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Vol. 2, No. 2
Fall 2004


The foyer of KSU house introduces the "world traveler" theme that both teams adopted independently. Click here to view side-by-side photos of the two houses.

Stairway to Success: KSU Students Win Home Design Challenge
By Karen Kennedy

In an experience modeled on the current television fad of home renovation and design, Kennesaw State University visual arts students were encouraged to think inside the box this past summer. The box in this case was a much larger project than students usually tackle in the College of the Arts. But education is all about new experiences, trying different things and learning ways to earn a living using one’s talents and interests.

Earlier in the year, homebuilder and KSU visual arts student Amy Rowe was impressed with the creativity of her fellow art students and became curious about how they’d tackle a project her company had on the horizon. “I started thinking about what kind of model home they would do.” The desire to see what the students could do, coupled with the success of TV shows like Trading Spaces and Monster House gave Rowe the idea for a different kind of model home in her new North Cobb subdivision, Ebenezer Farms. Her company, Home Traditions, would sponsor a model home decorating contest.

Rowe approached Linda Hightower, chair of the Department of Visual Arts, with the idea. Hightower immediately got behind it. “This would be a great opportunity for students to learn about a way to earn a living as an artist or as a creative person.” She combed her two-dimensional design class for students who would make up the team. “We didn’t need all painters or all organizers,” Hightower said. “We needed the right combination of skills.”

When word got out about the project, however, Hightower didn’t need to worry about finding the right skills. “The idea mushroomed,” she said. “Students volunteered to work on the project.”

With the team in place, KSU students learned the rules of the competition. Team KSU would decorate one house in Ebenezer Farms, while a team from Home Traditions would tackle the house next door. Each team would receive $20,000 to spend. (Home Traditions estimates that the normal budget for a professional designer to decorate a model home like the Ebenezer Farms houses would be $45,000 to $60,000.) The teams would have only two months to complete the work and they were challenged to “think outside the box.” The houses had already been painted inside and all hard surfaces—countertops, cabinets, floor covering, etc.—had been chosen and installed. The teams would have to work around those choices. For example, rooms couldn’t be completely repainted, but faux and decorative finishes were allowed over the existing colors.

“We didn’t want the houses to look like typical model homes,” said Shawn McLeod, Home Traditions’ usual designer, who supervised the competition. “We wanted something creative.”

McLeod would not be disappointed; both teams took the order to be creative to heart. According to Hightower, during the planning process the KSU team talked a lot about a theme before settling on nature. Expanding on the nature theme, they decided that their hypothetical homeowners were world travelers with an interest in art. Always keeping the themes in mind, the KSU team spent hours in pre-planning before they started decorating.

“The best part for me,” said Somiya Murtadi, a senior visual arts major, “was when we got to go in and do it. To see it all come together after a lot of planning.”

Bringing nature indoors

The planning and the incorporation of the themes and interests of the “homeowners” resulted in an award-winning design for the KSU team. The themes played out in ways as creative as a sand-filled Zen garden, which took the place of a rug in the great room, a delightfully schizophrenic Jack-and-Jill bath and a library with a map of the world painted on the ceiling.
Official KSU team participants included alumni Shane McDonald and Matthew Craven and students Irene Ambeva, Gareth Botha, Natalia Buitrago, Zach Dibble, Courtney Mason, Somiya Murtadi, Landon Painter, Samuel Parker and Tiffanni Spann. Linda Hightower and visual arts professor Charlotte Collins served as team leaders.

But the team’s enthusiasm for the project brought in a number of unofficial volunteers, including friends and family members and painter David Johns, all of whom donated their time and talents to teach the students new skills, such as faux finishing and sewing.
So while their classmates may have spent the summer at the beach, many Team KSU members held down jobs, attended classes and spent every free minute at the Ebenezer Farms house.

To help them outfit their houses, Home Traditions held an auction of new furniture and accessories, plus pieces collected from other model homes and various sources for the two teams. Each team had an opportunity to look over the pieces ahead of time, plan ways to work the different things into their designs and then bid on the items. At the end of the bidding, the KSU team had purchased about $6,000 worth of bedroom furniture and other items for $1,400, which helped stretch their $20,000 budget.

But for a team of creative folks, decorating on a budget didn’t mean compromising on style. Using furnishings and accessories from Target, TJ Maxx and Old Time Pottery, and relying on artist friends, the group pulled together a stylish home in a few short weeks.
The foyer mural of Asian hills and trees, designed and painted by Samuel Parker and alumni artist Shane McDonald, set the tone for the home, while incorporating all the themes of nature, travel and art. The acrylic paints used for the mural were softened with airbrushing to achieve a cloudy effect, said McDonald.

McDonald and several of the other participating artists have loaned their own paintings, sculptures and other creations to be displayed in the house. All of these original works are available for purchase. When a piece is sold, the artist will replace it with another.
“I was excited when Linda Hightower asked me to be involved,” McDonald said. “It sounded like a really cool idea to showcase our artwork.”

The nature theme continued in the family room with the Zen garden, in the master bath with koi painted on the walls and into the backyard where a stone fountain was created by student and landscaper Zack Dibble.

Upstairs, the media room, painted a dark purple and furnished in red and lime green, featured a photo collage lit from behind of actors in famous roles. Art student Gareth Botha created the collage, which was a favorite of the contest judges.
The girl’s bedroom, decorated in butterflies and Barbies, connected to the boy’s room, a car-lover’s dream, by means of a Jack-and-Jill bath. For the bath, the team created a look that could serve as inspiration to thousands of parents stumped by how to decorate a bathroom shared by girls and boys with extremely different tastes. Just cut it down the middle, decoratively speaking. From the matchbox cars and butterflies that march along the ceiling, to the shower curtain—half pink and purple, half car design—the bathroom gives equal time and space to each theme.

Murtadi worked on the girl’s bedroom and bathroom. “I have an interest in interior design and this was a good learning opportunity,” she said. “The alums, Shane and Matthew, were a huge help. They became teachers to us.”

Toward the finish line

A final push toward the deadline had the team working long days and nights. “I was impressed with how everybody pulled together at the last minute,” McDonald said. “We really worked as a team.”

Murtadi echoed the team feeling of the project. “Artists are used to doing things their way,” she said. “But we had to make compromises. We worked well as a group, especially toward the end.”

The teamwork paid off. On Aug. 7, a judging panel composed of journalists, real estate agents and interior designers toured both houses and the KSU team came out on top, winning not only $500 for each team member, but also the opportunity to display and sell their artwork for up to two years. The deciding factors for the judges when announcing the win: Team KSU’s creativity, vision and the artwork that filled the house and made it a home.

Both houses will remain on display for at least two years until the rest of the subdivision is completed. Visitors are welcome to tour the homes during regular hours. For more information about Home Traditions and Ebenezer Farms, visit www.hometraditionsinc.com.

View a gallery of photos showing features of both houses

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