Career Stories

Sterrin O’Shea

Principal SOSA Architects

Interior Designer / Architect

What initially drew you to your current creative field? Did you always envision a career in this discipline?

I knew I wanted to pursue architecture after transition year in school. We had an excellent art teacher who introduced a very creative module with a strong focus on 3D. After that, I took up Art for the Leaving Cert and prepared a portfolio.

What type of formal education or training did you pursue and how has it influenced your career?

I completed a five-year degree course in Architecture at TU Dublin (formerly DIT Bolton Street). This was an intense course with lectures in the morning, studio work in the afternoons, followed by late-night project work at home. I took a year out after the third year to work in the field, which was invaluable as it prepared me for the huge difference between architectural studies and practice. I was lucky enough to spend my fourth year at ENSA Paris, La Villette where I experienced a very different style of teaching. The classes were huge, and we set our own goals and deadlines, which really benefitted me during my thesis year.

How has your career evolved over the years? Did you start in another discipline before transitioning to your current field?

Whilst I have always worked in architecture, the scale and type of work I have been involved in has differed significantly. When I worked for other practices, the projects were typically much larger; universities, schools, theatres, multi-unit housing, etc. My own practice focuses on smaller-scale domestic architecture – new builds, remodelling, and refurbishments of period properties including extensions. The process is much the same, but the team is a lot smaller, and the execution faster.

Were there any pivotal moments, insights, or decisions that significantly impacted your career path?

Setting up my own practice after approximately ten years working with design-led architectural practices was crucial. It allowed flexibility in how I worked and the autonomy to choose the type of work and client.

Another pivotal moment was when I later worked in New York, as it was here that my interest in interior design and furniture design really developed; almost all the projects were fit-out or remodelling. As a result, since returning to Dublin, I have focused more on interior architecture.

Did you have any mentors or significant support systems that helped you in your journey?

I would definitely say the partners/directors of the firms I worked at before setting up on my own were influential. In particular, I learnt so much from Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell of Grafton Architects, especially about the craft of building and the importance of light in enhancing the end-users’ experience. Shelley, in fact, helped me start my own practice by introducing me to my first three clients.

What three skills do you believe are crucial to succeeding in this career?

Creativity: With each project, I try to push boundaries in that I explore new structural solutions and new materials. No two projects are the same – sites, clients, project budgets, and programmes differ, so too should the concepts and solutions.
Being a good people person: Managing clients, consultants, builders, tradespeople, suppliers, etc. Architecture is very collaborative, and I have learnt the importance of a good design team for the success of a project.
Versatility: Being able to adapt easily; things change on site at short notice due to unforeseen site and building conditions, budget constraints, time pressures, etc. You have to respond promptly and not be too precious.

How have you continued to develop your skills throughout your career?

There is no substitute for experience. I have definitely learnt by doing and learnt from mistakes. Now that my focus is more on interior architecture, I have recently completed courses in lighting design, colour consultancy, and soon, sustainability in interior design.

What are some of the highlights or most satisfying moments of your career so far?

Designing and renovating my own home was thought to be a satisfying moment but it turned out to be a lot harder to make decisions for my own project. However, I am now much more understanding of how stressful the building process can be for my clients.
Having projects commended or being published is always a highlight because it’s recognition for the years of work that went in from that first sketch to handing over the keys.

How has your industry changed since you started, and how have you adapted?

Ireland has changed so much since I graduated; there is a lot more opportunity with regard to the scale of projects and budgets. Building regulations have changed significantly, although more onerous, the focus on sustainability, energy efficiency, and accessibility is very positive.

The way we work has also changed so much; when I first started, we produced drawings by hand, so 2D and 3D CAD has changed productivity massively. Architecture is now a lot more tangible to the general public thanks to TV programmes such as Grand Designs, Room to Improve, and Home of the Year.

Also, social media has transformed how we interact with clients, although I do find they can be overwhelmed and overly influenced by ideas from Pinterest and Instagram, etc.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in your field?

Work experience – Seek out the firms you really admire and keep trying them for a job or internship.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) – The building and planning regulations change often in architecture, so it’s crucial to stay up to date by attending courses or reading articles.
Travel – Try and visit the buildings you have read and learned about.
Design fairs – travel to international furniture fairs for inspiration on interiors/furniture design. Keep the design juices flowing!

How important has networking or being part of a professional community been in your career?

I find it essential to network with other architects and designers in all fields, not just architecture. It is so important to be able to bounce ideas or discuss scenarios with like-minded people. Membership with the Institutes (RIAI, IDI, and AI) has also been very helpful resources offering professional support with the benefit of interaction with others in the field.