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New St. Mary Cathedral Design by Interior Design School Students Approved with $1M Budget

Undergraduate interior design school students from Academy of Art University got more than just a pleasant surprise when the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption reportedly allocated $1 million to make their design improvements a reality.

Students of the School of Interior Architecture & Design envisioned and pitched an exciting future for the landmark church’s event space. But the valuable, hands-on learning experience the students have gained to accompany their interior design degrees won’t be their only takeaway.

Competing Teams Come Together

Tom Collom is the capstone coordinator for the school. In that role, he oversees design studio courses for undergraduate and graduate students. Originally, Collom split students in his Studio 3 class into two competing teams to submit proposals. But the St. Mary’s staff were blown away by both designs and wanted to include elements from each.

The St. Mary’s patron’s hall, as it appears today.
The hall as reimagined by the Academy’s Choir Girls team.

“After the last presentation was finished, the St. Mary’s folks said they loved the designs and wanted to move forward,” says Collom. “The students were anxious to hear which team would be chosen, but they surprised us and said both—they couldn’t choose just one.”

Renewal and Roots

The two teams—The Choir Girls and Team Bloom—started with strong, focused concepts in mind. Team Bloom honed in on the idea of the space blossoming for an experience of renewal. The Choir Girls focused on the concept of “roots”—and the church’s role in the city’s history since 1854.

“We [made] some of the meaning of roots literal in the design, like using actual plants and using patterns that look like roots and the veins of leaves and other things like that,” says Studio 3 student and Choir Girls member Bianca Melone. “As far as implementing it in not such a literal way, I think we…wanted to pay homage to the fact that St. Mary’s has been in San Francisco for so many years…. We tried to keep some of the ‘skeleton’ and some of their current design the same, to keep their roots the same.”

A hallway at St. Mary’s, as it currently appears.
Below, the hallway as reimagined by the Academy’s Team Bloom.

Positive Budget Surprise

Students initially thought that the budget would be much tighter, which led them to choose more inexpensive options. The students “splurged” on only a few special pieces, like a gorgeous chandelier for the great hall and LED screens to project natural images on the ceiling.

Elevation for LED screens in the patrons hall, as reimagined by the Academy’s Team Bloom.

“I was really surprised when we found out how much they actually had set aside for the budget,” says student Morgan Sandusky. “Throughout the process, [St. Mary’s] implied that we wouldn’t have that much money to work with, so I guess I was sort of scaling myself back in my head.

“I was actually the one that asked what the budget was, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was so much.”

Wide Vision, With Details

The redesign focused on the cathedral’s exterior entrance, an enclosed patio, the interior entrance, a great hall with a capacity of 500, and two adjacent halls along with restrooms.

An exterior area of St. Mary’s near the church’s entrance, as it appears today.
The area as reimagined by the Academy’s Choir Girls team.

To convey their vision for the new and improved space, both teams first set their sights on the cathedral’s dated carpet. Initially, the St. Mary’s staff told students that replacing the carpet would not be part of the budget. The students were encouraged by Collom to propose alternatives anyway. After seeing their stylish picks, St. Mary’s was on board.

“The carpet we came up with to replace the old one was first of all sustainable, and also easy to clean,” says student Patricia Kabash. “If for some reason they can’t clean the carpet, they can pull up the individual carpet tiles, bring them to the manufacturer, and they will change them out and give them new ones. But my favorite part…is that the old carpet will be recycled and reused, not just thrown away.”

Coming in 2021

Despite delays due to the health emergency, St. Mary’s hopes to be able to finalize the redesign by the summer of 2021. Students are anxiously awaiting their plans to be realized.  

“I want guests to feel alive, and I want them to feel like they’re where they’re supposed to be—like they’ve reached a destination,” says Melone. “It’s…the feeling you have when you think about where you’re rooted, and St. Mary’s is rooted in San Francisco. The event space is underground and is quite literally the roots of the building. And I think that the concept of roots and plants and nature…helps to enforce that.”

Images courtesy of Tom Collom
Original article by Greta Chiocchetti of Art U News,

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