DIFFA’s Student Design Initiative: A Success Story

DIFFA: Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS

Garrett Carter, May Ghadanfar, Bonnie Hoeker and Kwanghae Lee

Each year, DIFFA invites three of New York’s most prestigious schools to create design installations for DINING BY DESIGN New York. The Student Design Initiative is supported in part by the Angelo Donghia Foundation. Under the tutelage of cutting-edge industry mentors, these student teams were guided through the creative process from conception to execution while working within a strict budget. In addition, students were given the chance to join DIFFA in the fight against HIV/AIDS by weaving the cause into their designs to help raise awareness to the DINING BY DESIGN audience.

Past student designer, Bonnie Hoeker talks about her experience designing an installation for DINING BY DESIGN 2017. She is currently working full-time junior designer with Peter Pennoyer Architects and will be working with a team to develop the Sunbrella vignette for the 2018 DINING BY DESIGN.

What school did you attend? What did you study?

BH: I graduated in May of 2017 from the New York School of Interior Design with a Bachelors in Fine Arts.

Tell us about your experience designing a table vignette for DBD last year?

BH: I participated in DIFFA during my final semester of my undergraduate studies in the Spring of 2017. My classmates Garrett Carter, May Ghadanfar, Kwanghae Lee and I represented The New York School of Interior Design with the guidance of our faculty advisor Rene Estacio. Last year’s DINING BY DESIGN also happened to be the 20th anniversary of the event so our concept was designed to celebrate that. By incorporating light and rhythm we created a vignette that represented individual forces joining together to create one stronger force, which to us was the underlying principle of what DIFFA represents.


What did you learn by participating in DBD as a student? What was the most challenging and rewarding part?

BH: Participating in DIFFA DINING BY DESIGN was an incredible experience from start to finish! From the technical details to the project coordination, my team and I learned so much. We gained hands-on experience from every aspect of the project. That was definitely the most rewarding part of participating. We had to educate ourselves on our specific design elements from wiring all of the LED lighting to actually building the booth from the ground up, so once it was complete we really felt like experts! The greatest challenge by far was staying within our budget. We had to get really creative to be able to make our vision come to life under our limited student budget.

Tell us about your current role at Peter Pennoyer Architects?

BH: Upon my graduation from The New York School of Interior Design, I was hired as a full-time Junior Designer for the Interior Design Department at Peter Pennoyer Architects, an award-winning firm in classical architecture and historic preservation, sought-after for its ability to bring traditional principles to contemporary design.  For this upcoming DIFFA DINING BY DESIGN event, we are partnering with Sunbrella fabrics to create a vignette. I am beyond thrilled to be able to transition from participating as a student, to now on a professional level.

How do you plan to use your past experience to help with this current project?

BH: It was an amazing surprise to hear that we were going to be participating in this year’s DIFFA DINING BY DESIGN event. I will be supporting my team here to the fullest by providing my knowledge based on my experience last year. I know that I will be a valuable member of the team!

Why is it important for students to have real-life/hands-on experience prior to graduating?

BH: Working on DIFFA last year while also wrapping up my thesis project at NYSID was an incredible test of my perseverance. I needed to be fully committed to both and that was an enormous challenge as I also interned part-time at PPA and volunteered as the ASID Student Rep for the New York Metro Board. Balancing all of these things was the greatest professional challenge I have ever experienced, however, once I fulfilled all of my commitments I felt confident that I could take on anything. I graduated feeling prepared and ready to dive into becoming a designer full time. The real-life experience was invaluable and something I couldn’t have attained in the classroom alone. I carry that with me in all of my endeavors today and I always advise other students to take on all and any real-life design opportunities they come across. There is no better way to prepare for the real world than jumping right in!