“I've loved art and design—especially interior design—since I was a little girl,” Paulette Sarmiento enthuses.
“It all began when my mom started a renovation in our penthouse apartment in Bogotá, Colombia. I remember she would tell the contractor to knock down walls because she just wanted to make the apartment look bigger. If tearing down a wall was not an option, my mom somehow found ways to gain extra square footage by relocating walls where she could. She ended up adding four extra rooms, and given that it was an older building but with a bad layout design, she was still able to make the living space more functional.
“In addition to watching her design the space, I enjoyed going to the showrooms with my mom to pick materials and finishes,” Paulette continues. “Just being able to experience the whole renovation process was something I truly enjoyed and felt very passionate about.”
Paulette had once thought of interior design as merely a side interest while she built a marketing career in the tech industry. That is, until she realized it was—and may always be—her true passion.
Paulette came to San Francisco in 2006 to study English.
“I attended City College of San Francisco to complete my ESL classes, as well as my general education requirements, before transferring to San Francisco State University (SFSU),” she tells me.
From SFSU, she earned an undergraduate degree in business administration and marketing. “At the time, I had a lot of interest in marketing and advertising as it was an industry that was rapidly evolving with the Internet.”
After graduating in 2012, Paulette began to contemplate her career options. The following year she took an opportunity to volunteer as an event coordinator with San Francisco New Tech (SF New Tech) to dip her toes in tech waters.
“I decided to volunteer with SF New Tech to gain an understanding of new technologies, software as a service and startup companies in San Francisco,” Paulette says. “I also learned that building and maintaining relationships with others is very important because I can seek advice for future decisions that can impact my career.”
That practice of building new relationships helped Paulette land a sales development representative role and which led to a SaaS account executive position at Litmos in 2014 for their U.S. and Latin American markets. In 2015, though, thoughts of more creative work started to re-emerge.
Making a Career Jump to Interior Design
“When I was working as an account executive, I was considering studying interior design as a hobby,” Paulette explains her decision to switch career paths, “but I quickly realized I could make a major change in my life, and eventually decided to pursue my passion for interior design full time. I simply wanted to do something that I felt very passionate about while utilizing my creative side.
“I ended up taking a break to re-evaluate my career and started to do research about interior design certificates.”
During her research, Paulette came across our Certificate Program in Interior Design and Interior Architecture.
“I decided to register for the information session, which helped me overcome my fears of starting a new career,” she says. “I enjoyed learning about the program, and being able to interact with a few of the instructors and students really made a difference in my understanding of how the program was structured, what classes were offered and what to expect after graduation. This led me to register for the program.”
Our instructors, students and courses continued to make an impact on Paulette and in her burgeoning career by providing a foundation that encourages students to think conceptually, frame an argument, materialize ideas and clearly articulate—both verbally and visually—design intent and more.
“All of the studio classes have greatly impacted my career because they were developed in a way that helped me understand most phases of the design process,” she recalls. “There was a lot of collaboration, and the critiques from my fellow students and my instructors helped me welcome feedback positively in order to improve my work. Collaboration is critical in my current role, so I feel very lucky I had the opportunity to experience that in the program.”
Paulette also benefited from the Portfolio and Professional Presentation course, which she highly recommends. “Having my portfolio ready to start applying for jobs was very helpful,” she adds.
Paulette also made friends with other students, some of whom helped get her started in this new career.
“During the program I developed excellent relationships with my fellow students,” she says. “We already had bachelor's degrees before enrolling in the program, so the level of work and dedication was at a high level. We helped one another, we provided feedback to help each other grow, we reviewed our portfolios and even helped with career advice.
“Thanks to one of my fellow students, I later got a recommendation for a job opening in hospitality interior design with BraytonHughes Design Studios (BHD), and I ended up getting the job. I am very thankful that she trusted me, and that gesture shows how she cared about my growth and success in interior design. I have also recommended fellow students for job openings, and I hope to continue doing that because it's important that I also help others grow and succeed in this industry.”
Gaining On-the-Job Experience
“This program is very flexible as I was able to work during the day and took classes at night,” Paulette commends. In 2016, while she was completing the certificate, Paulette began working at Jonathan Adler as a sales consultant. What she learned in our courses helped her transition to the field and build on skills at work.
“The transition was seamless,” she enthuses. “I was getting hands-on experience with clients by offering interior design consultations. I started drafting floor plans, selecting furniture and developing material palettes while interacting one-on-one with clients and providing design advice.
“As I was learning new programs, I was able to develop better presentations by incorporating 3D renderings, which helped my clients visualize the spaces better. This also facilitated the decision-making process and eventually led to more sales.”
From this work, Paulette acquired operational responsibilities that are pivotal to design consultations and moved up to sales and design supervisor.
In 2019, she completed the Certificate Program in Interior Design and Interior Architecture and that’s when Paulette was able to take all of her acquired knowledge and skills on recommendation to BHD, where she was hired as an interior designer.
“At BHD, I helped in all phases of design from concepts through construction administration,” Paulette recounts. “I developed client presentations and assisted my team with design plans, elevations, furniture layouts, finish plans, color plans and schedules.
“I believe the exposure I received in the certificate really helped me to start contributing to the team from the very beginning as I already had a basic knowledge of the design processes and of the few programs I used during my time at UC Berkeley Extension. I used those programs in order to do my day-to-day tasks, and with time and practice I continued to improve my skills at work.”
Not resting on her laurels on her newfound career path, Paulette made her next move to her current role at Handel Architects in September 2022.
“I continue to assist in all phases of design, but mostly on multifamily and mixed-use projects,” she tells me. “I am learning a lot of new, technical aspects related to interior architecture in Revit. I feel very fortunate to have used Revit during my studio classes because I am now more familiar with the program, and I've been able to improve my Revit knowledge.”
As for future career goals, Paulette has her sights on certifications and mentoring local youth who have the same passion for art and design that she had back in Colombia.
“My goal in the next few years is to get the NCIDQ Interior Design Certification and LEED Certification, as well as to continue to work toward becoming a senior designer. Also, I'd love to mentor teenagers who are interested in pursuing a career in interior design.”
With those goals, we know she will help others like her achieve their childhood dream job.