Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Dan Francis Photography / Digital files provided by Sydney Fritz and NDSU Interior Design Program

One of the first things I learned while writing for this industry was the distinction between interior design and interior decorating. Last fall, I was introduced to an NDSU student by the name of Sydney Fritz. Although many may consider her an interior design student, I soon found out that her major was one that I was not familiar with; Retail Merchandising. It was perfect timing because Fritz had just completed a lengthy project for one of her required interior design classes. So, we headed back to school to find out how her area of expertise translated to the design world.

Meet the Student
Sydney Fritz is a retail merchandising student with an emphasis on interiors. She will graduate in the spring of 2019 with a degree in Apparel, Retail Merchandising and Design, with a minor in Business at NDSU. Her major carries a heavier emphasis on the aesthetic side of interior design. Although the assigned project required space planning and construction documents, her retail merchandising emphasis does not rely on advanced qualifications to draw up construction documents like interior design majors. Regardless, this class will help her to understand this important aspect. Her degree is equally divided between interior design classes and business classes with over half the remaining classes taken in retail merchandising. With her retail merchandising major, Fritz is on her way to mastering the art of buying and merchandise planning, global retailing, promotion, global trade, consumer behavior, trend forecasting and the analysis of textile products.

The Project:
The Martin Residence
Assigned by NDSU Professor Ann Marie Ragan, this fictional project is a residential design assignment based on the needs of a retired couple, Clark and Ava Martin. The students were told that they had purchased a two-bedroom condominium in the 300 Building located in Downtown Fargo.

Project Requirements
The Martins requested the design of their home to have a more “urban” feel with Post War/Mid-century Modern influences incorporated throughout the home. Students selected a Post War/Mid-century Modern designer chair to incorporate into their final design solution.

Aging in place and universal design solutions had to be incorporated via finishes, furnishings, layout of the furniture, types and location of cabinetry and plumbing fixtures. As part of the assignment, students were told that sustainable design was to be an important component of the project. This would impact the material selection and use throughout the home. Students were asked to select and incorporated three works of art from at least one local or regional artist into the design.

According to Professor Ragan, students were also responsible for designing a custom light fixture for the Martins. “They began by sketching clothing from the same time as the Post War/Mid-century interior design style. These were provided by the Emily Reynolds Historic Costume Collection located at NDSU,” said Professor Ragan. “Students were responsible for selecting the furniture, finishes, materials, artwork, lighting, furnishings and window treatments for the project.”

In-Class Activity: Designing a Custom Light Fixture

Getting Started
“Getting this interior design assignment was really overwhelming at first; especially trying to figure out where to begin,” said Fritz. “The description laying out the project was pages and pages of details. We started with an empty shell, laying out where we thought bedrooms should go. Then we had to get more technical with our math, figuring out the square footage that we had to work with.”

Since Fritz has chosen retail merchandising as her major, it’s important to note that her major does not typically require this type of detailed space planning. Out of the 19 students in this studio course, only one other person shared her emphasis in retail merchandising. Regardless, the class itself and knowledge of the concept is required for her degree.

Challenges & Limitations
Before Fritz and her classmates could get started, they had to understand the requirements and limitations. “There’s an atrium in this project, so we had to make sure all of the plumbing was on a certain wall. The space planning was the most challenging side of this project,” said Fritz. “What I learned was to keep it simple. I initially wanted to do a lot of angles and curves, but I realized that these would have also made it difficult to place the bed, nightstands and lighting. Even though I wanted to be different, I learned to keep it simple and focus on creating an easy flow, not putting too many obstructions to have to walk around. Each floor plan takes many hours to complete with several hours to copy the rough draft onto the vellum. It’s kind of like a puzzle figuring out how each space should function with the given square footage.”

“I thought picking out the furniture wouldn’t be that challenging, but it was,” said Fritz. “We were limited to furniture that fit the room but allowed for space to move around it. We also kept in mind that the older tenants would require furniture that was firmer and it had to be in the required Mid-century Modern style. If the furniture was overly cushioned it would be hard to transition from a sitting position. Along with space planning, we each had to design our own custom island, custom light piece and custom drapery.”

