Lynn Ferron – Businesswoman, Interior Designer and Philanthropist

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AN INTERVIEW WITH LYNN FERRON

 

We sat down over lunch with Lynn Ferron, Principal Interior Designer at HOK Ottawa, ARIDO EOC President and 2019 Ottawa Businesswoman of the Year Finalist, at the lovely SOCIAL Cocktail & Lounge which features our beautiful tiles.

We discussed her fascinating journey which led her to be the accomplished businesswoman, designer, and philanthropist she is today.

 

Congratulations on becoming the 2019 Association of Registered Designers Eastern Ontario Chapter (ARIDO EOC) President! What has that experience been like for you so far?

 

Thank you. Having the honour of fulfilling the role of the ARIDO EOC president has been gratifying and eye-opening. It has given me the opportunity to appreciate our members as I more closely witness their accomplishments in our profession and in the community.

Ottawa is very fortunate to benefit from the in-depth qualified professional knowledge, talent, and passion that our ARIDO EOC Interior Designers bring to the table. I am so proud of all our members and feel fortunate that the Ottawa business community understands the value we bring to projects. We not only design spaces, but we also create a humancentric experience where we set the stage for users to thrive.

Another fact that warms my heart in Ottawa is that peers are friends. Our members fiercely compete with one another for projects, but we respect and admire each other. There is so much kindness, collaboration, and friendship which is not the case in most cities! I believe stronger bonds strengthen our profession.

I could not be more proud of our ARIDO EOC Member Community and humbled to have the opportunity to lead as President. There are so many incredible people in ARIDO EOC doing a great job advancing the design profession, serving clients exceptionally and using their positions to better the community.

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Lynn Ferron at the ARIDO EOC Annual General Meeting at Euro Tile & Stone.

 

You’ve been the Principal Practice Leader at HOK for a few years and have a very impressive background. Tell us about your journey and how you manage the intersection between professional and personal life.

 

I was hired at HOK in 2003 as a Senior Interior Designer and the journey has been very interesting. I had recently moved from a large Toronto Interior Design firm serving the private sector. We were 90% women employees.

When I first started at HOK in Ottawa, there were only 2 or 3 Interior Designers and it was my first exposure to government projects. The vast majority of our employees were male and the topic of conversation was pretty much the Senators in winter and our summer group activity was typically a golf day. I’ve had to work really hard to help build up the business on the interiors side and perhaps change up our events to appease our mostly female group of now 10 Interior Designers. 😊

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Members of the HOK Ottawa team at the FLUX Lighting RGB party.

 

At our recent HOK Christmas dinner, I won the gag gift award for the “Most Social” team member. I think I have used this social ability to hone my business development skills to bring in a wider range of projects into the office to inspire our Designers and keep them excited about their work. I also love writing proposals to acquire new work that revolves around the client’s needs. I believe providing design expertise to service their functions and reflect their values are very important.

One of the things I also truly enjoy is mentoring younger designers and building a great team. We are like a family at HOK. It’s a great culture and we really care for each other which makes my job that much more rewarding.

Another unique aspect is that HOK is a global firm which means we have global resources to help us achieve anything we are pursuing because we have experts who have done any project you can imagine around the globe. We collaborate with our HOK world-wide extended family which has resulted in purposeful projects like Parliament Hill’s Center Block and the Algonquin College Athletic Recreation Complex that we are currently designing.

Global reach to fascinating and knowledgeable team members is definitely something that I treasure because it means we have more opportunities for an exciting and diverse project portfolio.

 

What aspect of your job do you enjoy the most?

 

I’m a very social person. I love people and get inspired by others. I love the multi-generational and multi-cultural dynamics at our office.

We have a couple of Baby Boomers (wisdom, hand drawing and years of experience), a generous sprinkle of Gen Xers (Me!), quite a few Millennials and some freshly baked tech-savvy Gen Z employees! Each group brings a diversity in knowledge, talent, and experience that brings value to the team. We also have a multitude of people who were born from all parts of the world in our Ottawa studios which brings a global perspective to our design solutions.

