Interior Design Students Focus on the Bigger Picture in Community-Focused Project

Posted February 27, 2017 in Student, News Bites, Interior Design

In the Global Issues in Interior Design course, students in the Interior Design program at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) experience firsthand the power of design to help solve real-world challenges.

A recent project in the course connected students to an exploration of gentrification through Dwelling Place, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based nonprofit focused on revitalizing neighborhoods through affordable housing and other support services. With its Ferguson Apartments, home to 100 residents, slated to be renovated in the next 2-4 years, the organization tapped KCAD students to help envision a redesign of the building’s common meeting space. The aim of project was to ideate design concepts that could meet the needs of residents while enhancing the ability of Dwelling Place to interface with the community at-large.

Design drawing from Interior Design studentAn initial sktech of one of the design concepts created by Interior Design students Elise Boersema, Elizabeth Heinz, Molly Kalep, Amanda Klauer, Betsy Kort, Ashley Newtown, and Anastasia Wilder

“We started by talking with Dwelling Place about gentrification and the effect it has on a city’s ability to be inclusive. I wanted the students to understand that good design is not exclusive – it can and should benefit everyone,” said Assistant Professor and Interior Design Program Chair Tara McCrackin. “The question became, how can design help improve the living experience of residents while also framing affordable housing as an asset to a city’s growth and development?”

In working for this client, the students connected directly with the end users of the space they were designing. Through casual conversations with residents, the students came to a deeper understanding of their emotional and functional needs. The tangibility of the project resonated with Interior Design student Betsy Kort and her classmates.

“When it’s a real client and you’re really making a difference in people lives, it means more than just designing something,” she said.

renderings by Interior Design studentsThe concept renderings the students presented included proposed furniture designs, furniture finishes, carpet, and wall colors. 

Some residents, for instance, requested spaces conducive to one-on-one and group interaction, while others desired aesthetic attributes promoting serenity, safety, openness, and ownership.

“The residents welcomed us into their space and we were very respectful of that. It made the project very real,” said Interior Design student Elise Boersma. “We realized it wasn’t just about the functionality of the space; there was a deeper human level we had to consider too.”  

The students also had to consider the needs of Dwelling Place. The organization intends the redesigned common space to also be used periodically for hosting community outreach events, and there was a strong desire for design that could counteract the misconception that low-income housing is unsafe or unwelcoming to other aspects of the community. 

“Dwelling Place had a lot of surprising questions too, and that facilitated a really robust conversation,” said Interior Design student Ashley Newton. “Balancing both the human needs of the residents and the business and social needs of the organization was very interesting.”

Once they digested the feedback, the students set about generating individual design layouts before coming back together to converge them into two final concepts that were presented to a group of Dwelling Place board members and staff in a feedback session.

rendering by Interior Design students(above and below): Renderings of the Urban Oasis concept presented by the students, including design of both interior and exterior spaces. 

rendering by Interior Design students

“It was nice to get completely different opinions on how Dwelling Place handles their clientele and how they view their space,” said Interior Design student Elizabeth Heinz. “They were very impressed at the depth that we went to during the design process.”

rendering by Interior Design students(above and below): Renderings of the interior and exterior of the Cozy Reatreat concept presented by the students. 

rendering by Interior Design students

Moving forward, Dwelling Place will roll the resident feedback and design concepts generated by the KCAD students into ongoing efforts to plan for the eventual renovation of Ferguson Apartments. For the students, the experience opened up design possibilities they’re now eager to explore further.

“This project showed us how encouraging people to self-actualize can have a resounding effect on a community,” said Newton. “Even small-scale steps like this give us a lasting impression of how this work can affect the world at-large.”


Learn more about KCAD’s Interior Design program at