Professional Presentation
For Fritz’s classmates, this interior design project required designing floor plans, elevations, custom cabinetry, light fixtures and room layout – along with design details like accent pillows, throws, wall coverings, lighting, drapery and flooring. According to Professor Ragan, students in retail merchandising complete all the same work for the project except for the presentation drawings used on the final presentation boards. “Retail merchandising students are not required to complete rendered perspective drawings since they are not required to take the course where the students learn how to do these drawings,” explained Professor Ragan.

Mid-century Modern Influence
“I wanted more of a classic and timeless Mid-century Modern design, instead of the bright geometric design most people immediately think of,” said Fritz. “The version I chose is more of an upscale take on Mid-century Modern versus the more casual bold colors. I did a lot of neutrals, then I would be able to add in the colors through my custom drapes and artwork. I chose a local artist, Jessica Wachter to represent the art pieces for the entire design. I chose brushed gold finishes and lighter wood flooring, knowing that the other wood finishes would be darker. We each picked an heirloom piece and I chose a wire chair piece which will be covered in the muted red fabric to coordinate with the blinds.”

Design by Lifestyle
Keeping in mind the profile of the tenants who were nearing retirement age, Fritz and her class were asked to create a space that would be accessible with a designated guest space for the tenant’s visiting parents. This apartment would be their primary home and last residence before moving into an assisted living facility. With this lifestyle in mind, Fritz designed her extra-large, walk-in, tile shower with a floor that would be level with the bathroom’s tile floor to avoid complications. She also kept this in mind when choosing the bed heights and space on each side of the bed.

Fritz and her classmates were asked to create bubble diagrams, adjacency matrices, and circulation diagrams. The primary purpose of bubble diagrams and adjacency matrices is to analyze the room/space adjacencies, while circulation diagrams consider the flow of the rooms/space.

For the research portion of the programming binder, each student compiled articles on Mid-century Modern design and universal design. Students completed annotated bibliographies about the articles and reaction papers on different businesses that were visited during the studio course.

Coordinating Color
“A lot of students chose different eras of Mid-century Modern, many of them focusing on the version with geometric patterns and bright colors like oranges and lime greens,” said Fritz. “I chose an era that I felt was more suited for this older tenant. I used a lot of sophisticated navy blues, darker olive greens with just a little bit of muted red and lighter blues. I added a lot of texture with my throw blankets and pops of more vibrant color with Jessica Wachter’s art pieces. I definitely used more accent or interchangeable pieces for the bold colors.”

Inspirational Mentors
When she’s not in school, Fritz works for a Fargo-based interior decor, furnishing store, and design firm, McNeal & Friends. This gave her the added benefit of accessing the store’s vast inventory of fabric and wall coverings. She also had access to their team of designers including, Trever Hill who suggested the concept of having the carpet inset into the living room floor, creating a level transition. “This concept worked to help make the living room two separate spaces even though it’s actually one large room,” said Fritz. “I also consulted with another designer at McNeal & Friends, Jayne Wilson about my drapery choice. Picking out the materials was definitely the most fun for me.”

Styling Spaces
For much of the furniture, lighting and accessories, Fritz opted for pieces by Restoration Hardware with additional pieces from Room & Board and Pottery Barn. “Since a lot of my furniture was in neutral tones, I had to be careful not to add too much color, but just enough to give it character,” said Fritz. “I found the wall coverings at McNeal & Friends and chose two different grasscloth textures by Phillip Jeffries. The grey-toned one is for the master bedroom and the lighter covering is for the guest bedroom. I thought the texture really gave it class and more of an upscale look. I also chose brushed gold hardware for a really authentic, Mid-century Modern finish.”

Objectives of the Project
“By showing this project, I want people to know how technical this field is, it’s not just picking out a cute bed frame or fun pillows,” said Fritz. “In our process, we need to understand how that furniture or kitchen island is going to fit and function for the space. It’s researching fabrics and coordinating textures as well as deciding the right amount of space between furniture for proper flow and function, all based on the tenant’s needs and lifestyle.”

