The New Jersey Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers recently held its annual Design Excellence Awards celebration. Seventeen interior designers won 40 prizes among them in 17 categories. Included were three student awards; Caitlyn Dolan of Brookdale Community College in the Residential Space category, Mary Castellano of Kean University in the Commercial Space category, and Kerri Neumann of Berkeley College in the Public Space category.

Entrants submitted projects in residential and commercial/non-residential sectors. Winners spanned categories from Residential Single Space and Design for People with Specific or Special Needs to Hospitality Space, Hotel, Restaurant and Club.

Judges were past award-winning ASID members from around the country and followed strict criteria in their judging. The criteria, which varied from category to category, had one constant. Entrants in all the categories were judged on “Positive impact on life and the human experience.”

Brookdale's Dolan submitted a project completed in the Intro to Interior Design Class taught by Professor Celeste Chirichello. The assignment was to design a residence for a person with a disability. Dolan chose to design her space for a person with Parkinson's Disease, a condition close to her heart, having had a grandfather affected by the disease.

“We were given the ‘shell’ of a building and required to develop a concept that would inspire our floor plan, finishes and furniture selections,” Dolan said. “I decided to use the birch tree as my inspiration and locate the residence in Finland.”

Considered sacred to many, birch trees are referred to as “the lady of the woods,” symbolizing regeneration, protection, resilience and healing. This was the heart of the design inspiration for her residence.

Parkinson's disease is a disease that slows the body, causing rigidity, instability and pain, Dolan decided it was vital to use an inspiration that embodies the goals of this person's healing process.

“Drawing upon the symbolic significance of birch trees serves as a counterbalance to the disease’s setbacks,” Dolan said.

Dolan’s design was created so that when one walks through the home, they will feel like they are being transported to a birch forest and embody that retreat-like atmosphere. “The home will feel strong and stable, yet soft and tranquil,” she said.

“Winning projects demonstrated purpose, integrity, creativity and how exceptional design affects the people that use these spaces,” said Virginia Liberato, Allied ASID, President of the New Jersey Chapter. “The NJ Design Excellence awards reinforce the ASID commitment to demonstrating how design impacts lives.”

For Dolan, interior design is a second career. She went back to school after working in a hospital for six years. “I decided to take a couple of design classes at Brookdale as a creative outlet, and quickly knew I wanted to pursue it as a career,” she said.

Dolan loves that she will get to design spaces that will improve people’s quality of life.

After graduating, Dolan plans to continue working in residential design and focus her work on sustainable and health-focused home renovations.