School of Design

The children’s dioramas at the school.

Interior design proved to be elementary for some students at Metairie Academy for Advanced Studies. Norma Jean Watson, a language arts teacher at the Jefferson Parish magnet school, taught the basics of design to a group of third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students as part of the school’s elective program.

The fledgling designers took the information and ran with it, first learning how to draw rooms and furnishings to scale and then producing color boards and shoebox dioramas of their “dream” bedrooms—complete with cardboard furniture and bedspreads made of fabric swatches.

Tori looks at fabric choices at Norwalk.

It was gratifying to see the children’s ideas “come to life in a little shoebox,” says Watson, who also has a degree in interior design. Watson incorporated many academic skills into the fun; for example, selecting fabric for curtains and slipcovers required measuring, calculating price per yard and figuring out which materials are suitable for the heavy wear-and-tear a youngster’s bedroom undergoes.

“They were quite surprised at the cost of fabric per yard and the different grades of fabric,” she says.

Because this was the first time many of the students had ever chosen fabric and paint colors, Watson showed them which color families work well together, roughly dividing the color spectrum into summer, fall, winter and spring tones. The 15 boys and girls really let their creativity shine, she says, with the girls choosing lots of bright, cheerful colors and boys gravitating toward darker reds and browns.

A student is comparing fabric samples at Norwalk.

Metairie Academy lets students suggest a wide variety of enrichment courses, ranging from cooking to chess to origami. The electives are taught at the end of the school day, four days a week. When Watson taught a course in interior design earlier in the school year, she invited Greg Coe, manager of Norwalk – The Furniture Idea, to speak to the class. Coe’s two sons attend Metairie Academy and his son Nicholas was one of Watson’s students.

During his talk, Coe and the students drafted the classroom in quarter-inch scale on graft paper. Then he and Watson decided to let the kids carry out a design project—their choices were to redesign their bedrooms if they had flooded during the hurricane, or create a bedroom they would like to have in the future.

Mary Beth on the computer seeing how a couch looks with different colors.

Norwalk donated fabric books and samples, and the students took a field trip to the furniture store on Veterans Boulevard to get some ideas. While the students were there, they picked a sofa or chair, then using a computer Coe printed out pictures of the pieces of furniture covered in the fabrics of their choice. To help with the project, Metairie Academy bought T-squares, mechanical pencils and other equipment.

Watson encouraged the students to look at periodicals such as “Architectural Digest” to get ideas for their rooms. She credits the popularity of design-oriented television programs, such as “Extreme Makeover,” for helping to popularize the concept of redesigning homes as a family’s needs change. The remodeling and rebuilding many families are doing post-Katrina also puts an emphasis on interior design, she says.

Norwalk manager Greg Coe (center) works with Kailen and Nicholas on the computer to coordinate fabric samples with furniture choices.

The proficiency the students showed at selecting fabrics and furniture surprised Coe. “I was really amazed,” he says, at how adventuresome they were and how upscale many of their choices were. They didn’t choose to design their rooms around cartoon characters or superheroes, he says; rather, they made bright and bold selections that pleased parents and students alike.

Watson is now working with several students on a project to redesign the school’s teacher’s lounge, which could use an update, she says. As part of the project, the students interviewed the teachers to see what they wanted, and then they will draw the proposed lounge to scale on graph paper. They will prepare two dioramas and teachers will choose a winner. 

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