Designer Honors Midwestern Roots
authors Autumn McGarr
Overland Park, KS — “I guess I always knew that I wanted to design kitchens and bathrooms,” reflects designer Elizabeth Rishel.
After attaining a design degree with an emphasis on kitchen and bath design from the University of Nebraska Carney, the Minnesota native relocated to Boston to work in cabinetry showrooms. “I’m from the Midwest, so I wanted to have an adventure and learn a lot and see new things,” says Rishel. “After five years out there, I thought, ‘It’s time to go back to the Midwest and stop selling things.’ I wanted to really focus on a holistic design approach, and when you’re selling a product, you don’t necessarily get to get your hands in all the different areas of a project.”
Upon relocating to Kansas City, KS, Rishel joined a prestigious design-build firm – unfortunately, the year was 2008, and the firm went the way of so many businesses at the time. “It was bad. And I had just moved to town. I didn’t know anybody,” Rishel says. “So I made a decision that, looking back now, was very brave when I did it…I started my own interior design company.”
That was 10 years ago. Orion Design survived the recession and is still going strong today. “It worked out so well because I’m a designer who [just] bills for my time,” Rishel believes. “So clients saw it as really accessible and approachable. I don’t sell anything to my clients – I’m really an advocate for them and [I work at ensuring they get] the best possible design.”
Midwestern at Heart
Although Rishel’s work has taken her to many different states, she’s considers herself a Midwesterner above all, and her designs reflect that identity.
“I think in the Midwest, we’re a practical bunch of people,” says Rishel. Her clients take a function-first approach to design, certainly, but that does not mean they sacrifice style. “People say the Midwest is far behind, but I don’t really agree with that,” declares Rishel. She credits the advent of sites such as Houzz with giving her client base access to design influences from all over the world. “Clients know what’s out there. Sometimes they even bring stuff to my attention, like, ‘Have you seen this product?’ Clients are immersed and they’re excited and they are absolutely ‘with it.’”
“[The Midwest] is a little bit of a melting pot for design, because we see people looking toward the coast for ideas, but they’re also looking down south, so we get to do all sorts of fun things,” she adds.
But at the end of the day, Midwestern pragmatism always wins out: “It has to function first because I can’t have a client spending $200,000 on a kitchen project and then it doesn’t work.”
Interestingly, Rishel also credits her Midwestern location as being part of her success. “Something that is very different about the Midwest is people talk and they share and they love to see people be successful,” she notes. “[People consistently] say, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to tell my friend about you.’ I was just at a tile showroom yesterday and one of the sales managers there approached me and said, ‘Hey, do you have a card? My neighbors are doing their kitchen, and you have to do it.’” She adds, “People love to connect the dots, and they love to help people.”
In addition to bridging what might be considered a long-standing style gap between the Midwest and the coasts, sites such as Pinterest and Houzz have enabled Rishel to understand her clients’ wants and needs more clearly.
“[Websites] are a great tool for me to pull up and say, ‘Hey, here’s something like what I’m talking about.’ And I may not find exactly what I’m thinking, but I’ll find three things that are close. So I can be like, ‘If these three hoods had a baby, it would be yours.’”
For Rishel, social media and sites such as Houzz not only inspire her but also ensure that she thinks outside the box for her designs. “You look at so many designers’ portfolios and [the projects] will look like they could be the same house. You look through and you’re like, why does this person have five kitchens?”
“I really hope that every project I do is really individual and different,” adds Rishel. “It really comes down to listening and tuning into my clients…What are my clients wanting? What do they think is beautiful? Really honing in on that is critical and why I’ve been in the business for 10 years.” ▪