When you tune into HGTV, does your eye move to the fancy countertops and brilliant backsplashes?

Why not consider a career in kitchen and bath design?

Tidewater Community College students learn to create inviting and functional spaces for heart-of-the home kitchens and spa-like bath retreats.

TCC is the only college in southeastern Virginia to offer a Career Studies Certificate in Kitchen and Bath Design, preparing students for this in-demand field. The college prepares future designers based on the standards of the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA).

Paul Cage working on his computer
Paul Cage is using his GI bill to retrain
for a new career as a kitchen and bath
designer.

Paul Cage, a retired Navy submariner, spent the bulk of his career underwater. Now he is using his GI bill to retrain for a new career as a kitchen and bath designer. “I’m finding that I’m pretty glued to this,” he said. “The program is intense, but for me it’s about doing what you love, and I’m sure enjoying this!”

Students learn the latest trends, tools and design techniques – all in the college’s state-of-the-art interior design classrooms with drafting tables, printers and plotters and a fully loaded sample room.

“NKBA is the gold standard nationwide and it’s what clients ask for,” said Ron Austin, TCC instructor and owner/designer of Design First. “We work hard to be as creative as we can be. Isn’t that why people hire designers to begin with?”

TCC’s kitchen and bath program focuses on space planning, appliance configuration, cabinet sizing and building code requirements, along with materials selection, pricing and project costing.

Students prepare hand drawings first to show floor plans and elevations. “We basically think with the pencil and can always rearrange things easily,” Austin said. “We try to go from good enough to the best. If the design isn’t right, the project won’t be right. And when clients are spending $40,000 to redesign their spaces, they better love it when we’re done!”

Once the hand drawings are finalized, students scan them to computer-aided design programs like Chief Architect, just as they would on the job. This allows them to show clients what the project will actually look like. They can even print blueprints for the spaces they create.

“In class, we study real designs and work on problems and challenges. Doing real projects helps prepare students for the work ahead,” Austin said.

The 27-credit certificate prepares students to sit for the NKBA exam and gain an industry credential.

TCC interior design alumna Betty Higginbotham works as a kitchen and bath designer, but came back to TCC to upgrade her skills. “I saw the value of the program after working with architects and clients for several years,” she said. “I’m learning Chief Architect, a great design program with lots of extras. It is a good communication tool, a time saver, and it even provides schedules and materials lists.”

Austin cautions how meticulous students in kitchen and bath design must be. “We’re often dealing with existing structures with bearing walls, cabinetry and lots of trim work. We teach students how to use the tools of the trade and speak the language so they can communicate with builders and architects effectively. This is more than making the space pretty. We often have to move things around to make it highly functional, too.”

Students working toward their certificates complete a three-credit internship at a local business. Students continue their learning on-the-job and often earn employment in the same place once they complete the program.

TCC alumna Shontel Feagins says she feels like she came back to learn a new language. “Kitchen and bath design is very different than regular interior design, but it’s where I want to be,” she said.