Kate Ahrens is a senior member of Canadian completions and refurbishment business Flying Colours Corp. As one of the directors, Kate puts her extensive aviation experience to good use as lead designer for the expanding business.
When did you become involved in aviation and why?
As I'm part of the family that runs Flying Colours Corp, I've always been surrounded by aviation. I am genuinely passionate about the industry and have huge enthusiasm for the business, which is rewarded by seeing how the company continues to grow and expand internationally.
Did you go to design college?
I took a degree in Business Administration and then completed courses in design through various colleges and institutes in Canada. I also widened my knowledge extensively by studying with designers at Bombardier, one of our biggest clients, so it's a real asset to understand their requirements. I am drawn to the beauty of quality interiors and take pride in creating a luxurious living space for our clients.
© Flying Colours Corp.
How has your career progressed at Flying Colours? Did you start in the design division?
Initially I worked on business development, which gave me real understanding about how the company functions. Then, six years ago, I moved across to the design side. Flying Colours has always had a design division but following increased demand from our clients we've developed this skill-set significantly to fulfil their requirements. We've created a state-of the art design room and a number of dedicated designers work with me on both material and graphical projects. We've developed the capability to offer the full range of design elements on our green Challenger completions, as well as refurbishment projects.
Do clients influence design or are you given free rein?
Our clients always influence the overall design, but with varying degrees of involvement. Some clients will bring a team we work with to create the owner's preferred look, and while the owner usually has the final say, pilots, crew, family members, business colleagues and, of course, spouses often have a say. My role, along with our skilled design team, is to make sure the owners achieve the look and feel they desire while making sure the design is functional. Designs have to be stylish and reflect a high level of elegance, while incorporating the unique requirements of aviation regulations, and practicality. Storage, layout and comfort are paramount when considering all material selections.
What's the strangest design element you've had to incorporate?
Most clients want something unique to their aircraft and we've added many special details, including customised toiletry holders, one-of-a-kind oil paintings and personalised chess boards made out of 16 different types of veneer. We have been asked to use stone and wood on the floor and now offer an innovative product that looks like marble. It is actually a granite veneer, lightweight tile system that is pieced together to create a gorgeous stone floor. It is slip resistant, very durable and exudes elegance on the aircraft.
How do nationalities differ in terms of design preferences?
It is essential we respect and appreciate all our clients' cultural differences. Our expanding Asia client base tend to be more brand influenced and like contemporary style, while Indian clients prefer traditional old-world style and very detailed design. Russian clients prefer bold colours and lavish materials blended with modern designs. Through our extensive network of suppliers we can normally accommodate the client's requirements.
Which part of your role do you enjoy most, and what is the most challenging part?
I enjoy working with our clients on an individual basis, anticipating, developing and producing their dreams of the perfect interior. The design process is very detailed from start to finish, not to mention very time consuming, so it is satisfying to fulfil the customer's vision. The most difficult part of my job is trouble-shooting materials, managing lead-times from external suppliers and the continual focus on making sure we are on time and budget.
What does your average week consist of?
The average week is taken up with meetings. There are in-house meetings focused on maintaining design concept consistency, supplier meetings to review new products and designs and then, of course, client meetings where we ensure their design ideas are achieved. Occasionally I'll attend relevant conferences or go to design workshops.
Where do you see the future for interior design in aircraft ?
The exciting thing about aviation design is there are always new and interesting products coming to market. We have to evaluate them and the only limitation relates to adequate burn certification and requirements to ensure safety. Currently, I'm seeing a greater variety of innovative products within lighting, flooring, veneers and communications-technology implementation. Clients are increasingly demanding in-flight connectivity which matches their ground experience, and Flying Colours continues to develop means of implementing the technology in cost-effective ways while still ensuring the cabin looks beautiful. This is one of the most important elements for the future.