Even if Ariel Kuchta could have dreamed up a perfect ending to her college experience, she might not have been able to match how it all turned out.
For her final semester, the UW-Stout interior design major studied and interned in Florence, Italy. She won a design competition remotely. When the semester ended there, she toured Italy.
Then, she made it back to campus in time to take part in the May commencement ceremony and celebrate with her friends.
“It was a great semester” and capped off a “great experience at Stout,” said Kuchta, who is from Green Bay.
Now, inspired by her latest experiences, she has begun her career at MSRDesign, an environmentally responsible architecture firm based in Minneapolis. Sustainability in design is important to Kuchta; in 2021, she and other UW-Stout students and faculty became WELL Accredited Professionals, a safe, healthier buildings movement.
Working at MSRDesign aligns with her goal to be at a commercial company and “be involved in the design process from the beginning and work with the architects and the clients from the ground up,” she said.
In Florence, she gained valuable client experience while interning at Arcabi Associates, a small firm but one with clients around the world. The co-owner of the company is an interior designer.
Kuchta worked on projects that included a villa in Miami, Fla., business facades, interior design work for office buildings and a wall mantle for a home in Florence.
She even helped bring new technology to the company, which still does hand-rendering of work. She created renderings in Revit, a 3D software modeling program she used at UW-Stout that puts the viewer in the space.
“They had never used those programs and were excited every time I could build something and bring it to life,” she said, adding that they were impressed with how fast she could create in Revit and the interactive nature of the program.
Kuchta learned plenty from the experience as well. “I had always seen myself with a bigger company, but I definitely learned a lot from them. I had never worked with the exterior of buildings. The (villa) client wanted custom furniture, so I was working with that. It was cool to hear from the client and have meetings with him. It brings the whole process to life.”
Living in Florence, a city of about 400,000 and the capital of the Tuscany region, was an education in itself. She walked an hour a day to work and an hour home through the city. The historic buildings and sculptures, including Michelangelo’s “David,” are “so intricate, so symmetrical, so perfect” that “it felt unreal walking through it. It’s just insane when you see it in person.”
Kuchta had hoped to study abroad earlier in Spain, but her plans were interrupted by COVID-19. She was excited to learn Italian to go along with her knowledge of Spanish. She was required to take 12 credits by the Cultural Experiences Abroad program through UW-Stout’s Office of International Education; the school enrolls American students abroad. One of the courses was online at UW-Stout.
She played three seasons for the Blue Devils soccer team, forgoing her senior year to work and prepare for her trip to Italy.
While still in Florence, she took part remotely in a UW-Stout interior design competition sponsored by BWBR, a St. Paul architecture, interior design, research and planning firm. The competition, titled the Prize, has been one way for BWBR to give back to the profession and support UW-Stout’s interior design program, which it has done for many years.
Kuchta won the contest, which began with portfolio presentations and narrowed to a new, specific project for the finalists.
Her winning design was a coffee house, Za’atar, with an Arabic theme. The design had to be based on an artifact; she found that honey is used as a healing agent in Yemen. “The whole coffee house is based on the healing properties of honey,” she said.
Finalists had to create a separate project portfolio for the BWBR Prize, including videos of their work and present them to professionals from the firm.
“It was awesome to get their professional feedback while learning how to present a project and explain my process better. I’m glad I got to be a part of that,” she said.
To cap off her successful semester, her BWBR design was chosen for the university’s Best of Design student art exhibit at Furlong Gallery. The exhibit continues into September.
Kuchta’s success this semester didn’t surprise Professor Julie Peterson, who taught the interior design senior capstone course.
“Ariel is one of the strongest interior design students I’ve had in my time here,” Peterson said. “She juggled a lot during her final semester, and her hard work ethic, attention to detail and dedication all contributed to her success.”
Kuchta’s final semester seemed emblematic of her four years at UW-Stout.
“I loved every single part of UW-Stout. I don’t think I took a class I wasn’t excited about. I tried to think of my least favorite class and couldn’t think of it. I haven’t had a professor I didn’t like. Every single part was a good learning opportunity and beneficial,” she said.