Caitlyn Cathcart

Steelcase champion – Caitlyn Cathcart, a senior in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Interior Design program from Marissa, won the 2017 Steelcase NEXT Student Design Competition, competing against more than 800 students from 65 interior design programs. Her project for a 12,000-square-foot medical office includes a view of the “Employee Lifestyle and Education Zone, where colleagues can share information with one another, gather and collaborate.”  (Photo by Russell Bailey; design provided)

February 22, 2018

Caitlyn Cathcart wins prestigious student interior design competition

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A childhood interest in interior design helped guide Caitlyn Cathcart not only toward a career choice, but also to a national championship in a prestigious student design competition. 

Cathcart, who graduates in May from Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Interior Design program, last week won the 2017 Steelcase NEXT Student Design Competition. She competed against more than 800 students from 65 programs. Cathcart and four other semifinalists presented their projects and defended their concepts to professional judges during meetings at the company’s headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich. 

Championship bolsters confidence

“When I was first entered into the competition, I never thought that I would even make it to the top 10. I was imagining all the amazing student designers out there, and what their designs would be like, but I never stopped to consider myself one of them,” Cathcart, the daughter of Donna and Eugene Cathcart of Marissa, said. “Being announced as the winner was a moment I will never forget. It has taught me to stop doubting myself and start embracing the skills that I have and be comfortable and confident sharing my ideas.” 

Winning design modeled a unique medical office

Cathcart said the specific contest requirements, while challenging, helped her learn and grow as a designer.  Her project was a 12,000-square-foot medical office in Seattle, Wash. The required spaces included an open office, conference rooms, collaboration zones, work café and several medical spaces. 

Her goal was creating “a calm and comforting space that will improve well-being, strengthen belonging and increase collaboration.” 

“One of the biggest challenges was using the unique shape of the suite to find the best arrangement of spaces, rooms and furniture,” she said. “I changed my floor plan hundreds of times before finding the most effective layout for my design.” 

Creative use of space and strong verbal presentation skills led to victory

Laura Morthland, associate professor and the interior design program director, said judges believed Cathcart’s  project was “well-focused” toward the needs of healthcare clients. 

“Her verbal presentation was particularly strong, which is a huge thrill for Caitlyn. She has worked to develop both her visual and verbal design skills and this competition showcased just how far she has come in four years at SIU.” 

“The School of Architecture is so proud of her efforts and the poise with which she represented SIU Interior Design on the national stage,” Morthland said. “We know that SIU produces top talent in the design field and now, thanks to Steelcase and Caitlyn Cathcart, the world can know it, too.”  

 Interior design was natural fit

“I have always been intrigued by how spaces work and what could make them better. I spent my childhood constantly rearranging my parent’s house in new ways, selecting all the paint colors and everything else,” Cathcart, who already has her own portfolio, said.  

When it came time to choose a major, it was obvious to me. I realize now, even more than ever, that this is exactly what I want to be doing in life. I am absolutely in love with my major and always have so much fun designing.” 

SIU’s interior design program fosters success

Cathcart’s design was part of Morthland’s Interior Design 491 corporate design in-class studio course, required for all seniors. Because SIU’s program focuses primarily on commercial interior design, Morthland said faculty “jumped at the opportunity to compete” in a competition hosted by a global company with a strong marketplace reputation. 

Cathcart’s victory marks the third time in the event’s five years that an SIU student has advanced to the top 10 finalists. In 2014, Sara Diesburg placed among the top five in the event, and in 2013, Taylor Behl was among the competition’s 10 semifinalists. 

Strong relationships with faculty drew Cathcart to SIU

Cathcart said she was attracted to SIU’s program because of the supportive, encouraging faculty who push students to excel and by the variety of projects students are given. SIU’s program is accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation 

“It really allows us to find exactly what we're interested in for our future, which is so important. When I first started this program, I was convinced that I would end up doing residential design. After having a variety of residential and commercial projects, l realize now that residential has my least interest and I found a love for hospitality,” she said. “What I love about this program are the people. Everybody is so helpful and supportive, we have all become a big, happy family. My professors have all been very encouraging and helpful through everything and have pushed me to become the designer that I am today.” 

Cathcart wants to design spaces that interact with occupants and have an impact on their lives. 

“I am interested in people and how spaces, lighting, color and other factors affect them,” she said. “I enjoy hospitality design because it allows me to explore these effects while creating fun environments that will be used by the public.”


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