Jennifer Cooley

Interior Design on a Dime – University Style

By Jennifer Cooley on April 25, 2014

How does your brand come to life for your employees and customers? Transforming our working spaces to represent and reinforce your brand messaging can have a powerful impact on internal audiences – whether those audiences are students, employees or potential customers investing in a long-term relationship.

We recently had the opportunity to help a client do just that … bring a space to life to represent and build their brand.

The client
It’s not every day we get to design the interior of a retail space. When our client, Concordia University Ann Arbor, contacted us to revamp their campus spirit wear store, we were ready for the challenge. We’re talking architectural and interior design. I believe the fundamentals of design are universal, and our team was ready to dive in and create an awesome solution for our client.

The challenge
Revamp the campus spirit wear store over their holiday break. That’s less than six weeks from design to completing construction. The budget? Let’s just say it was “Design on a Dime”-inspired.

Our role included everything from researching furniture and lighting, to recommending paint, security and layout features, to designing and producing signage. All in the most cost-effective way possible. Hip, yet affordable.

An existing university coffee shop housed the spirit store. We started with its floor plans, building materials and paint swatches for that existing space.


“The Egg” (as the store was known) was really just a corner carved out of the shop. Locked storage closets, a hanging sign and tables for display or checkout. As you can see, space was limited and was more functional than anything else.


Our first task was conceptualizing the space and asking questions to find the right solution for our client and their budget. How much would furniture cost? How much can we fit into the space? Can we design custom-made furniture and signage or is that cost-prohibitive? How will the store remain secure after-hours and what type of locking mechanisms can we install? What color palette will best fit with the surrounding space?


In order to convey our ideas, we presented a mood board for each option, including:

  • Floor plans showing the store layout
  • A 3-D sketch of the space
  • Signage design
  • Color palette and paint recommendations
  • Furniture options, pricing and links on how/where to buy each piece

All of our concepting work resulted in two design options, each as mindful of budget as they were designing an attractive space.

The first included furniture and accessories from IKEA. They offered modular and semi-movable furniture options, which would allow us to customize the space as needed. The look was modern yet comfortable, and most importantly affordable and easy to install. The feeling was centered around the idea of school spirit, incorporating the school colors and photography of students.


The second included a few customized pieces such as a cashier’s station and overhead signage. The store itself was called “The Egg” – which was located in the campus coffee shop – called “The Nest.” (They’re the Concordia Cardinals. It all tied together nicely!) We wanted a design option that would metaphorically mimic a bird’s nest with its egg.


The decision and final product
Design option one was the winner – largely because it would allow Concordia to create a unique, designated space within the timeline and the budget with the greatest ease. While the customized approach of option two offered a more distinctive look, it also came with a higher price tag.

Our client’s team was responsible for purchasing, ordering and installing the furniture we chose, painting the space, wiring and hanging lighting, installing the signage and more. For my part, I was incredibly anxious as the project got underway. We put a personal investment into every project, but this was different since we were designing a living and usable space. I hoped everything I had pictured in my head would come together when we pulled the curtain back.

When we finally saw the space, I felt a huge sense of pride (and relief!) in the teamwork needed to get this space made over in such a quick timeframe for such a responsible budget.


Our client was thrilled with the space, and we’ve even heard rumblings of other interior design projects for the campus in the future.

Bottom line: It was an awesome project and memorable experience. I’m so proud our clients trust us with nontraditional design opportunities like this to help us stretch our creative muscles. It’s just another reminder that working for Core provides me with some pretty unique design opportunities … and that I should really put the same amount of effort into revamping my spare bedroom!