Auburn Interior Design Class Studies Historic Preservation and Design at Jekyll Island

Charlotte Tuggle | Communications Editor

Students in the Auburn University College of Human Sciences interior design program have always enjoyed a blend of in-class practice and real-world application. Last fall, their studies on the history of interior design were brought to life by a field trip to the historic district of Jekyll Island. And for a few selected students, the excursion opened a door to conduct an independent study with a Jekyll Island museum that will count toward their electives.

The field trip’s focal point is the Jekyll Island Club, established in the 1880s and made up of successful executives, magnates, and industry tycoons. Several of the members built cottages on Jekyll Island that displayed their wealth and served as vacation homes, which are available to tour today as living artifacts of the past.

The Jekyll Island field trip is part of CADS 2350: History of Interior Design II, which covers interior design history from 1851 to the present. Assistant Professor Anna Ruth Gatlin chose Jekyll Island for the class’ study tour because of its well-preserved historic structures.

“Jekyll Island is a gem—it’s got a variety of architectural and interior styles, in addition to a rich history, contained in a small, navigable space – the Historic District of Jekyll Island. We are able to stay on site in the same rooms and spaces that the millionaires who formed the Jekyll Island Club did, and do several of the activities they did when they spent winters on the island,” Gatlin said. “When not on tours or in a workshop learning about Tiffany stained glass, many students rented bicycles and biked around the Historic District and the island. Others walked around the district again, visited Driftwood Beach, and enjoyed the island.”

During the three-day trip, students stayed in the Jekyll Island Club Resort, built in 1886 as a winter vacation retreat for titans of industry including William Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, Frank Goodyear Jr., Marshall Field, Harley Proctor, and more. In 1947, the Jekyll Island Clubhouse closed due to the impact of World War II, but opened later to the public as a resort.

Lanie Hammond, a junior in interior design minoring in business and Spanish whose professional interest lies in historical preservation, said the trip built on what she learned in class.

“The Jekyll Island trip was honestly incredible,” Hammond said. “The cottages that are there incorporate a lot of the elements that we had been studying in class and being able to see them in person with historic accuracy helped me to solidify my knowledge about them.”

This spring, Gatlin and five students will conduct an independent study with the Jekyll Island Authority and the Jekyll Island museum to redesign a cottage interior along the guided tour routes. Gatlin and her students will select furnishings from the Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum’s storage space as well as new pieces to tell the story of Moss Cottage, in which the museum offers daily paid guided tours. Alongside the museum’s head preservationist, the group will select paint, draperies, and other finishing to restore the interior. Finally, the students in the independent study will create informative materials that explain those selections to tour groups and ensure the refinishing adheres to ADA guidelines.

Hammond said the study presents an opportunity for her to take a deeper dive into historical preservation and breathe life back into the selected cottage through design elements.

“Being immersed at the island and staying in one of the buildings that used to be apartments owned by club members made me reflect on what life could have looked like and the atmosphere that would have been there,” Hammond said. “I think that often when studying history and the historic precedents of interior design, we tend to disconnect it from the fact that real people used to use and live in the buildings and spaces that we study. The trip to Jekyll Island put perspective into the human history behind the buildings and made me rethink how I look at historical buildings.”

On the walking tour, students used a book that Gatlin and her mother, Melissa, wrote in summer 2021. The book, which will be available for purchase in early 2022, features a self-guided walking tour of the historic district with notes on the history and significance of each site. The field trip will again be offered in fall 2022 as part of CADS 2350.

“Being immersed in the preserved historic design was a one-of-a-kind experience. Being able to tour several of the cottages, customized to our class, and learn from experts was an incredible experience for the students to actually see, touch, and experience what they’ve been learning about in class,” Gatlin said. “I hope that students get to see that what they learn in the classroom is not abstract—it’s real, and it’s fun. There are reasons why different building techniques or design motifs or styles were chosen, and the execution of it, the craftsmanship, is exquisitely preserved in the Historic District of Jekyll Island. I hope that history and historical interior design came alive for them, as they were immersed for three days in a snapshot of the Gilded Age.”

For more information about the interior design program at Auburn University, visit