Parterre Designer Conversation Series: Melissa Banko


The next edition of the Parterre Designer Conversation Series takes us to Marietta, Georgia, the home of Banko Design. Melissa Banko is the Principal and Founder of the design firm she started almost five years ago, but she has been working in the world of design for nearly 13 years. The Banko studio portfolio primarily encompasses senior living, multi-family, boutique hospitality, and healthcare.

Melissa took the time to speak with us about interior design, her process, industry trends, and where she finds inspiration.

Parterre: What made you initially want to pursue interior design? And what do you enjoy most about being a designer?

Melissa Banko: I think interior design chose me. I was actually a marketing and business relations major in college and was so bored, but I had always enjoyed art, interior architecture, and I loved helping friends with residential renovations. When you’re that age you have to look at yourself and say, “I’m going to be doing whatever job I choose for the rest of my life, so I better love what I do.” So instead of having design as a hobby I decided to turn it into a career.

The thing I enjoy the most about design is watching the end user enjoy a space that is well designed. I enjoy the end product and watching other people enjoy it and interacting in it. These projects are our babies that we work on for years, and then we get to watch people in the space that’s well programmed and designed, which is really rewarding.

Parterre: What do you feel has changed the most about the design industry since you first became a designer (or were in school to become a designer)?

MB: Materials. Today there’s a wider breadth of materials to choose from, at many different price points, so I think materials as a whole has changed. LVT wasn’t really popular when I started, but it has come a long way and really changed the way we look at hard surface flooring. It used to be hard tile and carpet were the standard in the commercial world, but having good-looking LVT has changed the game. It’s been lovely to watch those things improve from a technical standpoint, economic standpoint, and green standpoint.

Parterre: Where do you find inspiration for interior design? Or, what inspires you?

MB: I would say two things. The number one thing is people – I love people, I love people interacting, so that’s a huge inspiration for me. I ask myself how can I make that process better and easier? We look at that a lot when planning a space – it’s not about the building itself but the people that will be in it.

I also find a lot of it from travel and where our communities are. We take a deep dive into every project to learn more about the community it’s going in, the culture it needs to fold into, so we find a lot of inspiration just from how dramatically different our world is depending on where you are in it.

Parterre: In your work environment, what helps you get creative or be inspired to design? (i.e. soft music, a comfortable space to work in like a couch, natural lighting)

MB: I can’t design when it’s quiet. I thrive when the studio is buzzing. The way our studio is set up is it’s like one big room and we work in a “desking” setup. I love when the designers are buzzing and collaborating and when music is playing. Our studio is always playing music, it’s very collaborative and people are always chatting. That’s the best space for me — one that always has energy and activity in it which helps me stay energized.

Parterre: What is one thing you need on your desk when working?

MB: Music.

Parterre: What is your favorite design trend that you’ve seen in the industry recently?

MB: There has been a revival of color that has come back. There was this phase of gray everything, muted everything, neutral everything. I think why I’m drawn to this trend now is because it’s such a departure from what we were designing a few years ago. You see these gorgeous saturated jewel tones mixed with pastels — that has been really fun to play with. The thing I’m enjoying the most is having these really bold colors come back and trend, which has just been really fun to design around.

Parterre: Are there any past trends you wish would make a comeback?

MB: I really enjoy watching how trends change and evolve over time. Right now the ’80s are having a moment and it’s fun to see how that’s playing out in both interior design and fashion design. Trends are cyclical so I enjoy identifying the trends as they come back in to fashion, updating them to make them feel fresh and incorporating them into the spaces we design.

Parterre: Can you tell us about a recent project you’ve enjoyed being a part of? What drew you to this project?

MB: We are working on a project in the southeast United States. A lot of developers and owners have been talking about intergenerational design, so universally designing a property for both seniors and millennials. This project is blending the two really brilliantly and we’re designing some really cool amenities that I’m really excited about.

I think the best way to bring people together is to have a well-programmed space that makes it feel organic for them to come together, and I love it that it will be people of all ages. That is what keeps us all vibrant and well-rounded is when all ages come together.

Parterre: What is a common design challenge you see when designing different spaces and how do you overcome it?

MB: Our biggest design challenge is cost. What we have to do is budget up front, so our owners and general contractors have a realistic snapshot of what the budget is. It’s our job as designers to be able to get the best product at the best price. Here at Banko, we’re a little different because we purchase a lot of our own flooring so that what we show our owner in design is what they actually get on the job. We will negotiate and do our very best to work with our vendors and manufacturers to get the best price possible.

Parterre: What design element do you typically consider first when designing a space and why? For instance, some start with the furnishings or others may start with the flooring design.

MB: I would say that what the team typically gravitates to first is an overall palette. So, it might not just be flooring and paint, it’s mood images and color and what we want the general aesthetic to be. And then from a materials standpoint it is definitely flooring. From there we build the walls and ceilings around that because we’re more limited with flooring than any other materials – we’ll pull the flooring material first and design around that.

Parterre: What is your experience with using Parterre LVT or general opinion on luxury vinyl? And where do you see LVT the most (i.e. a particular industry)?

MB: What I dig about Parterre is that they’re all LVT, all day long, every day. It feels like we’re going to a specialist, and we know our rep knows that product and pricing inside and out. It’s nice to have a company that’s focusing on just LVT.

Our rep has been amazing. She has helped us work through budgetary restraint, design questions, and customization questions. Overall, it’s just been a really pleasant process with the company on all those fronts.

Parterre: What is your go-to product or a general design element that you try to incorporate into projects?

MB: We have no signature, and that’s on purpose. I strive to create a portfolio with our team that is very diverse. We on purpose don’t like to repeat design elements over and over again because we want every property to be completely curated and completely custom, so no property ever looks like another property. A project in Texas should look very different from a project in Connecticut. We try to make them dramatically different, which is the fun and the challenge of every project.

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