Q+A: Spotlight on DI Student Britnie Cowling

Photo of DI student Britnie Cowling sitting on the floor, looking at fabric samples, smiling at the camera

DI Student Britnie Cowling

While in school, students at Design Institute of San Diego have many opportunities to participate in a wide range of student design competitions, often sponsored by professional trade organizations and industry partners. These design competitions are challenging but provide interior design students with added experience, skill and recognition. While some students view these competitions as extra work to an already full schedule, those who are curious enough to take on the task will often find themselves taking home the top prize. Such is the case for DI student Britnie Cowling, a senior. Britnie recently entered Bienenstock Furniture Library’s Interior Design Competition and snagged the title of First Place and a sweet $5,000. We asked Britnie about the experience and why these student competitions are worth paying attention to:

Q+A with Britnie Cowling

What year are you in the program?

4th year

How did you find out about DI?

Holly Hodnick, a previous Program Director for DI, was my teacher at Mesa. She told me about DI.

When did you discover you wanted to become an interior designer?

I spent my first year of college at NAU under a vague “communications” major. I had always been artistic, but all of my high school teachers scared me away from a creative career path with the whole “you don’t want to be starving artist” threat. So, after my first year of hating NAU and my boring major I came home and decided to choose a path that I loved. Starving artist be damned. I kind of stumbled into the Interior Design program at Mesa. My family used to own Dixieline Lumber so I grew up in the construction industry and had always been fascinated by it.

Interior design seemed like a good meeting point between art and building. There was never one moment where I was like “this is it.” I just kept taking classes and now I’m about to graduate. It’s kind of the same feeling you get when you’ve been floating in the ocean for a while, pick your head up and realize that you drifted way farther down the coastline. You never noticed it because you were enjoying yourself. That’s how Interior Design happened for me.

A Lumion rendering from Britnie's winning submission. Shows three models on various exercise stations.

A Lumion rendering from Britnie’s winning submission

What is the name of the contest you won and who sponsored it?

Bienenstock Furniture Library: Interior Design Competition. Bienenstock funds it and ASID creates the competition program.

How did you find out about the competition?

I did the competition a long time ago at Mesa. One of my instructors Farida Gabdrakhmanova, had us do the competition as a class assignment and entering it was optional. I won second place that year. I wasn’t planning on doing it a second time, but I was inspired after reading the competition program.

What did you have to do/create/design to participate in the competition?

We were given a building shell and program requirements. The task was to create a Medical spa for Multiple Sclerosis patients as well as a living space for two doctors that owned the spa. The competition required an FF&E (Furnitures, Fixtures and Equipment) schedule, a RCP (Reflected Ceiling Plan) for the reception and bookkeeper’s office a spot rendered floorplan, furniture plan, two perspectives and two elevations, and the use of 8 sustainable materials and a paragraph explaining them. The entire spa obviously had to be ADA compliant.

A Lumion rendering

A Lumion rendering from Britnie’s winning submission

How did you find out that won first place?

Karla Webb from the Bienenstock furniture library called me. I was just waking up and still half asleep when I listened to the voicemail. I have never sprung out of bed so fast! [laughs]

When designing for this contest, did you find any skills or classes that you’ve taken at DI to be particularly helpful?

Codes was definitely helpful. I remembered going back to my materials for that class to complete the project. Sustainable environments really helped too. One of the judges remarked that my design “clearly paid special attention to sustainably.”

A Lumion rendering from Britnie's winning submission

A Lumion rendering from Britnie’s winning submission

What advice do you have to give to students when they are unsure about participating in design competitions like this?

First thing, enter them! That may seem simple, but it is easy to feel discouraged or intimidated by them. Don’t be! Even if you lose, it’s a nice addition to your portfolio. Second, not that many people enter these things. When you read the word “national” or “international” it may seem like the whole world is competing but in reality, they aren’t. This was a national competition and only 30 people entered. Last, try and look for competitions ahead of time that don’t give you a building shell and have more open-ended requirements. That way you can turn in a project you’re already doing for one of your classes and it’s not such a huge time commitment.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Working for a large commercial firm. I currently have Gensler, Carrier Johnson, Delawie and a few others in my sights.

Britnie is definitely one to follow! Congratulations, Britnie! For more details on the student design competition and Britnie’s winning project, check out https://www.furniturelibrary.com/academics/competition-winners/.