Inside the Gibbs Furniture Design Studio

During the fall 2023 semester, senior Interior Design students designed and constructed furniture pieces as a part of Gibbs College’s furniture design studio. For the second year in a row, the course was sponsored by local furniture and design studio Henry Home Interiors. Their sponsorship helped cover the cost of materials, scholarships and resources for the end-of-semester furniture design exhibition.

“The most exciting aspect of the partnership lies in the opportunity to witness and engage with the students’ creative process,” said Katelynn Henry, owner of Henry Home Interiors. “From envisioning a design to completing the finished product, [I] enjoy being part of the students’ journey. The partnership contributes to the development of future designers.”

The course was led by Chelsea Holcomb, lecturer in Interior Design, who guided the students through the creation process of their own unique furniture pieces. While this senior-level course is mandatory for Interior Design students, it is open to all students across the various disciplines within Gibbs college. Over the course of the semester, the students worked diligently to transform their miniature chipboard models into full-size, usable furniture pieces. 

To begin the project, the students were asked to come up with 30 different potential design concepts. From there, the students narrowed it down to their favorite concept and created a rough full-size model out of cardboard, allowing them to see the scale and proportion of their pieces. By week seven or eight of the class, they began building their final pieces at the Creating_Making Lab.  

With the help of Mat Reed, CML Manager, and Jerry Puckett, Gibbs College Buildings Operations Manager, the students carefully crafted their pieces using a variety of woodworking tools and techniques. At the lab, the students had access to a variety of different tools including electric saws, handheld power tools, joiners, sanders, a laser cutter, a CNC machine and a metal shop with welding equipment. 

According to Holcomb, this course leaves students feeling much more prepared and confident to build with and work around power tools and machinery. “They’ll have another level of confidence walking onto a construction job site and understanding what’s happening,” Holcomb said. “Also, now they have some language to communicate with contractors and subcontractors.” 

The students also received guidance from Henry, who visited the CML and met with the students individually to give them feedback on their pieces. “Supporting the Furniture Design Studio course at the University of Oklahoma aligns seamlessly with Henry Home Interiors’ commitment to community engagement,” Henry said.

“The College holds significance as an integral part of our design community. Providing mentorship to these students during their building process hopefully gives them an additional tool to use, specifically, someone to bounce questions off. Establishing a connection with these students underscores our dedication to fostering growth within both the academic and professional fields.

Each student was also gifted a $200 stipend from Henry Home Interiors to help cover the cost of materials for their pieces. As explained by Holcomb, some students were incredibly resourceful and utilized found materials and wood scraps previous projects. Addie Johnson, ID student and second-place winner of the furniture design competition, made her piece almost entirely out of scrap lumber salvaged from the recent demolition of Gibbs College’s architectural library. 

Each December, the furniture design studio hosts a furniture design exhibition where the students share their final pieces, and the winning designs are announced. The students come up with the theme, color pallete and poster for the event. This year’s theme, Crafted Visions, represented the students’ tedious efforts in carefully crafting their furniture pieces. The exhibition took place on Dec. 1 at MAINSITE Contemporary Art.

As a part of the furniture design competition, the students put together an exhibition catalog featuring sketches, renderings and details of their final pieces. These catalogs were utilized by a panel of nine Gibbs faculty members who selected the final five pieces from which the award winners were chosen. The winning pieces were selected based on the construction, craftsmanship, originality, joinery, finishing, branding and boldness of their design.

The first and second place winners were awarded scholarships from Henry Home Interiors. In first place was ID student Riley Schlotfelt, who received the “Best in Show” award and a $1,000 scholarship. In second place was Addie Johnson, who received the “Honorable Mention” award and a $500 scholarship. The other three runners-up were ID students Lauren Hekimian, Jill Young, and Lindsay Perkins.  

“The level of innovation and commitment displayed by this year’s class reflects positively on the course’s efficacy in shaping astute professionals in our industry,” Henry said. “The course’s emphasis on challenging students to explore uncharted territories and develop new skills is commendable.” 

For Holcomb, the most rewarding component of teaching this class is watching the students’ confidence build as their pieces come together. “To watch them build their design and see it become something at the end is my favorite part, because they just don’t have a lot of confidence in their ability to build,” Holcomb said. 

“For these students, most of them don’t have experience building. They design it and then it happens. This is a class where they can learn how that happens, how things connect, how they go together, how their designs become real objects. And it’s the only time they’re experiencing that because they’re designing on a computer, but they’re not actually building the spaces that they’re designing. So, this class allows them to learn new skills.” 

Henry Home Interiors offers semester-long design and marketing internships and is actively accepting internship applications for the Spring 2024 semester. Interested students can apply through the company’s website at Henry Interiors Careers.

Stay up to date with Holcomb’s future furniture design studios on Instagram (@ou_furnituredesign). View more photos of this year’s furniture design exhibition below.