In Catherine Warren’s dream bookstore, it’s raining all the time. There’s comfortable seating, exposed brick and teal accents. On the roof, water is recycled through pipes to constantly drum on the glass ceiling, creating the perfect “cave-like” reading ambiance, she said.
Warren, a junior interior design student from Albany, is designing the bookstore for an interior design class with her instructor, Jason Wech. The prompt for the project was to create a business around the concept of students’ favorite things.
In addition to Warren’s rainy day bookstore, there are designs for boutique hotels in Italy, farm-to-table restaurants and even a private running club with a running track connecting the roofs of buildings in downtown Athens, according to a list of topics provided by Wech. The possibilities for the project are seemingly endless.
Wech said he wanted to design the project around his students’ interests and passions because he noticed they work harder and are more motivated when working with topics they are passionate about.
“I found that with my students, they always gravitated towards what they liked anyway,” Wech said. “A student may graduate and go out and get a job to sort of get into the market, but they always seem to swing back around to what they showed the most passion for. So I took a little of the guessing out of that and made the assignment direct.”
The class is one of the first studio classes interior design students take, student Lindsay Ellington said. Ellington, a senior interior design major from Charleston, South Carolina, transferred to the University of Georgia. She would have been able to exempt the class, but enrolled regardless to get back to the basics of design, she said. She loves her major, but being able to let go of constraints like budgets and harsh deadlines with this project has been exciting, she said.
Ellington’s design concept is a spa in Moab, Utah. She’s incorporating neutral colors and organic shapes in the design to create a space that is calming and stress-free, she said.
Warren said over the last few months, her creativity has “plummeted.” For another one of her design classes, she’s been working on a design for a commercial office space, she said. It’s been harder for her to find motivation for that project, but she works on her bookstore design every other day, she said. With the pandemic, the election and other stresses from the last few months, it’s been helpful to work on something more creative and less stressful, she said.
“In elementary school, you did what you wanted to do and your teacher didn't judge you,” Warren said. “And I feel like that's really important in this time, where there's still some pressure to do a project and get it done. But you have freedom.”
The best part of watching his students work on these projects is seeing their “aha moments,” Wech said. He said the moment Warren thought of making the bookstore an atmosphere where it’s raining all the time, she took the concept and ran with it. When his students have these moments, it really allows them to invest in the project and work to further develop the design, he said.
This semester has been crazy and full of firsts for everyone. Ellington said it’s important for professors to realize that as hard as it is for them to adjust their teaching methods and move their classrooms online, the adjustment has also been hard for students. It’s evident that Wech wants her and his other students to thrive, she said.
“I love that Jason has given us this project that's so free,” Ellington said. “Every class, we log on, and each person goes to their project and what they've worked on in the process. He's very good about it, like ‘Don't worry, just work through this, no stress.’ He's been really understanding about it all, and it actually helps encourage people to keep working on it.”