Interior design (ID) students at HFC worked on a semester-long program called the Student Designer Show House, in which they redesigned an apartment home at the Henry Ford Village, a senior living community in Dearborn.

The project was such a success, the model was sold 15 minutes after hitting the market.

The project was collaborative from the start. Denise Sutton, HFV ID move-in manager, invited Karen Wilmering, HFC ID coordinator, and Susan Haifleigh, Eastern Michigan University ID instructor, to form a partnership with HFV and have their students renovate three of HFV’s one-bedroom apartment homes. Wilmering’s students took one apartment home, while Haifleigh’s took the other two.

The Student Designer Show House ran from Dec. 7-9. On Dec. 7, approximately 75 future residents attended a luncheon at HFV and toured the three apartment homes. On Dec. 8, HFV hosted an open house for family and friends of the HFC and EMU design teams.

On Dec. 9, HFV hosted a public open house so people could see the results of the students’ hard work. One open house visitor was so impressed that she placed a down payment on the HFC model within 15 minutes.

“As soon as the buyer walked into the apartment my students designed, she was sold,” said Wilmering. “That was a very proud moment for my students, for me, and for the College.”

The students completely redesigned the kitchen, selecting new cabinets, removing some walls, and putting up another. They designed and built the kitchen table. One goal was to make the space feel larger, since the apartment home was only 700 square feet. So they replaced the bedroom door with two French doors containing frosted glass inserts. When open, both the bedroom and living room look more spacious. The students created a panel over the bed, which gives the effect of widening the bedroom. The bathtub was removed, and ceramic tile was installed in the new five-foot-wide shower and the floor. In the foyer, the students removed a linen closet and replaced it with a glass shelving unit with cabinetry below. The cabinet was painted and repurposed from the existing space, said Wilmering.

“When we had our open house, students wanted to appeal to more senses than just the visual, so they brought in a portable music player and added scented candles for effect and a fresh aroma,” said Wilmering. “This is the first time that any real-life client our department has worked with actually brought the design to fruition. The client approved all the changes the students suggested. It was a complete update. The students had a hands-on learning experience that could only happen from seeing their ideas implemented as they had envisioned them.”

The designs for the three models were completely distinct, according to Wilmering. Neither educational institution had any idea what the other was doing until construction began.

“Our students were privileged to work with HFV to gain this practical experience. It is an honor to give back to our community through this innovative collaboration,” said Wilmering. “This is the beginning of a tremendous partnership between the College and the Village. I’m looking forward to having our students work on another project with the fine people of the Village again soon.”

Sutton was impressed by the students’ efforts.

“They did a first-rate job and conducted themselves professionally throughout the entire process,” she said. “They’re very talented, and they really excelled. They should feel proud of the work they’ve done here. I know I am.”

Kurt Anthony Krug