Student Work


On Saturday afternoon I received the most beautiful bouquet of flowers and hand written note I've ever received.  I was completely surprised and touched to learn that they were from a design student who I had mentored this past school year.  When I say mentor I use the term loosely, she was well on her way with her final project before we even met for the first time.  Seeing what she had already accomplished and the direction she was taking was impressive,,,the complexity of the project she had taken on was ambitious and would be a challenge for an experienced professional let alone a student....but she didn't seem intimidated in the least.

Midway thru this semester Lisiane was hitting a road block trying to define and grasp 'concepts' and how to successfully develop one for this design project.   Co-oincidently I remember it being the one thing I had the hardest time understanding when I was in school too so I really related to where she was coming from.  Of course now its something I fully understand on a level that's very intuitive - I believe a design concept stems from your clients lifestyle values (or business/product brand philosophy) and is developed and implemented thru your point of view as a designer.  As a student you really haven't developed a strong point of view yet and your client is often completely hypothetical so hence the road block.  I tried my best, at length, to explain this very abstract creative thing we call 'concepts' to her by relating it to real life examples that I knew she could relate to, both good ones and bad ones.   (possibly a future blog post?)

Anyways, I was thrilled to hear Lisiane pulled her project together with excellent feedback.  As she wrote to me "your ability to explain things so clearly when my instructors couldn't is what helped me pull the project together".  There are many abstract aspects of the design process that are difficult to grasp in classroom situations, so mentoring or interning with an experienced professional is a really important part of the learning process.

So now here she is thanking me for helping her and here I was feeling like I hadn't really been much of a mentor to her at all.  I realize now though that by just simply being available to listen and provide some practical advice and guidance can make a world of difference to their otherwise purely academic approach.  I learned from this experience that as professional it doesn't take much time to share some advice and encouragement with students so if you are ever in a position to be able to mentor one I hope you embrace the opportunity to share your knowledge and point of view and enjoy how rewarding it can be.   It feels great to receive notes like this..."Your warm and approachable personality has put to rest any misconceptions I've had about Designers".   

Congratulations to you Lisiane, I'm so happy to have been a teeny tiny part of what I know will become a very successful career for you as an Interior Designer.  Thank you for taking the time to make such a thoughtful gesture, you're note was heartwarming and the flowers are simply beautiful!

Student Work: Lisiane D'Amico

Renderring by student Lisiane D'Amico

I often receive resumes and portfolio's from design student's looking for internship placement or employment opportunities.  Even though I can't hire them all, I'm always impressed at the quality of work being done at the student level - it seems to just get better and better.  A result of new technologies and all the wonderful illustration capabilities of programs like Photoshop, AutoCad and Sketchup which make their projects's look so professional.  Also I think the ability to source product, material and research on the internet has provided them with a wealth of resources at their fingertips.  Not to mention, having access to online trade magazines and website portfolios and blogs of the world's best designers - none of this existed when I was a design student.

In Ontario recent changes to regulations in the Interior Design industry associations has resulted in all accredited school programs becoming 4 year degree programs instead of 3 year diploma programs or 4 year degree programs.   Following the 4 year degree, an additional 3 year internship is required prior to being able to write the NCIDQ exams, and allowing registered status at the provincial association level.    Knowing first hand the skills and knowledge that's acquired thru all these years of school and hands-on work experience, it truly amazes me when I regularly hear of people who decided to become an 'interior designer', just like that, with no formal training or related work experience.  But the problem is the profession of Interior Design is often misrepresented and confused with the practice of Interior Decorating particularly as it relates to the field of residential design.  But that's a whole 'nother topic of heated discussion that I'm not going to get into here!  

Unfortunately even many students who decide to enroll in post secondary interior design programs are not quite prepared for what a career in this field involves,,,,,and there's a high ratio of drop-outs after the first year.  In my own class, we went from 30+ to less than 12 at graduation.

Most graduates of Interior Design programs go on to work in fields not related to residential, the majority of graduates go on to specialize in Healthcare, Hospitality, Corporate or Retail environments which is where most of the jobs are whether its with small local firms or large international companies like HOK.  Its rare actually that design students focus on residential design during their 3 or 4 year program and in fact the instructors discourage students from this so they can create a diverse portfolio to take with them into the workforce.

