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Q&A: Julie Steffens, Director of Interior Design

by Rebecca DeZeeuw

Julie Steffens began her career with Lawrence Group as a third year design student. While earning her degree in interior design from Maryville University, Julie worked in the university’s design library as part of a work-study program. One day, while working in the library, Maryville’s director of design told her about an internship opportunity at a local firm. That was the moment she first learned about Lawrence Group.

“In all honesty, I knew very little about Lawrence Group,” said Julie. “But I was interested in learning more!”

Today, as director of interior design, Julie leads Lawrence Group’s interior design practice. She also co-leads the firm’s education studio, providing planning and design services to colleges, universities and academic institutions across the region. In the following Q&A, Julie discusses her personal connection to interior design, passion for creating meaningful solutions and goals for the future.

Why did you choose to study interior design?

Honestly, it’s pretty simple Growing up, I was always considered the “creative” one in my family. I loved to draw. My first exposure to space planning come watching my dad hand draft house plans for friends and family; he was a mechanical draftsman for a manufacturing facility long before AutoCAD and Revit were a thing. My interest in design grew after taking my first drafting class in high school (and growing up in a small town, I had the same drafting teacher as my dad). I love the creative process and working through challenges to discover creative solutions as a team.

What is your personal design philosophy? How do you approach each new project?

Design is a journey as much as it’s also a giant puzzle. I feel my role is to provide clients with information, while guiding them along this journey, empowering them to make decisions that allow all the parts to come together as a whole. My approach to new projects is to eliminate preconceived notions and start with a clean slate.

A lot of your work focuses on healthcare and academic environments. What are some of the overall challenges you see clients facing with these project types?

As you can imagine, both of these markets have been deeply impacted by the pandemic, and for academic clients, literally turning the way they do business upside down overnight. Our healthcare and academic clients both face similar challenges with doing more with less in terms of financial and staffing resources, trying to differentiate to attract and retain top talent, while also providing state-of-the-art healthcare or education to their customers.

My greatest joy in designing for these markets is knowing the design solutions our team develops are positively impacting others: a patient’s journey, faculty members’ work experiences, and the student and visitor experience. There’s nothing greater than standing at a ribbon cutting on opening day to hear the joy, hope and excitement in the client’s words related to the profound impact these facilities mean to their respective organizations and the great work they do.

What do you like most about working at Lawrence Group?

I absolutely love the people I get to work with (and the projects too). We have a very special and unique culture. Even as the firm has grown, it’s always felt like family. I’ve stayed at Lawrence Group for several reasons, but mostly because of the opportunities for growth – personal and professional – offered to me. Even as an intern, I’ve always felt valued and appreciated. My mentors at Lawrence Group have always seen more in me than I saw in myself, and pushed me outside my comfort zone because they believed in me.

As director of interior design, what are some of your goals this year for Lawrence Group’s interior design practice?

I really want to strengthen personal connections with our team and the organization. There are some that I work with and interact with daily and others not as much. I want to get to know everyone better, and learn what drives them. Much like the opportunities that were offered to me in my career, I am invested in our team’s personal and professional growth. Providing them with resources to grow and take on leadership roles within our organization to support Lawrence Group’s broader business and growth strategy while HAVING FUN along the way!

Favorite design quote or personal motto?

One that I live by personally that’s had a huge impact on me professionally is:

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they are too small.” – Richard Branson

Once I accepted the fact that I don’t have to have everything figured out before taking on something new, I opened myself up to be more willing to take on new challenges, knowing that I will work hard along the way, always do my best, and use every positive (and negative) as an opportunity to learn something new.