My social DNA also serves me well for the business development front. Attending events in our business community to build relationships is a pleasure for me. I like meeting and hearing the stories of the intelligent and dynamic people who make Ottawa the vibrant city that it is.

What are some challenges you have faced throughout your career and how have you overcome them?

 

Early in my career, I remember being the 25-year-old girl reviewing a project site with a crew of contractors… and being the only female at the table for site meetings. There were times I wasn’t taken seriously due to my age and gender. Unfortunately for them, I have a strong mindset, asserted myself, spoke intelligently and put some folks in their place as the Prime Consultant.

As soon as a person shows hesitation or lack of confidence, this unwanted behaviour continues.  Putting a stop to it immediately was the best way to end the unwarranted behaviour.

I’ve often been in competitions for projects where I’ve been the only female at the table. I have seen other women try and mimic men in their appearance and behaviours to fit in. I strongly believe that I don’t have to imitate men and blend in with them. My philosophy is to do the opposite as women bring a unique perspective to business. We are collaborative, creative and respectful. We need to be seen and heard!

I absolutely dress professionally but I never imitate men. I typically wear a smart looking dress our outfit in a bold colour with creative accessories. There is no reason to blend in with the black and grey suits, especially as an Interior Designer. I definitely feel that presenting the best, most professional and approachable version of yourself is the way to go.

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Lynn Ferron before presenting “The Business Case for Exceptional Workplace Design” at the International Interior Design Exposition (IIDEX).

 

What are the biggest misconceptions in the industry?

 

One of the reasons that I’m involved with our association, ARIDO EOC, is because there’s a lot of misconceptions about Interior Designers.

The business community seems to be a lot more educated, especially those who have been through projects, but a lot of the general public thinks Interior Designers are decorators who just pick finishes, furniture, and curtains. That’s only about 10% of what we do.

For example, we do interior architectural sets of drawings and project specifications, apply for building permits, and follow building codes to protect clients with life safety issues such as travel distances and exits.

Our post-secondary education is a 4-year Interior Design Bachelor degree program for Interior Designers. We write a full-day professional North American Professional exam after 3 years of practice and become a Registered Member of the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario to earn the title of Professional Interior Designers.  It is no different than the stringent requirement for other professionals (Engineers, Accountants, Architects).

The law doesn’t allow our industry to call ourselves interior architects. I know in New York state and other places outside Ontario; interior designers are allowed to call themselves interior architects. Basically, that’s what we do – we design and produce contract documents in order to build interior architecture. We are not furniture and colour pickers!

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The HOK team explores a design idea on trace paper.

 

When you’re at a standstill, whether personal or business, how do you get yourself moving again? 

 

The very short answer is that I need movement and exposure to the outdoors.

I’ll start with my personal life, as it directly intersects with my business life. I adore trail running, hiking to mountain tops and generally spending time outdoors, in nature. The beautiful sights, the fresh air, the sounds of the wind, a running stream, birds singing, inspire and rejuvenate me. I think it is a form of meditation in motion for me. If anything is troubling me, I find solutions as my mind is more still, open and receptive in natural environments.

I spend a lot of time in Gatineau Park, I make my way to the Adirondacks from time to time and on occasion, treat myself to our majestuous Canadian Rockies in Alberta.

On another note, the design is perfect in nature and I draw inspiration during my time outdoors.  I take a lot of photos. The textures, colours, and compositions just have a way of working flawlessly, in perfect harmony.

The majority of our designs at HOK are timeless and focus on wellness because we believe in spaces that emanate nature. We employ biophilia in our work as people thrive in spaces that have a relationship with natural surroundings (daylight and views, vegetation, natural colours, and textures.)

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Lynn Ferron running in Foret Larose.
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Lynn Ferron at the top of the Adirondack Mountains.

 

If you could give one piece of advice to a young professional looking to enter the design field, what would it be?

 

One piece of advice would be to invest in yourself with the gift of knowledge, especially on your own personal time. Stay curious, never stop learning.

You have your education and you’re embarking on your new career, but find out what is really important to know and educate yourself on it. You become more confident and in turn, more valuable when you have the knowledge.

