Nicolle Soriano ’18 believes good design should be universal.
“Whether you’re rich or poor, it’s for everyone to enjoy,” said Soriano, who has a degree in Environmental + Interior Design from Chaminade and now serves as a junior interior designer at WCIT Architecture. “Everyone should be able to enjoy a space that is beautiful.”
It’s an approach that drives Soriano at work and in life—and that passion has gotten noticed.
Soriano was named the International Interior Design Association-Hawaii Chapter’s Emerging Professional as part of the 2021 Ho’ohuli Awards. The recognition honors a junior design leader who has helped advance interior design in Hawaii and made a positive impact in the community.
Interviewed recently, Soriano said she’s humbled by the award. She also gave credit to her colleagues at WCIT, her mentors in the field and her professors at Chaminade, saying they’ve helped her grow professionally and given her the confidence to explore meaningful and exciting projects.
“My office environment is so family-oriented,” she said. “It actually reminds me of Chaminade.”
Soriano didn’t always know what she wanted to do with her life—or where she wanted to study.
Born and raised in Washington State, Soriano was active in the Catholic Church throughout her high school years and was set on choosing a university that would help keep her “grounded and connected to my faith.” She was also interested in the arts and interior design, and so was searching for campuses with strong interior design programs. In doing her research, she learned about Chaminade.
“It just became a perfect fit,” said Soriano, whose mother’s side is from the islands.
In the Environmental + Interior Design program at Chaminade, she found the only program in Hawaii with Council for Interior Design Accreditation. And at the university, she embraced the supportive, warm and fun campus community that allowed her to pursue her other passions and her faith.
While a student, Soriano was active in Campus Ministry and attended several retreats. She also volunteered her time regularly with community projects. And she helped revive the Filipino Club, including as its vice president, recruiting friends and classmates to share cultural performances.
“Looking back, I don’t know how I did it all,” she quipped. “It was just a joyous experience.”
Soriano also said she thrived in Chaminade’s small classes and a strong emphasis on hands-on learning. “You really get to know your professors and have a close relationship,” said Soriano, adding her mentors—including associate professors Junghwa Suh, DArch, and Joan Riggs—“really inspired me.”
“They pushed me to be the best I can be. They really prepared me,” she said.
Soriano added that several projects she worked on at Chaminade still resonate with her, including an innovative assignment to reimagine the modern shopping mall—which has faltered as more and more shop online—and a partnership with a nonprofit to design housing units for homeless people on Oahu.
Her group project on the “death of the mall” even earned an AIA Honolulu design award in 2018.
“At Chaminade, I learned about the importance of interior design to everyone,” Soriano said. “It’s definitely not like what you see on HGTV. It’s a lot more work than you imagine. You’re creating spaces that people work in, that people play in, where they live. Being a part of the design industry taught me how we all function in our daily lives and how big an impact design really has on our communities.”
During her senior year at Chaminade, Soriano landed an internship at WCIT Architecture.
She loved it—and was ecstatic when they asked her to come back for the spring semester.
She was even more thrilled when they offered her a full-time junior designer position right before graduation. “It just worked out so perfectly,” she said, adding she loves her WCIT Architecture team and has enjoyed adding elements of Hawaiian culture and storytelling into her designs.
At WCIT, Soriano has gotten the chance to work on everything from hospitality and timeshare renovations to restaurant makeovers and corporate and office designs. While she builds her portfolio, Soriano is also working to secure her National Council for Interior Design Qualification.
“Put simply,” Soriano said, “it’s a certification that you are an interior designer who knows what they’re doing.” To get the qualification, applicants take several exams that cover a wide variety of industry practices and standards, including building codes, design application and professional practice.
Additionally, Soriano serves as vice president of student affairs for the Hawaii chapter of the International Interior Design Association. It’s a role that’s allowed her to talk about her own experiences as a young designer and serve as a mentor to others pursuing a career in the field.
She hopes to recruit other alums to serve as inspiration to current and future students. “Once you graduate from Chaminade, you are always a part of this bigger ‘ohana,” she said. “It’s very special when you meet other people who went to Chaminade. There are definitely so many of us who have accomplished so much in our careers. Building that alumni network is so important.”
Looking ahead, her biggest focus is on continuing to grow as a designer and community leader—and taking on new opportunities and challenges that allow her to have a positive impact. “I love what I do,” she said, “and am so grateful for the people who helped me become the designer I am today.”