January 16, 2023 | Spotlights

Stephanie Golden, Student Member Spotlight

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Resurrecting Narratives through Adaptive Reuse of Interior Architecture

Meet Stephanie Golden, a master’s student at Marywood University and a 2022 WithIt scholarship recipient. Stephanie’s knowledge, experience, and eloquent communication skills are obvious. And, as the first student WithIt member spotlight, we are delighted to feature her and shed some light on the excellent work she’s already doing to better the industry. 

When we chatted with Stephanie, we discussed: 

  • How she found interior architecture
  • Her experience teaching the next generation
  • How her story overlapped with her coursework unexpectedly
  • Her feelings about sustainability and the repurposing of history

Whether you’re passionate about sustainability, a fellow interior architecture student, or a leader in the home and furnishings industry, you’re not going to miss this conversation. 

Q&A

WithIt: Why interior architecture?

Stephanie Golden: I never knew interior architecture existed as a field until I toured colleges. I graduated high school in 2018 and knew I wanted to do something in the architectural field. 

I liked math, but I was more into art. I felt I wouldn’t be happy in a career that was a desk job or a computer job.

I wanted to build for people, for trinkets, for nitpicky, detail-oriented things. I collect things. I love eclectic style. I’m very much a maximalist, so I found myself in interior architecture because our focus is adaptive reuse. We take old buildings that need love and need their life back, and we make them into something new.

I just fit right into that niche. The second that I heard the pitch for interior architecture at Marywood, and Marywood really the only place that does it the way that we do it. Scranton’s very much a place that needs it was a post-industrial area, so we needed that new revolution of design. 

You know, we’re not building a whole lot of new construction. Everything is very much reused, and that’s the future. That’s the future we chose for ourselves, and that we’re pushed into, in terms of sustainability. We have no other choice but to use what we’ve got. 

Sustainability is another thing that I’m fascinated with. But that goes all the way from, you know, construction scale, urban design cities, and then it, it works its way all the way down to daily practices, routines, how do we change our methods of, of environmental awareness.

I did very well in my undergrad years. And I’m studying for a master’s now, so I just throw myself full-fledged into the interior architecture world. And I explored a lot of different routes. 

I got a minor in graphic design. I did a lot of digital fabrication, which is things like laser cutting, 3D printing, CDC, routing, and furniture design. I would love to design [furniture]. I would love to talk about materials, talk about manufacturing. 

I experiment with a lot of things. So I guess the interior architecture umbrella is what I adore about it. You can do anything with this degree. And I found that out very quickly when I was going through undergrad. I know I got into it, but, you know, it just kind of sucked me in.

WithIt: What’s the toughest part?

Stephanie Golden: Trying to do too many things. I cannot say no. I think you get the sense that I hate saying no to opportunities. I tend to overload myself. This semester especially, I’ve been very burnt out as a master’s student, and it’s like sometimes you’ll feel like, is this really what I want to be doing? Or why did I say yes to this? Architecture projects can span over a long period of time, and it’s difficult and frustrating to not see things through. And trusting other people with something you’ve started or something you’ve picked up is difficult. Cause most of us in architecture are perfectionists, and that’s just how it is.

It’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that I can’t do absolutely everything, or I might not have time to do everything, or I have to put things on pause. Passing up opportunities for me is the worst thing. 

WithIt: As a grad student, are you in a position where you’re teaching other students right now?

Stephanie Golden: Yeah, I was given the opportunity to do a program called AIS (Architecture in Schools). And we did a 10-week course with fifth graders that share our campus. 

We were teaching fifth-grade architecture, me and one of my colleagues, and it was the most wonderful thing. I mean, it was adorable, and it turned out way better than we expected. We got a lot of attention for it, and it was just so much fun. 

Of course, I’m like in love with them now. They’ve learned so much, and some are really cut out to do this work, and they’re so passionate about it. They’ve shared that same romance that I have about the coursework. 

So yeah, I taught fifth graders and now tutor first-year students who are in the program. … Freshman year is meant to be very difficult. It’s like boot camp, you know, you have to manage your time and there’s a lot of stuff going on. 

I do that now, and then next year as part of my program, I’ll be one of the full-fledged adjunct professors for freshmen.

WithIt: What did you tell your fifth graders who were really into interior architecture? What encouragement or advice did you give them?

Stephanie Golden: If you have a passion for something in this field and there’s a need for it, you can do it. There’s absolutely no one stopping you from doing something you love. 

You know, there are parts of architecture school that I loved and hated. I found my niche over the course of four years. And they even saw that within 10 weeks of [realizing they] really like drawing but didn’t like building.

I think I offered them the comfort of knowing that you work as a team in the field, as well as how we worked as a class to get something accomplished. You can find what you love to do, and you’ll be able to pursue that. 

As long as you stick with it and be a well-rounded student, you can drive yourself to whatever you’re interested in doing.

WithIt: Do you feel like that’s the same advice you would give to first years?

