Sunday's reception at the historic White School in Spring Green concluded a semester long project during which UW-Madison interior design students were assigned the task of creating concepts for the adaptive reuse of the historical building.
Built in 1877, the White School was an actual school until its closed in 1985. Four years later, it was sold by the River Valley School District to the Spring Green Congregational Church to be used as an educational center. Over the years, the sturdy two-story Italianate building has become a part of the Sauk County Landmarks Registry, featuring many of the building's original fixtures throughout its three stories. In 2002, it was bought by current owner Eric Ferguson, who has made slight modifications to the building's interior to be used as a photography and art studio, which he shares with his significant other, Mary D'Alton.
In the last year, the White School has again become a center for learning, as the couple's close-friend and School of Human Ecology's Lesley Sager thought the space would make a perfect template for an adaptive reuse project for students.
"I knew that Eric and Mary were toying with the idea of renovating their home," says Sager. "So last year, I asked if I could use the White School for my Interior Design II students. The fact that it was historic with the original floors, chalkboards, windows and lights made the building especially perfect, as students would have a real-life model to work with while keeping in mind the necessity to maintain the building's historical features."
Last year, Sager's interior design students were tasked with creating concepts for a first-floor bistro, as the couple had plans for turning the space into a working restaurant. But as the project became too cost prohibitive, this year's project focused instead on turning the building into a functional studio and living quarters for the couple.
Using the building's existing measurements, students were asked to conceive creative spaces and designs for each of the building's rooms, including a portion that will one day hold a working elevator. As the designs were intended for a remodeling geared towards Ferguson and D'Alton's personal use, the students were also required to meet with both to discuss their specific desires and needs for the space.
"I think it was really valuable for the students to have the space, because they can walk into it. It actually exists," says D'Alton. "It also gives them some limitations to work within, as opposed to conceiving some imaginary space."
"It was a great experience meeting with the students and now seeing their design concepts of what we could do with the space," Ferguson adds. "They are all very different and full of ideas that we may use someday when we figure out exactly what we want to do with the building."
Well attended by a crowd that included students and their parents, visitors to the White School reception were free to walk around the first floor's well lit space, viewing student blueprints and concept designs that were hung along the room's walls and positioned on easels. Collaborating with students from Professor Wei Dong's sketching and rendering class, lecturer Brooke Godfrey's computer-aided design course and lecturer Clayton Cartland's architectural interiors class, the final presentations featured colorful representations of the space in various styles of design, some hand-drawn while others produced with the aid of computer design programs.
Although differing in their concepts, each student was able throughout the afternoon to explain to guests their specific vision for the building, creating a rare opportunity for visitors to look at student work and then at the actual space, letting their imagination redesign the space as they moved from project to project.