weekly feature | Jul 27, 2016 |
Students from lesser-known design schools take Donghia scholarships
Boh staff

By Katy B. Olson
Pratt, Parsons, SVA and RISD made the cut. And so did University of Arkansas, Woodbury University, Cornish College of the Arts, ArtCenter College of Design, University of Nevada, OCAD University and NYIT: This year’s crop of Angelo Donghia Foundation Scholarship winners, chosen, as always, via a blind jury, spotlighted some of the more under-the-radar design institutions.

The wide range of schools is what foundation trustee Steven Sonet has come to expect: “It’s been tracking like this for quite some time,” he says. “The first time I recognized how strange it was, I had started hearing about schools in Lincoln, Nebraska; Nashville, Tennessee; and in Texas, which I’d never thought of as hotbeds for interior design education. One of the reasons why we do it on a blind basis is that it gives everyone the opportunity to have a chance at it.” Winners in the past have included schools like The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Colorado State University, Purdue University, Wentworth Institute of Technology and University of Texas at Austin.

Scholarship judge Arianne Nardo, editor and Editor at Large correspondent, shares, “We’re used to celebrating certain cities as cultural capitals: New York, Paris, London, Los Angeles, Milan. There’s this collective agreement in the arts and creative industries that if you want to succeed and elevate your game, you have to be in one of those cities, like those are your only options. Yes, those places are extraordinary and inspired, but I think students, specifically design students, remind us what pure, unfiltered inspiration looks like from the other side, when it emerges out of raw talent and observation and gut instinct. It tells us creativity isn’t geographic.”

The scholarship students, all starting their senior undergraduate year in an interior design program, were honored for work that judge Amy Lau of Amy Lau Design called “absolutely fascinating,” with an award of $30,000 to be applied toward their tuition, board and books.

Joining Lau and Nardo on the jury panel were Barry Richards of Rockwell Group; Carolyn Englefield, interiors editor at Veranda; Frank de Biasi of Frank de Biasi Interiors; Jamie Drake of Drake Anderson; John Ike of Ike Kligerman Barkley; Julia Noran, president of Editor at Large; Kathleen Walsh of Kathleen Walsh Interiors; Sophie Donelson, editor in chief of House Beautiful; Stephanie Odegard of Stephanie Odegard Collection; Stephen Burks of Stephen Burks Man Made; Tony Freund, editor in chief of 1stdibs Introspective; and Vicente Wolf of Vicente Wolf Associates.

Judges received the students’ work by number and learned of their names and schools after making their final decisions. “During the scholarship review, we were experiencing and discussing each student’s work, so their school wasn’t revealed until the very end. It was a total delight to hear names of schools and programs from all over. Lots of ooh’s and wow’s filled the room,” Nardo says. “Everyone in the room was happy and surprised and delighted. Talent is talent no matter where you are, and Donghia truly honored that sentiment.”

The winners include Christine Wass and Jessica Baker, both of the University of Arkansas; Dominic Luna and Juan Carlos Ramireze Cortes of Woodbury University; Meichun Cai and Stephanie Chan of the School of Visual Arts; John Harold Sanchez and Lana Kravtchenko of New York Institute of Technology; Gabriel Dwisatria of Cornish College of the Arts; Hye Min (Pabi) Lee of Parsons The New School; Jahoon Kwon of Pratt Institute; Jingze (Cooper) Dai of the ArtCenter College of Design; Madison Kim of Rhode Island School of Design; Shasta Percival of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; and Simona Turco of Canada’s OCAD University.

The foundation’s namesake, Angelo Donghia, was a Pennsylvania-born designer and businessman and a graduate of the 1959 class of Parsons School of Design, who became partner at Yale Burge Interiors before creating his own brand. He is largely credited with pioneering licensing in the interior design field. “The traditional designer does very few of the things I do,” Donghia once said. At the time of his death in 1985, Donghia companies spanned five branches, including Donghia Associates, Donghia Furniture, Donghia Textiles, Donghia Showrooms and Donghia Licensing.

The foundation has made a number of other notable contributions, including the Angelo Donghia Materials Library and Study Center at the Parsons School of Design and the Angelo Donghia Studio for Interior Architecture at RISD, in addition to giving to organizations that support research and treatment of AIDS.

“He starts with a concern for living,” the late Grace Mirabella, former editor of Vogue, said of Donghia. With that same concern in mind, the judging panel sifted this year’s 15 rising stars of interior design from 68 student-designed residential and commercial projects. The nonprofit has awarded over $12 million since 2002 in pursuit of its twofold mission of advancing interior design education and supporting AIDS research. 

Donghia’s vision, shares Jessica Baker, served as motivation for her honor-earning hotel project, The Adagio. She tells EAL, “Angelo Donghia’s philosophy to design with a ‘concern for living’ continues through his foundation as his legacy supports the living and learning of future designers. It is very generous, and inspiring to see what kind of an impact he has made.” Baker guides readers through her project:

The design serves as a visual storyteller, performing the composition of melodies produced by the collaboration of all families of a symphony. A song unfolds as a visitor circulates throughout the hotel, opening with the strings, and leading up the grand staircase to the reception desk where [it is] joined by woodwinds and brass. The concept is implemented through material detailing, from metal inlays inspired by brass instruments, lacquered surfaces inspired by strings, to the wrapping of joined materials inspired by reed instruments.

 of winner Jessica Baker's The Adagio hotel

These elegant details provide a richness to the hotel that reinforces the timelessness of music. The notion of visual audiation is further reinforced spatially. The linear axis running north and south through the building serves as a staff or foundation upon which the notes follow. The space planning for the lobby and restaurant follow this linear pattern, even as seating arrangements vary from duets to octets. Over the staff, a fiber optic bow installation captures the movement of music.