So instead of archiving all these wonderful student portfolio's that I receive, I thought I'd share some of my favorite student projects here.  The first student is Lisiane D'Amico, she's a graduate of Ryerson's Architectural Sciences program and has gone on to pursue her passsion for interior design where she feels she could explore the more creative side of architecture.  She's currently a 2nd year student at Sheridan College's Interior Design program, I first met her thru this blog and invited her to send me samples of some of her work.  I've chosen what was her first residential project at Sheridan, the Campbell-Harding Residence which she describes as "Modern-Mission".

Ground Floor Plan
For the assingment, Lisiane was provided a complete client profile (bio) including all their design requirements along with a base plan of a house.  She was required to design all the interior partitions, select all the material finishes, design the lighting and electrical layouts and select all the furnishings and fixtures.  The project was to be designed in a style that blended both owners love for modern and mission design styles.
For Lisiane's first ever attempt at a residential plan, I think the layout works well and she's paid great attention to sight lines and maximized window locations.  If she were working on this project in my office I'd suggest exploring a U-shaped kitchen layout as an option to the small island and I'd like to alleviate some of the door traffic at the bottom of the stairs.

Second Floor Plan
The most challenging aspect of any project is the partition layout,, particularly figuring out where to put the stairs because they dictate how both floors will flow.  It can take years of experience and even personal experience to understand how the location of walls and doors will effect the flow and efficiency of a house.  On the second floor here my only observation again is the congestion of doors at the top of the stairs, and if she were working on this in my office, I might suggest simply reversing the stair direction, up is down, down is up and see how that develops.
When working with residential clients we design things very specific or particular to that client's wants, even if we don't think its the best solution,,,with commercial design its more about designing for the masses, its all about universal design, averages, typicals, and social behaviours.  In the master bedroom, this is an area that could be designed dozens of different ways and work equally well depending on that particular homeowners lifestyle.  In my experience, I find that putting the closet and the dressing area next to each other works best for most clients, so in this case I would also present an option to the client that places both the walkin closet and ensuite on the right side keeping the bedroom area on the left.  This keeps your dressing and grooming areas side by side without having to walk from one side of the bedroom to another.

I think her furniture selections, millwork and cabinetry detailing is fantastic!

I love the photogallery on the tall staircase wall!  This was one of Lisiane favorite elements too.

The Kitchen
I think her kitchen detailing and material selections are excellent too, I love a sink under a window!

Sample Board
Sample boards for concept presentation purposes are tricky.  They can be totally misleading if the materials aren't visually represented in correct proportion to how they'll be used in the space and its difficult for most people to visualize how colour or fabrics will actually really read in application.  In this case, I think Lisiane's done a wonderful job in not only selecting the materials and furnishings but in presenting them on a board.  I can see with the mix of dark woods and contrasting light materials this is a modern interpretation.

Boards like this take an enormous amount of time to prepare, in real life I used to do hundreds of these when I worked with commercial clients but for residential,,,,,,not so much.  Truthfully if your presenting concepts or options to clients there's no point in gluing this stuff down because it'll be deleted or changed before the glue has time to dry, and once things have been approved and agreed upon, then there's not much point in pasting it all on a board, it simply not a good use of time.  I make a simple site board with materials on it and file the rest away in the project binder.  But students are required to do these so they can present their project to the class - just like in commercial projects designers have to present to a committe or board.

The most interesting part of this project requirement for me was that the students weren't given a budget to work with.  I think that's so unfortunate because that really is the key variable that drives the decision making process and what drives innovation throughout a project.  A huge part of defining whether a design solution is successful or not is how the designer utilized the budget. 

I had the opportunity to discuss with Lisiane what she was looking forward to focusing on in the upcoming school year  and I think she nailed two of the biggest issues I've always felt have been ignored at the classroom level - budgets and business.  Its critical that students learn how to work with a budget and learn the business side of the profession as these are pivitol aspects to success.   Next year she's required to do a two week student placement so if any designers out there are interesting in having Lisiane work with you for a couple of weeks you can email her at

Thanks so much Lisiane for sharing your project with me - your presentation and renderring skills are outstanding and I look forward to posting another one of your projects soon.

If you're a student and have a project you think I'd like  -  email it to me and I might feature it here!