Alumni Q&A: The Drive is in the Details
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Portfolio magazine. Read the complete issue here.
After Laura Niece (’03, BFA Furniture Design) graduated from KCAD, it didn’t take her long to transition from Grand Rapids to another furniture industry hotbed in High Point, N.C. In the 13 years since, she’s become an integral part of independent design firm Otto & Moore, helping power its pursuit of diverse clientele and innovative design while picking up a handful of Pinnacle Awards from the American Society of Furniture Designers (ASFD) along the way.
Laura Niece (credit: Kristen M. Bryant)
Q: What first sparked your interest in furniture design?
A: Growing up, my parents would take me to antique stores a lot. My eyes would always be drawn to the furniture, especially noticing the finer details. I’ve always been a very detail-oriented person, so the intersection of aesthetics and functionality in furniture really captured my attention. I was definitely the kid who drew a lot in school, but as I got closer to choosing a college, I knew I wanted to channel my creativity into something more technical and defined.
Q: You enrolled in the Furniture Design program at a time when digital tools like AutoCAD were becoming more prevalent. How did that shape your educational experience?
A: When I enrolled, we were learning digital tools, but the emphasis was still on drawing by hand. Looking back, I’m very grateful for that. My professors were also skilled professionals with deep industry experience. They showed me the value of understanding the history and craft behind traditional furniture design and how that informs all future design work.
Drawing by hand enabled me to see furniture design as a craft defined by the physical connection to the end result, and that’s something that’s always stayed with me. Even though digital tools drive furniture design now, that foundation in traditional processes still informs everything I do as a designer.
Soho Luxe Three-Tiered Tall Chest designed by Laura Niece (image courtesy of Bernhardt Furniture)
Q: What was your experience transitioning from school into the field?
A: While in school, I was fortunate enough to have a few internships that gave me valuable experience and really helped hone my skills prior to starting at Otto & Moore. As a student, there’s only so much you can know about what your career will be like. You just have to get in there and experience it for yourself, so learning on the fly is inevitable. For instance, you start working with clients and you see how uniquely specific their needs can be. Also, by the time I got established in the field, everything was being done on computers, so while I did get a taste of AutoCAD in my senior year, I really had to learn it on the job.
Q: How have you seen the industry evolve since then, and how have you evolved alongside it?
A: I entered the industry during the recession. It was an unsure time—consumers were hesitant, and the market wasn’t very clear, so companies were being safe with their designs and weren’t willing to take many risks. Thankfully, that has changed over the years.
Now, with all the DIY and design resources available online, people are more informed than ever and feel empowered to change their style more frequently than in the past. As a designer or a manufacturer, you have to be aware of that and constantly educate yourself on what is trending in the market. There’s also a lot of competition, so you need to be not only consciously creative, but innovative as well.
I am constantly inspired. Being mindful of the past is critical, but looking both at the contemporary landscape and into the future is equally important. As a detail-oriented person, I find my favorite part of my job is research. You can draw inspiration from anything—the old masters, current trends, or even other industries.
Q: What’s motivated you to stay with Otto & Moore as long as you have?
A: The owner, Dudley Moore Jr., is a leader who puts a lot of faith and trust in his employees. He constantly challenges the company to design better and smarter and build client relationships that allow our creativity to come to the forefront. I’ve been able to help push the firm to branch out and expand our client base in ways that help us improve.
The great thing about working for an independent firm is that each client is different. The designs and styles are constantly changing, so the work never feels stale and is always rewarding. I have enjoyed the pace and constant challenge; it helps me grow.
Aiden Acrylic Bed designed by Laura Niece, winner of 2016 ASFD Pinnacle Award (image courtesy of Bernhardt Furniture)
Q: Speaking of growth, you’ve been growing your reputation, winning three ASFD Pinnacle Awards in the past two years. What does that recognition mean to you?
A: Typically, our clients are the only ones aware of our contributions, so it’s an honor—for our clients and for me—to be personally recognized among my peers for both individual and collaborative achievements. The ASFD is a great organization to be involved in. Along with the Pinnacle Awards and networking opportunities, it also strengthens the future of our industry by facilitating a number of scholarships and design competitions for students.
Q: What’s next in the pipeline for you and Otto & Moore?
A: We’re always looking for new projects and clients. No matter who we’re working with, we want to continue pushing forward and growing creatively.