for the better. We need to continue to have original ideas, thoughts, and designs. Our human experiences are what gives us the ability to develop new things. Don’t be swayed by the algorithm!

Lastly, what’s your usual coffee order? Vanilla Latte, HOT!