Kara Freihoefer’s career started off in interior design before an assignment to conduct a post-occupancy evaluation for an inpatient unit awakened her natural curiosity and love of research. Now, as director of research at HGA, she spends her days studying workflows, discovering anomalies in datasets, and interviewing subjects. Outside the office, she prefers to head to the nearest trail or perfect homemade jam recipes.

What drew you to a career in interior design?

I took a drafting class in high school and knew immediately that the profession was a perfect blend of math, creativity, and design to suit my interests. My healthcare focus came later. When I started at HGA as a graduate intern, I was assigned to conduct a post-occupancy evaluation of a hospital. Eventually, I was offered a full-time position as a research specialist for the healthcare practice.

What lesson did you learn on that first project that you still carry with you today?

I learned how fast, agile, and nimble nurses really are. We design for standard workflows, but nurses operate to max efficiency and multitask every opportunity they can.

What do you like most about conducting research?

There’s so much I love: data analyses, discovering anomalies in a dataset, interviewing, writing, etc. I’m curious, and research allows me to investigate inquiries in a systematic and reliable way.

Three unexpected items on your desk:

1 my son’s latest craft creation
2 massage ball to roll out my feet when standing at my desk
3 a scented, stress-relief candle

Outside the office, we’d likely find you …

On the local trails running, biking, or walking.

Favorite city to visit

London. I’m fascinated with the blend of historical and modern architecture, royalty, and culture.

What’s a new hobby you’ve picked up since the coronavirus pandemic?

How to make homemade strawberry and raspberry jam with fruit grown from our garden. Yum!

Three healthcare projects you’ve worked on in the last year and your role
1 Trinity Health of New England, Saint Mary’s Hospital, emergency department renovation, principal investigator and design researcher
2 STAAT MODTM Strategic, Temporary, Acuity-adaptable Treatment modular solution, evidence-based design adviser
3 SSM Health-Dean Medical Group, Fish Hatchery Campus redevelopment, principal investigator and design researcher

Morning person or night owl?

Morning all the way. My brain doesn’t function after 9 p.m.

Coffee or tea?

Tea, hot and cold.

How did you make your first dollar?

Babysitting my nieces during the summer, and now one of them is babysitting my kids!

Your hidden talent?

Foosball. My brother and I got a foosball table for Christmas when we were younger, and we perfected our skills through “friendly” competition.

Cocktail of choice?

Mojito, with mint from our garden.

Your go-to karaoke song?

“Dancing Queen” by Abba (dedicated to my father, who played Abba on the house speakers during my childhood, so now I know every word to every song).

If you weren’t a researcher, you would be …

Depends on the day, but a cross-country coach, small business owner, or a teacher/professor.