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Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Professor Suining Ding’s students prepared design plans for existing spaces. Their work covered retirement homes, family lodging at a hospital and high-rise condos.

Alternative universes

Design majors share visions for real spaces

Design boards completed by IPFW interior design student Nichole Lauterbach hung in the gallery space in the Visual Arts Building as part of the recent senior exhibit. Lauterbach designed space for a Michigan retirement home.

Each year, senior interior design majors at IPFW are faced with a challenge – put together a design plan for a real-world space and present it in a way similar to what might be expected of them in a professional commercial design position.

Some students this year chose to design a business, an educational building, a restaurant and even a church. But others chose residential spaces, says their instructor, Suining Ding.

Their designs were for real places in the Fort Wayne region – and they are required to consult with design professionals or architectural firms who actually designed the spaces.

While the sites did not put the designs into practice, the projects, displayed on campus in the gallery of the Visual Arts Building earlier this month, offer a glimpse into what these interior designers of tomorrow think about how we might want to be living then.

Nichole Lauterbach, 24, Horton, Mich.

When Nichole Lauterbach decided on a redesign for Spring Arbor, a retirement home near where she grew up in Michigan, it was because she had inside information.

Both she and her sister had worked at the facility, and her mom, Tammy Spicer, is currently employed there. Lauterbach says the biggest thing she learned is that residents with limited mobility still wanted to feel connected to the natural environment.

So, she designed an enclosed outdoor area by combining two courtyards – only one of which had been accessible to residents. From inside, the area offered a view of the natural world, and people could safely go “outside” if they wished.

She included a fountain and koi pond for visual interest and a soothing sound and a couple of shuffleboard courts so residents could participate in more active recreation.

Lauterbach also made other interior changes to bring nature indoors, including switching up the layout of some rooms so they could all have windows.

“When I talked to residents, they said they wanted life brought into the facility and more color,” she said. “The biggest thing was all the walls were white.” She says she brought more “earthy” colors to the palette.

Older people appreciate the changes in nature, she says.

“They like to watch the seasons change, the leaves change, and flowers bloom, and when it rains, and the snow,” she says. “They shouldn’t have four walls be their only walls.”

Allison Brackmann, 24, Fort Wayne

Allison Brackmann chose to design a home away from home for families getting extended treatment for an ill child at a hospital.

Her inspiration, she says, was contemporary home design – with many spaces remaining open rather than being boxed off by walls into separate rooms.

“People, when they’re at home, just like to be together. They don’t want to be separate. They want to be in the kitchen and talk to you if you’re in the living room,” she says.

That’s especially the case, she believes, when they’re under the stress of having a sick child. Imagine a mother needing to keep an eye on other children playing while she gets food ready for the family or checks a computer for email from relatives, she says.

Using Parkview Hospital’s Ronald McDonald House as her basis – “It’s actually brand new and it’s very beautiful and not a bad design,” she says – she nonetheless removed some walls in a common area, creating spaces for play, having coffee at a counter, sitting and reading, using a computer preparing meals. She says she wanted to create good lines of sight for that busy and stressed mother.

“It’s more open and flows easily,” she says.

Where walls were important – families’ private bedrooms – she tried to make the space seem more like a home.

“I picked out furniture and nice fabrics, like your own bedroom, rather than just standard hospital dressers – so it would be more like a hotel room than a hospital,” says Brackmann, who was recently hired by Choice Designs Inc. in Fort Wayne.

Venus Lee, 22, Fort Wayne

A native of Shanghai, Taiwan, Venus Lee says she’s accustomed to people living in homes that are very different than those in Fort Wayne. She chose one of the newer additions to the city’s residential scene as her canvas – the downtown Anthony Wayne Building, much of which is being converted to condominiums.

Lee says high-rise living like that building offers is quite common in Taiwan, and she thinks it will become more prevalent in the United States in coming years as space becomes more sparse.

“I’m from a big city where you can’t get a house as a middle-class person,” she says, adding that many residences are in buildings 30 stories tall. “I do think that buildings will go taller here rather than wider. … I think condos will be more of a favorite house style for city people.”

But with that, she says, people will likely develop a hunger for nature, so a major feature of her design is a so-called green roof. She says the landscaped area would allow residents to extend their living space into what she calls “a park-like setting” – with grass, gardens and even trees – without even having to leave their building.

“It helps to save energy because it is cooler in summer,” she says, referring to a green roof’s environmentally friendly qualities. Rainwater and snow could be recycled to keep the space verdant, she says.

Lee says she doesn’t have the engineering expertise to design all the systems needed or to know whether they would be feasible for this particular building. But she says she knows the idea can work from reading about green roofs on residential buildings as close as Chicago.

For the interior, Lee – who worked with IPFW design grad Jessica Miller, now part of Design Collaborative in Fort Wayne, the Anthony Wayne building’s interior design group – stayed green. She used environmentally friendly recycled fabrics and reclaimed wood for finishes.

She also tried to save natural resources by designing a wall that would rotate a big-screen TV so it could be seen from two areas of a condo, the kitchen and the living area.

Residents would conserve natural resources because they wouldn’t need to have two TVs, she says, noting that it might soon be possible for a single TV to serve as phone and computer and even control a condo’s heating and cooling and a home security system.

“I think technology is going to be huge,” she says.

Erin Green, 22, Fort Wayne

Erin Green also was inspired by a job she held at a retirement community, Swiss Village in Berne.

The native of Decatur says she learned a lot about the needs of seniors from the four years she spent there by listening to them. Sometimes, she says, that ability, as much as special features, is what makes for a good design.

“They’re elderly, and they’re generally not afraid to tell you what’s bothering them,” she says with a smile. “I’d hear people say things like, ‘That chair is too hard to get out of. I never use that chair.’ That means it’s basically a waste.”

Her project incorporated ideas that would make it easier for residents to customize their rooms, as well as disability-friendly features that would allow them “to age in place” or face an easy move to a higher level of care if needed.

She didn’t design a lot of built-ins, instead allowing residents to bring furnishings from a previous home or buy something especially suited to them. She put low-pile carpet on floors instead of cold tile for warmth and ease of movement for people who use walkers or a wheelchair and painted walls in warm neutrals, to which she saw seniors favorably respond.

She included lipless, roll-in showers so bathing could be done sitting down in a chair and wouldn’t be an obstacle as a resident got older or lost mobility. Bathroom sinks had roll-under space with storage elsewhere.

“I learned to make it more home-like,” she says. “Keeping it away from your typical hospital décor is the most important thing.”

Green says she also listened to her mother, Ruth Green, who works in the Swiss Village’s activities department. Part of the design is a craft room where work tables are wheelchair-accessible and movable to make for the most flexible space.

She says she closely observed an actual in-progress renovation to develop her ideas.

“Watching the renovation get done there, I could imagine so many things I would do,” she says. “I really learned a lot.”