Arlene Critzos Interior Concepts
For Arlene Critzos,
the globe is just a neighborhood. Her Annapolis company is an
established design firm with a string of satisfied clients reaching
from Surrey, England, to mainland China and back home to New York,
Washington, D.C., and Annapolis.
The international scope of Interior Concepts truly reflects the
life experiences of its owner. Arlene was born in New York but
spent a decade of her youth in Europe. She studied in the United
States at Mt. Vernon College and Georgetown University and then
returned overseas for a one-year comprehensive study in decorative
arts at schools in London, Holland, Rome and Paris. The "European
classics" formed Arlene's style of design because that is what
she lived with and that is what she studied.
After design school, Arlene worked for other designers for a short
time before deciding, at age 23, to open her own business. Contacts
in the furniture manufacturing industry advised her that Old Town
Alexandria, where she was living at the time, already had too
many designers. She should go to a town that had none, like Gaithersburg
or Annapolis. Needless to say, the charm and beauty of Annapolis
made the decision an easy one.
"Annapolis is great," says Arlene. "It is sort of a chameleon.
It brings Washingtonians; it brings sailors from around the world;
it brings the military structure. It has the relaxation of the
water but so many of its people are uprooted and brought here
because they want to live in this sanctuary. They have come here
to nest, and we are chosen, in many cases, to create their living
habitat. So, it is a town that is open to good design."
Interior Concepts Collection on Main Street specializes in turn-key,
large scale, architecturally-oriented projects. A sister company,
Il Collezione at Annapolis Harbour Center, is geared more to piecemeal
design, parts of rooms, segmented spaces where the client wants
more hands on. The large projects begin with the architecture---moving
walls, creating ceilings---not decorating, but designing. The
decorating comes later, from the furnishings and the lighting
to the pillows, trash cans and ash trays.
Through the years, one of the company's challenges has been balancing
the very large projects with the not-so-large and making sure
that the smaller is given equal time on the board. "We have learned
how many large jobs we will take so that we can be fair to all
the others which, from a business point of view, are better than
having all of your eggs in one big project," Arlene says.
Interior Concepts has done hotel interiors in China, major spaces
in the Middle East, palaces in England. For Interior Concepts,
one good job has led to another. Visitors from Jordan were impressed
with a job they saw in Washington. From there, the company was
propelled into some embassy work, and so on. "They just call and
say, 'I saw your job in London...'" says Arlene. "The globe is
really just a neighborhood. [However], we have done and are doing
some fabulous projects right here."
Georgie Fisher of Annapolis found Arlene to be extremely knowledgeable
in her field. "She is very astute," says Ms. Fisher. "She definitely
knows periods and architectural styles. She is extremely well
The most interesting projects for Arlene are the ones that bring
personality with them. A client may design an entire room around
Mother's sideboard or Grandfather's portrait. In the Fisher residence,
one room is devoted to genealogy and features many old family
portraits on the walls. Another room is designed around Ms. Fisher's
quilting. Arlene decorated that room in whimsical fabrics that
were in keeping with the style of the house as well as fitting
the personality of the individual.
Selma Nettles wanted an island theme for her beach house in North
Carolina. Arlene found a very large, distressed, antique table
for the entry. The client was extremely pleased with the appropriateness
of her choices and the casualness of the furniture. "The thing
that makes Arlene special is her ability to read people and to
adapt what they want to the constraints that the building imposes
or that the situation imposes or that the budget imposes," says
The different personalities of the clients as reflected in the
diversity of the work are major benefits for Arlene. "It's not
just bedrooms...It's not just English...No two interiors are the
same and they shouldn't be because no two people are the same,"
Interior Concepts' seemingly endless cache of resources continues
to amaze the clients. Selma Nettles marvels at the pair of antique
swords, the Egyptian desk, the zinc metal church that Arlene came
up with. "I wish I knew where she finds these things," Ms. Nettles
After what is often a lengthy project, Arlene enjoys seeing the
beauty of the end product and knowing that the client is pleased.
"It makes you feel good," she says. "I am blessed with the type
of career where people want to come to us. They are excited about
what they are hiring us for, so it all has positive roots.
"This is one of the only fields of work that I can think of where
someone opens their checkbook to you and asks you to tell them
how to spend their money," says Arlene. "It is a financially responsible
job and we take that pretty seriously. We are truly committed
to service and professionalism in a field that has a reputation
for being a little flighty."
Arlene finds herself personally involved in about 80 percent of
the company's projects and, after 25 years in business, has no
plans for slowing down. "I'll probably continue doing interiors
until I die," she says. "It's not just work for me. It's my soul."