Redesigning dorm room drab

Brittany Prescott-Kyles, 24, has always wanted to be an interior designer. The cheerful newly-wed never doubted what her passion was in life. The sweet goal-oriented gal from the South mixes country tradition with modern glam. To achieve this balance between simple and ornate, Brittany likes to create focal points using unique pieces—something with character like antique furniture. When asked how she described her personal style, she laughed and answered, “Can I say Pottery Barn?”

Looking at her you would never know that she works for a successful interior design company that is contracted by the University. If you passed her on the street, you would never know that she helped create a space that 2,000 students will call home-away-from-home.  Her design fingerprint will forever rest on the University of Alabama because of a building that isn’t even finished yet. On the north side of campus is a rising megalith of steel next to Rose Towers. This addition to campus, called the North Bluff residence halls, is a three phase housing development that will include two dorms and a new recreational center for students.

Photo from University of Alabama

Brittany interned for two and half years with the firm Interior Design Professionals, Inc. where she focused specifically on university projects. She was then hired full time after graduating in Spring 2011. UA employs the company to design any structure built or renovated on campus. Most students never put much thought into the people behind the buildings and rooms we spend our college years in, but it takes a small army to plan, build and furnish residence halls.

“We had to think of everything,” Brittany said. Interior designers had to plan every detail, including the molding, paint, fabrics, flooring, counter tops, lighting, wall decorations, and door handles, just to name a few.

When planning the North Bluffs, Brittany said that they stepped outside the usual southern décor. “We pushed the envelope a little bit, so it’s more modern,” Brittany said.

The designers wanted to create a young, mature space for students, but also needed to juggle the traditional demands of the university. When presenting ideas to clients, interior designers usually offer three concepts for the space, which gives the patrons options without overwhelming them. “That’s really important when you’re dealing with clients to keep them in their comfort zone.”

She said the most difficult part is navigating all the channels to get the plans accepted. “You have to get it approved by so many people,” she admits. “It’s challenging to appease everyone.”

Jumping through hoops and over barrels is part of the routine for Interior Design Professionals, Inc. Besides working with the University, they also work with the city to design office buildings, schools and hospitals. Currently, they are working on three elementary schools damaged by the April tornado. They were already in the process of building Holt Elementary before the storm, and now have to start over since it was destroyed.

“The only problem with working for the city is that the budget isn’t as big as you’d like it to be.”

However, Brittany said that she prefers dreaming up plans for the younger crowd.  “I love doing elementary schools because it’s more creative.”

For example, she is working on a project where rooms in the school represent different continents. She explains that you can’t put a pool with toy alligators and hippos in a UA classroom. That might be a tough sell for Dr. Witt and the board of directors.

Despite the little recognition given to designers, there are several ways that they are recognized for their work. State awards and other honors are given for categories of designs such as industrial and healthcare. Two of Brittany’s bosses have won awards for their contributions to the University and DCH.

The next step for Brittany is to take a monumental exam to be certified as an interior designer. This means that she will no longer need someone else to authorize her drawings. Brittany says she is happy to work at the firm long term and excited for the new projects she gets to be a part of. Someday she might just win an award of her very own.

When asked what advice she would give to girls living in dorms, she jumped at the chance to spread her wisdom. To young women decorating their first dorms, Brittany said that frugalness is important. “They spend all this money on a room they will only stay in for a year.” She encourages girls to use pictures of home to make the space personal and make statements with bedspreads and pillows.

Brittany cringes when thinking about those who try to hang curtains and pictures. “I’m a little biased, but don’t do anything that will damage the room,” she pleaded. It’s no surprise she doesn’t recommend doing anything that leaves a lasting imprint on the dorm. Those rooms have to last for decades and thousands of students!

Clutter is another issue that students struggle with. The accumulation of stuff turns a closet into a perilous pile of disorder. She suggests baskets and rigorous organization to stifle the problem.

Above all, Brittany counseled girls that education always comes first. She encourages Alabama’s women to be independent, make goals and achieve them. These are the principles she applies to her own life, and they have led her to a career and husband she loves.