Partnership pays off for Hawaii designers


POSTED: Friday, March 13, 2009

Most of the interior design students were drawn to Matt Lorenz like a magnet at the Gentry Pacific Center in January, star-struck by the Bravo “;Top Design”; Season 1 winner. But Caroline Haschert seized the opportunity to approach the real stars of the evening: mentors on hand to celebrate RealWorld DesignWeek.

Not that she wasn't in awe of Lorenz herself.

“;I loved how he talked about the show and how he handled the stressful situations,”; said Haschert, a Kauai resident who is originally from Germany. “;He came across very humble but so true and rich, so full of knowledge.”;

It was there that the Chaminade student met designers Jessica Holley and Jamie Josina of Peter Vincent Architects, a company she had at that point only dreamed of working for. And while the RealWorld DesignWeek celebrity reception provided a platform for networking, it was her tenacity that set her future in motion. She had mailed the prestigious firm a resume two weeks prior, made a cold visit to their office to put a face to her file the week before, met them that evening by serendipity or fate, and the next day “;they called to say I got an internship.”;

“;I got really lucky that I had a chance to meet them there and was surprised in the best way ever to get the job,”; she said last week.

Lorenz's visit was the reward given the Hawaii Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers for putting together the most student-mentor partnerships in a contest sponsored last fall by the national ASID.

“;I only wish something like this had been around when I was starting out as a designer,”; Lorenz said. “;This encourages relationships between interior design students and their role models ... so that tomorrow's designers can better prepare for their careers.”;

Deborah Lowry, internship coordinator for Chaminade's interior design program and the ASID student adviser, said, “;Out of 48 chapters, Hawaii's ASID had the most professionals, student and industry partners who participated in the program.”; Lowry worked feverishly to get local designers on board, sending e-mails and making phone calls. “;It was a grass-roots campaign but well worth it”; to get students aligned with people in the industry, she said.

Holley and Josina were on hand to represent the firm and offer students advice and support. And perhaps to chat with Lorenz?

“;Funny thing, I knew of Matt's work, but I didn't really get to talk to him,”; said Holley. “;He was flocked by people, so we were actually being approached by the students who couldn't get to him.”;

While RealWorld DesignWeek allowed students to mentor for a week, shadowing professionals or clocking hours at their offices, Haschert's stint will go toward fulfilling an 85-hour internship requirement for her interior design degree. She graduates from Chaminade in May.

At Peter Vincent Architects, Haschert works closely with Holley and isn't relegated to clerical tasks. “;I feel like part of the creative team. I'm given (design) responsibility, of course only to a certain extent. But they let me do many things I never thought I would as an intern. I have my own telephone line, mailbox, desk and computer. From the day I came in, I had interesting things to do.”;

Her duties have involved compiling material boards composed of fabric swatches, paint chips and other items for the proposed design. She also prices those and has even been privy to the client presentation process. “;It's real design work, rather than office work.”; And while she receives no stipend, the experience she gains is compensation enough, she said.

Holley herself got her foot into the design door through summer internships while attending college and appreciates Haschert's contributions. “;It's been very busy recently, and, because of the economy, it's hard to hire people when you're not sure you'll be able to keep them or for how long,”; she said. “;Not only does the firm get the help that they need, but the students get the exposure, so it's a really great program.


Older students design new careers

Deborah Lowry, internship coordinator of the interior design program at Chaminade University, has seen a spike in enrollment in the school's design program, with most students entering from the community colleges.

“;Many of the students from the community colleges are nontraditional students who have re-evaluated their career choices and want to change,”; Lowry said.

What you see on HGTV or on reality home makeover shows is not all there is to the trade, she said. “;There's such a wide variety of work to get into, from consulting, to reorganizing a company's current design, to being a coordinator.”;

Also, “;with the economy the way it is, people getting let go from their jobs are seeing that as an opportunity to get retrained,”; and she encourages them to dive into design.

“;I had a woman who quit work to raise her kids and then went back to school to finish, and now she's working as a consultant.”;

Those who hire appreciate the value of a person who has a lot of work experience, said Lowry. “;They have a great work ethic that a lot of your 18-year-olds don't have yet.”;


For information on Chaminade University's interior design program, contact Deborah Lowry at 440-4216.