Next Level Interior Design with Crystal Russell


Crystal Russell is living proof that with passion and determination designers can go from zero to hero (or in her case heroine).  Crystal started TVL Creative after graduating with her masters in Interior Design and obtaining a basic foundation of experience.  Sink or swim right?  Well… Crystal’s doing the backstroke.  Check out the interview below to find out how Crystal and the TVL Creative are kicking interior design up to the next level.

Designer Insider with Crystal Russell

Interior Design with Crystal Russel

What inspired you to start This Visionary Life? Why not just join an existing interior design firm?

So many things inspired the creation of TVL Creative. It started out as this little feeling of not being able to do everything that I had always dreamt of doing as a designer when working for a company. While I respect every firm that I ever worked for, I never felt the challenge, independence, or even workload that I desired. It was hard to feel inspired and I would always reach an inevitable point of feeling so…stuck. I’ve always had really adventurous ideas about design, and desired a level of interaction, integration, and management in projects that I simply couldn’t get starting out in firms. I realized that I desired a level of control and involvement in every stage of design that I simply couldn’t acquire without years of experience within a company. To be honest, I’ve also always wanted to channel my love for branding and media design into my own image. One of the best parts of starting a company is developing an entire identity from the ground up…and then watching that become something over time.

How do you define interior design, interior decorating, and interior architecture?

I recently wrote an article about this for Thrive Mag that quite literally went viral. It’s a topic that sparks a huge amount of anger and discussion, as well as a lot of assumption and name-calling. To avoid all of that, I’ll simply start by saying that all fields deserve the utmost respect and should be known for what they are—as they are quite different from one another.

Interior Design is the conceptualization, creation, and construction of interior spaces. From walls to windows to furniture. It is the organization of space as well as aesthetic for the promotion of human health and happiness—it is as much of a psychological field as it is an artistic one. Interior Designers are very much responsible for the well-being of the end user, and a designer’s work includes everything from wall arrangement and construction to plumbing relocation and from furniture placement to electrical planning.  Think of Interior Designers as architectural designers with an emphasis on the interior experience and no power to move any load-bearing or structural element in a building. Everything else…fair game!

This Visionary Life

Kawa Restaurant Design by TVL Creative

Architecture is the field of creating spaces—interior and exterior (unified, of course) that also promote function and well-being for the end user. However, architecture creates icons. Architects develop symbols and ideas within structure. Architecture constructs space, light, and form—in ways very much like an Interior Designer. However, licensed Architects are able and liable for all load-bearing construction, movement, or reconfiguration. Architects also spend less time with finer aesthetic details than Interior Designers (though some devote a lot of passion to this). You must understand that in practice, Interior Design and Interior Architecture are not different. However, Interior Designers are not able to be licensed as architects and therefore legally cannot use the term ‘architect’ in their titles. So as much as many Interior Designers (like myself) wish to use the term Interior Architect for self-description, it’s actually not a legal thing to do and we are not supposed to do so.  The largest reason that Interior Designers may want to be known as Interior Architects is to avoid the mislabeling as a Decorator.

Interior Designers can be Decorators, but Decorators are not Interior Designers. The difference here is relative to education and accreditation. Interior Designers have completed years of accredited education and many are licensed under the NCIDQ examination. Interior Decorating does not require any formal education or licensure. That being said, Decorators are insanely talented at what they do—and many have an aesthetic eye and knack for spatial arrangement that Interior Designers do not. However, it’s very important that clients know the difference between Designers and Decorators. Technically speaking, they are experienced in very different realms and can offer completely different services than one another.

What three tools do you use to stay efficient at what you do?

My Computer: In my world, having a killer piece of technology is critical. If it’s slow, if it’s stalling, if it’s shutting down…I can’t have it. I need my computer to move as fast I do…and that’s fast.
Stellar Communication: Not actually a tactile thing, but probably the most important thing I can offer designers and entrepreneurs alike. If you are not creating a constant and incredibly open line of communication between others, you are going to hit a wall somewhere. Communication between contractors, peers, employees, friends, subs, and clients is of the utmost importance. When you are talking and updating regularly, you avoid confusion and inherent setbacks that drain efficiency from process.
Self Respect: Even a masochistic worker like myself hits a point when I realize that if I’m not taking care of myself, I’m going to shut down. I’m known for the 7 day work week and the multi all-nighter, but at the end of the day I know that I’m not actually being productive. The best work is going to come from a mind and body that is nurtured and respected. Take time for yourself in the midst of all of the chaos.

Interior Design with Crystal Russel

Modern Classic Park Hill Living Room Design by TVL Creative

What book has had a major influence on you?

You know, I have many books that have influenced me…but the written piece that has played the largest part in my growth as a designer actually isn’t a book at all. It’s the Incomplete Manifesto for Growth by Bruce Mau. If you haven’t read it, make a point to. It’s incredibly simple and concise, but everything we should think about as creatives. I have #29 engraved on my computer. I thought the irony was enjoyable.

How do you stay inspired and passionate?

It’s difficult to answer this because I’ve never felt uninspired. Truly. Sometimes I feel so surrounded by inspiration that it’s difficult to take everything in. Everything around us: people, places, objects…they are just little catalysts for ideas. Big ideas. I know that I’m in the right place as a designer because I simply can’t stand not to be creating something. There’s always a vision there, and always excitement to start the next thing. I’ve never wrapped up a day of work and thought, “thank GOD that day is over”. In fact, I go to bed thinking about all of the things I hope to tackle in the design world tomorrow. It’s a crazy obsession that likely borders on unhealthy, but it’s how I have always been.

Interior Design

Layfayette Contemporary Lodge Design by TVL Creative

If there was only one designer you could learn from who would that be?

Tadao Ando. Totally. He’s a genius. I have a bit of a love for Japanese architecture anyway, but Ando is truly brilliant. I can’t even say I like his architecture that much in a visual sense—but for me, Ando taps into these beautiful ideas about the human experience. He has such a simplicity to his work that it really inspires a sensory reaction from the end user. His manipulation of light and the unfinished nature of his material…it’s modern without trying and culturally traditional in the deepest metaphorical ways.

Checkout the book of Tadao Ando’s Complete Works from 1972-2012

If there’s anything you could go back and tell your college self what would that be?

Those loans will haunt you as much as you think they will.

Any parting words of wisdom?

Don’t stop. There’s not time or room for this here, but you should know that I came from poverty. The idea of going to college in itself was absolutely ridiculous—and having made it to one of the country’s top design schools was a huge life achievement alone. There are so many people that try to lay stereotypes and expectations and personal experiences on you as a young creative…don’t let them get to you. It’s true that anything is possible in design. We are responsible for redefining cities…creating new paradigms. It’s difficult and the process will completely kick your ass, but it’s entirely worth it if you let it teach you. I am a successful entrepreneur at 26, and I can just see things growing from here. But I’m far from perfect, and I learn every day. I’ve had so many struggles, such huge debt, and plenty of let-downs. You have to get back up and do what you want to do. There’s no room for apathy here. Just go!

If someone wants to get in contact with you what’s the best way to do that?

E-mail! I live in a digital universe most of the time, and I love to communicate. Phone isn’t really my thing, so shoot me an email any time at [email protected]!

Interior Design

Interior Designer Crystal Russel of TVL Creative


  1. How to Become an Interior Designer & Live a Life of Passion w/ Sarah Ferenz - March 16, 2015

    […] different from Interior Decorating. She is an extremely talented designer and knows her stuff! My explanation of the difference is much more simple. I like to say that interior design is like […]

  2. Timothy - June 9, 2014

    tnx for info.

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