When Morgan Jones and Taylor Olson graduated from Virginia Tech, they had two things in common: the same major and a philosophy that would cause the kitchen and bathroom design industry to note their hard work.

Jones won first place in the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s 2020 Student Design Competition, and Olson received the association’s Ellen Cheever Student Certification Scholarship.

Both students were spring 2020 graduates in the residential environments and design program housed in the Virginia Tech Department of Apparel, Housing, and Resource Management. Throughout their undergraduate years they knew they needed to do more than just complete their assignments in order to propel their future careers forward. They needed to show their ability to exceed expectations.

Jones said that at a young age, her family instilled this philosophy within her. Her mother, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, inspired her to become competitive with others and herself. And her passion for architecture and design challenged her to find unique ways to showcase her creativity.

A kitchen
Morgan Jones’ award-winning kitchen design for the 2020 National Kitchen and Bath Association’s Student Design Competition. Photo courtesy of the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

Jones’ first-place award is for a kitchen and bathroom design she created for fictitious clients conceived by the association. She blended shabby-chic style with eclectic mixed-materials that balanced with a house’s contemporary exterior. Her solutions feature sustainability, smart-home technology, and natural elements that reflect the competition’s theme of canyons and vistas found in Colorado. 

“I wanted the space to feel functional first and then look personable,” she said. “I wanted everything in the space to have purpose. So, I made sure the kitchen dualed as an entry from the garage; that the materials used were sustainably sourced; and that the lighting, windows, and appliances were energy-saving.”

Jones, who is now an assistant designer for Dave’s Cabinet Inc. in Chesapeake, Virginia, worked on the project during an advanced kitchen and bath design studio class in the fall of 2019, led by Gregory Galford, an assistant professor of residential design.

“We did the competition in the class, and we talked quite a bit about how to win a design contest,” he said. “Many students just did the class requirement and forgot about it. Only a few of them submitted their designs to the competition. But Morgan met with me in March to go over her design again and again, and she kept polishing it. And we spent a lot of time talking about the visuals and making sure the design concept and process were really clear.”

For this extra effort, Jones won first place against 200 other entries and received a scholarship. The association will feature her design in its magazine and will recognize her at the 2022 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show award ceremony.

“I’ve slowly started processing the impact this will have on my future as a residential designer,” she said. “Thinking back to freshman year, I knew there’d come a time when I’d graduate knowing how to think outside the box but within a user’s unique needs — something I couldn’t have learned on my own. I appreciate the time Dr. Galford put into making sure I was competition ready.”

Morgan Jones stands in a construction site on the waterfront.
Morgan Jones, the first-place winner of the National Kitchen and Bath Association student design competition, is now a kitchen and bathroom designer in Chesapeake, Virginia. Photo courtesy of Morgan Jones.

The scholarship award for Olson was for an age-friendly design in the Korean province of Jeju. When Eunju Hwang, an associate professor, invited Seung Koh, director of the Jeju Aging Society Research Center, to talk to her class about a Jeju age-friendly project, Olson found her inspiration. She created a housing design for the haenyeo, an aging population of legendary women divers in Jeju.

“I would describe my project as a space that balanced the modern and traditional aspects of Jeju culture while continuing the main design goals of sustainable coexistence with the natural environment,” she said. “I could maximize the small space in unique ways, all while keeping the design very modern, yet timeless.”

Olson’s project also won the department’s multicultural design competition, funded through a College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences diversity grant. In addition, she presented her design and research at the virtual 2020 Dennis Dean Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship Conference. 

As the association’s Ellen Cheever Student Certification Scholarship recipient, Olson received resources to earn professional certification in advanced kitchen and bathroom design. These include a one-year subscription to the association’s Knowledge Base, online practice exams, 30 educational hours of on-demand preparation courses, a certification study guide, exam preparation flashcards, and all the association’s kitchen and bathroom planning guideline books. The association also waived the application and exam fees. 

Olson is now a kitchen and bathroom designer at Mid South Building Supply in Ashburn, Virginia. 

While at Virginia Tech, both students used resources in the Ellen Cheever Kitchen and Bath Collection of the Center for Real Life Design.

Cheever, a certified master kitchen and bath designer, has long been an influential figure in the industry. Her books in kitchen and bath design have been instrumental in developing and enhancing the design and business skills of a generation of industry professionals. The scholarship in her name helps student members in the association become certified advance designers.

Upon her retirement in 2018, Cheever donated her professional collection of books, articles, and presentations to the Center for Real Life Design. Housed in the Department of Apparel, Housing, and Resource Management, the center includes six operational kitchens that allow Virginia Tech students to explore product selection, space configurations, price levels, universal design principles, and sustainable materials.

Jones and Olson both benefited from such experiential learning opportunities as well as a mindset that helped lead to their recent success.

“I believe you always have to go above and beyond with your projects and use these as opportunities to show your design skills,” Olson said. “I had fun with my class projects and decided to not look at them as ‘work.’ I ended up loving the process. I would spend my Friday nights working because I had so much fun playing with different ideas and expanding my mind. These projects are the ones that continue to reward me and push me forward in my career, even beyond graduation.” 

Written by Leslie King

A modern house structure.
Taylor Olson’s age-friendly design for the Korean province of Jeju.