For anyone with a creative mind who is fascinated with interior design, getting a diploma at one of SA’s creative colleges could be the way to go. In this article, first-year student Thalia tells us about her experience thus far at BHC School of Design in Woodstock.
Ever since I had spoken to an interior designer at a career evening in Grade 9, I knew that I was going to study Interior Design at a college. My parents supported me and were happy with the choice I made. Thus, my biggest concern during my time at Edgemead High School was not the decision of what to study after Matric, but rather whether I had chosen the correct high school subjects for my future studies. I am sure many other high school learners worry about this too. I also wondered whether my marks would get me into college in the first place.
Choosing My High School Subjects
I researched as much as I could about Interior Design studies, but only after I had already chosen my subjects – Geography, Life Science, History and Pure Maths. However, it seemed that for many colleges, the admission requirements were the submission of a Matric certificate and a portfolio. For the most part it didn’t require any specific subject choices. So, my subject choices didn’t matter, and I just had to focus on getting good Matric results. If I could go back in time, though, I would definitely have researched this earlier, just to be more aware.
The College Hunt
The next step was to find colleges in the Western Cape that offered Interior Design – and to choose one. A relatively easy Internet search lists creative institutions and their websites tells you everything about the institution and how to apply.
I ended up feeling drawn to the BHC School of Design in Woodstock, because it’s quite a small college with small classes, and this makes the learning experience more personalised. The structure of small classes encourages me to engage more with lecturers and fellow students. BHC also seemed very welcoming and I felt reassured that I’d have support for my academic tasks.
Applying to BHC
As with most creative colleges, BHC requires you to create an application portfolio, consisting of prescribed pieces, e.g. one piece of work is a 3D drawing of any room (on A3 paper), which aims to demonstrate your ability to perceive shading and depth. The other part of the portfolio consists of a questionnaire, where BHC asks you to talk about things like your favourite types of designs, as well how you might describe yourself in three words.
To be accepted at BHC School of Design felt both exciting and slightly miraculous, because I sent my application in late! Creating your portfolio is time-consuming, so it is important you don’t miss the application deadline (like I did) or you will pay a late penalty fee, but more importantly, it might eliminate your chances of being accepted! I was very lucky.
A Course Designed To Challenge
I am currently in my first year at BHC. When the first semester started, it felt like I was clinging to a freight train that just kept gaining momentum. I wasn’t used to the work pace and load, and the limited amount of time we were given to complete a task. I’m doing much better now, as I learnt how to manage my time.
The course work is all pre-set throughout the entire 3 years of studying towards your Diploma in Interior Design. The studies are mostly practical with two theory subjects. In First Year we have the practical subjects PID (practical interior design) and TID (technical drawing and sketching). The theoretical courses are History and BIC (building and construction).
The practical side of interior design is fun, yet very stressful and time-consuming. You face many challenges like problem solving, creativity and the limited time you are given to perform a task. It requires you to spend more time on your work besides the given class time, so basically you have a little homework every day.
At the moment I don’t find theory very difficult, as long as I pay close attention and take down lots of notes. In History we learn about building structures and the different periods of time during which certain styles of buildings and furniture came into place. In BIC, we learn about components that make up a structure, and this knowledge gets tested in exams as well as with projects. The studies also involve a lot of research. An example of a project would be to produce a research document on the Baroque period, drawing on prescribed research areas, as well as on your own additional investigations.
Even though the workload for an Interior Design student is a lot, it is also relatively fair, considering that you can take your work home and complete it there, or stay on after classes. Once your work is completed you have end up having a lot of free time, but it all depends on your work ethic and efficiency. Indeed, your free time as a Design student is actually entirely dependent on how you manage your time and work load. The earlier you start to work hard, the better. One day you could own your own interior design company, or be a furniture designer, or work in architecture… and you will need to give it your all.
We have two exams at BHC – one in June and one in November. The exams differ slightly to those in school in that sometimes a practical exam can take place over two weeks, 5 hours per day (you continue as soon as you get to college the next day, with exam conditions).
Advice for First-Year Design Students
- Go to Open Days. It can really help you decide if an institution is the ideal option in terms of whether it can offer you the best education and what the qualification entails (courses, duration, etc.)
- Happiness plays a role. There is more to choosing a college than the qualification on offer. You should have a happy experience. Make sure that you college you choose has a positive and supportive atmosphere.
- Apply ASAP. Once you have decided where you want to study, send in your application ASAP. Interior Design is a very unique and competitive field, and colleges only offer limited spaces.
- Get Involved. If you have the opportunity to go on class outings, by all means go! You get hands-on experience.
- Time management is key. Creating interim deadlines definitely helps you with your time management and causes you to stress less. It also prepares you for the future when getting clients will depend in part on your overall performance and delivery of a project.
- Don’t skip class. Lectures are important. Take down lots of notes, as this will help you to study for you exams. If you bunk classes, you might struggle to catch up – plus, you get marks for attendance.
- Ask for help. If you are struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out. If you can’t find the information you need, lecturers, as well as 2nd and 3rd year student are generally quite approachable and keen to help.
- Strive for understanding and excellence. Make sure that you understand the techniques and concepts you have been taught so that you can achieve excellence.
For newcomers it can be a little frightening at first. You need to adapt to the demands of tertiary education, change the way you think about design, and also face challenges like problem solving and innovation. But you can cope if you get the hang of things and don’t shy away from asking for help, if needed. You can find most of your information on the Internet or from books at the library.
Initially I was worried that I lacked creativity and that missing a few deadlines would cause me to spiral towards failure. Mistakes happen and can actually be beneficial sometimes – failure in one task can mean success in the next, because it’s all about trial and error, and constantly improving on your work. Knowing that you haven’t done well in something sucks, I know, but once you’ve learnt from your mistakes it only perfects your work as a designer as you gain understanding.
Deciding to study Interior Design is one of the best decisions I have made. If this is what you want as a career, do yourself the favour of studying it too. It’s definitely not a walk in the park, but it’s a refreshing challenge that will have you on the tip of your toes and keep you going until you achieve your goals. In my case, it’s graduating at BHC with a smile on my face, a diploma in my hand, and taking my first steps into the professional world of design. I hope to one day work overseas for a firm or interior design company, hopefully in Europe. I might also continue to study further after my diploma, but I’m not entirely sure yet. Whatever happens, I am certain that my career will be in line with Interior Design.
“As a matriculant, it’s fairly easy to adapt to the Interior Design course at BHC, as it’s very creative, and there is nothing nicer than to come to class and start off a day with a relaxed sketching lesson to good music. Since almost everything is practical, you can easily finish your work in class (or stay on after class to finish) and have the rest of the day free for other activities and hobbies.”
– Gillian Bolliger, BHC School of Design
Seeing that you will most likely complete many of your tasks at home, make sure you have a large surface to work on with good lighting. If you don’t have a big desk in your room, or an office to use, a kitchen or dining table can make for a great working space. Just remember that your family members might be planning to eat dinner there, in which case you best pack up and use the opportunity to take a break and refresh your mind (and eat).