Garrison Hullinger is an interior designer with a passion for creating functional, beautiful spaces that are as comfortable as they are impressive. Garrison Hullinger Interior Design’s meteoric rise from its 2010 start in Garrison’s attic, to a bustling downtown studio, is a direct result of the talent and flexibility of the team he has assembled and nurtured.
When did you start your career?
I got into the Neiman Marcus management program in Dallas after college and then I started working for The Gap. I was fortunate. I worked for The Gap for 16 years. I was then hired to work on a new prototype store, Old Navy. I was the first store manager for the test store in Texas. My experience was really understanding processes, operations and standards in stores and creating best practices.
I know you’ve had some tough things to overcome along the way- tell me about your journey.
In ‘99 I had a severe accident and suffered a traumatic brain and spine injury. It reset my whole life. I had to learn to walk and speak again. I found out I lived with a man, but I was okay with it. J accepted me and stayed with me through it all. It was almost like raising a child for the first 2 or 3 years of my recovery.
He was your partner and you didn’t remember him?
No, I didn’t. It only lasted for about 6 or 8 months and then my memory slowly started to return. I didn’t know the house I was in; I didn’t know anything. It was crazy. I was very immature, and my mind was pretty closed off because I was sleeping 16-18 hours a day with all the medication and seizures.
When did you start to see a change in your recovery?
It took about 5 years. That’s when we decided that we would transfer to Portland. Within a year and a half, things really started to turn around for me. I was able to get my driver’s license back, and things sort of started clicking for me and my short-term memory started coming back and I stopped having seizures.
Residential Design is a passion of yours. What sparked that interest coming from retail?
My partner and I bought a house that we were renovating in Northeast Portland and our realtor turned us into a photo scout who came by and took pictures. Our home was published in 7 different magazines across the nation. The word got out, so we knew at that time that we would do something in remodeling design. J and I have over 10 homes that we have remodeled together. We love it! It’s been a passion, but passion doesn’t always pay the bills, right? I was trying to figure out how to get back to being a viable contributor. I think it was great too for J to quit spending money. He was like, “Can you do this with other people’s money?”
Did you feel confident in starting something new because of your experience structuring retail stores, creating technology, and managing people?
I just knew I needed to do something. So, I started in my attic 9 years ago with a couple part time employees. We started building the company by word of mouth through neighbors and friends. We moved out of the attic 7 years ago into this space. I went from having 3 part-time employees to 34 employees.
I’m sure that your team is as grateful to you as you are to them. How did you find such a team? Or did they find you?
There are not a lot of designers out there that have the mix of background that I have, so I’m sure that attracted some of the best to come my way. I started being contacted probably in year 2 because of my tech background. It’s easy for me to use social media platforms or to use Houzz. I was one of the top 25 interior designers in the country for the first five years just for user interface. Others were interested in why I was growing so quickly. I have 6 senior designers, 5 of them have more than 20 years of experience in their own skills and background. There are 4 members on a team. No more. Every team has a senior and almost every team has a lead which allows them to grow and develop and to learn more.
Tell me about the culture in the office. Is there a strict atmosphere or more of a creative vibe?
Knowledge of our culture has spread; how we are different and what we do. I think the most attainable piece people relate to is that we created a process, and we create a sandbox for the designers to play in. You can create inside that sandbox the most beautiful castle you want, and if the rain and the storms come along, sand doesn’t get washed away. Every team leader, whether it be in Hospitality, Commercial, Custom or Residential has-to communicate on week three to their project leaders and to our client how our project’s going according to budget and according to actuals. We have regimented formulas that we all follow.
There is not one person doing several different jobs. They have their own specialties.
Right. We consider ourselves strength builders. We really try to work and focus on someone’s strengths. If you have a deficit, I don’t really give a shit, I don’t even want to talk about it. You don’t come here and join a department when you’ve never designed a restaurant and now you want to design a restaurant. If you come to us with a lot of residential background, you’re going to work on the residential team because we are building your strengths. We don’t want to put training wheels on anyone.
What do you think sets you apart from other design companies?
We are probably the most unusual design team, where all the milestones are set out at the beginning of the project. They always know when every meeting is with every client. So now we can easily plan around vacations, time-off, and there’s no overnight working. I think in our culture we are a little more rigid about how our process works. It’s about gathering and collecting really, talented skilled team members and seeing what they can do.