Interior design course prepares Portage students for popular, stable job market

February 15, 2019

Interior design curriculum at Portage High School will prepare students for a flourishing field, educators say.

It begins next school year for sophomores through seniors after the school board approved the half-credit elective Monday. The art department is leading interior design, which had not been offered at the school for at least eight years, said principal Robin Kvalo.

“There’s such hype right now in Pinterest and repurposing spaces — in how to take something old and make it new,” she said of the course that’s expected to supplement the school’s building trades program.

Among their other undertakings, interior design students would plan the spaces inside the homes Portage students build on School Road in Portage. Agriculture department students already perform landscaping for building trades projects.

“It should be a beautiful blending of three departments to present the nicest home possible,” Kvalo said.

Art teacher Amy Ziehen is leading the course, which she said incorporates many of the visual arts standards established by the Department of Public Instruction, including creativity and innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, research and communication and collaboration.

An interior design booth at the school’s most recent career fair was popular among students, Ziehen said. About 20 of them have expressed an interest in taking interior design next year, said the high school’s other art teacher, Lorisa Harvey.

“I think everybody likes their personal space to be special, and even if they’re not the most visual person, they have particular interests and they should know how to put some colors together or how to give a space more energy, more calm,” Harvey said. “They’ll go to their dorm rooms and apartments and they’ll have that knowledge of how to make their space more special.”

Careers in interior design range from residential and commercial designers, to visual merchandisers, store planners, graphic designers and project managers, among many others.

“Interior design is currently one of the best fields for creative individuals in terms of job stability and salary potential as residential and commercial clients look to improve their physical spaces,” Ziehen said. She noted the Bureau of Labor and Statistics calculates the field’s median salary at $51,500. There are 11 colleges in Wisconsin that offer interior design programs, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, UW-Stevens Point and Madison College.

“I want to teach kids about making their living environments a comfortable place to be,” said Ziehen, who has taught art at the high school for seven years and taught art at Bartels Middle School for 23 years.

Rules of thumb for interior design include the concept of displaying items in odd numbers, Ziehen said — how a series of three items is more aesthetically pleasing than two or four. The course, which is still under development, also is expected to teach students how to be more resourceful, involving possible lesson plans like buying an item for $5 or less, refurbishing it and incorporating it into a space.

“How do you learn the value of things? With paintings, how do you know it’s authentic?” Ziehen said of the possibilities for the course, which relates to her own interest in antiques.

An avid collector, Ziehen has sold antiques for about 10 years at various malls and flea markets throughout the state.

“For me, I love the hunt,” she said. “I love going to thrift sales and shopping online — refurbishing items and cleaning them.”