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 informed."

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 Ms. Nettles.

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," she says.

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 says.

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."


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