Mar 11, 2008

Lisa Millard: Dining hall design guru and more

by Natalie Lozano

Students astonished by the drastic changes in the appearance of the Reber-Thomas Dining Hall and the Founder’s Food Court might also be surprised to learn that the bright colors and unusual shapes were the creative products of the reality-show celebrity designer Lisa Millard.

Fans of the HGTV series “Design Star” may recognize Millard from her reality television debut during the summer 2006 season. Contestants on Design Star compete for the opportunity to host their own HGTV show by exhibiting their creativity in assigned design tasks.

Millard was shopping for furniture online in the fall of 2006 when she saw an open casting call for HGTV.

“I couldn’t click fast enough, only hoping that Design Star was one of the shows to try out for,” Millard said.

The filming of Design Star began in March 2007, but the show’s late July airdate required that Millard not reveal any details for five months.

It was “hard to keep that big of a secret,” Millard said.

Her husband, Lee, also had to sign a confidentiality waiver, and even her parents were kept out of the loop. Although Millard was eliminated by the judges in the first round, the fans of Design Star wanted more.

“At the finale of the show, I was awarded for being the designer that viewers would have liked to see more from, which compensated for being the first one eliminated,” Millard said.

Being a contestant on one of her favorite shows was a great experience.

“I gained incredible friends and knowledge about how design works for TV,” Millard said.

Millard spent time with some of the Design Star season 2 cast members recently in Mammoth, Calif. Without all the cameras, the designers had a chance to talk about the show candidly, “which is always fun,” Millard said.

Before her rise to fame, Millard spent 13 years as a cheerleader, according to her Design Star profile. Even as a cheerleader, Millard sported an original hairstyle.

“This has always been me…I get bored very easily — essential with all designers,” Millard said.

She admitted, however, that she once had a haircut she regretted. “I had some pretty crooked bangs that were pretty horrendous,” she said.

After high school, Millard studied studio art and sculpture at Bloomsburg University and received her degree in 2003. She spent 2004-05 studying sculpture at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia then left for a “dream job,” according to her MySpace profile.
“Oddly enough, I was spotted at a wedding due to my funky sense of style,” Millard said, explaining how she landed her job as an interior designer at Atlantic Equipment Specialists in Danville, Pa.

At her wedding, Millard modeled a personal creation — a $40 wedding dress made out of wax paper. The dress was inspired by a design challenge given by a professor at Bloomsburg to create a “three-dimensional structure using a phone book,” according to Millard.

Her current work, including Reber-Thomas and Founder’s Food Court, is inspired by a completely different source — fruit. Millard’s favorites are watermelon and peaches, which is not surprising given the bright colors of Reber-Thomas. “Fruit has so many layers and (is) very colorful, which is easy to get inspiration from,” Millard said.

Millard came to visit Liberty for the first time in March 2007 just before flying to film Design Star in Las Vegas. Although her visit was short, the campus and students made a significant impact on Millard. Out of the 200 plus design projects Millard has created in the past three years, “Liberty is high up on the list” of ones she is most proud of designing.

As the designer, she was responsible for “cosmetic changes like wall treatments, flooring, lighting, seating, etc.” According to Millard, the major difference between an architect’s responsibility in renovations and her own role is that “a designer can add walls for function and flow as well as aesthetic but should not delete walls without approval of an architect.”

While none of Millard’s additional walls required the approval of an architect, her purple ceiling proposal was cut for budgetary reasons. She was able to see the final product “to make sure that everything is running smoothly and the students are happy.”
Not only was Millard proud of her work, but she also enjoyed visiting the Liberty campus.

“Liberty students are very much like myself as far as their personality, their looks, their ambitions, and I find that interesting,” Millard said. “I love that the students express themselves freely with their style, but more importantly I went to convocation and saw the passion in the eyes of the students.”

Millard came to Liberty through Atlantic Equipment’s connections with Sodexho. Other schools Millard has designed for include Howard University, Marymount University and Mary Washington University.

Although Millard’s first love is clothing design, interiors seem to have won her over.

“I love the restaurant industry, as you can create an entire atmosphere, which can be extremely different from the last one created,” Millard said.

One of her favorite designers, Karim Rashid, also does interior work, including restaurants and, like Millard, gravitates toward unusual colors and interesting shapes. Millard noted his “kone vacuum,” a handheld vacuum shaped like a waffle cone and designed specifically for Dirt Devil.

Millard advises students seeking a similar career to “make sure you love what you do!”

“There are so many people that think design comes with a large paycheck and a fancy title, but reality is that it is hard work and a lot of overtime and dedication,” she said.

Millard is currently working on college campus restaurants in Virginia, Maryland and Ohio; a New Jersey freestanding restaurant; and “a few small projects.”

Check out some of Millard’s designs for other schools and restaurants at

Contact Natalie Lozano at

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