Interior Design School during a Pandemic

IDIBC asked three graduating students from BC’s CIDA-accredited programs to tell us about their experiences while completing their final years: what are their Capstone projects, any COVID-related challenges and silver linings, and their comments on the virtual classroom.

Please read on, as their stories are diverse and extremely interesting!

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Kristin McPherson, BCIT Bachelor of Interior Design Graduate 2021

As a recent graduate of the BCIT Interior Design Bachelor’s Degree, I applaud the quick solutions put in place to achieve some level of normalcy throughout our last year. The curriculum was modified to allow us to make the most out of our classes while staying safe during Covid-19 restrictions.

For my capstone proposal, I wanted to bring a big idea to a suburban area. Many smaller communities are losing their unique identity in place of massive big-box stores. The deterioration of place makes it incredibly difficult to find your people. As a solution to this problem, I created Motley Market + Place, a cooperative indoor market and gathering space.

My main objectives were:

  • Support the local economy
  • Promote community connection
  • And improve livability.

My strategy to achieve this was:

  • Make it QUALITY: Offer quality goods sold by quality locals
  • Make it ACCESSIBLE: Placed within walking distance of residential neighbourhoods
  • Make it MEMORABLE: Curating surprises throughout the space to leave a lasting imprint

Completing this year transitioning from a classroom setting to an online environment presented many advantages and challenges. Most professionals who have had to make the switch can attest to the benefits. For example, I saved more than two hours a day that was free to put towards my studies and enabled me to maintain part-time work. In addition, the cost savings from the gas, mileage and parking was a bonus.

Of course, there were difficulties. Not having the classroom for peer feedback, critiques, and emotional support was hard, proving how valuable our time together was. However, the silver lining to this lack of cohort was that it pushed me to reach out to professionals for my answers and dig a little deeper. In times of need, every contact I reached out to was more than happy to help out, and I gained an even greater sense of community within our industry.

My favourite saying from my past mentor and biomimicry teacher, Dixie Hudson, is “Adapt to survive.” This moto has been especially appropriate over the past year. Thanks to the savvy adaptations made, I was able to not only survive but thrive.

Image: Rendering from Kristin’s capstone project “Motley Market + Place”

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Cassidy Jarosinski, Wilson School of Design at KPU Graduate 2021

Last year our world changed and, my life felt like it got flipped upside down as I am sure most people can relate too. I am extremely lucky and privileged to not have personally experienced the tragedies of Covid, but I know most people cannot say the same. My personal challenges were more school focused as we all made the switch to an online format during the last stressful month of school. With Covid being declared a pandemic, our class trip abroad was canceled which was extremely disappointing for all of us. I often wonder how different we would be as a class had we been able to go on that trip. The opportunities and life experiences that we missed out on, instead replaced with countless new challenges to navigate in the world of a global pandemic.

Starting online school again in the fall did not feel like a huge hurdle at KPU since a lot of our program’s resources are based online, but collaboration was a whole other challenge. As a key part of the way we learn, get feedback, and generate design ideas, collaboration over a computer screen was challenging and very different to what we were used to. I missed the spontaneous conversations with classmates and the social aspects of school that were lost. It was a hard switch, but I appreciate the teachers working as hard as they did to create a successful online classroom and final year for us.

My introverted tendencies enjoyed being at home and virtual classes meant my days were much more flexible since time was not spent commuting. In the beginning of the school year, I enjoyed the newness of school online but as the year went on and the workload got more intense, the isolation could often be crippling and lonely. We quickly learned that “zoom fatigue” was very real and it got harder to stay motivated. As a class we collectively shared in the struggle but also helped each other all stay positive and navigate the challenges together.

I was extremely lucky to have gotten a job in the industry during my 3rd year which provided invaluable experience and allowed me to learn at work and at school in tandem. I love problem solving and puzzles which makes space planning and schematics fun for me and helped set up my project to be strong from the beginning. My experience working from home was not a terrible one aside from the challenges of being isolated and the skills I had developed throughout the years really helped make my final year successful. I have my teachers, classmates, friends, and family to thank for all the support over the years and as cheesy as it sounds, I truly could not have done it without them.

Speaking to my project a little, my capstone was a boutique hotel and winery in Vancouver that was inspired by the Okanagan wine region. Hospitality design is something I knew I wanted to explore for my capstone and spending time in the Okanagan last summer inspired the idea to bring a taste of it to Vancouver. It functions as a unique experience in downtown Vancouver and a local attraction for those weary to travel outside of the lower mainland in a post-covid world. I have spent summers in the Okanagan since I was young and my capstone was truly a passion project based on a place, I love that is filled with happy memories.

Image: Rendering from Cassidy’s capstone project “Stoneboat”

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Erica Duguay, Vancouver Island University Graduate 2021

Entering the interior design program, I was prepared to work hard in order to carve out a future for myself in the field. While hard work and creativity were certainly part of the curriculum, I was pleasantly surprised to find such a tight knit community of peers and profs alike.

Shifting to online learning during our final year, we were met with the challenge of facing a more independent learning style than any of us had ever experienced before. At times isolating, this newfound self- reliance pushed me to expand my organizational skills and to trust my creative instincts.

Driven by the themes in my final project, this past year has encouraged me to imagine environments which do more for their users in offering a multifaceted approach to work- life balance, community building, and overall well-being. Just as I was seeking balance and connection in my final year of university, I hoped to see that same approach in my city, its workplaces, and its businesses.

While this year has certainly been a challenging time for us all, I’m confident it will have encouraged a future where community and connection hold a greater sense of appreciation, and where creating a flexible, harmonious lifestyle for ourselves and others will result in people who are more productive, happier, and healthier than ever before.

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