UW-Stout interior design students help reimagine local teen group home, with safety and comfort in mind

Positive Alternatives to begin remodeling next spring, fundraiser Feb. 29
A mood board for the Positive Alternatives' remodel design by Sidney Franz, Jaid Havey, Riley Henk and Meghan Miller.
Abbey Goers | November 29, 2023

In just a few short months, with fresh coats of paint, a few walls removed to open communal spaces, and with safety and comfort in mind, a local nonprofit will unveil a new look with a more inviting, homier feel. The remodel has been three years in the making. 

Last spring, 34 interior design students at UW-Stout worked in small groups to develop remodeling ideas for the living spaces at Positive Alternatives in Menomonie, a nonprofit organization and group home that provides resources for at-risk youth ages 12 to 17.

The Design Studio II students, instructed by Program Director Shelley Pecha and Assistant Professor Nicolette Brehm, worked closely with Positive Alternatives administrators and staff to outline their needs and wants for the remodel, assessed the existing floor plan and developed potential solutions.

While physically unable to visit the building’s interior for the sake of residents’ privacy, students were provided pictures and room measurements of the approximately 2,400-square-foot building. Brehm and Pecha acted as liaisons between staff and students throughout the design process.

Positive Alternatives staff attended critiques in the studio on campus to give the 10 groups feedback on their designs and joined the final presentations at the end of the spring semester. 

Kitchen redesign proposal, by Jaid, Riley, Meghan and Sidney
A digital rendering of a kitchen redesign, proposed by Sidney Franz, Jaid Havey, Riley Henk and Meghan Miller.

Positive Alternatives remodeled its offices in 2018, working with Anne Olson, adjunct instructor and 1999 interior design alum, who volunteered through the design stage and to the start of construction. Olson suggested the remodeling of the living spaces would be a good class project and connected Positive Alternatives President and CEO Kelli Kamholz with faculty. 

“This was in 2021, and we stayed in touch until it was good timing for both of us,” Kamholz said.

The newly selected remodel design was created by Sidney Franz, of Fountain City; Jaid Havey, of South Milwaukee; Riley Henk, of Amery; and Meghan Miller, of Andover, Minn.

Creating a homier feel, with safety and budget in mind

Kamholz and Program Coordinator Laura Clark think the students’ design met their needs in a way that was creative and minimized the amount of construction required to achieve a new look. 

“We are very excited to have a homier feel with more space for the youth to relax. The changes in storage and organization should help make things more efficient by creating space for items in areas where they are most used,” Clark said.

The group drew design inspiration from studies of “colors, materials and lighting that would aid behavioral health and create a calm atmosphere within the space,” Henk said. “We really wanted our space to feel like a home instead of a behavioral center, while still providing the appropriate furniture, finishes and layout to keep residents and staff members safe.”

Interior design students Meghan, Jaid, Sidney and Riley
Positive Alternatives selected the remodeling design created by interior design seniors Meghan Miller, Jaid Havey, Sidney Franz and Riley Henk (pictured left to right).

“We put ourselves in the shoes of the residents who are away from home and going through a tough time. Through calming colors and thoughtful design features, we created a sense of serenity and control,” Miller said.

“This was also the most realistic project we have done in school in terms of working with a team and on a real building,” she added. “I am grateful for the unique opportunity; our professors worked extra hard to make this a reality for us.”

Residents will continue living at the group home during the remodel. Much of the existing structure needs to remain in place, for financial reasons and for daily operations.

“Although this was the most challenging part, it was also the most rewarding, as we were able to produce a realistic solution for Positive Alternatives,” Henk said. “We focused on altering things that would positively impact efficiency, usability, safety and creativity.”

Henk and Miller will graduate in spring 2024. Henk would like to work in furniture design and Miller in residential design. Franz and Havey will graduate in fall 2024. They would like to work in hospitality design.

Another group of student designers also studied color theory and how it can affect people’s moods; and attention restoration theory and biophilic interior design based on nature to restore the senses and improve focus. Mareike Christianson, of Edgar; Lexi Vrieze, of Stevens Point; and Elise Holzinger, of Waukesha, were inspired by the geography of Menomonie, namely the Devil’s Punchbowl.

Their design included elements of safety, durability, acoustics, visibility and privacy for community and individual spaces, ease of replaceability and maintenance, and ADA compliance.

Living Room redesign proposal, by Elise, Lexi and Mareike
A digital rendering of a living room redesign, proposed by Mareike Christianson, Elise Holzinger and Lexi Vrieze.

“We wanted to create a reflective space, where the residents could feel safe and be themselves,” Christianson said. “The original space felt outdated. We wanted the new space to feel like home, even if only a temporary home. The project was a good opportunity to work with real clients and share our expertise.”

Holzinger and Vrieze agreed. “Working with real clients is beneficial. It was a good learning experience. Knowing what questions to ask so we can understand our client’s needs,” Holzinger said. “We were fortunate to have the opportunity and practice of a real-world job. Not a lot of schools offer opportunities like this.”

“We had to make considerations we hadn’t made before in other projects, like working more closely with a budget. This was our first group project we’ve worked on our interior design program,” Vrieze added.

UW-Stout students and graduates from several majors work with Positive Alternatives, including Human Resources interns from the psychology program and marketing interns, as well as interns and staff from the human development and family studies and criminal justice and rehabilitation programs. Kamholz is a 2003 human development and family studies alum.

Positive Alternatives, which has five locations in western and central Wisconsin, will host a virtual raffle on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, to raise funds for new furnishings and décor at its Menomonie locale. Details will be posted on its social media accounts closer to the event date. Remodeling by contractor Market & Johnson is scheduled to begin after the first quarter of 2024.

The interior design Senior Studio II class next spring will work on cabin and classroom remodels for another nonprofit organization, North Lakeland Discovery Center, an environmental education center in Manitowish Waters.

UW-Stout's interior design program blends fine art, design and technical disciplines. Students study art and architecture, while practicing lighting design and sustainable design, managing budgets and materials specifications. 

Graduates lead careers creating meaningful, life-enhancing and safe interior environments for residential, corporate, retail, hospitality, health care spaces and more. Graduates of the program are 100% employed or continuing education within six months of graduation, according to UW-Stout’s Career Services 2021-22 First Destination report.

UW-Stout’s School of Art and Design, with six Bachelor of Fine Arts, two Bachelor of Science programs and a Master of Fine Arts in design, is the largest in the Upper Midwest with nearly 1,300 students.

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