Major: Interior Design
When Stephanie Sarris moved into her first residence with no roommates after college, she quickly realized that her available funds to furnish and decorate her new home didn’t cover what she wanted.
“I sewed a lot of clothes for myself in high school and college, so I bought some books on sewing draperies, bedding and slipcovers, not to mention furniture refinishing,” she said. “I happily made over all of my parents’ hand-me-downs on a shoestring budget. I so enjoyed this experience that interior design became a strong interest and hobby of mine.”
Having earned a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Illinois, she worked as a corporate trainer until her company went out of business. Sarris decided to investigate changing careers and enrolled in an evening drafting class at College of DuPage.
“That changed the course of my professional life,” she said. “I just wanted to see if I was interested—and talented—enough in design to pursue a degree in it. By the time I realized how much I love the field of design, I had gotten to know the stellar faculty of the Interior Design program, so I knew I would receive a first-rate education at COD.
“The program strongly emphasized the fundamentals of interior design and the excellent instructors, like Jane Kielb, Cynthia Milota, Patricia Bailey and Shelly Mocchi, who taught that first drafting class, all provided us with relevant, real-world design exercises. As tuition was so affordable, I was able to pay for it out of pocket and so I graduated without student debt.”
Sarris also appreciated that Kielb encouraged the students to join the student chapters of ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) and IIDA (International Interior Design Association). Joining these organizations helped them meet professional designers.
After earning her Associate in Applied Science degree and certificates in Advanced Lighting Design and Advanced Computer-Aided Drafting, Sarris knew she wanted to own a residential interior design firm and set out to hold jobs that would provide her with the knowledge to do so. She switched jobs about every two years and worked selling furniture, being a furniture store office manager, and selling painting, custom stone carving, draperies, flooring and even appliances.
In 2015, Sarris realized it was time to pursue her dream and opened Bellehaven Designs, and the firm continues to grow. Bellehaven Designs has designed a room in the Showhouse for a Cure; won two ASID Design Excellence Awards, Best Showhouse Space in 2018 and Best Kitchen by a Small Firm in 2021; been published in local magazines, the Chicago Tribune and USA Today; and moved into a studio space in downtown Hinsdale.
“My ultimate goal is to grow Bellehaven Designs into a nationally recognized interior design firm that stands for impeccable design,” she said.
As for her time at COD, Sarris said it's never too late to change your career.
“People compliment me on the courage it must have taken, but ultimately, I felt a strong pull toward becoming a designer,” she said. “If someone has a strong interest in interior design, I can’t think of a better program in which to enroll than COD’s, both for the quality of the education and the affordable tuition.
“People average at least two-thirds of their waking hours at work. Doesn’t it make the most sense to pick a field that you love? COD enabled me to do just that.”