Interior Design Student Receives Nelson Award

by John Gibbs

Interior design student Rai Savage wants to collaborate with other professionals designing for Black-owned businesses, and serve as a mentor for up-and-coming designers. Being one of the only Black students in the interior design space, she recognizes the importance of building bridges back into the communities that shaped her, creating a path forward for others to achieve the same level of excellence.

A recent scholarship from the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) will help her achieve this goal. Established to support diversity and further the study of interior design and architecture for students of African American descent, the award is bestowed through the John J. Nelson Sr. Fund and comes with a $10,000 scholarship prize. In addition, the IIDA is sending Savage to Chicago this summer to be honored at NeoCon 2022, the world’s leading commercial design conference.

“The fact that I can potentially use my knowledge and talents to help out my community is something that gets me up every day,” she said.

Savage has always been interested in interior design, even before she thought it a viable career opportunity. Growing up, she spent hours rearranging furniture in her house, experimenting with all sorts of ideas and funky designs. But creativity is just one half of the equation; the other half being anybody who interacts with Savage’s designs. “I consider the person who walks through the door or sits in a chair or stands in my room. At the end of the day, interior design is about how my designs make people feel,” she said.

It wasn’t until her senior year at Normal Community High School that she was introduced to some base-level interior design concepts and courses. That’s where the kernel of her creativity blossomed into full bloom. Savage learned about Maryville soon after from a family friend and mentor who, at the time, was enrolled in its interior design program.

When she toured the Maryville campus, she met with Darlene Davison, director of the Interior Design Program and associate professor of interior design. Davison immediately noticed Savage’s talents and encouraged her to apply. Once accepted into the program, Savage learned that interior design was about much more than moving furniture around. It was about things like aesthetics, design morality and inclusiveness. She also learned it was about how to combine her creative ambitions with real-world problem-solving solutions.

One of her heroes when it comes to design is Frank Lloyd Wright, whom she celebrates for the way he married form and content, historically thinking outside of the box. Now, people from all over the world travel to see his homes and appreciate his designs. She hopes to one day create spaces that people want to spend time in and maybe even marvel at. However, Savage is never quite satisfied with her designs. Where others might see complacency, she sees only opportunity and “strives to be better today than she was yesterday.”

Interior design isn’t the only thing Savage has set her sights on. She’s also working toward a minor in business administration at Maryville. Earlier in her college career, she realized that she wants to start her own design firm. She had previously taken some business classes in high school and learned she may have a mind for the more administrative side of design.

Her interest in business grew following her internship with Spellman Brady & Company (SPC), an interior planning firm specializing in healthcare, senior living and higher education environments. There she got to see what a day in the life of an interior designer was like. SPC focuses primarily on commercial designs and collaborations, which come with their own rules and regulations. Savage eventually wants to pursue the more residential side of design, where she can personalize her own ideas and “go creatively crazy,” she said. But before she gets there, she’s focusing on other local projects.

One recent collaboration is with Pocketparks, a nonprofit reimagining and redeveloping unused plots of land to provide communities with beautiful recreational spaces. Savage discovered Pocketparks through the Design Ambassadors, a Maryville program encouraging cultural fluency for interior design students. Currently, her team is working to design a public green space for the community of Hyde Park in North St. Louis. They hope to complete work in the summer of 2022. Savage is excited to work on projects like Pocketparks because “community events and engagement are key to creating a lasting impact in the wider community,” she said. It’s just one of the many ways she continues to see opportunities for equitable design in the world around her.

Send this to a friend