Susan Barker

Interior Designer



Allied Member ASID, LEED AP




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Susan In the Spotlight!

The following article appeared online in March 2006.  Star Power was created as a way to put the spotlight on Design Students.

contributed by Amy Johnson [field reporter / stylist / comedienne] 

“Open wide!”

That was the greeting Susan Barker gave to her clients for the 16 years she was a dental hygienist. These days she’s more likely to ask you about your floor plan than your flossing habits as she works toward a degree in interior design. So how does a person make such a drastic career change after so long in the field? Read on to find out...

From Dental Chair To
Aeron Chair

For 16 years Susan lived the life of a dental hygienist in Appleton, Wisconsin, where she resides with her husband. When she decided it was time for a change of professional direction, she did some serious soul-searching to determine what to do with the next phase of her life. Luckily, everything came together at just the right time to make her dream a reality.

“I [found] myself looking at homes, restaurants, and many spaces throughout the day and imagining what changes I would make to improve the feel of the space. I knew I had the natural talent and desire for a career in interior design, and the next step was a degree.”

Susan took a leap of faith, quit her job, and began work on a two-year AAS degree in Interior Design at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton. Set to graduate this May, Susan will also earn a Certificate in Commercial Design.

Apparently Susan’s seeing the value in her education because she’s already considering earning a BA in Business Administration with a major in Marketing. This dynamo is researching schools that would allow her to complete that degree while working full-time as an interior designer. Rock on, Susan!


Fox Valley Technical College, like many schools, requires students to participate in internships to graduate. Susan’s first internship experience was with Bassett Furniture Direct, where she worked under an interior designer who was in charge of creating store displays and ordering all the merchandise for the store. She learned the operations side as well as the responsibilities of the store’s other interior designer staff. The high point for Susan, though, was getting the opportunity to create some of the store’s visual displays on her own. With a little direction from the interior designer, Susan was let loose to create her own displays. Feedback from the designer enhanced not only her displays, but also her confidence.

Designing The Friendly Skies

Next up on the internship rotation for Susan was a spot with Gulfstream, the company that manufactures private and charter jets. This was a departure from the residential arena that Susan had originally been set on when she started school. But when Gulfstream’s name jumped out at Susan from the school’s internship list, she saw it as an opportunity not to be missed.

Working with the design coordinator gave Susan access to the senior designer, who has designed jets for 18 years. With such a complex product to develop, Susan saw how it takes a village to build a jet. Not until the last part of her internship was she able to really see all the pieces coming together. The customer has to sign off on every fabric (an average of 14 for a new jet!), surface, and custom item that will be used on the plane. Then there’s the wood selection, countertops, window shades, blankets, custom china, and even flatware.

Getting to make color boards for customers gave Susan the chance to call vendors and request memo samples of the various fabrics and surfaces. These kinds of experiences and networking opportunities are what make internships so valuable to students. Besides, of course, figuring out that you love designing jets and aren’t as interested in residential as you thought you were, or vice versa.

The cherry on top for Susan? She got a private tour of a completed plane just prior to its dedication ceremony for a customer. Having loved her Gulfstream internship, she’s now keeping her eyes open for any full-time opportunities there — something she never would have considered had she not followed her gut instinct when she saw “Gulfstream” on the internship list.

Visualizing Her Future

Besides working at her internships, Susan branched out by taking a Visual Merchandising class last semester. Over the course of the semester, this busy lady completed seven different assignments, including displays with contemporary, traditional, or product themes; one using products in the school bookstore; another in a small window display; and a large department-store style window display. The class gave Susan skills that she can use far beyond the retail visual merchandising arena. Consider how these lessons can be applied when arranging a collection of accessories in a client’s home or commercial office space, for example.

No matter what direction Susan decides to take in her career, these skills will take her far. Although she was originally set on residential design, her coursework and internships have opened her mind to the diverse opportunities available to interior designers. Her next two internships may make her direction more clear. Or not. Like we said, that’s the beauty of internships. And sometimes it helps just knowing what you don’t like. At least it narrows the field of choices a bit. Regardless, we know that Susan has the confidence and drive to make her dream happen: “By 2010 I want to be working full-time in an interior design position that I feel comfortable with, and I can confidently complete a project without second-guessing myself.” Go for it, Susan!

Who Is Susan?

Susan was born in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, 20 miles east of Cleveland. There must be some creative magic in that village’s natural waterfall — it is the hometown of comedian Tim Conway of The Carol Burnett Show and Spongebob Squarepants fame (he voices Barnacle Boy); cartoonist Bill Watterson, creator of the beloved Calvin and Hobbes strip, who grew up and still resides here; and Lee Unkrich, a longtime member of the Pixar creative team who co-directed Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc., was also born here.

After growing up in Marinette, Wisconsin, she moved to Green Bay (Go Packers!) and attended Dental Hygiene school. Nowadays, Susan and her husband are settled into Appleton, Wisconsin, where they’ve been since 1990.

When do you feel the most creative?
Mornings and when I’m home alone.

What would you refuse to travel without?
People magazine.

What are your three favorite movies of all time?
Legally Blonde, Top Gun, Dirty Dancing.

For a bit of inspiration from this go-getter, you can email Susan at











For More Information Contact:
Interiors by Susan, LLC
Appleton, WI 54914
Tel: 920-739-6589


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Last modified: 09/13/10