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Meet Interior Design Student Amanda Friedman

January 18, 2022

We are so excited to hear from Continuing Education alum Amanda Friedman, who recently took our SketchUp course. She discusses how she created her final project from scratch, a design for an apartment with coastal elements inspired by a recent trip to Malibu, which led to her being offered a position with her instructors' design firm. Amanda shares her experience at Parsons with the course, which covers the software, its history, its context within design industries, and focuses on the technical skills required to create realistic three-dimensional models. Students learn to digitally convey accurate, cohesive design ideas and proposals and execute a complete, portfolio-ready project like Amanda’s. Continue reading to learn more about her experience!

Alena Meier

What motivated you to enroll in the SketchUp course with no formal training in interior design?

Following my graduation from Cornell University where I earned a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Administration, I worked first at Delaware North’s Parks and Resorts division and then at SAMBAZON, where I am currently the Senior Manager of Brands and Concepts for the firm’s Hospitality Group. I’ve been in charge of projects involving grassroot concepts and remodels, which have included guest rooms, retail outlets, recreational facilities, bars and lounges, and restaurants. The interior decorators and architects would submit their designs and blueprints to me – but often crucial details had been lacking or omitted.

Although I’ve not had formal training in interior design, I have had formal training in drawing and sculpture, and so I took it upon myself to fix up their work by resorting to “old fashioned” pen, paper, and paint. It wasn’t long before I was called upon to review the designs and blueprints being given back for final approval, not only to my group, but to other departments as well. Nevertheless, I knew I needed to become more professional – well, more technical – in my own revisions if I wanted to really do things right.

That’s when I made the decision to investigate software programs, such as SketchUp, that could bring my ideas to life in a digital format. But I I lacked the skills required to do this correctly. Fortunately, I enrolled in Parsons School of Design’s expertly taught SketchUp class, and I’m proud to say I am no longer dependent on architects or design firms to render initial professional-grade artists’ blueprints, technical specifications, or floor plans.

What was something about the course that surprised you the most?

When Instructors Katie Donahue and Katharina Hoerath informed the class they would be teaching us how to create photo-realistic renderings taken from our 3-D models, my heart sank. I thought such an assignment would be equivalent to learning advanced rocket science. But as my instructors discussed the simple processes that are involved in creating computer-generated renderings, I soon learned that it was as simple as folding a paper airplane. It is truly remarkable that something that appeared to be so technically challenging and frightening was, in actuality, child’s play when taught by the right people.

Can you describe your approach to the final project you shared with us? What was the inspiration and what techniques did you keep in mind while designing the rooms?

I worked from a proverbial blank canvas when I came up with the idea behind my final project. And this was not by choice– my 2014 MacBook Pro computer crashed, and I lost a semester’s worth of work. Rather than crying over spilt milk, I challenged myself to redo everything I’d done previously. Instead of using the prefabricated furniture and fixtures available to me in SketchUp’s 3D ‘warehouse’, I decided to design most of it based on my own ideas. I also scrapped my original floor plan for an entirely new and better functioning one. And because I was starting anew, I was able to theme my final project on my then recent business trip I took to Malibu, California. I brought in elements of a bright airy coastline and incorporated them into the colors, millwork, and furniture selections of my design plan. This resulted in a high-end, yet comfortable apartment that I dedicated to my instructor Katharina.

Alena Meier

How will you use the skills you learned in your future career?

Since completing the SketchUp course, I’ve already applied my newly acquired skills to several schematic design blueprints for SAMBAZON Açaí Bowls. Now, it feels so natural for me to open up the SketchUp, Layout, and SU Podium programs on my computer and use them in my day-to-day work activities. And I can also submit my 3-D models remotely using this software to the architectural and design firms we contract, ultimately reducing turnaround times for RFP work.

Are there any transferable skills to your current industry?

Absolutely, there are! Design and operations go hand-in-hand. If too much emphasis is placed on a project’s design, it doesn’t necessarily translate to being operationally viable for the managers and staff. The same holds true if you look at things the other way. That is why when you design a space you must always remember that your aim is to be mindful of what a customer needs and wants, and then create experiences that will exceed their expectations.

Alena Meier

If you are currently employed, what industry do you work in and what is your title?

I currently work in the hospitality field, more specifically, as a Senior Manager of Brand and Concepts at SAMBAZON, the world’s largest importer of organic and fair-trade açaí. As the co-founder of the SAMBAZON Hospitality Group, I head SAMBAZON’s brand standards, design and construction, and project management efforts for food and beverage locations. I have reopened and renovated our flagship location in California, proudly launched our first ballpark kiosk inside San Diego's Petco Park, and brought SAMBAZON onto the campus of California State University, Northridge.

Are there any memorable lessons or interactions you had with your instructor that you’d like to share?

Right from the first day of class, I was impressed by Katharina’s ability to influence my aesthetic sensibilities. She guided me each step of the way with my project and turned this technically naive hospitality professional into a competent SketchUp user. I am proud to say that once I had completed the course, Katharina and Katie invited me to join their design firm, K-Works Studios, as a designer. To date, I’ve been able to work on several exciting design projects with these two outstanding industry leaders.

Alena Meier

What do you think makes Parsons a unique place to learn interior design?

Parsons School of Design has a rich history of being the premier institution in seeking out new advances in all aspects of design. This tradition often allows its students to be the first in the world to be exposed to the new wave. That is what makes Parsons the number one design school in the country. Because of its elite reputation and location in New York City, I was quite certain I would have the best teachers in the world teaching me SketchUp. And, of course, I was correct! I had such a positive experience with the SketchUp course that I decided to enroll in Parson’s Hospitality Interior Design Certification Program which begins this month. I look forward to improving upon my hospitality design skills and learning directly from industry experts so that I can continue to develop and create innovative concepts.

Have you ever taken a continuing education course? If so, how does Parsons differ from other institutions?

Expanding my knowledge in a variety of professional specializations has always been of importance to me. To remain current in all things related to hospitality, I have continued my education online at the Disney Institute. I have enrolled in almost all of their exceptional course offerings, some of them even taught by Disney Imagineers who have a background in both art and hospitality. The Parson’s SketchUp course differs from the courses I took there, as it was 100% project based. Each week, there were new lessons and skills to be learned that would ultimately be incorporated into my design project, and by the end of the semester, I had a fully functioning 3-D model. What I especially enjoyed about the course was the amount of constructive yet gentle criticism provided by not only my instructors, but by my peers, many of whom will be entering or have already entered a professional design career.

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