Elsie St. Léger, assistant project manager, interiors, at NYU Langone Health in New York, opens up about switching careers, interior design trends, and her work with IIDA.
Healthcare Design: You had a career in magazine publishing before going back to school to study interior design. Why did you switch paths?
St. Léger: I was dissatisfied with the direction of my editorial career and, frankly, I was bored. I’d always had an interest in design and architecture but didn’t recognize the symptoms until much later. Once I figured out what made me happy, I started searching for a way in through editorial, but it felt passive—design-adjacent rather than truly involved. So I decided to go back to school and get my degree.
What drew you to the healthcare design sector?
I originally wanted to pursue institutional design, namely schools or cultural institutions like museums or theaters, but my first exciting opportunity (just when the recession of 2008-09 was abating for the rest of us) was in healthcare. I leapt at it, and I have no regrets.
What was your first healthcare project?
The first project I was involved in was the new Kimmel Pavilion at NYU Langone Health, which opened its doors in 2018.
What lesson from that project do you still carry with you today?
Communication is vital to any successful design project. The relationship between client and designer can be fraught, but the end results make the discussions, disagreements, and, yes, compromises worth the hassles. Establishing trust and respect early on is key.
Recent healthcare projects you’ve worked on in the last year and your role.
- NYU Langone Ambulatory Care Center East 41st Street, Manhattan, client-side assistant project manager, design.
- NYU Langone Ambulatory Care Center, East 38th Street, Manhattan, client-side assistant project manager, design.
On healthcare interior design trends
Thumbs up: Addressing comfort in the workplace through daylighting/proper artificial light. There’s something invigorating about working in a thoughtfully well-lit space. I suffer from migraines; I know better than most how harmful badly applied lighting can be. I’d rather work in the dark than with lighting that doesn’t suit the space.
You’re also president of the International Interior Design Association’s New York chapter. Why is it important to you to get involved outside the office?
I made the mistake in my last career of not getting involved with any professional organizations. I was unhappy those last few years, but I think involvement would have led me to better opportunities and greater satisfaction (although I think I would’ve left the industry regardless). I knew on my first day of class at New York School of Interior Design that I’d found my tribe, and attending my first IIDA NY event reinforced that. Besides, opportunities for learning often happen outside the office, and IIDA NY still provides some of the best chances for accidental learning. I also wanted to give back to a community that had given me so much. Through IIDA NY, I’ve been able to become more involved in community outreach as well as JEDI work.
An unexpected item on your desk
A pink glass elephant from the Bahamas, given to me by a dear friend. If you knew how much I detest pink, you would marvel at my love of that cute little thing.
Most interesting thing you see outside your home office window
The public school playground across the street. I enjoy listening to kids play during recess. Reminds me to laugh and let go.
Outside the office, we’ll likely find you …
At my local plant store or taking a walk in Central Park.
What’s a new habit or hobby you’ve picked up during the pandemic?
I’ve become a proud plant mama. Not to say I don’t struggle with unhappy plants, but caring for them has brought me unexpected joy and opened me up again to the possibilities of life.
Dog or cat?
Cat. They are proud and loving and smart and beautiful and don’t give a good gosh-darn. They are all the things, as a dear friend would say. I love dogs, too, though.
Coffee or tea?
Don’t like either, which always surprises people. I don’t know why it should.
Morning person or night owl?
I’m becoming a less grumpy morning person (well, kinda) because of my plants (I have to water, fertilize, and check on them). All they want is sun, water, and to provide us with oxygen. But I’ll stay up at night with a good book or for a good conversation any day.
Fiction or nonfiction?
Fiction. Real life is enough, but fiction lets me come at it from another’s perspective or escape altogether.
How did you make your first dollar
Working at Burger King.
First album you ever bought.
“Three Sides Live,” by Genesis, which surprises even me.
Cocktail of choice
Manhattan, with Woodford Reserve bourbon. I think I’ll have one now (it’s after 5 p.m. as I’m writing this).
Your hidden talent
Still figuring that one out.
If you weren’t a designer, you would be …
A photographer, a dancer, or perhaps, still, a tortured writer.
You have an irrational fear of …
Motto “It’s the little things.” Simple but true. So many people don’t get that. I have no idea where that’s from or who said it first.
Movie character I love Mame from the movie “Auntie Mame.” She’s outrageous and full of life. She never gave up and spoke her mind with no fear. We should all be a little like that.
Show to binge watch “Friends” and “The Cosby Show” (despite the mixed feelings).
Weekend activity Resting when I can, and listening to music of all kinds.
Band/musical artist My favorites change all the time but currently listening to pianist Lara Downes’s latest album, “Reflections: Scott Joplin Reconsidered,” and Suzanne Vega’s “An Evening of New York Songs and Stories.”
Guilty pleasure Instagram scrolling. It’s dangerously addictive. Oh, and watching “Rock the Block” on HGTV (I’m rooting for Egypt and Mike).
Social media outlet Instagram.
Snack when you travel Dried fruit.
Ice cream flavor This great blueberry cheesecake from Sugar Hill Creamery, right here in Harlem.
Team New York Yankees! As a proud former Queens resident, I should love the Mets, but I simply cannot.
Book I’ve read “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë so many times.
City to visit Istanbul. It’s so much like New York in its energy and constant movement, but its rich history and architecture combined with the warm hospitality of its denizens won my heart.