Spokane Journal of Business

All-female team at Design Source shapes its role on planning team

Firm leverages 3D tech to streamline process

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-Virginia Thomas
Left to right, Design Source Inc. owner Angie Cashen, Brianna Musser, and Cassidy Lange are three of the seven women working at the all-female design company on Spokane’s South Hill.

About 32 years ago, the founders of interior design company Design Source Inc. decided to branch off from the architecture firm under which they’d been employed in order to focus exclusively on design. Today, Design Source has found a place at the table alongside the rest of the project planning team, says owner and principal Angie Cashen.

The company also is taking advantage of technology to streamline the design process, Cashen says.

Design Source founders Nancy Croyle and Susan Dellwo began the firm with the intent to provide thorough, comprehensive design services, Cashen says. Cashen bought the business in 2013; Croyle remains with the firm as a principal and project manager.

Located in a former fire station at 804 S. Monroe, Design Source provides commercial and residential design, tenant improvement, and graphics and signage services.

About 80% of the firm’s business comes from repeat clients, which include Washington Trust Bank, Northwest Farm Credit Services, and the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, Cashen says.

Some of the firm’s recent projects include the Kalispel Tribe’s new casino in Cusick, Washington; the Empire Fitness gym near Gonzaga; and the Rover.com space in the Wonder Building downtown.

Design Source also is designing the Wonder Market, a 12,000-square-foot space that will feature food and beverage kiosks on the first floor of the Wonder Building, including the High Tide Lobster Bar and an Evans Brothers Coffee stand. 

Project manager Cassidy Lange says 3D modeling has helped with planning both for building owners and tenants.

“With the 3D model, I was able to coordinate with the building owners, who are in Denver, the Evans Brothers Coffee owners, who are up in Sandpoint, and then High Tide, here in Spokane,” Lange says. “Everybody has been able to see what their space will look like. The owners have been able to get buy-off of everybody, along with working with equipment vendors. Spending the time doing this up front helps with an approval process and helps with documenting, because I’ve got everything I need approved.”

Cashen says Design Source handles about 100 projects each year; the firm’s annual revenue is about $800,000.

All seven of the firm’s employees, six of whom are designers, are female.

“We’re a working-mom office,” says Lange. “We have dogs and babies and families coming by throughout the day.”

Cashen joined Design Source as an intern in 1996 and says the firm’s employees found themselves working to gain the trust of a male-dominated architecture industry.

“When we started, we had to prove ourselves,” Cashen says. “We had to prove that we’re knowledgeable; we had to prove that we could read spec books and hang with the architects.”

That’s changed, Cashen says, as the architecture industry has come to realize how a designer can help plan a project thoroughly, and how designers can manage aspects of a project that might otherwise be overlooked.

“That had not happened until probably four years ago,” Cashen says. 

Now, Cashen says, designers find themselves having conversations with electrical engineers from the beginning of the design process about electrical outlet locations and circuiting, taking much of the guesswork out of the process for all parties involved in a project. 

In recent years, Cashen says she’s seen more architecture firms hiring interior designers as project teams have come to understand how many aspects of a project a designer can handle or help with.

“We’re thrilled that architects finally realize interior designers matter, and that they hire interior designers and give them more of a role,” Cashen says.

Lange adds, “We really consider (a project) from the beginning, from a floor plan perspective, all the way through to the end when it’s installed and in use, and even at a post-occupancy walk-through a year later to see how it’s performing. Ultimately, we want to be thought of as collaborative consultants … whether we’re collaborating with a contractor, an architect, or a furniture dealer.”

However, even as design is being understood better by the those in the architecture and construction industries, Cashen and Lange say they’re concerned that some people don’t realize there’s a difference between designers and decorators. The design industry has been pushing for state and federal legislation that would require a standard certification, such as the National Council for Interior Design Qualification in order for someone to hold the title of designer.

“Anybody can call themselves a designer,” Lange says. “It’s not controlled at a consistent level across the states.”

Cashen adds, “There are designers out there without qualifications trying to do work, and contractors review their stuff and go, ‘This is a mess, this is a disaster.’”

A standardized certification would differentiate a designer from a decorator, Cashen contends.

“We want to own interior design,” she says. “A decorator doesn’t get into the details of drawing floor plans.”

Cashen says part of the concern relates to the health and safety aspects of design that certified designers are trained to consider and plan for, such as emergency exits.

“If you look up the definition of interior design, health and safety of the public is our thing,” she says.

That can include considerations such as whether an office environment is too crowded or loud, creating stress instead of focus. For example, Design Source regularly receives design requests for open office plans, but Cashen asserts such plans rarely work for most companies. Designers at the firm ask questions to determine whether an open office plan would be effective or disastrous.

Asking such questions can be vital to creating the perfect space, project designer Brianna Musser says.

“It’s about finding the balance of what their aesthetics are, and then meshing it with the budget and functional considerations, along with everything else, like equipment and lighting and furniture,” Musser says.

Cashen says, “Having a designer ask the right programming questions lets the client get what they need, not what they think they want. We could just give them what they want, but we want to understand them and give them what they need.”

Virginia Thomas
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Reporter Virginia Thomas has worked at the Journal since 2017 and covers the banking and finance industries. As a reporter, she loves learning about Spokane's many growing industries. She enjoys travelling with her husband, snuggling with her cats, and cross stitching.

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