Q&A with Interior Designer and Educator Nancy E. Hackett
Photo by Doug Levy
One look at the stunning homes and buildings that award-winning designer and educator and Rockport resident Nancy E. Hackett has worked on and you’d probably assume her house was just as exquisitely designed. Well, you’d be wrong.
“There is a huge misconception that we, as interior designers, have beautiful homes with all the gorgeous things you see in the magazines,” says Hackett, who for the past 24 years has served as professor of interior architecture and design at Suffolk University in Boston. “Most of us do not live in mansions. Only one percent of us do,” she says, laughing.
This past spring, Hackett won the prestigious 2017 Educator Award from the New England chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). It’s an annual event that honors the talented individuals who shape and inspire the region’s design community. In her Suffolk University office, Hackett recently shared her feelings about receiving the award, the latest design trends, and her secret hobby.
Q: Could you define interior design, which often gets confused with interior decorating?
A: Sure. Ever since I’ve been in the business, which is 35 years, that has been an issue. In our educational system here, we’re getting students to manipulate the shape, height, width, and breadth of a space, along with all the decoration that may occur.
Q: Why interior design?
A: Ever since I was a girl, I was making little environments, first for Barbie, who, of course, always went to work. My sister and I fabricated the clothes and the entire world in which Barbie lived. As I got older, I went to art school [University of Colorado] and continued my love of space and form in both printmaking and sculpture. Then I went to graduate school in interior design at the University of Connecticut in Storrs and graduated in 1982 with a Master of Interior Design and Resource Management.
Q: First job?
A: In 1982, I began working in Hartford for DEW Architects that supplied most of the insurance companies—from Cigna to Aetna—with interior design and furniture. In those days, we drew by hand. Computers had not been invented.
Q: How has the internet shaped the interior design industry?
A: First, it brought the transition [from manual] to digital drawings, and once that arrived, the immediacy of sharing was impactful. Now you couldn’t say to the client, “well, I shipped those plans yesterday,” while you were busily finishing them up. Second, the internet has affected marketing—how people find interior designers—whether it’s by their websites or even by how many followers the designer has on Facebook. It’s also educated the consumer. We all can go to Pinterest and download 53 kitchens that we like, and for interior design, this can be helpful.
Q: Having designed everything from The Coffee Connection in Boston’s Financial District to homes on the North Shore, what’s your version of a winning design?
A: It’s one in which the people feel at ease, joyous, and supported. Architects spend a lot of time looking at the urban built environment—how big the building should be, its orientation, what sustainable systems should be used. Our job is to humanize the built environment and enable people.
Q: How did you get into teaching?
A: I come from a long line of teachers. My grandmother was my kindergarten teacher. And I was her favorite pupil! My aunt was a teacher, my sister is an art teacher, so you might say teaching is in my bones. When I was in graduate school I was a teaching assistant. In sixth grade I was the English mentor for our class. The teacher would say, “We’ve got two kids struggling with grammar and they’re going to work with Nancy out in the hall.” I’m like, “Okay, cool, come on over here!”
Q: What’s the appeal?
A: I like to lead, I like to enable, and I love to see the growth. In 1992 I was asked by Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston to teach the senior studio in interior design. Then I was approached by Endicott College on the North Shore to apply for chair of its interior design department. Since I lived in Beverly at the time, I could ride my bike to Endicott and my [infant] daughter could go to their in-house day care. So, I jumped at it.
Q: Teaching philosophy?
A: It’s about mentoring students—working at their desk with them on potential ways to solve the issue at hand, whether it’s creating community engagement in a public area or a better workplace for a millennial employee.
Q: You just won the 2017 ASID New England Educator Award. What does that mean to you?
A: It was such an honor. We toil away at our work and sometimes never look up, and to have your peers say, “You, come on up on stage” was such a thrill.
Q: You live in Rockport—what drew you to the town?
A: After raising my two kids in Beverly and watching them fly the nest, I needed to downsize. I wanted to stay on the North Shore for the kids, so I bought a little cottage, 1,000 square feet, with a nice property because I like to garden.
Q: Did you redesign it?
A: Not really. It had to have a lot of work done—heating, plumbing, and electric. I did that the first year. So, when people say, “Oh, let me see your house,” I say, “Let me show you the basement,” because that’s where I put all the money!
Q: What are some current interior design trends?
A: Well, global design is influencing us and we’re exporting our work. Also, many clients only want the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certified buildings. Materials have changed greatly, too. For example, we now have translucent concrete, which lets light come through. Wellness is also coming into play, not only to protect the environment, but also humans, like finding ways to get exercise, so having stairs, not just elevators, in a building. And then, technology allows us to virtually enter spaces before they’re built and avoid costly errors in the design and construction process. There also is the integration of the outdoors to the indoors. We spend 90 percent of our time indoors and it’s not healthy. We’re using moveable glass walls and earth- and people-friendly materials, like stone, wood, and cotton. Finally, we’re doing lots of “aging in place” renovations, such as ripping out bathtubs and replacing them with walk-in showers that have seats and can fit walkers.
Q: If you weren’t a designer/educator what would you be doing?
A: I would be guiding—leading tours around historical cities worldwide. I could use my architectural knowledge and be with people outdoors. I love the beauty, architecture, and cultural aspects of built environments. I love history, stone, squares, and churches.
Q: What would people be surprised to know about you?
A: That I like to watercolor. In fact, my little watercolor postcards are now for sale on Bearskin Neck at Carol Lee’s Cottage. She is the only one carrying them—my first series that I call “Cape Ann Scenes.”
Q: How do you define success?
A: Success is happiness. I have a great career, great students that I get to teach and see succeed, and two fabulous kids.