Leilani Barkan graduated from Kent State University with a degree in interior design at a time when the economy—and job openings—were down. “I was trying to stay open to anything,” she says.

She eventually landed an internship that led to a job at Hasenstab Architects (Akron, Ohio), where she got a one-on-one mentorship with the firm’s interior designer, Carla Cremers, and her first exposure to healthcare projects.

Eight years ago, she joined Cleveland Clinic, where she found herself spending more time at the hospital than in the office. Being closer to the front lines with patients gave more meaning to Barkan’s work and strengthened her passion for healthcare design.

Today, she’s involved in more than 150 projects, most recently working on Cleveland Clinic’s first hospital in London, set to open in 2020, and a recently acquired sports medicine clinic in Toronto. She says there are many caregivers at the clinic who still don’t know they have access to an interior designer to help them.

“I love when they find out and realize that they can rely on us,” she says. “We can do the work for them, and they can concentrate on their jobs.”

On industry trends

Thumbs up: I’m so glad that behavioral health design is evolving quickly. Thoughtful care and dollars are being invested in something that has been overlooked for many decades.

Thumbs down: Wall protection. I would like to see other options and materials to help limit the visibility of wall protection but still protect the walls.

You’re a speech writer, too. How did you get involved in that?

I joined Toastmasters about 12 years ago when I was at Hasenstab Architects. I was terrified to get started, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t be at Cleveland Clinic today if it weren’t for Toastmasters.

It gave me tremendous confidence, as well as taught me how to respond quickly on my feet in meetings and in presentations, provide positive and constructive feedback to others, and organize thoughts that help me to deliver a succinct message. Now, I’m learning how to be a much better leader by serving as president of one of the clubs and mentoring others.

What was your first project in healthcare design?

A large addition and renovation for Akron Children’s Hospital. Even though my designs are usually simple, I enjoy designing whimsical and themed environments. The level of detail this project required was over the top.

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

The value of teamwork. It takes so many of the right people working well together to pull off a successful project.

Three words that describe your design aesthetic

1 thoughtful

2 clean

3 straightforward

Three items on your desk

1 a slinky (to remind me to be flexible)

2 small bobble-head turtle

3 small-scale designer chair (I just received it from a supplier and I’m in love with it.)

Outside the office, you’ll likely find me… 

Spending time with family and friends. I’m not home very often. I travel some for work and for Toastmasters, but I just like to be out with others. I recently moved—because of this—to reduce my square footage. When I’m home, I’d rather be enjoying things I like to do than taking care of extra rooms.

Cat or dog?

I have a puppy named Lexi. I try to take her everywhere with me; fortunately, my friends and family are mostly dog people, too.

Coffee or tea?

Tea, but I drink more coffee for some reason.

Morning person or night owl?

Night owl. I sometimes wish I were a morning person because I feel they’re able to get more done.

Beer, wine, or liquor? 

Beer. Right now, I’m into stouts and beers with spices. Cleveland is on the verge of being one of three cities with the most craft breweries. A brewery called Platform, which is right down the street from my place, has my vote for the best—and I can take Lexi there, too!

Fiction or nonfiction?


Favorite …

Quote “Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.” I’ve never been able to find the author of this quote that someone told me 20 years ago, but it has been the most impactful quote to me to date.

Movie character Forrest Gump. I love how unassuming and sweet he is and feel he would never make any judgments against anyone. That’s so refreshing.

Band/musical artist Sarah McLachlan.

Color Orange.

Guilty pleasure Nachos.

Hobby Crafting. I’m currently obsessed with washi tape and want to create a large macramé piece for my living room.

App/website Pinterest. I like to search for ideas for my place and crafts. This past week, I’ve been searching for urban flower garden ideas.

Social media outlet Instagram (My dog walker posts my puppy’s pics).

Ice cream flavor Mint chocolate chip.

Sport Baseball. Go Tribe!

Book “Love,” by Leo Buscaglia.

City to visit I can only narrow this down to one on each side of the country: San Diego and Nashville. Nashville is so unique; it’s its own city. The live music at every place for blocks and blocks also makes me happy. San Diego is picturesque and warm, and has so many amenities. And it’s by the ocean.