It’s the November edition of #CASTAlumSpotlight, and the College of Applied Science and Technology is excited to share Kendra Cranford ’17’s story.
As an interior design major, Cranford did not always know what she wanted to do after school. She started at Illinois State University as a business administration major but went back to her fifth grade dream of becoming an interior designer. She described her time at Illinois State as fulfilling and a time that prepared for her interesting and creative career. Reading about her transition from a bubbling college to the demands of her career as a designer at Aria Group Architects will inspire you to chase excellence.
What informed your choices for both Illinois State and your major? What were some of your unforgettable experiences?
When I started at Illinois State, I majored in business administration with the idea that I would run my own business after college. When I visited the ISU campus, I instantly fell in love, it was where I had felt most comfortable after all of my visits through the stressful college hunt.
Illinois State truly became my home for the four and half years that I was enrolled. Throughout my time on campus, I experienced many unforgettable experiences. During my freshman year, I was part of the all woman’s choir, played on an intramural soccer team, and joined my beloved sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta. Throughout my time with this wonderful organization, I held many leadership roles. I was the vice president of operation, then the vice president of member development, and eventually became president.
When I think of Illinois State, I think of the great times I had with all of my friends at homecoming, cheering on the Redbirds, or Saturdays spent on the Quad. When the leaves start to change, that is the perfect time of year to walk through campus. Interestingly, some memories were even made during long nights in Milner Library. I lived in Normal for the four years spent on campus and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Illinois State will forever have a piece of my heart.
What did you enjoy the most about being an interior design major?
There were many things that I enjoyed about being an interior design (ID) major, but most of all it was the people. To this day, I keep in touch with my classmates and two of them are my dearest friends, Katie Lane ’17 and Courtney Brown ’18. One person I will never forget is (Professor) Taneshia West Albert. She not only made me a better designer but an overall better person. In college, she was my role model. Now, she is also someone I consider a friend.
Also, I would not have gotten this far without (Professor) Connie Dyar. She encouraged me to become a confident, young designer and encouraged me to push further in my career. I loved my major, the projects I was a part of, the materials I was learning, and I loved the people I experienced these opportunities with. I can say my favorite part about being an ID major was the love and support that I received.
Did you always know what you wanted to do career-wise?
I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for the first two years of college. I was going about my days as a business major. Then one late night, Lane was up working on a project for ID, and I was like, “Yup, that’s what I wanna do. I wanna spend long nights creating 3-D models.” I can’t remember so much of the details but I am glad I made that switch.
I also remember that I took the career cruiser test in fifth grade, and my top career path was being an interior designer or interior decorator. If only I had listened to my fifth grade self at the time! Oh well, I got where I needed to be in the end.
I also switched my business major to a minor, so my parents were thankful that it wasn’t a complete waste of time. They supported me regardless of my career choices. They truly are amazing. Through my experiences, I have learned that it is OK to not know what you want to do for the rest of your life. Take your time, think about it. Make sure it is something that you will love going to every day because I promise you, if you do, your life will feel complete.
How was the transition from college to professional life?
One word—hard. If it were up to me, I’d spend another four years in college. It was the best four years of my life! However, professional life gets easier and the transition isn’t so hard after a while. I didn’t have a job lined up right after graduation, so that’s where most of my stress came in. After I got my job, found an apartment in Chicago, and started my career, things started to become clearer. I knew I was going to love the professional world because making a difference is fun.
It’s hard for me to describe a typical day because my days aren’t always so typical. My weekdays are very different from the weekend. A typical weekday for me starts with my greatest obsession, coffee. Oh, how I love coffee. Work days for me are pretty typical. I spend most of my days designing Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant. It is such a fun restaurant to design and there are many locations coming soon so that keeps me very busy!
Some evenings, I go to design events in downtown Chicago. These events are great because there is a lot of opportunity for networking with other firms and designers. My weekends aren’t very typical. Most weekends, I am never home. I usually travel to see family, friends, or my boyfriend, who I met at ISU. I like to spend my free time traveling, doing a wide range of activities outdoors, or taking on challenging DIY crafts.
I recently had the pleasure of going on a trip to Spain with some other members of my firm. We were accompanied by Roca Tile, and they took many other individuals from other firms as well. We were also allowed to bring a plus one, so I brought my mom with me. She was the perfect travel buddy to have with me on such a fun trip; she is my best friend. Sorry again, Dad, for leaving you at home. Next time! It was such an amazing experience to learn about the architecture and history of Barcelona and Valencia.
What is the coolest thing about your job?
One of the coolest things about my job is seeing my vision turn into reality. You visualize this space in your mind and you know how you want the environment to feel, and the mood and energy that you want the space to give off. It is such an incredible feeling to go to a space that you designed after it is completed and feel the energy that you were trying to portray in your mind. Designing isn’t just about how the space looks, it’s also about how those using the space feel while they’re surrounded by it.
It is also so amazing to be surrounded by so much creativity every day. The people I work with are amazing and are such great friends of mine. They give me ideas to better my designs and the process makes us such a close team that we end up creating something spectacular but still highly effective.
My advice would be to pay attention in the class that discusses building codes. More often than not, designers think the codes don’t pertain to them and only matter to the architects. I am here to tell you that isn’t true. They are important! Study them, understand them, know them. It will open the door to many more design opportunities for you.
I also highly encourage having more than one internship opportunity. I had two. I spent my first internship living in Indianapolis while working for my sorority’s headquarters. I traveled to different universities in various states to design sorority homes. It was such an amazing experience to travel to different states to learn about hospitality design. I spent my second summer living in Atlanta and working for Cristi Holcombe Interiors. Cristi is a residential design firm, and I spent that summer designing high-end homes across Atlanta. I highly encourage individuals in my major to search for a fun opportunity like I did, don’t settle for an internship because it is required for a class. Travel and have fun with it if you can!
If you were to do college over again, would you do anything differently? If yes, what would that be?
Nope, my time spent at ISU is something that I would never change. The friends I met are still my best friends to this day. The things I learned led me to my dream job with Aria Group Architects where I am constantly pushed to do more and learn daily.
My sorority made me a better woman. I had outstanding support from my family, but most of all from my parents, Teresa and Kendall Cranford. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself that those very few Wednesdays spent at Milner would have been better spent at the Pub II, but maybe that’s just me! It’s important to work hard in college, but don’t forget to have a little fun too. These will be the best years of your life.