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My earliest memory of being interested in art and design was creating room scenes for Barbies and action figures as a kid. I remember loving fabrics, crayons, glitter, and patterns. I also found my mom’s home décor parties and flower shop visits fun and exciting, but never really understood the viability of interior design and architecture as a career until later in my life.

To be honest, at 18, I was focused on just getting a degree as quickly as I could because that is “what you did as an adult.” In a matter of four and a half years, I got my associate’s degree in social work, a bachelor’s in psychology, and a master’s in counseling.

This led me to Communities in Schools, where I provided counseling and social services to K-12 students in at-risk districts. During that time, I was able to develop an understanding and appreciation for the student demographics we were serving. I also gained insight into what pride meant to those districts and their communities.

In my first year developing my curriculum, I realized my groups were heavily focused on art and design. I was trying to provide students opportunities they might not have access to. I wanted to give them what I missed out on growing up, and that was access to museums, fashion, art, and architecture. Looking back, I can appreciate the irony in encouraging students to pursue their creative interests, while I had not done so myself.

Two years later, I decided to focus on my creative side and enrolled in the University of Texas at San Antonio’s interior design program. I spent the next four years loving every moment of that decision. The studios and classes were challenging, but there was no other place I wanted to be. For the first time in years, I felt fulfilled and knew I was exactly where I belonged.

And that’s still how I feel 13 years into my design career.

Most recently, I joined PBK Architects, a firm specializing in the planning and design of K-12 learning environments. The transition to the new firm was easy because of the welcoming leadership and design team. I instantly felt like I was with a family that was supportive, inclusive, professional, and kind.

Interior design renderings are seen at PBK Architects.
Interior design renderings are seen at PBK Architects. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

Having been at PBK for two years now, I can say I have truly found my home. The San Antonio office has specific core beliefs and values that align with my own. They have provided me with great opportunities, allowed me to participate in the development of the office culture, trusted me with design, and most importantly, encouraged me to take the lead in defining my role as a designer at this organization. In the short time I have been there, I have been promoted to Associate 2, been added to the leadership section on the main website, strengthened the interior design department, and helped to further branch out into the furniture side of design.

I work specifically on the interior design of the K-12 and higher education projects, with a focus on creating beautiful and functional spaces that support a variety of teaching and learning styles. My typical day at PBK differs depending on the project and project phase. There are days I am on the road to College Station, Dallas, Huntsville, or Houston for furniture meetings and walkthroughs; but most days are spent in the office, doing furniture selections, interior finish specifications, construction drawings, and redlining renderings for presentations with clients.

My current focus has been helping clients better understand the impact furniture has on a student’s performance and well-being. Whether it is an interior or exterior space, furniture plays an undeniable key role in our daily lives. PBK works hard to ensure that furniture positively impacts all spaces and feels that the right furniture contributes to improved collaboration, education, concentration, morale, and increased productivity. Thankfully, my counseling background and direct work with students have prepared me to speak on the impact of the built environment. 

Joaquin Abrego stands in a classroom he designed for Texas A&M University-San Antonio. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Two specific PBK projects I have found myself personally invested in were the Texas A&M-San Antonio furniture project for the academic and administrative building, and the future work we will do for the South San Antonio Independent School district. I feel a deep and personal connection to both for different reasons. 

The TAMU-SA project was important to me because it was the fourth building on the campus I was able to be a part of. I was on the original team that designed the first three buildings for the San Antonio location, and years later, I was fortunate to be back on their campus doing the furniture for their newest building. Watching the significant growth of the campus and the student population over the years has been such a joy. It has also been beautiful seeing how the first building influenced all the other designs that came after it. Knowing you had the smallest part of their legacy is a humbling and proud moment. 

South San Antonio ISD is also important to me because during my time at Communities in Schools I worked out of four different South San campuses. Knowing I will now be a part of their future projects and heritage brings a smile to my face. I understand their core values, and I respect the work they are doing for their community. I am so excited and proud that South San has brought me full circle. I went from preparing students to go to college, to preparing the college buildings the students will go to. Seems like my tie to education, the community, art, and design are more interwoven than I could have imagined.

Joaquin Abrego

Joaquin Abrego is an interior designer at PBK Architects.