Even before she graduates this spring, Marisa Cothran has landed her dream job. Cothran, an interior design major at Anderson University, was hired recently by KMH Interiors, a small design firm in Midtown Atlanta. The owner of KMH is Kerry Howard, an AU interior design alumnus whose work has won prestigious awards and whose face is familiar from his experience as a contestant on HGTV’s Design Wars and Bravo’s Top Design.
Cothran met Howard when she was five years old at a church in Easley, South Carolina, which both attended but lost touch when her family moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina. She ran into him again in Atlanta while attending a design conference as a college freshman, and they stayed in touch. When she interned at another firm in Atlanta last summer, she got to know the design community and saw some of Howard’s accomplishments.
“I had in the back of my mind that I wanted to work with Kerry,” says Cothran. “His work is beautiful. He creates spaces that are perfect for clients.”
The way she set a goal and pursued it impressed her new boss.
“Marisa reminded me a lot of myself,” he says. “When I was in school, I started looking for a job early, too. Marisa called me before her Christmas holiday and asked to come and speak to me. That impressed me. Most students wait until they graduate to send out their portfolio. She sort of jumped the gun.”
He liked her good eye for details and her clean aesthetic, which made her a good fit for his firm. She also came across as a professional. “And the fact that she’s excited and passionate about the work is key for me,” says Howard. “I’m just excited to have her on board and to help shape her future. That’s huge for me. She’s the first employee I’ve hired from Anderson University.”
Cothran joins a staff of three in the growing firm. In her role as a design assistant, she will be pulling color schemes together for inspiration, working on AutoCAD, creating tile layouts and furniture plans, going to showrooms, and meeting with clients—whatever is needed.
AU prepared her well, she says. Coursework taught her about building codes, lighting design, architectural drawing, residential design, and more.
“All the courses go above and beyond the Council for Interior Design accreditation standards,” says Cothran. “That’s why our students come out being very successful. Ms. Martin (Anne Martin, Dean of the School of Interior Design) pushes professionalism and has taken us to conferences and taught us how to dress and act. We’re trained so well.”
The design conferences also gave Cothran a chance to see how AU student presentations stacked up against the efforts from other universities.
“We portrayed ideas better,” says Cothran. “You could better understand our design aesthetics and better understand the clients’ ideas through the work of our students.”
Cothran is eager to move to Atlanta and start her new job just two days after graduation. She hopes to help Howard build his brand and to learn from him. Long range, she’d love to attend graduate schools and transition into a career designing interior spaces for TV shows. She knows a bit about the field through her dad, who did sound and audio for shows such as In the Heat of the Night.
Right now, though, she’s ready to start her career.
“It’s definitely a blessing,” she says. “The Lord’s called me to something really big here. I’m so excited and surprised. It’s such a great opportunity.”