“Some of the questions we ask ourselves are; can a wheelchair fit in between the furniture pieces and does the kitchen island allow for seating as well as ample walking space on each side? We also have to be aware of where all of our drawers in the kitchen are being placed. Should they be pull-out drawers or doors and does the client prefer soft-close options? ”

For every square inch of a home, there are endless options to choose from, so for this project, it’s Fritz’s job to really think about the client’s needs and figure out which of those options will work best for them and the space. “Sometimes that means adding things like pocket doors in place of a normal door to save space and provide better flow. We would also educate the client on the pros and cons, noting that this type of door might not keep as much sound out and discuss if that will be a problem for them based on the room,” explained Fritz.

The Final Project
The final project submittals included a detailed programming binder with an explanation of the design solution, programming information, diagrams and information gathered from research. This is where the students referenced specification information for the furniture, fixture, artwork, accessories and finishes. Detailed construction documents (floor plans, elevations, reflected ceiling plans, cabinetry sections and wall sections), study models and presentation boards were also required for the final design solution.

Reviews on Sydney Fritz’ Design Project:
“Sydney seemed to have a great understanding of the design style which can be seen in her furniture, material selections and in her programming information,” said Professor Ann Marie Ragan. “Her selections incorporated furniture pieces that were representative of the Post War/Mid-century designs and upholstered in rich colors and textures. Sydney’s selections of artwork provided vibrancy to the space and helped to connect the many interior design elements utilized throughout the space.”

A Student’s Perspective: Investing in Design
“If people are willing to put money into building a house, I think they should also set aside a portion of their budget for having the house designed professionally,” said Fritz. “If it’s done right, you won’t be buying new furniture every two years, you’ll be buying statement pieces or good, classic pieces that will last a long time and fit the scale of your house. Some people fill large spaces with furniture that’s too small and it can really diminish the space being used and limit the liveable space.”

“I think homeowners should also gain a designer’s advice on where light switches and lighting should go. The electricians will do what is most functional for them, but not always what is needed for you or the home’s design,” said Fritz. “Working with a designer can open up a world of new furniture lines and brands that most people have never heard of. Some of these lines are only available to designers and what they can offer can really transform a home. Designers work with many of the local and national stores to gain access to furniture, rug, drapery and fabric lines that can open up far more options than what you see in the stores.”

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Interior Design vs. Retail Merchandising
“There are technically students from two different majors who currently enroll in the ADHM 251 Interior Design Studio I: Residential Studio course, interior design and retail merchandising with a focus in interior merchandising,” said Professor Ragan. “While these students take some of the same classes, these are very different majors, but both happen to be in the Department of Apparel, Design, and Hospitality Management.”

The Degree:
Interior Design

Distinguishing between Fritz’s major and interior design degrees, is the program coordinator for the interior design program, Dr. Susan Ray-Degges. “The interior design program is accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA). Here, students study design fundamentals, theory, process, communication, research and technology to identify and solve problems for a wide range of physical, interior environments for all individuals regardless of socioeconomic background or situation.”

Three Career Paths of Interior Design
As Dr. Ray-Degges explained, “There are three main career paths that are typically chosen by the design professional; residential, commercial and specialized design. Residential involves the design of personal living environments while commercial design deals with public and work environments. Design professionals may also pursue career opportunities in such specialized technical design areas as lighting, codes, product design or product representative.”

Sydney Fritz’s Major:
Fritz’s area of study is Retail Merchandising with Interior Merchandising focus in the Apparel, Retail Merchandising and Design major. To explain Fritz’s focus, we spoke to the Apparel, Retail Merchandising, and Design (ARMD) program coordinator, Dr. Jaeha Lee at NDSU. “The retail merchandising option in the (ARMD) program provides students with a firm grasp of retail business strategy. Graduates hold positions as buyers, store managers, visual merchandisers, marketing managers, sales and account executives, and trend forecasters with many retail companies. The course of study includes classes on buying and merchandise planning, global retailing, promotion, global trade, consumer behavior, trend forecasting and the analysis of textile products. Students in the retail merchandising option can choose a focus in the areas of textile product merchandising or interior merchandising. If students choose a focus in the area of interior merchandising, they take several courses in interior design that provide the knowledge needed to enter retail interior careers.”

Interested in a career in Interior Design or Retail Merchandising?
Contact North Dakota State University, Fargo
Academic Advisor
Connie Eggers
E. Morrow Lebedeff Hall 270
701.231.9847
Connie.eggers@ndsu.edu