Boutique Design - May 2018 - 22
SCREEN WALL BLOCKS
FREELANCER FOCUS: RENEE
CHIARELLI AND MICHAEL GENTILE
Nelson™ BLOCK ©2012 modularArts, Inc. U.S. Patent 8,375,665
Hive™ BLOCK ©2012 modularArts, Inc. U.S. Patent 8,375,665
WALL = SCULPTURE*
No risk, no reward. When it comes to finding hospitality
work, sometimes it pays to DIY. A decade after the Great
Recession, when larger firms uncertain about the market
growth eagerly began hiring freelancers, many interior
designers are continuing to make their own way.
Renee Chiarelli, who recently served as associate
principal of tvsdesign (she also created the BD Black
Carpet Live! space at Boutique Design New York [BDNY]
2017 and Boutique Design West [BDwest] 2018 and was
named a Boutique 18 honoree in 2016), and Michael
Gentile, a long-time freelancer and the founder of Long
Beach, California-based Studio Thalo (he's also the
designer behind the look of Shade Hotel Redondo Beach,
which was profiled in Boutique Design's May 2017 issue),
both choose to fly solo, but for radically different reasons.
"Going out on my own really was out of necessity," recalls Gentile. "I made the
choice to work as much as possible, which meant working for myself while
taking on projects at firms when they landed a number of contracts at once. My
choices were motivated by the motto, 'Have pencil, will travel and will draw.'"
Chiarelli recently ventured out on her own. "I didn't 100% intend to go freelance,
but projects started to come my way. I'm testing the waters," she says. "Taking a
leap of faith is the best thing I can do for myself and the perk is a balanced life that I
thought I could only dream of. Freelancing offers a level of flexibility that I want."
While both solo artists enjoy their independence, they also recognize the
hurdles that kind of freedom presents. "The biggest challenges I'm facing now
are the learning curve of being freelance and stretching myself across the bases
so that everything runs as smoothly as if I had an army of people supporting
me," says Chiarelli.
Gentile notes that he feels the freelance work he completes at his office
generates "good pay." He says he's been fortunate in nabbing most of his gigs
through referrals and former colleagues, but success is dependent on staying
busy-and, sometimes, enduring long hours.
Chiarelli says the move into freelance gives her the opportunity to personalize her workstyle. "I'm enjoying creating what I hope will become my own
brand," she says. "Presentations are less stuffy, more open and more personable.
When we converse with our clients, it should never be in a robotic manner. It
takes away not only the true vision, but the fun of the process."
Designers who want to go out on their own do have options: working as a freelancer, which Gentile says is similar to having your own firm in a sense that you pay
your own taxes (and the added self-employment tax), but without the upfront
investment and employee management; and contract work, in which the firm takes
on the tax burden and as a result, the designer takes home a slightly larger fee.
Gentile likens the experience of being a freelancer to that of a session
drummer. "You mostly work in a studio; sometimes you get to tour but mostly
you're nameless," he explains. "When you work as an employee, you're more like
a member of the band. You live with these people and they become family. I've
also worked on a contract basis where I go to a firm's office every day for the
duration of the project. That feels more like being an employee."
Both designers feel the perks of freelancing outweigh the drawbacks. "The
wide range of work is refreshing," says Chiarelli. "Variety is healthy for me."
Gentile adds, "Contract and freelance work offers an agility and an opportunity
to learn about many firms, their practices and their strategies while contributing to the overall picture. You get the job done and go home."
S H AW N B R A S F I E L D ( C H I A R E L L I ) ; C O U R T E S Y O F M I C H A E L G E N T I L E ( G E N T I L E )
BY CHRISTINA GREEN