By: Kyle Niblett

“There is power in what you do not know.” 

This quote from University of Florida Department of Interior Design Associate Professor Jason Meneely has been the guiding principle for Lafayette J. Bonner, who is scheduled to graduate from the UF College of Design, Construction and Planning with a master’s degree in interior design in the spring of 2023.

“Jason emphasized the importance of curiosity and the unique perspective that can come from “not knowing” and being curious,” Bonner said. “This statement has given me the courage to try new things and push the limits in both design and research.”

With this courage, Bonner has earned a prestigious internship as a healthcare interior designer with Gresham Smith in Jacksonville, Fla. There, the American Society of Interior Design (ASID) member conducts systematic literature reviews for the research and insights team. Other duties include scheduling material library updates from sales reps in the field, taking site visits to hospitals and the all too familiar company meeting. Even with all that responsibility, Bonner credits the interior design program at UF for preparing him for his internship.

“My education at DCP has provided a rigorous, yet practical course schedule that makes me feel confident about my ability to succeed in my internship,” Bonner said. “Most importantly, my time in Gainesville has instilled the importance of networking, which is becoming a regularly used skill during my day-to-day.”

As someone who plans to combine both his healthcare and interior design background in hopes of becoming a leading healthcare interior designer, Bonner’s favorite course thus far at UF has been “Inclusive Design in the Built Environment” (IND 5937) taught by DCP Assistant Professor Shabboo Valipoor. This course emphasized to Bonner the importance of designing for different-abled bodies, such as users in wheelchairs. The final project for the course was combining research and design to accommodate a disability of choice, which benefitted him directly at Gresham Smith as a healthcare design researcher.

“The most challenging part of my internship has been the adjustment from studio design courses to healthcare design research,” Bonner explained. “Understanding the research behind healthcare design, however, has helped me understand the necessity of evidence-based design practices.”

Right before he left for Jacksonville, Bonner received the UF James McFarlane Scholarship for Design Communication for his breathtaking restaurant studio project. The award was special for him because he pushed the limits with the project and instead of viewing the project as another assignment, he became obsessed in creating something he had not seen or experienced before.

Bonner’s internship has poured kerosene on the fire that is his desire to make a lasting impact on the world through his work. At Gresham Smith, he draws inspiration daily from the ability to see the initial renderings and plans of spaces and the finished product.

“The most fascinating and memorable experience I’ve observed this summer is an interior designer being thanked by hospital staff for the beautiful artwork on the walls,” Bonner said. “The nurse appreciated the attention to detail in the nature-themed artwork and said how much both staff and patients enjoyed each piece. It was fascinating primarily because the nurse noticed what could be viewed as a small detail. This encounter showed me that even ‘small’ details, like artwork, can make a huge difference.”

After seeing the impact of evidence-based design and its importance in Duval County, the man who one day has plans to host a design-based television show plans to apply the knowledge from this internship back into his thesis work. By considering what literature says about the space he’s designing, he will also use the confidence learned at Gresham Smith to properly conduct a study and the powerful results that can come from it. Still, he is thankful the DCP alumni network and the department itself prepared him for such a wonderful internship.

“DCP is an amazing choice for design school,” Bonner finished with. “Each of the professors are experts at their craft and bring unique experiences into the classroom that make learning enjoyable. Aside from the academics, the college also provides a network of connections that can be beneficial as both a student and alumni.     

So, while there is power in what he may not know, it is Bonner’s new knowledge from Gresham Smith and his time at DCP that have made him a future star in the design profession.

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