For example, I learned AutoCAD for two years prior to graduating, but I did not use it at my first workplace as it was not available. After a year and a half, there was no more work and I needed to move on. I connected with a business owner who let me practice using the software in order for me to feel comfortable with it. I invested time in myself. This helped me get my second job. Once employed again, I stayed late to practice and become proficient at it.

Companies sometimes have limited training budgets, there are a lot of expenses and employee utilization rates are important to maintain a modest profit. The learning never ends. Stay curious, learn at work, but continue to expand your knowledge to better yourself during and after business hours. This will elevate your confidence and the value you bring to yourself and your employer.

 

We’ve noticed you’re very active in giving back to the Ottawa community whether through charities or peer groups. What are some causes that you feel passionate about and why?

 

There are quite a few of them. One that is close to my heart due to my family history is the Big Bike for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. We have been the top fundraising team for the last 2 years. I look forward to it every year. The ride is filled with laughter, music, and curious onlookers.

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The HOK Ottawa team participates in the Big Bike in support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

 

Another annual event that I support is the Leaders Breakfast for Mental Health for the Royal Ottawa. Every year, I do a separate dinner fundraiser and I invite a huge community of runners who are always hungry! I raise beyond the minimum $1,000 annually for this cause. Mental health is very important to me, especially in today’s screen-addicted society (the walking dead, faces staring at phones!). There are more and more people with neurodiversity issues and I think that is part of the root of it.

For me, at a young age, fundraising was ingrained in my DNA because of Terry Fox. His Marathon of Hope brought him to Sudbury when I was just 13.  His courage and determination touched my heart. I ran the Terry Fox run for many years thereafter. Terry pioneered and taught us to run for charity. I am blessed with good health, a loving family and a fulfilling career. With these gifts in hand, there is no reason why I would not want to help others who need it.  It is one of my core values.

From 2012- 2015, I was on the Relay Team to End Kids Cancer for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). It consists of a 100 km relay from the Ottawa Aviation Museum to Chateau Montebello, Quebec. Each member has to raise a $500 minimum. I always reached for $1,000 by feeding my famished running friends! In its final year, I challenged myself to a 50 km continuous distance to honour kids suffering through cancer. A little discomfort is pale in comparison to their cancer journeys.

 

As 2019 is coming to an end, what do you predict will be the biggest design trends for 2020? How do you feel about them?

 

We’ve talked about mental health and I think the biggest design trend in 2020 will be designing for inclusivity. We are living in a time of increased diagnosis and awareness of neurodivergent conditions. This includes people who have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Tourette’s Syndrome. Eight million adults have ADHD and 85% of them don’t know they have it.

People who are neurodiverse are wired differently and often their differences can be an extraordinary strength in the workplace. They possess exceptional talents when it comes to innovation, creative storytelling, empathy, alternative thinking and problem-solving.

It is therefore critically important to set the stage by designing spaces that are inclusive to everyone, by encouraging movement, choices of work settings and inclusion of Biophilia for calm and comfortable surroundings. Enabling Personal Mindfulness includes incorporating natural elements, quiet zones, active learning, co-creation spaces, flexibility, team learning, scrum spaces with agile methodology into the workplace.

An introvert who prefers to be solo can go to a personal booth, a quiet room or a comfortable individual pod chair that provides a secure cocooning effect. If a person needs to collaborate, they can go to a harvest table that gives the message that I’m here and ready to talk.

We need to get away from cubicles where people are stuck in the same place all day long in a static position and start designing for movement and wellness.  Spaces should meet everyone’s diverse needs so teams can be functional and comfortable no matter what their personal preferences are.

My colleague, Kay Sargent and I presented “Mindfulness in the Modern Workplace” at the Real Property Institute of Canada (RPIC) National Conference in November. We’ve done a lot of research on the topic to figure out how to integrate mindfulness into the design of spaces. Due to the tech era we live in and the extended exposure everyone has to screen time, it’s a problem that’s not going to go away soon.

For me, this is definitely one of the most significant factors for designing our spaces.

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Kay Sargent and Lynn Ferron after co-presenting “Mindfulness in the Workplace”.