The Charger Blog

Interior Design Majors Brainstorm Ideas for Downtown Redevelopment of one of Connecticut’s Largest Cities

Students in Jesse Peck’s interior design studio course created designs for Meriden 2020, a mixed-using housing development, and presented them to the city planner.

December 18, 2018

By Jackie Hennessey, contributing writer

Marissa Reilly ’20
Marissa Reilly ’20 drafting plans as part of her interior design class.

Marissa Reilly '20 was at the drafting table putting the final touches on sketches of a townhouse floor plan. She and her classmates in her interior design studio course were creating plans for a mixed-income housing development in Meriden that Jesse Peck, lecturer in the art and design department, calls one of the most innovative in the state.

To learn more about the project, which is part of Meriden 2020, Reilly and her classmates took the train to the city’s new transportation hub and revitalized downtown, where Robert Seale, the city’s director of planning, developing, and enforcement, showed them an old affordable housing project being razed and the site of the new development aimed to draw young professionals, working families, retirees, and low-income residents. The housing would be subsidized by federal and state funding that Seale says “will keep the housing affordable for the next 30-40 years.”

Reilly designed the townhouse to meet the needs of a specific client: a single Mom who is a nurse; her adult son who goes to school, works nights and gets home late; and her two school-aged sons, 10 and 12.

She created a separate apartment for the older son on the first floor with its own entrance, a kitchenette and a half bathroom. The second floor featured an open kitchen and dining and living space, and the third floor included two bedrooms, a laundry area, and a full bathroom.

“I want students to see that affordability and beauty aren’t mutually exclusive." Jesse Peck, M.A.

Peck praised Reilly’s insight into her client’s needs. “That kitchenette is a great feature,” she said. “It gives the older son autonomy.”

From the start of the course, Peck asked her students: “How will your design make people’s lives there more sustainable?” “Is the space functional for them?” They discuss larger questions about what makes a place livable and what makes it a home. “Is there ample access to public transportation, to green spaces, public parks, places to shop, to walk, and to gather?”

The focus is on social sustainability, Peck says. “I want students to see that affordability and beauty aren’t mutually exclusive."

“Our focus is on not just making housing affordable but equitable, with the idea of bringing people of mixed incomes together and not isolating a particular population by their socioeconomic status,” continues Peck, who previously worked for a Spokane, Washington, design firm that “specialized in the design of multi-family housing for underserved populations,” which, she says, helped shape her design philosophy.

“What they are doing in Professor Peck’s course isn’t just theoretical. They get important on-the-ground experience.” Robert Seale

To begin, students studied housing topologies and design specifications, and they read case studies on successful mixed-income housing developments around the country to spark their own ideas.

“It’s imperative that the next generation of interior designers have an opportunity to see what public housing used to be – and all that mixed-income housing can be,” says Seale, the Meriden official the students collaborated with. “What they are doing in Professor Peck’s course isn’t just theoretical. They get important on-the-ground experience.”

Reilly – who plans to become a residential designer – says she was energized by the challenge. “It’s been a really cool project,” she says. “It’s so connected to what we’ll be doing in our careers.”