Go to the main content Arrow right icon

Room for change: from Social Work to Interior Architecture

  • Architecture and...

Hennieke Velvis is a spatial designer passionate about research, sustainability and creating functional, people-centred spaces. After completing a bachelor in social work, she decided to expand her skillset by pursuing the master's course Interior Architecture at ArtEZ. Currently, she is putting her degrees to good use as a trainee at the Actium Housing Association, where she is researching designs that encourage social meetup. Her goal is to create spaces that are not only beautiful but also reflect people's needs and emotions.

Room for change: from Social Work to Interior Architecture


Hennieke began her journey with a bachelor in Social Pedagogical Assistance (Sociaal Pedagogische Hulpverlening), after which she worked at various group homes and as an outpatient counsellor in family homes. However, she quickly discovered it was not her calling. "During my studies, I already knew that this was not the field for me. Still, I wanted to give it a chance in practice. But soon I realised that this just wasn't right for me. So what would be? I have always been interested in people. Using that as a starting point, I started looking in that direction,” she says.

I realised I didn't want to work with children specifically; I mainly wanted to give everyone a home."

After reflecting on herself as a child, Hennieke discovered her real passion: creating spaces. "I was always redecorating and tinkering around with the design of my room. It might sound a bit strange, but I always used to want to work with children at an orphanage. At least, that's what I initially thought. But I realised, I didn't actually want to work with children specifically; I mainly wanted to give everyone a home." 

Open day

Keeping her past interests in mind, she realised that interior design consistently drew her in. After an Open day at the Master Interior Architecture at ArtEZ and experiencing its welcoming atmosphere, she knew that was where she belonged. "I decided first to do the pre-Master. After the pre-Master, you can apply for the master and will have to submit a portfolio. But I didn't matriculate directly after the premaster, because I didn’t feel I had enough of a solid background yet. First, I took some introductory courses at the Interior Design Academy. In hindsight, that wasn't at all necessary, and I could have applied straight away, but I did so because of my personality and the nagging feeling that I was never prepared enough," says Hennieke. 

From helping people to creating spaces  

There was a strong focus on people in Hennieke’s bachelor studies. She was subsequently attracted to the concept of “corpo-real,” the relationship between body and space, structured into the ArtEZ Master Interior Architecture. This concept offered Hennieke the opportunity to integrate her background in Social Work into her design approach during various courses and projects: "The idea of ‘starting from the human condition’ is very central in both studies. I didn't expect that beforehand." The master’s emphasis on an integrated combination of thinking, creating, and reflecting was also something Hennieke found valuable: "This combination is a tremendously valuable part of this master’s. When you are creating, you use different parts of your brain than when thinking or writing, and therefore your thoughts and inspiration go in different directions that you wouldn’t go in otherwise. If I don't approach things with this combination of thinking, creating and reflecting, I feel I am missing out on exercising an integral part of my mind."

Bringing private and shared spaces together

An important aspect of the thesis phase of the master’s is synthesising theoretical and practical research - practice-based research - as evidenced in how Hennieke tackled her graduation research. She delved into how to balance privacy and social interaction in communities by investigating two concepts: the doorstep and the sluice gate. The doorstep is a place where the boundary between private and shared space is clear, and the sluice gate is a transitional space from the private to the public eye. Hennieke wanted to explore where these two concepts meet, inspired by the national housing shortage and her personal experiences in shared living spaces. By manipulating aspects such as light, smoke, projection and mirrors in a nuanced way, she managed to create spaces where more and more of shared space slowly becomes visible. This created a unique, layered, “in-between” space in what is usually an expressionless and mindless environment.

Practice-based research

A year after her graduation, Hennieke has noticed the master programme’s profound effect on her current job. "I truly believe that this master was a big reason I got this job in the first place. In the job interview, I naturally talked about my master studies and research. I absolutely think doing so played a role in securing me a position. And it's especially handy that I can use topics from my research at my job," she says. Her employer, the housing association Actium, is striving to increase the number of social events in their buildings to improve quality of life. "The concept I’m working with now is to create a design framework that the company can take to property developers and architects. It's very cool to have done research on something now proving to be so helpful in practice." 

“If you do nothing, you go nowhere”

The Master Interior Architecture has not only helped Hennieke grow her professional skills, but has also boosted her personal development: "I have become much more daring. And I have done things I never thought I could do. Sometimes you don't think you have it in you to do something, but then you get swept up in the flow of your studies and the result is amazing. Then you think to yourself, where did that come from? That's something quite magical." Hennieke's advice to others who are hesitant to jump in because of their background in an outside field: “Go for it! Start out with the pre-Master, attend an Open day and if it still feels right, give it a go.” She emphasises that “you have nothing to lose! You can only improve your life by taking that step. If you do nothing, you go nowhere.” 

Learn more about the master Interior Architecture

Follow Hennieke