Interior Design Students Draft Plans for Adaptive Livable Condo

Client seeks custom home ideas for 85-year-old father diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Client Chuck Nagle listens as interior design student Erin Boulay explains her team's floor plan.

As part of a service-learning project, students in the Interior Designprogram at Dakota County Technical College designed floor plans for an adaptive livable condominium sensitive to the specialized needs of a resident with Alzheimer’s disease.

Chuck Nagle, a paralegal from Roseville, Minn., started thinking about custom housing for his father, William Nagle, an 85-year-old former tool and die maker, after the elder Nagle was diagnosed with the progressive brain disorder some four years ago.

“I have this incredible opportunity to create a truly adaptive livable residence for my father,” Nagle said. “He’s currently in excellent physical condition and lives alone in a home he built himself on Lake Wissota near Chippewa Falls, Wis.”

Because he understood downsizing might make sense in the future, Nagle wanted that option available nearby. Also located on Lake Wissota, the new living space is part of a 1950s-era motel undergoing conversion to condominiums. William Nagle has lived within a three-block radius of the site for 80 of his 85 years.

Chuck Nagle knew that an adaptive livable residence would be more secure and comfortable than one that was simply handicap accessible. Such a residence required built-in features that could not be added later. Seeking the advice of experts, he contacted DCTC. Nagle was familiar with the college, having previously hired graduates from the Information Systems department.

Nagle’s idea made its way to Anne Farniok, an interior design instructor at the college. Farniok recognized the project’s potential as a real-world learning experience and community service opportunity. She modified her curriculum and made the project a required universal design assignment for students in her Residential Studio 1 class.

“We only had two weeks to come up with design concepts,” Farniok said. “The students separated into teams and took on a series of eight tasks, from researching Alzheimer’s to developing concept boards for formal presentations to the client.”

Nagle later remarked that Farniok’s students came up with far more than he expected. He was deeply impressed by their professionalism and thoroughness. “They did tremendous research and investigated alternative accommodations under the direction of a very knowledgeable instructor,” he said. “They looked at prevention and ways to adapt the environment to my father’s needs.”

In the end, Nagle received eight detailed and thought-provoking designs along with a comprehensive array of supporting ideas. “To make the design more complex, all exterior and interior walls are built of concrete block,” Nagle said. “Concrete block walls are not so easy to move. Considering that the students never visited the property, but worked only from 360-degree movies of each room, they did an amazing job.”

Freshman Brian Cain of Minneapolis appreciated the positive, immediate feedback of working with his first live client. “The project was a good morale boost,” said Cain, who’s vice president of the interior design student group, Design Connexion. “We go through a lot of stress and often pull all-nighters to meet deadlines. This gave us the chance to show what we can do.”

Teresa Antonneau, a student from Lakeville, echoed Cain’s assessment. “This project makes interior design much more personal,” she said. “We are working with a real client with real-life needs.”

“They did tremendous research and investigated alternative accommodations under the direction of a very knowledgeable instructor.”

Erin Boulay, another freshman from Minneapolis, noted that the client was especially interested in how technology could help keep his father safe. “During our research we learned about specific safety concerns regarding Alzheimer patients,” Boulay said. “Because wandering can be a problem, one precaution is a pressure-sensitive bed that would alert Mr. Nagle if his father got up during the night.”

Boulay went on to mention pressure-sensitive floor mats that could be placed near doorways leading outside. When activated, the mats send out an alert and trigger a recorded message that reassures the Alzheimer’s resident, requesting that he or she remain in place until help arrives.

A nontraditional student from Los Angeles, Emma Medina found the project eye-opening and exceptionally gratifying. “I really like that we were helping Mr. Nagle solve a problem,” said Medina, who now resides in Eagan. “As a baby boomer, I understand the importance of universal design when it’s applied to the special needs of an aging population.”

Already steeped in information about Alzheimer’s from his own research, Nagle reported that Farniok’s students covered all the bases and even identified a number of options he hadn’t encountered or had overlooked.

“One thing the students discovered was that movement creates confusion in Alzheimer’s patients,” he said. “Knowing that, they avoided busy interiors and kept things simple.”

“I’m taking all the design concepts home with me to study,” Nagle added. “I imagine that I’ll pick the best from each to come up with a final floor plan.”

Interior design student Emma Medina presents her team's concept boards.

Interior design student Emma Medina presents her team

Based on his experience at DCTC, Nagle eventually made a number of improvements to his original design, achieving a significant overall upgrade in livability.

The Interior Design program prepares graduates to become professional interior designers. Students acquire the knowledge base and skill set needed to design interior environments that are both functional and beautiful. Versed in design theories, interior materials, building codes, and manual and computer aided drafting, students conceive and execute high-quality design solutions for residential and commercial projects.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment for interior designers is projected to grow faster than average, increasing 19 percent between 2006 and 2016. The BLS also states that the median annual wage for interior designers in the U.S. reached $48,000 in mid-2006.

According to Minnesota’s Internet System for Education and Employment Knowledge, or ISEEK, the median wage is currently more than $22 per hour for interior designers in Minnesota. As of February 2008, put the median annual salary above $51,300 for top earners in the Twin Cities metro area.