Karen Daroff
Photo courtesy of Daroff Design Inc.
Throughout history, women have been an integral element to the progress and success of society. In the office, in the home, and everywhere in between – women have shown their versatility and ability to more than match their male counterparts.
In honor of Women's History Month and as a certified women-owned business, LebaTex has interviewed successful women in the interior design industry that we admire for a special feature. In this series, we will highlight their accomplishments, detail their journeys, and share their professional advice for other women to succeed as well.
For our second feature in the #WomensHistoryMonth Showcase, we spoke with Karen Daroff of Daroff Design + DDI Architects.
Karen Daroff is internationally respected in the global design community as the President and Design Principal at Philadelphia-based Daroff Design Inc. + DDI Architects (DDI). Ms. Daroff is as well recognized for her leadership and commitment to design excellence in hospitality, entertainment, and restaurant design, as she is celebrated for her achievements in corporate workplace, aviation terminals, and museum design.
A Philadelphia native and proud graduate of Moore College of Art, Karen founded Daroff Design Inc. in 1973, where by her tireless energy, formidable presence, and engaging personality, she has assembled and managed an extraordinarily talented team of design professionals over the past 45 years. Karen regularly mentors students and recent graduates aspiring to have careers in design professions. She has been a guest speaker at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Philadelphia University’s Architecture and Design Series, the Rotterdam Film Festival, HD Asia in Hong Kong, (NEOCON X-Chicago), HD Boutique in South Beach Florida, HD Las Vegas, and Temple University’s League for Entrepreneurial Women.
Karen is a recipient of numerous national design awards, including the prestigious “Designer of the Year” award by Contract Magazine, the “Design Giant” award by Interior Design Magazine, and the coveted Hospitality Platinum Circle Hall of Fame award by HD (Hospitality Design magazine). Being a successful female business owner has also won Karen the Pennsylvania Governor’s Top 50 Women in Business Award and recognition by Philadelphia Business Journal as a Top Women Owned Business. Ms. Daroff has served on numerous Boards, and is currently a Board Member of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office.
Karen’s prestigious client list includes Comcast Corporation, NBC Universal, Disney, Universal Studios, Liberty Property, Brandywine Realty Trust, Mohegan Gaming Authority, MGM, Tavistock Development Company, Loews Hotels, Marriott, Hilton, St. Regis, Ritz Carlton, Sony and Viacom, and the Philadelphia International Airport. Notably, Karen’s recent work in Philadelphia is highlighted at the Comcast Center, the new Comcast Technology Center, the Philadelphia Zoo, Terminals D-E, F and the new restaurants at the B Terminal of the Philadelphia International Airport, and right here at Moore College of Art.
We had the pleasure of learning more about Karen through a series of questions about her development as a professional and designer.

MGM National Harbor Spa - Daroff Design

MGM National Harbor Spa - National Harbor, MD. Image courtesy of daroffdesign.com.

Have you always wanted to be an interior designer or did you originally plan a different career?

Growing up in a family of dentists, I suppose that was my assumed career choice by default, but I learned early on that my destined life path would be creativity-driven. I applied to Moore College of Art immediately after high school, and the rest was history.
Not only did I know design was going to be a large part of my future, but I also regard my childhood ability to get along with all types of personalities as a precursor to the marketing and business development I enjoy today as President of my company.

What were the biggest hurdles to start and build your own business?

Starting my own business was risky and stressful, especially being a woman in an industry dominated by men. Maintaining my confidence and ensuring my voice is always heard and my visions always received required severe determination, stamina, and perseverance, but I always overcame the stereotypes I encountered to prove I belong in the Interior Design and Architecture industry.
Unfortunately, the college curriculum didn’t prepare me for some business aspects that I encountered early on in starting my own company, such as how to read a balance sheet or negotiate a contract. After a few bumps along the way, I started the learn how critical a sound financial understanding and reasonable business acumen is in leading a company.

Are there any women in particular that inspired you in your career?

I will always consider my first, and only, boss my forever mentor, Florida Doelp. At the time when I was working under her at the Kling Partnership, Florinda was one of only a handful of female design leads in our industry. Florinda demanded long hours, flawless presentations, and timely results. I gave it my absolute all to go above and beyond for her which I believe immensely benefitted my career. My education gave me the foundation that I needed, but what I learned from Florinda made me the professional I am today.

Do you have any advice for other women who are just starting their career in interior design or looking to grow?

Never let your voice be quieted. Always keep working hard, and never let someone say you can’t succeed. As women, we have gifts and values that make us unique to the business world. Use your intuition and compassion to set yourself apart from competitors, while still exhibiting our strong, ambitious, and courageous nature as females. There’s no path unattainable if you have the passion, work ethic, and unwavering desire to achieve your goals.
On a practical note for all the future designers reading this, in today’s architecture and interior design world, it is extremely important to be technologically literate in the latest software and computer programs. For recent architecture and design graduates coming out of school, it is imperative to be fluent in Revit.