GRAND RAPIDS – For more than a century, Klise Manufacturing has played a significant role in the furthering of furniture design. During the past two decades however, interacting with area undergraduates entailed little more than factory tours and informational literature. But, for the last two years, the Grand Rapids-based producer of decorative moulding and metalwork has been collaborating with Ferris State University’s Kendall College of Art and Design to give students something much more valuable: real-world design experience.
In its inaugural year, the competition challenged KCAD Furniture Design students to incorporate Klise decorative mouldings into traditionally sparse Shaker, Mission and Transitional furniture styles. This year, Furniture Design students were paired with Interior Design students to tackle the more formidable challenge of creating a room design for a large hotel suite. Choosing a specific architectural design style to work from, the teams submitted colored renderings and CAD drawings of their designs, which included accompanying furniture and accents as well as a pair of trim packages, one using existing patterns from the Klise design catalogue, and the other comprised entirely of new profiles that the students designed themselves.
“This competition is an amazing learning experience for our students because it pushes them out of their comfort zone and into a professional situation where they have to apply their knowledge and skills to a specific design problem,” said KCAD Interior Design professor Tara McCrackin. “Developing unique room aesthetics that also engage the characteristics of a specific design style or theme is an exercise that requires a delicate balance of creativity and practicality. When you’re an industry professional, working with clients, this is what you have to be able to do well.”
After the design work was completed, the teams had to effectively “sell” their designs to the competition’s two judges: David Ellison, principle of D.H. Ellison Co. Architects, of Cleveland, and Mark Garzon, principle of MGLM Architects, of Chicago. KCAD Furniture Design professor Monty Simpson said that this kind of interaction is where students can learn the most.
“In the professional world, presentation can make or break your design, and in this competition, the teams who understood that their presentations had to convey the emotional pull of their designs – how they evoked not only the aesthetics of the theme, but the spirit as well, and how their spaces were intended to make people feel – they were the most successful in the end.”
Earning top honors from the judges, as well as a $500 prize, was the team of Stacy Folker (furniture) and Chelsea McBurney (interiors), who worked with the Hollywood Regency style. “In this team’s take on Hollywood Regency, the presentation, the persona of the presenters, and their designs came together as a whole story to give us a playful, cohesive, and very real-world project that could absolutely be implemented professionally,” said Garzon.
Second place and $300 went to the team of Kyle Kulchar (furniture) and Courtney Wierzbicki (interiors), who worked with the Neoclassical style.
But for students, the real reward was a broader sense of perspective about their respective fields of study. “It was incredibly valuable to see how collaborative the whole process of creating custom spaces, furnishings and ornaments really is,” said Folker. “I had to get beyond my own point of view as a furniture designer and consider my partner, the client, and the manufacturer as well.”
Kulchar pointed to the presentation critiques as an equally transformative experience. “The judges broke our presentations down but did so in a way that enabled us to learn from their feedback. When it was over, there was this sense that you had taken on a nearly impossible thing, and while not entirely succeeding, you had stayed on your feet.”
For Garzon and Ellison, evaluating ideas from student designers was a refreshing way to exercise the eye for detail that’s so important to the work they do every day. Klise Manufacturing, who will retain the rights to each of the student-designed trim packages, is relishing the influx of new creativity. For all who participated, there’s a palpable sense of excitement about what this competition could become.
“This competition has grown into something far greater than we could have possibly imagined two years ago,” said Klise National sales manager Phil Tomasello, who originally conceived the competition along with Simpson, McCrackin, and others at KCAD. “We are so thankful to all who helped make this idea a reality, and we hope to expand the scope and reach of next year’s competition to further increase the impact of this dialogue between design students and the industries they will one day work in.”