Julie Maleski Putzel’s high school career assessment quiz indicated that she should become a geologist. About the same time she got this result, her father was renovating a bathroom in their home, and Putzel helped.
They tore it down to the studs and completely redid the space, with Putzel choosing the fixtures, colors and other elements. She painted the walls beige and finished them by rag rolling on a rust orange.
By the end of the project, Putzel’s calling was clear: interior design.
After graduating from her small Poconos (Pennsylvania) high school, she enrolled in Cazanovia College and earned a bachelor’s degree in interior design. Over the past 17 years, Putzel has designed both residential and commercial spaces, starting in Boston, where she designed every major beauty salon on Newbury Street.
These days, Putzel works on both residential and commercial projects in her new business, JMP Interiors in Jonesville, which celebrates its second anniversary in March. She takes on projects as small as helping a client choose the perfect yellow paint for a kitchen to whole house design and everything in between.
Putzel sees customer service as the biggest challenge in her business, with clear communication and follow-through as critical to delivering the best service. “It’s not just working with my clients, but making sure that I’m articulating my clear vision and that they understand what I want to do,” Putzel said.
On the other side of that, it’s important that clients be forthcoming with her about what they like and dislike and why, what expectations they have, and what they’re looking for, as well as their budgets.
She prides herself in being down to earth, and she seeks to convey that to potential clients with her appearance as soon as she walks into the room. “When I go in, I want to look presentable, but I’m not dressed in a suit,” she said. “I want clients to know that I’m down to earth, and I’m real, and I need you to be down to earth and real with me.”
The greater the openness and honesty, the quicker and easier a project comes together. Putzel sees herself as a storyteller and the home as the story. “They’re having a hard time telling the story they want to convey with their home,” Putzel said of her clients. “It’s my job to not only interpret that, but deliver that, right down to the smallest detail.”
When she’s designing, she’s not only concerned with the look of a room, but the energy, the smell, and the touch — the entire experience of that room.
The most thrilling part of her work is two-fold. In the early stages, a client is wondering if the designer is really going to deliver what he or she wants. The delight comes when a client understands the concept she has presented. “You can see the light bulb go on when they start to get it,” Putzel said. “Now they get it, and they 100 percent believe in you. That’s a really cool moment.”
The other high-reward time comes when she presents the finished project. Putzel actually requests that her clients be absent when she’s applying the finishing touches. “It’s exciting to see that moment where the client just loves what you’ve done,” she said.
One poignant example of this is when Putzel designed the cosmetology department of a trade school, which she sees as her most rewarding project thus far. She was on hand when the 16 students walked into the newly-designed space for the first time. “Every one of them was crying and really happy — that genuine happiness, that genuine joy that you just can’t fake,” she said.
With rewards come challenges, too. “Being able to ride the waves when things aren’t going smoothly” is a necessary skill to have in her business, Putzel said.
She cites the example of missing the due date for a project because some high-end fabric from Italy was delayed in customs. “It’s not always delivering good news, but when you’re delivering bad news, to be as transparent as possible and to work with the lemons you were given,” she said.
Her focus on customer service earned her the Best of Houzz award for customer service two years in a row on the home remodeling and design website Houzz. Putzel received 23 5-star reviews from customers.
Interior design is a dynamic field, and Putzel is always interested to see what styles come and go. “It’s my personal opinion that trends for interior decorating and interior design are about one to two years behind the fashion industry,” she said.
Brocade, paisley, and damask were popular in clothing a couple of years ago, and now, chintz and exaggerated paisleys have surfaced as an interior design trend for 2018. A big change that Putzel has seen during her 17 years in the field are that clients are increasingly willing to do something different than the norm. “I think our clientele are taking more initiative to not so much be risky, but to go outside the expected box,” she said.
This is due, in part, to the availability of ideas on the internet as well as the proliferation of design and remodeling television shows. While it’s important for her business to be aware of what’s current and popular and when things are going to shift, Putzel employs an old-fashioned practice in her work, drawing all of her layouts, elevations and ceiling plans by hand.
When Putzel was in college, the industry was going through a huge shift. The national associations for interior design were working diligently with the U.S. Congress to create legislation to ensure that people who were calling themselves interior designers had the education to back it up. Putzel points out that interior design is not only about design, but about safety as well — for example, knowing what materials apply to what applications.
Today, national certification requires continuing education to stay up to date on code as well as new state and national regulations. The continuing education has been key for Putzel, as she has relocated to a few different states, most recently to Clifton Park, after having her own design business in Pennsylvania. She spent the first year here gaining exposure for her design work so that clients could find her. “One of my primary goals this year is to collaborate with architects, builders, and developers. I want to make stronger connections in the professional communities,” she said.
She started this process when she did the interior design for the 2016 Saratoga Showcase of Homes and judged last year’s event. Another big goal Putzel has with her husband is to renovate historic homes. When the couple lived in Pennsylvania, they purchased condemned properties, gutted them, repaired them by themselves, and then rented them. And by condemned, she means “candidates for haunted houses” condemned, rundown and nearly falling apart. “I love history, and I love architectural history,” Putzel said. “It’s a huge passion of mine, and I want to make sure that with all the history there is in Saratoga, that I do my part to help preserve that.”
She and her husband live in a 150-year-old home in Jonesville with their two young children, and they are in the process of renovations. She has a couple of requirements. The house must be at least 100 years old, and it must not have been renovated or improved. The ideal candidates, Putzel said, are those where she would have to bring a chainsaw with her to cut through all the overgrowth even before she could enter the structure. “I would just like to peel away some of the layers on those onions and really turn them into silk purses,” she said.
In the peeling process come Putzel’s biggest surprises. “It’s almost like a grab bag — the surprises you find behind walls,” she said.
There have been old bees’ nests, crumpled up newspapers, diagonal plumbing pipes, and duct taped plastic, to name a few. Putzel offered to redo that now-dated bathroom in her father’s home, the space that had had launched her interior design career in 1998, but he wouldn’t have it.
“My dad, being the sentimental guy that he is, said, ‘We’re never touching that bathroom because that was your first design project ever,’” Putzel said.