Interior Design with a bit of Wow

2007: A Glamorgan student wins third prize in the national Satelliet Browns Student Design Challenge

2008: Glamorgan students win first and third prizes.

2009: Glamorgan students win all three prizes.

Glamlife talks to one of the winners and the Award Tutor who has been turning the Interior Design Department into one of the best in the UK…

Mirror inside Wow Bar

The lecture room does take some adjusting to – most rooms in humble Treforest, where the Glamlife team is based, have four walls, corridors outside rather than inside, and doors. But this is the ATRiuM. They do things differently here.

After a brief look around the lecture room (lots of computers, big printers for drawings, and large desks for groups to congregate and work around), it is time to talk to Delyth Williams and her lecturer, Erica Liu. Delyth is a final year student, and she won third prize in the Satelliet Browns Student Design Challenge last summer, for her design for a bar. Her work was shown at an exhibition in London (alongside the other winners), and a bar owner visiting the exhibition liked her work so much that he commissioned her to redesign Wow Bar in Cardiff, with the intention of rolling out the design across two other Wow Bars in the UK.

Jason Roe, one of the owners of Wow Bar, with Delyth Williams

Delyth describes the experience: “They gave me a text brief of what they wanted. The colour scheme was already established – they had the black and the orange. I softened it up a bit by adding the white. They were really encouraging, and they liked working with students.”

Delyth worked on the design during the summer, and is now back to her version of the student life. “I try and work 9-5 on course projects when I can. On weekends, no chance: I work. But I’m not a workaholic by any means – if I want to go out, I will. It is really important to have that work / life balance.”

This all sounds suspiciously mature for a student. Despite her youthful appearance, Delyth is actually a genuine “mature student” (i.e. over 21), having worked in architectural practice for a few years, after having studied architecture. She went straight to the second year of the BA Interior Design course when she started last year – and she won her prize in the Satelliet Browns competition that very year! Apart from feeling a bit more confident this time around, she doesn’t think that she has changed much since the first time she went to University.

Of course, other things have changed a lot. The course she is studying, for example, has changed quite radically over the past few years. This includes the move to ATRiuM and technological advances – but the teaching methods have changed, too. Talking to Erica Liu, it becomes clear that this is a course which is led with distinctive vision.

“We try to incorporate as many live projects as we can in the course. If they are live projects, it means it’s going to be built, or there is industrial involvement.”

Interior of Wow Bar - photo by Delyth Williams

The majority of the work in the second year, and half the final year, is spent working on these live projects. Of course, there are opportunities to go all-out on imagination and creativity, too. “For their final project, the self-chosen project, they can do lots of big things, imaginary things, anything they love. But they’re not real. We want to do something real.”

This drive for real applications is palpable throughout the course – and students coming back from the summer after the first year find that the training wheels have been taken off, so to speak. “Of course, for the students, their first live projects are a big step. They have to work like a professional designer. They have to produce the whole design scheme, all the plans, all the autographic drawings, and then produce all the documentation as well because it’s going to be built. All the purchase orders, the list of items, the lights, the furniture… They all had a 3D fly-through as well. I’m really proud of them. At the end of the project, the clients choose the winner.”

Last year, the first project greeting second year students was a New Generation Learning Zone, to become a flagship space in room H130 for the Business School. This year, there is going to be a collaborative project with a design company based in Bristol – and the winning student will get a 12 month paid work placement contract with the company.

a photo of the inside of Wow Bar

Meanwhile, final year students are getting their teeth into designing the interior for a new restaurant in Cardiff. Again, this is all for real: “The client is fully involved – we get the brief from the client. Students have to learn to operate as freelance designers and bid for the job. The clients will choose the winning design and it will be built. The building is there, the planning permission is there, so it’s all ready to go. Once they get the designs, then they can start the work.”

This focus on real projects for real clients has paid off. Glamorgan’s Interior Design students are sought after and successful – it is seen as the best Interior Design course in Wales, and amongst the best in the UK. Three of the largest interior furnishing suppliers in the UK, Tektura Wallcoverings, Johnson Tiles and Milliken Carpets have gathered recommendations from their clients and concluded that Glamorgan’s Interior Design course is the best in the southwest of the UK. The companies then sponsored Glamorgan students to exhibit their designs in Bristol and London, where students met over 150 architects and interior designers – a tremendous networking opportunity. The collaboration was so well received by the companies that they said Glamorgan Interior Design has the best overall standard they have ever encountered.

Meanwhile, students and alumni of the course are making waves around the world. Here’s a small selection:

  • Luke Gillard and Rebecca Groves have been involved in the Cardiff Chimera 2020 project in collaboration with the British Council, WAG and Cardiff Council. Their designs are touring and exhibiting around the world at the moment.
  • The winner of the first prize in the Design Challenge last year, Rebecca Groves, is on a placement for Keane Brands, a highly reputable firm.
  • The winner of the second prize, Ayumi Iwamoto, is working alongside Erica Liu on the redesign of a Japanese restaurant in Cardiff.
  • Kate Smith, an alumnus, has set up the Interior Design Department for an architectural firm, worked on multi-million pound projects, and returns occasionally as guest lecturer on the course.

Delyth Williams, enjoying the fruits of her labours

The course produces highly employable graduates. Of course, not all of them work on huge projects, but they are nevertheless successful. Erica explains “Lots of our (ex-)students work locally, some work nearer to London. Many operate as freelance designers. They take on jobs on varying scales. It can be a bit tricky, but it will be incredible experience for them.”

Delyth’s experience seems to confirm this – she’s delighted at the way her work on Wow Bar turned out. “I’ve been to Wow Bar three times now, with friends who wanted to see my design. It’s a really nice, friendly atmosphere. I’m really proud of how it’s all come together. The opening night was quite emotional, but a really good night. It was a bit of a shock when I found the waiters were naked…”

For some photos of the opening night (warning: contains nudity), have a look at this gallery on Facebook

Features on Glamlife

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