Nicole Ruffing: Sherwin Williams

Welcome back! Today in The Student Lounge, Trish is joined with Nicole Ruffing, Sherwin Williams designer account executive from Atlanta, Georgia. The two dive into color theory and all Sherwin Williams has to offer for students and design professionals.

Nicole attended the University of Connecticut for political science and began working in construction in Florida before ever attending design school. She happened upon an interior design book which sparked her interest, and she quickly fell in love with the study. Finally, she looked forward to school and assignments!

As a student, she began as a part-time color consultant – giving homeowners color and product recommendations – at Sherwin Williams. She eventually became a store manager, then made her way into color marketing and design. There, she learned about the business aspects that she wasn’t taught in a classroom. Today, Nicole is a designer account executive, providing color tools, resources, and recommendations to clients. She gets to work with designers and make color fun!

The 152-year-old company offers resources for both designers and students through their site. By signing up online, you can receive complimentary paint samples as a professional or student. Events and opportunities for education are always happening at Sherwin Williams, which you can learn more about online.

A student design competition takes place every spring, spanning over about six weeks. There are two contests, residential and commercial. All you must do is submit renderings – hand drawn or digital – with Sherwin Williams colors and a brief description.

When a student graduates, Sherwin Williams will send the full library of their professional tools, including a fan deck, pallet guide, and larger samples. Contact your local designer account executive to receive a free color fan deck today, and listen on for more information about how to access the tools available and find internship opportunities.


  1. Always sample a color before choosing one. They look different from room to room, lighting and depending on if it is dry.
  2. Pick paint colors last when working on a project. They have over 1,500 colors, so there is no shortage of what might work for you!
  3. Find an inspiration piece to use with the app, Colorsnap, to match the colors in the piece.

Professor Phyllis Harbinger

Today we welcome Phyllis Harbinger, a professor at FIT and Principal designer at Design Concepts Interiors. A mentor as a professor and ASID member, Phyllis has all the advice from design strategies to presentation. Trish and Phyllis talk about the importance of hand drafting and drawing, using color, enhancing your portfolio, and ASID.

Who is Phyllis Harbinger?

Phyllis earned her bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University in international relations and marketing, then attended FIT after several years working. She is going into her 20th year as a professor of design at her alma mater, FIT. Find her latest book, The Interior Design Productivity Toolbox, for a checklist of all you need to know when being a designer.

Keep Hand Drafting and Drawing

Hand Drafting needs to stay in schooling, says Phyllis. Drawing to scale is critical to being a designer and should be taught with pen and paper, not a computer. More than for your understanding, clients still want the artisan touch that watercolors, hand drawings, and renderings bring. Let drawings assist your entire design process!

Don’t be Afraid of Color

Many can be scared, but feature walls and pops throughout spaces can take projects to the next level. Jamie Drake, The Prince of Color, and Caleb Anderson from Drake/Anderson and Tobi Fairley are known for experimenting with color and don’t use it quietly in designs. For more about color theory, visit The Munsell Color System to look in depth through charts, tests, and videos.


  • When managing time, always double your budget and leave room for error.
  • Take critiques and record them to learn for the future.
  • Document your work and revise old projects for portfolios.
  • Visit design centers if you can. Seeing things in life is entirely different than through a screen.
  • Most importantly, enjoy the journey! It’s a gift to create every day.

To learn more about the business of interior design and life as a designer after school, visit The Chaise Lounge Podcast.

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Learn more about Phyllis online at, on Instagram, and Facebook. Get her book, The Interior Design Productivity Toolbox, on Wylie or Amazon.

Visit NEWH Scholarships to learn more about scholarship opportunities.

A big shout-out to Porcelanosa and Benjamin Moore for sponsoring The Student Lounge! Click here to learn more.