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Meet the Matter Team: Soraya Gallego

Published: June 11, 2018  

Interior design isn’t merely a decorative art, it takes high levels of technical expertise to execute a space. The decor is often just the final layer of a multi-disciplinary process that requires careful considerations for layout, function and form.

“We refer to ourselves as a tripod,” says Matter Planning + Design principal Soraya Gallegos. “My leg is about space planning, drawings, architecture and the structure of the building. I wrap a layer of feng shui into that technical work, paying close attention to how energy flows throughout.”

With more than 30 years executing design, planning, construction management and project management on large-scale commercial and marine projects for her own firm in Chicago, Matter Principal Soraya Gallego brings a fresh perspective to her new home at Matter Planning + Design.

Below, our newest principal shares more about her work, her vision and her inspiration.

Tell us about your journey to where you are today.

Interior design was my chosen career out of the gate. I’m the youngest of seven in a highly creative family. Watching everyone ahead of me influenced me lot. It was just a natural progression.

Following interior design school, I moved to San Francisco to work for a firm that I often refer to as “Design Bootcamp” because it was a crash course in interiors. The company spent a lot of time on historical renovations on one hand and a lot of government contract work on the other. It was a very rigid environment with a lot of regulations and rules to follow. My brain just tried to swallow as much information as it possibly could.

What was the moment when you decided to start your own design firm?

After San Francisco, I moved to Chicago to continue in commercial work. Truly I never intended to start my own business, but when my daughter was born I was working with a big client that wasn’t willing to let me go be a mom. They followed me when I left the firm, and that started everything.

Being a young designer and a new mom and a business owner was scary. I had a tremendous amount of responsibility, but I loved every minute of it.

What do you enjoy the most about your work today?

Today, I can sit back and relax into the creative process and focus on design because I have done enough installations and enough space planning to know what to do every time. I don’t have to worry about whether or not something will work. That leaves room to be really creative and think outside the box.

What is the project you are most proud of?

If I stood on a bridge and looked at all of the projects below, the passenger cruise boats would shine the brightest. They came along at the perfect time when I wanted a new challenge.

At first, it was intimidating to design these ships. There were very strict codes and parameters. I lay awake at night asking myself how I could be creative within all of the limitations.

Ultimately, everything fell into place. Many tears were shed. There were many sleepless nights. But it made me a much better designer.

You spent the majority of your career as a commercial designer, but recently joined Matter, a firm that balances both commercial and residential. What are the biggest differences and similarities?

Honestly, I was surprised at how similar residential and commercial design are in terms of process. I just follow my instincts and follow the method I’ve perfected over the years.

From a process standpoint they are similar, but from just about every other aspect, commercial design is very different from residential. There are intense schedules with no leeway, water tight budgets and extremely demanding clients. Residential is more fluid. By no means is it less demanding, but you do have more creative license.

What is surprising about you?

I’m an incredibly adventurous person. Sixteen years ago, I eloped with a circus performer. He’s Columbian and I fell in love with him when my daughter and I were taking flying trapeze classes at the school where he worked.

Meeting him brought out a part of me that I didn’t know existed. He didn’t know anything about corporate America and the schedules, budgets and accountability I lived every day. He was so opposite, so colorful.

3 things you can’t live without?

Because I’m married to a circus performer, I’m always promoting “flying” as a very liberating experience and it’s definitely something I cannot live without.

I love my dogs, Rocky and Luna. They are my babies!

I have a beautiful adult daughter named Simonne who I’m so proud of.