Everyone says “don’t be afraid to take risks” and to “be yourself,” but does that advice really pay off?

It certainly did for interior design student Heather Kology. Her unusual decision to submit a residential design that she truly loved– rather than the flashier commercial space designs typical of winning entries – recently earned her the prestigious Donghia Foundation Scholarship.

Named for Angelo Donghia, one of America’s most influential interior designers, the foundation provides scholarships each year to promising interior design students in the U.S. Several students at Suffolk’s New England School of Arts and Design (NESAD) have won the award in recent years. The $30,000 scholarship will cover Kology’s senior year tuition.

“I’m very much a New England girl,” explains Kology. “I grew up here, and I love the history. Spending summers on Cape Cod also gave me an appreciation for nautical elements. This is where my heart is, and I wanted to reflect that in my design.”

With her professors’ help, Kology created design boards to show how she would remodel a house in Salem, Massachusetts to be her “dream home.” Paring her design presentation down to three boards was difficult for the personable student:

“Presentation is a big focus at NESAD – being able to express your design ideas eloquently – so being unable to explain my design in person was a challenge!”

The boards tell a cohesive story, mixing period details with more contemporary patterns and lines to create a modern coastal New England living space with historical roots. In the end, Heather believes her true connection to the design is what made her entry stand out.

As Kology begins her final year at Suffolk, she is also honing her skills as an intern at a local residential design firm. With the confidence she’s gained from earning the Donghia award, she hopes to continue to design homes where she would want to live. And with so many seaside retreats nearby – from the Cape to Martha’s Vineyard to Rockport – there’s certainly a market for her nautical chic sensibility!