In the corner of an open-format office at the end of a row of benched desks (picture cubicles without the dividers), Liz Decker Wilson ’93 sits next to a wall of windows looking out on a large parking lot on the edge of downtown Dallas. Across the wide lot is the former Texas School Book Depository, and on the other side of the building is the historic intersection where former President John F. Kennedy was tragically assassinated.
Overlooking a classic city setting, Wilson has been privy to the slow changes that have shaped downtown Dallas during the past 24 years. She’s seen and, as vice president at a design firm, has even been part of the growth that has paid homage to the city’s history while helping its skyline expand.
Like the city itself, Wilson’s role has drastically changed. She began at Corgan, an architecture and interior design firm specializing in corporate interiors, as an intern and for more than two decades has worked her way far up the ranks.
“My position has significantly changed through the years,” Wilson said. “When I first started, I shared computers with the colleague sitting next to me. I only was able to work in a (computer-aided design) program and check email in the afternoon. Now, I no longer draw in CAD, I no longer spend hours faxing (requests for information) to general contractors, and I no longer share a computer. All employees have laptops now!”
Yet even with the prestigious title of vice president, Wilson inconspicuously sits at the benched desks she shares with her team members rather than in some distant office. The proximity allows even the smallest swivel of office chairs to give way to collaboration.
“The relationships I’ve built with the clients and with the team is one of my favorite parts of this job,” Wilson said. “I think if you have a good relationship with someone and something goes wrong, you’re able to work through those things much more easily because you have that friendship base to fall back on. I always have people here to help me get through it and trust to make sure we’re all going to get it done.”
Wilson’s passion for design began at a young age. Just for fun, she would pick up a notepad and pen, pencil or marker in her spare time and draw house interiors and elevations. When not drawing, she would sometimes wander near homes that were under construction in her neighborhood to better understand space utilization and efficiency.
As Wilson grew older and began considering which college to attend, she knew a huge university setting did not appeal to her.
“I was interested in interior design, and I knew SFA had a good program,” she said. “Then a couple of my friends decided they were going there, too. So that made my decision easier.”
In 1989, Wilson joined the interior design program at SFA, which at the time was housed within the Department of Home Economics, now the School of Human Sciences. According to Dr. Mitzi Perritt, SFA professor of human sciences, the interior design program has been accredited since the early 1980s by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation, previously known as the Foundation for Interior Design Accreditation.
Perritt remembers Wilson as a promising young professional, always on time, alert, very polite and respectful, kind and helpful.
“The interior design faculty is extremely proud of Liz’s rise in the professional world,” Perritt said. “She has always represented our program and SFA so well. Even at her present status at Corgan, she remains the humble and warm person we loved and appreciated when she was in school. She wears her success well.”
Staying a step ahead
The U.S. Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 during Wilson’s four-year university career. Understanding how much the law would drastically alter existing design regulations, coordinators of SFA’s interior design program immediately implemented curriculum to teach ADA policies. Wilson explained how helpful those courses were and how they put her a step ahead of graduates from other universities.
“I remember early in my career being aware of codes like the ADA and Texas Accessibility Standards and feeling comfortable working through code issues in space planning,” Wilson said. “This was due to the quality of professors and instructors in the interior design department. I especially would like to thank Dr. Mitzi Perritt for her support and for pushing me outside my comfort zone. Dr. Perritt and I are still in touch today.
“My education at SFA really helped with the ADA portion because that was just being introduced when I graduated, and I felt really comfortable with that when I started at Corgan,” she added. “Dr. Perritt actually taught the class, and it was really involved, detailed stuff.”
Life at Corgan
As a vice president, the biggest part of Wilson’s current job is to support studio operations, including quality of work, resource allocation, utilization and project profitability.
“My role at Corgan now is a project manager, and I assist in managing the interiors studio in Dallas,” Wilson explained. “Corgan’s Dallas interiors studio employs more than 60 staff members and is growing. Most of the projects I have worked on have been large. Most recently, I worked on the 1.5-million-square-foot State Farm hub in Richardson and Pioneer Natural Resources, which is building a 1.1-million-square-foot facility in Irving.”
Shedding some job responsibilities during her professional advancement has been bittersweet for Wilson, such as having to move away from drawing interiors. Of course, the job flexibility encouraged at Corgan allows her to dip her toes back into non-administrative pools.
“I think what’s unique about Corgan, and something I enjoy, is that even though we have roles or job descriptions, it’s very intermingled,” Wilson said. “Although I don’t draw as much anymore, I could be doing a sketch to hand off to someone else, or I could be writing a proposal. We just work as a team to get everything done, which I think is a great way to work.”
As she plugs away on her computer, the hammering and drilling of ongoing construction work fill the space around her. After years of helping other companies expand operations, Corgan is now experiencing its own growth, as office space is added and existing areas modernized to keep up with the company’s professional successes. The progress Wilson has watched happen across Dallas from her third-story window has finally made its way to her own desk.