Juli Catlin Returns Home to Remind Students of Ethics in Interior Design

By: Kyle Niblett
March 17, 2023

With more than three decades of experience, University of Florida graduate Juli Catlin (BDES ’76) returned to campus this past week to provide insight on ethics in interior design to students in the College of Design, Construction and Planning. For the principal and owner of Catlin Design, the opportunity to give back was one she was looking forward to.

“It is a wonderful pleasure to always talk to students,” Catlin said. “It is fun to see the youth and the wonderful education they’re getting at my alma mater. The fact that you have all these different programs from construction to architecture right next to interior design gives you a huge advantage when looking for jobs post-graduation because that’s what your professional life will look like.”

For UF Department of Interior Design Chair Roberto Rengel, bringing someone with Catlin’s experience and integrity back to campus was a no brainer.

“When our students graduate and go into practice, they’re going to be involved in all kinds of transactions where things get iffy,” Rengel stated. “By bringing in someone as respected as Juli, we thought it would be wise to emphasize to our students how behaviors and decisions, especially ethical ones, can positively impact your career.”

Catlin started off the speech stressing to each student in the room that they need to have contracts with every client. While some people start a project from a phone call, the Jacksonville resident spoke of how important it is to have a written agreement, be crystal clear on how the client will be charged and the expected payment schedule. Despite some clients trying to rush through the contract and sign it immediately, Catlin believes it’s too important to a designer’s reputation for the bills that will be coming in to brush over it.

“You want your client to really have the opportunity to study the contract and think through it,” Catlin explained. “If they want to compare us to another firm, you should be totally open to whatever makes them comfortable. I really want them to have a moment to read it and understand we’re going to build exactly like we told them.”

Before taking on a client, Catlin discussed how important finding the right firm is from a culture fit. Finding a company that aligns with your morals and values is key, as you can find out far too late into your time with them. Despite good-intentioned thinking that all firms are perfect, Catlin kept it real with the room and disclosed that there are indeed firms with terrible ethics and sticky reputations.

“Whether or not you had a fabulous background with ethical parents, now is the time for you to set a standard for yourself,” said Catlin, before making her audience ponder a hypothetical question. “If a firm getting product is taking 20 yards for a sofa and charging a clueless client 29 yards, is that someone you want to work for?”

The designer also underscored the importance of getting your license, because you are likely to gain more trust from clients than those who purposefully avoid being licensed and brand themselves as “consultants.” Whether it’s not taking money for a commission if the client is not aware, or disclosing proper travel times, promising only what you could deliver on and being completely transparent with your client was the key lesson for the day.

“Keep that standard within yourself, do not compromise who you are and know that if something feels off, there is nothing you have to put up with,” Catlin finished with. “The good thing is to take accountability for yourself, because you’re always learning.”

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