Learning the Trade

Date March 18, 2009 at 10:00 PM

Categories Health & Beauty


“Interior design isn’t just fluffing up pillows any more!” quips Mechele Hesbrook, the driving force behind Santa Fe Community College’s powerhouse design department. “Interior designers require tremendous knowledge in a variety of areas – from green and sustainable design to building codes, from business standards and practices to developing a client base.” But where do aspiring interior designers learn their trade? In New Mexico, the only college to offer a degree in design is our own Santa Fe Community College!

Interior design is a profession that has experienced incredible growth and popularity over the past few decades – due in large part to the housing boom, as well as to the proliferation of design shows on television. In response to this, Hesbrook started SFCC’s interior design department six years ago. What began with a couple of courses has mushroomed into a program that brings in 30 new students each fall, the majority of whom graduate two years later with an Associate’s Degree in Interior Design.

Hesbrook does not think small. As the head of the fashion design program, which she began in the 1990s, she takes her students to Paris each year. Now she takes her interior design students to the marts in Chicago and Las Vegas. She is actively working to foster relationships with four-year schools where students who have earned their associate’s degrees may transfer to study for their four-year bachelor’s degree. And she prepares her students for the rigorous work of taking the three-day exam given by NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification) which licenses interior designers.

Hesbrook guides her students through every aspect of the design process, and she is continually creating courses that will help them be better prepared for their future careers. From online courses in business practices to the most current information on sustainable design, Hesbrook keeps SFCC’s department on the cutting edge. She also actively reaches reaches out to the local design community by hiring working designers and architects to teach courses, in addition to creating courses for them to further their own education.

Hesbrook has found a terrific ally in the new dean of the School of Arts and Design, Douglas Barkey. Barkey, who arrived in Santa Fe last August, has a background in graphic and sustainable design. Barkey, who grew up as the child of American parents in Argentina, is bilingual. He ran the Altos de Chavon School of Design in the Dominican Republic, a well-regarded program that has academic reciprocity with Parsons in New York City. He then went on to work at Maine’s College of the Atlantic, where all students major in Human Ecology. There he developed an entrepreneurial program for at-risk youth – creating a design studio called Media Works, where students worked with professionals as graphic designers and created work for paying clients. His bilingual skills, sustainable design background, and work with at-risk youth made him the ideal candidate for SFCC, where he is already working to grow all of these aspects of the curriculum.

Barkey’s current goal is to create a degree in design that encompasses a new trend in the industry, which is the use of design to facilitate all aspects of the business process. From signage to traffic flow to facilitating the entire customer experience in a business, these are the newest trends in design education which Barkey intends to bring to New Mexico.

In the current economic climate, Barkey is also reaching out to area high schoolers by encouraging them to begin their education process in their hometowns. Along with Hesbrook, he is fostering relationships with some of the major art and design colleges around the country, bringing them to Santa Fe to recruit SFCC graduates for their four-year programs.

Currently, SFCC’s interior design students come from Albuquerque and all over Northern New Mexico to earn their degree. The average student is over 40, and is returning to school. Most have had successful careers in other fields, and many are already working in the field of design, but want both updated knowledge and a degree. They are an extraordinarily interesting group of people.

At 31, Rowan Ogden is one of the younger students in the department, but he is already the Creative Director for NSI, a Santa Fe-based biotechnology and ecological engineering company. Rowan juggles a heavy workload and global travel while taking classes in interior design at SFCC in order to further his personal and professional development.

Erin Cohen is just 40, but already has had a career in land planning, and now works for a contract furniture dealership. She is specifically taking classes at SFCC so that she can qualify for the NCIDQ exam. Equipped with impressive computer skills, she particularly enjoys SFCC’s emphasis on hiring working professionals to teach their classes. She feels this allows students to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day experience of working designers and architects.

Joe Horton is in his early 50s, and spent the first part of his career as an extremely successful landscape designer in Fort Worth, with an enviable client list that included some of Dallas/Fort Worth’s biggest names. His interest in interior design grew after collaborating with some of the best-known interior designers in the business, such as New York’s Billy Baldwin and Palm Beach’s Leta Foster. Horton realized that he wanted to be able to work inside and out, and so came to SFCC after moving to Santa Fe to continue his education. He feels that the college curriculum “taps the very topics I wish to pursue in order to explore the adventures of the world of interiors and beyond.”

Claudia Williams spent the first part of her career as an art educator in schools and museums in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado. She developed an interest in interior design after working in, and later owning, a tile and flooring business. After selling the business in the late 1990s, Williams and her husband went off to live on a boat – an experience she highly recommends! Now in her 50s, Williams is thinking of going back to work as a designer. Although she has extensive experience in many areas of design, she feels that SFCC “offers an opportunity to obtain more technical experience and brush up on my skills.” She is “very impressed with the comprehensiveness of the program and the level of instruction.”

Most of SFCC’s interior design students will go on to work in the field. Some will start their own businesses; others will work for interior designers, architectural firms, product designers, or retail design businesses. Although the program has fielded only four years of graduates, many have already made names for themselves in the Santa Fe market.

Lisa Samuel grew up in Santa Fe, but left at 19 to study architecture in California. When she returned home, she worked for a mechanical engineering firm, finding that “Santa Fe in the late 1970s wasn’t exactly a woman’s town.” By the 1990s, she had established her own design business and worked for a prestigious local design firm. But she knew that to progress further in her field, she needed to continue her education and get a degree. Although she considered other out-of-state schools, it made sense for her to apply for the program in the town where she was already living and working. Her ability to receive a full scholarship sealed the deal and she completed the program in two years. Her education prepared her to sit for the difficult three-day NCIDQ exam, which she passed in 2006. Since Lisa became a professional member of ASID and a licensed interior designer, her business has grown exponentially and her client list has burgeoned. She credits SFCC for making a profound difference in her life.

When the mania for Santa Fe Style came to an end in the late 1990s, Santa Fe struggled to find a new identity. Increasingly, Santa Fe designers and architects have come to find that clients want a new aesthetic – one that harmoniously incorporates our glorious regional history with the newest trends in design as well as green technology and awareness. As Santa Fe design moves into this interesting new chapter in its development, the community will increasingly be turning to the graduates of Santa Fe Community College’s Interior Design program to find fresh and sustainable regional design for a new century!

Photos by Molly Wagoner