Winthrop students design children’s room at Rock Hill church

A children’s room at a Rock Hill church now has a look similar to Disneyland’s “Main Street, USA” – but with a Biblical theme – thanks to the work of interior design students from Winthrop University.

On Friday morning, the student volunteers spent several hours painting at Faith Assembly of God – one of the final steps of the church’s vision for a new room, designed as a space for active learning in a fun environment. The children’s church has model storefronts, a “Heavenly Theater” with a flat screen TV, and a puppet-show stage.

Lessons for children will be built around scriptures and Bible stories, all playing out at fictional places such as “Sampson’s Barber Shop,” “Paul’s Postal Service” and “Noah’s Hardware.”

Pastor Brian Keith contacted Winthrop a few months ago with his idea and the hope that the university’s design program could help. Some of the church’s nearly 200 members helped prepare the room – which once was a choir practice space – and Faith Assembly bought the needed materials.

Four Winthrop students – all sophomores – measured the room, drew up designs, fine-tuned the concept and put the plan into action.

Professor Sangwon Sohn, interior design program coordinator, says the hands-on experience is a great opportunity for her students.

Though only in their second year of interior design study, the student volunteers already have studied space planning, lighting techniques, material procurement and other areas of commercial and residential design, Sohn said.

Callan Gaines, Winthrop student from York, said she and other students have created project boards and practical designs in classroom exercises before but “this is the first space that we’ve designed and we’ll actually be able to walk into.”

Others participating in the project are sophomores Steven Hawes, from North Myrtle Beach, and Courtney Johnson and Sally Huffman, both from Columbia.

At an average of 20 students enrolled, Winthrop’s interior design program is one of the smallest disciplines at the university. That’s largely because of the challenging requirements and the fact that freshmen often begin the program not realizing that interior design is more than simply decorating a room, Sohn said.

The department gets a lot of requests, she said, for offering interior design services in the community but it’s often hard to fill those requests due to the number of students and the amount of free time they have.

Until recently, Winthrop was the only school is South Carolina to have an interior design major accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation, an independent organization that regularly evaluates universities’ curriculum and opportunities for students.

Winthrop has been accredited by CIDA since 1990. Converse College in Spartanburg recently received CIDA accreditation.

Interior design studies at Winthrop, Sohn said, give students a strong education to successfully join the work force after graduation. To be accepted into the program, students undergo a portfolio review at the end of their freshman year.

Before their second year at Winthrop, many interior design students change majors, Sohn said. “They don’t realize how demanding and complicated the program is.”

Winthrop has a dedicated interior design studio and work space at the Canterbury House on Stewart Avenue, across the street from the main campus. The students said they often pull “all-nighters” there, working on class projects.

They said they like the challenge of thinking critically and creatively for interior design. They’re required to understand basic architectural principles and even some parts of trades such as electrical work and plumbing.

Beyond the aesthetic emphasis of interior design, students also consider functionality, follow public health and safety standards, and pay attention to the productivity of a space.

Because of the academic rigor early on, sophomores are typically ready to get involved in community projects such as the children’s church design at Faith Assembly, Sohn said.

Keith said he’s been impressed with the talent and skill of the Winthrop group. After speaking with the students about the concept, he said he was blown away by their ability to make his dream a reality to have an exciting, colorful and fun children’s church.

The church plans to hold a grand opening for the room on March 15. The space will be regularly used by about 20 children at Faith Assembly.