Interior Design Studio

Through meticulous planning and ingenious design ideas, marry form and function to bring your client’s room — and vision — to life.

When opened, Chicago’s Merchandise Mart was the largest building in the world and is home now to over 4 million square feet of interior design vendors, trades, and showrooms. You’ll tap into these incredible resources as you begin your studies exploring the relationship between environment, human behavior, and the creation of interior spaces that are both functional and evocative. This course prompts designers to empathize with clients and communities and develop expressive spaces that are tailored to the client needs. To start, examine the work of top interior designers and visit distinctive spaces in order to build a visual vocabulary and understanding. In the studio, explore proportion, lighting, furniture, texture, and materials. Dive deep into color, learning the nuances of palette, value, and hue while working to build a complementary aesthetic mood. In design challenges, conduct client consultations and space assessments, then identify problems and generate solutions by developing thoughtful and fresh design concepts as you prepare to walk clients through your final design. Refine your work in response to feedback from professionals and through constructive critiques sessions within our class design studio.

All students will be required to bring a laptop.

Who Should Take This Course?

You’re that student who can’t stop thinking about how you might design (or re-design) a space for both beauty and function. In this course, students practice viewing spaces through a critical design lens and hone problem solving skills as they collaborate with other designers. This course is ideal for students with an interest in art and design, as well as interests in logic, culture, architecture, or engineering.

Advisors + Past Speakers

  • Jessica Burke, Interior Design Manager, IKEA Group
  • Sue Kim, Senior Project Interior Designer, HOK
  • Ashley Johnstone Kidwell, Lighting Designer, Nautilis Entertainment Design
  • Joan Africk, Owner, Joan Handley Africk Designs
  • Roslyn Carna, Principal, CAMA

Plan your summer


Course Highlights

  • The Merchandise Mart

    The MART is the largest international design center and commercial building, and it’s home to over 150 showrooms and boutiques with over 2,500 product lines. Assess and discuss design concepts, select potential furniture, and explore the market of custom home furnishings.

  • Project Proposal + Portfolio Building

    Learn to craft a professional project proposal and present design concepts to a client, including a design board, a furniture plan, materials samples, and an overall budget. Meet with professional interior designers and receive feedback on your design concepts and plans.

  • Furniture Design

    Learn to assess the design and personality of a furniture piece from the textile selection to the shape, function, and feel before sketching and proposing original pieces.

  • Working with Real-World Clients

    Working with professional clients, see your work brought to life. In a recent project, EXPLO students presented designs to IKEA. The winning student proposal became the centerpiece of the IKEA lobby.

This summer I was able to take interior design at EXPLO and learn how to express my personality through designing spaces using mood boards. I also got to build a commercial and residential model too! It was a very fun and exciting experience that I'll cherish for a long time.

Advisors + Past Speakers

Jessica Burke

Interior Design Manager, IKEA Group

Jessica Burke is an Interior Design Manager for the IKEA Group. Jessica and her team maintain layout and merchandising for multiple home furnishing departments including work spaces, bedrooms, children’s and home organization. IKEA, the Sweedish-founded multinational home furnishings, creates a variety of displays within their stores to highlight various themes, clients and furnishings. IKEA is one of the world’s largest furniture retailers.

Sue Kim

Senior Project Interior Designer, HOK

Sue Kim is a Senior Project Interior Designer at HOK and an award-winning, passionate designer with over 19 years of experience. Sue engages in all areas of design from strategic planning, branding, concept design and space planning to design development, furniture, finishes and construction documentation. She is an outstanding designer who has successfully completed interior environments for a broad range of corporate, commercial, healthcare and justice clients.

Ashley Johnstone Kidwell

Lighting Designer, Nautilis Entertainment Design

Ashley Johnstone Kidwell has worked for San Diego based Nautilus Entertainment Design since 2009 after receiving her MFA in theatrical lighting design from San Diego State University. Since joining the Nautilus team she has designed multiple car exhibits and salons, coordinated follow spots for corporate shows and events, and designed the architectural lighting for several casino and cruise ship projects including the architectural lighting design for Carnival Cruise Lines & Holland America’s latest ships including all restaurants, bars, lounges, retail shops, cabins and Qualcomm’s 25th Anniversary Museum at their San Diego campus (which was awarded an IES Award for Merit at both the local and national levels).

Joan Africk

Owner, Joan Handley Africk Designs

Joan Africk is the principal of Joan Handly Africk Interiors. She has a background in painting and the fine arts, including a stint at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Joan has been an interior designer in the Boston area for over thirty years. She specializes in high-end residential design, including architectural elements.

Roslyn Carna

Principal, CAMA

Rosalyn Cama is the President of CAMA, Inc., a health design lab, studio, and collection that imagines and creates environments that empower wellbeing. Carna’s firm has spearheaded design projects at renowned hospitals and care centers across the country, including Memorial Sloan Kettering, Yale New Haven Clinical Lab, and Ronald McDonald House. Also the author of Evidence-Based Health Care Design (2009), Carna is a frequent writer and lecturer on her concept of “Life Indoors,” which she describes as the “intersection of health, the design of the built environment, and well being.”