St. Kate’s interior design students set the trend at the International Market Square

By Jessica Busch

St. Kate’s Interior Design program is housed in International Market Square (IMS), the largest home and commercial interior design marketplace in the Upper Midwest. Located in downtown Minneapolis, the design center provides a multitude of resources, professionals and inspiration for students to utilize as they prepare to become innovators of the future.

The IMS contains both of the Master’s in Business Administration program and Interior Design Program. Because design and business intersect closely, the IMS building provides a nurturing environment for interaction and collaboration with professionals in the area. Opportunities for mentorships, internships and partnerships are what make programs at the IMS most unique. The St. Kate’s Interior Design Program has been at the IMS since the Spring of 2013, and features two main classrooms, white boards on every wall, wheeled chairs and tables, natural lighting, common areas and a small gallery for students. These unique aspects offer a premier work environment for students to develop inspiration.

The work that interior designers do is often misunderstood. Leading the program since the beginning, Director Justin Wilwerding explained interior designers are not just designers; they are innovators, engineers and environmentalists. Wilwerding understood interior design as a complex structure.

“Interior design is a very tall layer of cake. There are all kinds of elements and considerations that need to go in a mix for it to come out as a valuable circle; tech considerations of sustainability, durability, maintenance of furniture, lighting and social considerations. How do we shape the spaces to support the activities of the users,” Wilwerding said.

The Interior Design Program at IMS provides students with a broad selection of unique courses, which were built on a set of professional standards to prepare students to enter the profession. Wilwerding explained how interior design is far more technical than people think.

“We must pay attention to code and tech requirements to ensure public safety. Evidence-based design is a critical approach to design to promote the welfare of users. We use research and peer reviewed articles to form the design process, which most people are not aware of,” Wilwerding said.

One specific problem that students tackle in their curriculum is how to increase safety in hospitals. For example, hospital acquired infections and patient falls are just a few of the issues that can be addressed by changes in interior design. Consequently, students will discover how to select and specify surfaces that are antimicrobial, as well as develop a new type of flooring that absorbs energy upon impact.

Two upcoming interior designers, Mackenzie Henley ’15 and Joy Dressel ’15, make up the first graduating class of the program this Spring. Their typical day of school is far from that of a traditional St. Kate’s student.

“It’s a full time job. We are in the studio from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. We are always looking for inspiration in different things, like newspaper articles or magazines so we can keep in mind what’s going on. It’s crazy how many images you look at during the day,” Henley said.

Henley is an intern at DLR Group, an architectural design firm located in downtown Minneapolis. She has an interest in hospitality, where she hopes to work in a hotel or restaurant field. Henley believes St. Kate’s has helped prepare her for a future career in interior design.

“Networking, knowing who to talk to and presentation are important. Here, we bring professionals in to get our work critiqued, and there are actual clients that visit,” Henley said. “A lot of it involves marketing, innovation, building code and collaboration. We critique each other’s work, which is evident in the real world. It is all team work here.”

Dressel is returning to school after earning an MBA in finance, and working in corporate finance for over 15 years. She is excited to get into a career that allows her to express her creative side.

“After spending all those years in a career that really didn’t fit, I’m finally able to do what I really have wanted to do my whole life, which is exciting and liberating to me. I’ve always had a creative side,” Dressel said.

Both students agree that having class at the IMS building significantly contributes to their learning and career development.

“We love being in this space. We can go to show rooms and get samples when we need,” Dressel said.

“My favorite is the wall surfaces because they are magnetic. This is a second home for me- you just fall in love with it,” Henley said.

Henley and Dressel would like to get the word out on St. Kate’s interior design program. The program is ideal for driven individuals who are willing to work hard.

“We are here for serious reasons. We have definite goals; we want to make a name for ourselves and St. Kate’s,” Henley said.

“As an interior designer, it is important to focus on how you are helping people in society, which is St. Kate’s mission: To think of the needs of others,” Dressel said.

Jessica can be reached at

Comments are closed.