Graduates of Chaminade University’s Environmental + Interior Design program are well represented in Oahu’s professional ranks. Three alumnae, in fact – Nancy Schnur, Dedra Hinano Nahinu and Colette Abe Lee – serve as Hawaii chapter presidents of national design organizations.
Hinano Nahinu, general manager and lead designer with INspiration Interiors at the Honolulu Design Center, leads the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) Aloha Chapter.
Schnur said her responsibilities at ASID include keeping members “informed, educated and active,” given that the organization’s national headquarters is nearly 5,000 miles away in Washington, D.C.
“Just as our field is constantly changing, ASID is constantly changing,” Schnur said. “New benefits, new opportunities and new people are always happening.”
Schnur specializes in universal design, which produces aesthetic environments usable to the greatest possible extent by all people, regardless of age or ability.
“When I was in school, universal design was just coming into fashion, so to speak,” Schur said. “We had one basic class on the subject. To me, it was something that could apply to residential but also to health care, which is what I had hoped to focus on.
“Now I’m trying to keep up with all the information out there on the subject,” said Schnur, who works on residential, hospitality, retail and aging-in-place projects.
While attending Chaminade, Schnur was a nontraditional student pursuing a second career.
“Chaminade was a different place then,” said Schnur, who graduated in 2003 with a bachelor of fine arts. The university was “a great place to attend college,” she said, but the interior design program “was small and underdeveloped.”
Today, by contrast, Environmental + Interior Design (E+ID) is the only degree-granting program of its kind of Hawaii. The Council for Interior Design Accreditation, which oversees and evaluates academic standards for baccalaureate institutions, accredited E+ID in 2013.
“I was raising a family, so I couldn’t attend full time,” Schnur pointed out. “The upside was, I was there for so long I was able to see a lot of positive changes by the time I graduated. But nothing like it is now.”
One highlight of her college days was an internship during which she designed new offices for Parents and Children Together, a nonprofit family service agency.
“It was so wonderful to see how my design services brightened people’s lives,” Schnur recalled. “I was so appreciated. The internship got me my first job. So that was a good takeaway for sure!”
Schnur said she hopes to see E+ID “continue to develop and grow.”
“It is so great to see what it has become,” she said. “And I love being there and learning about what the students are learning. I hope they are successful in developing a master’s program. Because as designers, we are always learning.”
NKBA president Hinano Nahinu attended Chaminade on a volleyball scholarship and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 1999. She continued her education by earning an MBA in 2001.
“One of my all-time favorite professors was our interior design director, Walter Taketa, who challenged me both as an athlete and Native Hawaiian student to be successful,” Hinano Nahinu said. “It was a lot of hard work and worth every penny for that education.”
While serving as ASID student chapter president, she learned how professional organizations “can really help you in your business.”
“Today, I am happy to serve on the NKBA board and have for the last ten years as a way of giving back,” Hinano Nahinu said. “The funny thing with volunteering is that you always get back what you put in, if not more.”
Abe Lee, the IIDA president, has worked on numerous major projects during her career, including renovations of The Queen’s Medical Center – West Oahu, Kapiolani Medical Center, Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa and the Sky Ute Casino Resort in Colorado.
“When the general public thinks of interior design, some still perceive it as a very ‘fun’ field’ where it’s all coloring and pillows and, dare I say, even ‘decorating.’ There still needs to be public outreach and education on what interior design is,” Abe Lee said.
“When a person walks into a hospital, hotel, university or library, the way the space moves you to your next destination was thoughtfully planned out by the design team,” she pointed out. “The way the space makes you feel is orchestrated by a combination of color, texture, finishes and furniture, while also keeping life, safety and welfare in mind.
“It’s no coincidence this experience was created by an interior designer.”
Abe Lee, who received her bachelor’s degree from Chaminade in 2005, said three professors were especially helpful.
“Joan Riggs expected a lot from all of us, which pushed me harder to think more critically and explore solutions from different angles,” Abe Lee said. “Although her classes were always the hardest, I learned the most.
“Yukio Ozaki was a wonderful mentor to me,” Abe Lee continued. “He fostered my creativity and helped me hone my skills where needed and also taught me how to let go in other ways. His classes were always my favorite because I could express myself through form.”
She also appreciated the guidance of Takeda, who “always pushed me to be better and was never afraid to give constructive criticism. “
“It gave me thick skin,” Abe Lee said. “Whenever I had to revise a project based on his comments, it came out ten times better.”
Now that Abe Lee is IIDA president, she uses her position to support E+ID by mentoring students “with great potential.”
“Since its accreditation and with the new faculty, E+ID raised the bar on the quality of work and level of talent that has come out of the school,” she said. “I’m so proud of where the program has gone and where it will continue to go with the leadership they have in place.”