Designer Extraordinaire: Alene Workman
by Diane Capuano Franklin
“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
This memorable line, which Humphrey Bogart spoke to Claude Raines in the final scene of “Casablanca,” also describes the many great long-term relationships that develop between interior designer Alene Workman and her clients.
When Workman meets a new client, a single project can often lead to a long-term relationship that encompasses a succession of homes.
“One of my favorite clients is now 86,” Workman reported. “I’ve done projects for her at four different homes. It’s always gratifying when clients move into a new home and call me to start the design process all over again.”
Workman is the owner and principal designer of Alene Workman Interior Design, located in Hollywood, Fla., and serving the entire market of South Florida. She is also a fellow of the American Society of Interior Designers (FASID).
Originally from New York, Workman has always had an artistic sensibility. When she was a young girl, she used to admire her aunt, who was a millinery designer. “She designed hats, and I used to love watching her,” Workman explained. “I also enjoyed draping fabric over my dolls, so I thought I might wind up going into fashion design."
Eventually, Workman decided to pursue an art degree, but she was unsure where that degree might take her career-wise. A visit to Bloomingdale’s helped solidify her career path. She took a look at the room-setting vignettes, and suddenly everything clicked.
“I thought, ‘Instead of creating works of art, I can create rooms,’ ” Workman recalled. “Interior design is a lot like art, only more structured. I loved the idea of creating art and putting it into the structured environment of an interior space.”
Workman’s career path was now set: She would become an interior designer. She went back to college and earned a second degree—this one in interior design. She moved to Florida, where she gained her initial experience as a design professional working at two different interior design firms over a period of five years.
“I immediately knew I had made the right decision,” Workman said. “This was my calling. I just knew it was right where I belonged.”
Buoyed by positive reaction to her work—she earned major design awards and also had one of her very first projects featured on the cover of a national interiors magazine—Workman formed her own company. Over the past couple of decades, she has developed a stellar reputation for creating beautiful interiors for her mostly residential clientele in such South Florida communities as Miami and Palm Beach.
“I love doing residential work,” she said. “I love interacting with clients. I have wonderful clients. They allow me and trust me to take them somewhere unexpected.”
Over the years, Workman has typically had anywhere from three to five employees. Right now, she has three. “I’m very hands-on,” she told YDR. “I don’t like my business to get any bigger than I can get my arms around.”
Workman has been in the profession long enough to see the role of the interior designer change and expand. “To me, the interior designer helps creates the bones of an interior space and then dresses the bones,” she said.
In doing those two tasks, the interior designer must have a diverse body of knowledge to ensure that a project goes well. “In a way, the interior designer is the captain of a ship,” Workman said. “Decorating is just a small part of the big picture. We design an interior space. We often work with other professionals, such as architects or a general contractor or electrical, HVAC and lighting contractors. The designer is like a cog in the wheel. Everything comes off the plan of design.”
Interior designers also can be classified as “problem solvers,” according to Workman. “We take an interior space and configure it to meet the specific needs of the client. As a designer, you have clients coming to you with all different backgrounds and expectations. Our job is to listen to what they have to say and interpret it for them with a level of sophistication. We take our clients to a place where they are comfortable but could not have gone without us. Otherwise, they could have just walked into a retail store. We expand their possibilities.”
Workman has completed many projects over the years, but her most memorable is one that she is working on now—a 9,000-square-foot penthouse in Miami with a spectacular ocean view. Workman and her team have been working on this project for three years and still have several months to go before it is completed. “It’s fascinating and memorable because of its complexity,” Workman says. “We totally redesigned the interior structure, including the walls, placement of plumbing and lighting. It’s a smart home, so there are a lot of lighting and drapery controls. It also has interior safe rooms for hurricane protection and duplicate cable, electrical and conduit runs.”
The project has encompassed design work for a half-dozen bedrooms and nearly double as many bathrooms as well as a spectacular media room, “his and her” home offices, a file room and a huge security system. Among the many design highlights are a custom-designed dining table, made from a 24-foot long piece of wood imported from Africa for manufacturing in the United States, and a TV cabinet in the master bedroom that rotates 360 degrees so it can be viewed from anywhere that the occupant wishes to sit.
“The designs have been all-encompassing and imaginative,” Workman said. “What’s gratifying is that the client has put great trust in us to create a spectacular space, using the knowledge we have acquired over the years.”
Workman’s design work is both cognizant of trends but also timeless in its appeal. Sophisticated designs and clean lines are representative of the work she provides her clients, but the environment is also unfalteringly inviting and warm.
“My goal is to create an environment that people have an emotional attachment to,” she said. “As a designer, I’m aware of the trends, but I want to be ahead of the trends. I want to see a trend coming, and once it becomes mainstream, I will have already moved on.”