Panorama of Cush Design Studio
Photo courtesy of Chris Cushman

By Deanna Duff

Crayons and construction paper illustrate most children’s dream homes, but Leslee Humphrey ’12 was wielding a ruler and drawing floor plans to scale during elementary school. After Sunday church services, she and her parents drove the neighborhood appreciating homes and sometimes touring those under construction.

“It intrigued me to see how homes were designed, from the framing to room layouts. I took the for-sale leaflets and used them to create my own plans,” Humphrey says. “It started my interest in how to use space in different ways.”

Since earning an interior design degree at Seattle Pacific University, Humphrey has put her knowledge to work at Seattle’s Catholic Housing Services and, currently, at Mary’s Place, an organization helping homeless families.

SPU’s Family and Consumer Sciences department offers degrees in both interior design and interior merchandising. A maximum of 16 sophomore students are accepted annually, with courses ranging from lighting design, color theory, and textiles to sustainability and affordable housing. All students complete at least one internship.

“People spend 90 percent of their time indoors, so interior environments greatly affect quality of life, both mentally and physically,” says Sandra Hartje, professor of interior design and housing. “A lot of time people think about aesthetics when they talk about interior design. That could be as little as 10 percent of a project. More importantly, interior design is about function, health, and safety.”

Hartje cites dedication to environmental sustainability, social justice, intercultural competency, and universal design as contributors to the program’s uniqueness and success. Universal design refers to inclusive design thinking for different needs such as age and ability and includes accessibility.

“SPU’s program does a great job focusing on the stewardship of creation and designing for the continuum of housing, from shelters to affordable housing and permanent residences,” Humphrey says.

Jen Kowalski ’07 regularly works with clients from different cultures, religions, and backgrounds as a kitchen and bath specialist for Six Walls, a design firm based in Mercer Island, Washington.

cush studio designed interior
Photo courtesy of Greenpoint Technologies Inc.

“Interior design is extremely personal. I always enter someone’s home with respect and humility,” Kowalski says. “It’s nice when people are open about their religion and practices or even just talking about how they celebrate holidays. I learn about what they need from design. You connect with people.”

SPU’s program also intersects with the region’s business and industry sectors. Ashley Moulton ’12 works as an aerospace interior designer for Greenpoint Technologies, a Kirkland-based firm. She enjoys design challenges specific to airplanes, such as decompression and lighting to normalize sleep patterns.

“Good design can be subtle,” she says. “You walk into a space and feel welcome because of all the different aspects working together.”

Some graduates become entrepreneurs. Chris Cushingham ’09 launched a design firm, Cush Design Studio, while still a student. Now based in Brooklyn, New York, his creative horizons continue to expand. He designs and makes modern, minimalist furniture with playful personalities. Secret compartments are his signature. “Good design helps elicit people’s positive emotions: comfort, calm, beauty, and awe,” Cushingham says. “It creates solutions for people’s daily lives that speak to the greater good.”