Stephanie Golden: Yeah, I guess so. You know, it’s difficult to have to tell them that it only gets harder as you go on in school. But you should be more eager. You should find passion in what you’re doing. 

I loved my first year and the passion and the rigor and the pacing only got more intense. But it was a good thing because now I feel that I can keep pushing and get so much accomplished. 

I mean, if I would’ve met myself at 18 years old … she would not believe the things that I’ve learned or the things that I’ve gone through. I had never ever seen this path for myself. 

So, find your niche and run with it. Explore, it’s okay to fail. I just didn’t pass up any opportunities and here I am.

WithIt: What is the most memorable project that you’ve worked on?

Stephanie Golden: I would have to say my project for last year. We [worked on it] from September to May, which is not very usual in the school of architecture. 

We got roped into a community project at a town called Archibald where they had an old coal mining site that was sitting. There are three brick buildings on this site between a river and a railroad track, which connects to the [popular] Lakana trail system.

People traverse the entire county through these trails. They have marathons, and all this, but it’s a very overlooked site. So, the community council reached out and asked if we would provide design ideas for them to convert these old buildings into something new. 

So, the first on their list was this oil house, where they used to store all the oil lamps and all the tools and things for coal mining. 

They wanted to convert it into a rentable cafe space since there’s a big coffee culture around here. They wanted an outdoor deck, and they wanted shipping container storage and wanted to run water, and all these wonderful things. 

As a class, the 14 of us came up with ideas for what this cafe could be inspired by coal mining and the area and what the community wants.

We attended town council meetings to engage with them and ask them what they hated, what they love, what representation do they want, and what vibe are they looking for. 

They loved it so much, asked us to push it to the next buildings. My specific project, which ended up being my final, was a coal mining heritage museum, which took place in the biggest building on that little site. And it was where they would store the coal mining carts, have lunch, and where they would shower. 

They called it the shifting shanty. It was this old brick building — totally dilapidated. There was rock salt in the building, which was deteriorating the brick from the inside. It was very much in need of love. And I fell in love with this building. I adored it. Every ounce of charm that I could muster. I ended up doing this heritage museum because I felt so strongly about it. 

My family had grown up in this area and my great-grandparents died in coal mines. It was very, very personal to me. They were so enthused with the fact that someone had that connection. Eventually, the whole class had a lot of press, and we were on the news and in articles.

The whole school of architecture and the whole town [the difference we were making]. And over the summer the community applied for a grant to make the café section happen. 

They also nominated us for a community award, and it was an unexpected process, an unexpected experience. None of us knew what we were getting into when we signed up. It was just our studio project, our coursework. So, seeing something that could potentially be built within the next five or 10 years is crazy. Really cool.

WithIt: You sound romanced by the field. What keeps you motivated and inspired?

Stephanie Golden: I work a lot in preservation and labor history. Finding out who these people were and understanding architecture that no longer exists, things like coal breakers and industrial machinery that has been completely erased from our environment now is so interesting and important.

I think resurrecting narratives is what I’ve been doing for a little while now, and I’ve found myself passionate about it. 

I’ve found my family history and learned a lot. I found death records that my family had no idea existed. I interviewed a lady that happened to be my grandmother’s neighbor in 1930. 

It is insane to get down to the level of comradery and understanding of people who live in places of need and who have such heart-wrenching stories about labor. 

As we move forward with adaptive reuse and sustainable efforts and redoing buildings, I think it’s time we stop forgetting and disregarding those people’s stories.

My focus, at least for the past year and a half, has been finding out pleasant or unpleasant details about how people lived and what was the necessity, like how people used to survive — how different we are now and how we are supposed to steer away from false narrative in adaptive reuse. 

The farmhouse trend has kind of stopped now, but with adaptive reuse warehouses, people think, “Oh, I’m just going to use these for wonderful trendy places,” but what happened here? 

In reality, my work [involves] somewhat depressing museums and places of history that aren’t necessarily white cabinets and pretty [arrangements]. History isn’t what people romanticize it as. 

I think the romantic part is pulling the right amount of story from these places and bringing that in reverence and in a good position to be able to resurrect these buildings. When we’re resurrecting these buildings, [it’s important to] tread lightly and pay your respects. Do your research on what the area’s about and what the people are about. 

This or That

In a final burst of quick-fire questions, we asked Stephanie about her design and work/life preferences. Here’s what she said:

Contemporary or Traditional

Coffee or Tea?

Dress up or down?

Mountains or Beach?

Morning or Night? (That’s 50/50.)

If after reading this, you’d like to reach out to Stephanie and encourage her in her studies as a master’s student or her future in interior architecture, you can contact her through the WithIt membership portal. 

Thank you, Stephanie, for being our first student spotlight. You’re incredibly knowledgeable and kind. We can’t wait to see where your journey leads!

Considering WithIt membership for your professional journey? Find out more about WithIt’s mission here or make the decision to join today.

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