If any of you happen to visit University of Kentucky, College of Design, you may have the joy of meeting Christina. Whether she is rushing through one of the corridors in a whirlwind of energy and passion or sitting down to have to an interview with IIDA it is evident she has made a big impact in her student’s life and other faculty members. The wisdom she has gained through all her years of experience as both interior designer and IIDA member has been a blessed for our design community in Kentucky and other areas in the country.
Christina Birkentall joined IBD (the predecessor to IIDA) as a student. Her mentor, who was her teacher, was active in the local chapter and introduced her to many others, which allowed her to network. With each new job, the initial contact always came via this network. She has been active on committees and in leadership roles, in Illinois as President, in NY as a City Center chair and now in KY as ‘Sr. advisor’. “I love watching the newly graduated student move on to their Associates and ultimately their professional place in the association”.
Christina has been in the Interior Design Industry since 1984 and she has been teaching Interior Design at the “University Of Kentucky, College Of Design” for the last 2 years. Her first degree is a BA degree in Fine Arts, painting and drawing. After she graduated, she decided to get an A.S. in Interiors; and went back for her masters most recently to continue teaching. Christina have worked in many firms but in her mid 30’s decided to open her own firm. In her early forties, after 9/11, she had the opportunity to guest teach a drafting class and discovered how much fun (and hard work) teaching is. That is when Christina realized that she was passionate about teaching and went back to school to earn her Master’s degree in Interior Design to continue teaching. “The students constantly motivate me, they are so eager to be part of the profession and I love that ‘light-bulb’ moment when they ‘get’ what they just learned,” she said. Although, she learned everything she really needed by completing her associates and passed the NCIDQ on the first try, but many employers wanted the BA: “it did not matter I had 6 years of education. I think experience needs to count as much as education, the school of hard knocks has a lot of good lessons”.
Her favorite project is a corporate travel agency space in her first job in Chicago. Christina learned so much from that job, and ultimately became their facilities director for over 15 years. “The people there were like family, and watching that firm grow across the nation was inspiring”. For young designers just entering this industry Christina has to say that: “Perseverance and flexibility are your two main assets- don’t give up and realize the willow will bend in the storm and not break. You do have to fight in what you believe in, and you need to have passion in your fight. I have been told I am ‘intense’, which would be a compliment to a man, but not so for a woman. I am happy being an intense person; if I was a color, I suspect it would be red”. Inspiring words of wisdom!
The reason Birkentall started her own firm was because her son was diagnosed with Autism at age 3 and she needed to have more flexible hours for his therapies. She still worked a lot but not in a typical working hours. Her clients were all across the nation, so they did not care- so long as she had a phone and computer to do her work. “I still work many hours, but I love what I do, so it is not really work.” Christina’s style goes all across the board. She grew up in a Modern /eclectic home, but inherited many French pieces, so they all play nice with one another in her own home”.
“Not even winning the lottery would change her passion for design and teaching,” she said, but it will be great because she would not have to worry about money. She loves what she does! She also would love to renovate a barn and live in it. Christina always finds other things to do, and explore. She likes gardening, reading, watching movies with her son, sewing, cooking, and someday again: painting ( although, she has been saying that for years!).
Georgia O’Keefe and Frank Lloyd Wright would be her fantasy guest list for a dinner party. “Here are 2 people alive at the same time and both are creative geniuses, but they never traveled in the same circles. I also would include my own father, who was a creative filmmaker, because he passed when I was a little girl, and I would like to know him.”