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When she was little, Isabel Dingus loved to rearrange her room. Today, she uses research into ancient cultures to inspire her interior design pursuits. (Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Meet-a-Ram: Isabel Dingus, an interior designer who studies how space reflects cultural identities

Dingus, a scholarship recipient from the International Furnishings and Design Association, is majoring in anthropology and interior design, finding inspiration in ancient design as she creates her own spaces.

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Editor’s note: Meet-a-Ram is an occasional VCU News series about the students, faculty, staff and alumni who make Virginia Commonwealth University such a dynamic place to live, work and study.

Isabel Dingus believes we often don’t notice good interior design. We just find the space pleasant and easy to inhabit and use – the space simply serves its intended purpose. Bad design, on the other hand, “you really notice,” said Dingus, a senior majoring in interior design in the School of the Arts and anthropology in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences. Dingus is fascinated with the process and effort that good interior design requires.

“The idea of creating a space that people can use and enjoy is very fulfilling to me,” Dingus said.

A transfer from Radford University, Dingus was attracted to VCU for its Department of Interior Design, which she calls one of the best in the country, and the opportunity to blend research in anthropology with her interior design pursuits. Her interest in both disciplines helped her secure the Student Member Scholarship from the International Furnishings and Design Association for this academic year. Dingus, who is an intern at Modern Traditions Interior Design in Richmond, shared her thoughts on design and its appeal with VCU News.

Where does your interest in interior design originate?

I don't really know where it came from. When I was little, I was the kid who would always rearrange her room about once a month in the middle of the night. As I got older and people asked what I wanted to do, the idea of being an interior designer kept popping up. At first, I didn't know that that was a thing that I could do, but I did some research and came to the realization that that was the path that I wanted to go down. Space is an important part of everyone's life, and the way we design space is so important. I wanted to study that and be a part of how we imagine and design spaces.

Do you think COVID has had an impact on the way people think about the spaces they spend time in?

I think we've always been aware of space. I think COVID definitely brought it to the forefront and made us look closer at it and how we use spaces in general. My research in my anthropology major looks at ancient design and how space has evolved. There’s always been this idea of designing space to allow us to function, but I think COVID really did make us think more about how we really use these spaces. And how we can design a space so that health and safety are the top priority, while also still providing the function that we need that space for, whether it be a conference room or a kitchen or whatever space you're designing.

How has your research in anthropology informed your work in interior design?

In my research of ancient design, I'm looking at how space reflects cultural identities, and how different parts of a space influence the way cultures and people interact within that space. So whether that be a podium for prayer or a fountain, you can start looking at spaces and pick out certain things that become a symbolic piece within similar spaces throughout time almost like patterns. Now in my design, I’m looking at those patterns and asking how I can take them and then incorporate them into designs and create a space that allows for function but is also culturally relevant.

Are there any opportunities at VCU that have been especially meaningful for you so far?

This summer, I went to Italy for a month to study abroad. I worked on this research of how design reflects cultures – in this case, Italian culture. Italy has such a rich culture and such a rich history in design, and even today techniques from that design are being used. That definitely was really exciting to be able to do and that became kind of a case study for the rest of my research.

Are there any artists that have particularly influenced you?

I’ve always loved Kandinsky’s work. He was one of the first people to introduce the movement of abstraction in the Western world. I really love the idea of abstraction and I work a lot in the abstract. If you're able to produce something that is a little more abstract but still get the point across, I think that's really exciting. Abstract also is very loose and comes in many different forms, and I love that part of it.

Do you have any favorite spaces at VCU?

The Pollak Building is such an interesting building. It has the courtyard in the middle, and it has the rooftop garden. I think it’s a great building in terms of its architectural features. And in Richmond, it’s so unique – we don't really have other buildings like it.

Is there any advice that has been particularly helpful to you so far?

Just to trust my gut. There are so many different ways that you can approach design – design is not linear. There are so many different avenues that people take. And part of trusting my gut is to trust the research. I'm very research-driven, so using research to influence my work has been something that has been really important for me so far – sometimes, I just need to remind myself of that.