Guest room of winner Jessica Baker's The Adagio hotel

Beginning with a few bows suspended on the second floor ceiling, the installation ascends the staircase while growing in number, intensity and fluctuating in tone. The lobby space is therefore titled Allargando, meaning the composition is slowing and becoming more stately, majestic and loud as the installation grows. This concept continues throughout the remaining 15 floors, creating an environment for the guests equivalent to an adagio, or a tempo that it restful and at ease.​

Scholarship winner Hye Min (Pabi) Lee, who designed a ‘micro-apartment’ (measuring 10 x 25 x 12 feet), shares of Donghia’s withstanding influence on her work: “What I respect about him is that he extended the definition of interior design. Interior design was no longer mere decoration, it was [the concept of] everything exists in a space. Thus, the elements create a scene. And the scene finally becomes a life when humans occupy the space.” For her project, the designer began from her own perspective, that of a Manhattan-dwelling student.

Lee's micro-apartment concept

“For people who live outside of New York, this dimension is unbelievably tiny. However, for New York residents, this is very common, and even it is spacious for more than one person,” she explains. “I started off the project by observing myself in my apartment. While I was struggling with the concept of the apartment, on my big worktable, I realized that all the human events in an apartment are happening on horizontal surfaces... Every [piece of] furniture in an apartment provides humans with some plane surface to support whatever events that are happening on it.” Lee created Life of Table, a multi-use table concept that expanded the usable space in the micro-apartment with cleverly implemented storage and flat surfaces of varying heights.

Will the designs be executed? Potentially, but the final product isn’t the end goal, explains Wolf. “The purpose is to see how these students are able to put down in black and white their creativity. It was nice being with the creative team of judging, having the dialogue among us—different people sharing different things about the design, seeing how within the community how many different ways of looking at things there are. Which is not something that I get to do for myself—to sit in a room and go through an intellectual discussion about the merits and strengths of different designs.”

The opportunity to ask questions and delve into the ideas behind the design appealed to Lau, too. “I was intrigued with the thought processes behind these projects. The students approached their concepts from a very holistic point of view, considering so many ways that their imagined space could affect the visitor. It was interesting to see them dig deep beyond the surface, to more of the human experience. How will the visitor be affected in the space socially, spatially, psychologically? How will colors affect them? What will the space provide short term versus long term? It was a treat to see them dig deep into what design can do for society, beyond just aesthetics.”

Certain socially conscious details stood out for Donelson: “It was encouraging to see residential projects addressing often overlooked populations: multigenerational households, clients with disabilities, and those wishing to ‘age in place.’ I got the distinct sense these students believed passionately that design has the power to improve the way we live—and that all of us deserve that opportunity,” she says. “A detail that resonated with me was one student’s residential project for a client with impaired vision. The student employed texture as a wayfinding device. For example, the custom molding was designed to guide the client throughout the home. It was beautiful, functional and smart.”

Does the recognition pave the way for future success? Students, says Lau, are now on the judging panel’s collective radar. She tells EAL, “From my perspective, the Donghia Foundation Scholarship panel really opened my eyes to other schools that could be wonderful sources of new talent for my firm, and I’m sure other judges felt the same way. There was real potential in some of the projects on display, and I felt like I was given a front row seat to what’s being taught in various programs across the country that I may not have otherwise known about.”

Donelson concurs: “Just as the Donghia brand is synonymous with innovation and beauty, the Donghia Foundation has positioned itself as champion of emerging talent—the pipeline of future design greats! To a student, the backing of the Donghia Foundation, both in terms of recognition and financial support, is a tremendous feather in their cap.”

“We don’t give scholarships to everyone; we give them to a select few,” foundation trustee Sonet tells EAL. “Schools are often thrilled when they are recognized with presenting a winning student. If this is an incentive for them to keep doing good work, great!” He points out that when the foundation began doling out scholarship funds about 12 years ago, the $30,000 amount was enough to cover room, board, tuition and all expenses. As costs continue to rise, he says that in the future the foundation will either reallocate additional funds or award fewer scholarships. Judge Jamie Drake explains, "The Donghia Foundation's munificence to students as they enter their senior year is very impactful. With the large awards it certainly relieves students of financial concerns and to focus on their work. These are certainly the crème de la crème of America’s design schools, and this honor certainly adds to a student’s CV as they near graduation and move on to their careers."

The foundation promotes “something we need so badly,” says Wolf. “Something to inspire us and to make us feel that what we produce as creative people is not just about curtains and sofas, but about the intellectual approach to design. What they have done is given hope, given a helping hand, and given the opportunity for young people to really expand their horizons.”

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