About a month ago, I had the extreme privilege of visiting the Dallas-based nonprofit, Dwell With Dignity. This trip was a benefit given to me by Habitat for Humanity Virginia where I’ve been serving this year as an Americorps VISTA. I learned about Dwell with Dignity a few years ago on Apartment Therapy and was immediately drawn to their work. Their mission is “to help families escape poverty and homelessness through design. One household at a time.” Specifically, they utilize interior design to give families in low-income housing a sense of ownership over their space. My two passions have always been service and design; when I discovered it, this organization sounded like something straight out of my dreams. DWD provides everything from furnishings to linens and artwork and even go so far as to stock refrigerators/pantries. Many times, the families they work with are escaping homelessness and are in need of basic home essentials. The added benefit of a well designed space, though many consider it frivolous, is a lower stress level and an overall higher quality of life, particularly for the children in these families.
Dwell with Dignity partners with various agencies that help secure housing for low-income families. The agencies will nominate a family to receive services from Dwell with Dignity and then DWD will pull together furniture donations and resources from the design community to furnish their space. They aim to work with one family per month. They refer to each project as an “installation.” They have work nights once a week in preparation for each project where volunteers will come and help make artwork, paint donated furniture, etc. Volunteers can be skilled or unskilled, with no age limit. Spaces are designed in advance either by the founders of the organization (who are interior designers) or by other community designers/design organizations. They have a warehouse of furniture donations as well as rooms full of donated fabric, pillows, and artwork to pull from. They also have partnerships with lots of local retailers, including movers, design stores, bakeries, restaurants, and more who provide goods for each project. For the cost of supplies and other items, Dwell with Dignity does not operate with any sort of repayment program but rather pulls on its own funds (~$1,500 per project) to complete the project. They have two major fundraisers per year which they call “Thrift Studio.” Similar to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores, they accept furniture donations from the community and then sell those which they do not use in their projects at these events. Their model is unique in that they partner with major designers and retail partners to revamp furniture and stage incredible “vignettes”; beautifully orchestrated spaces that incorporate donated pieces. In general, I was especially impressed with their ability to creatively reuse, recycle, and renew home items.
This was a rather last minute trip (I reached out to DWD in early June) but I was invited to come help with an “installation” for a family. Their apartment was located in downtown Dallas in a building called CityWalk (permanent housing for those who were formerly homeless or high-risk for homelessness). The family was a Spanish-speaking mother and two daughters, ages 17 & 8. Their apartment had two small bedrooms (neither of which had any windows or closets) and a small galley kitchen/living space. In this particular case, the family had already been living in the apartment for some time and had a few of their own things which were strewn all over the place due to a lack of storage. DWD worked with the family to retain a few of their own special items and then refurnished the whole apartment, incorporating their sentimental items. The design for the space was done by designers and co-founders of Dwell With Dignity, Lisa Robison and Kim Turner. A local high-end hotel donated a 4-night stay to the family while we worked on their apartment.
Here are some photos from the space. I apologize for the poor iPhone/Instagram picture quality.
In the entryway, a wall mounted table provides the perfect spot for keys.
A “princess bed” for mom, with soft drapery and a soothing color scheme. A mirror reflects light in the windowless room and creatively refurbished furniture bring an eclectic yet elegant sensibility to the space.
Stacked trunks double as extra storage and a night stand. The painting was a donated piece and the glass shelf was a sentimental item for the family.
This dresser was refurbished by volunteers in advance. A painting belonging to the family received a new mat and a fresh coat of paint on the frame. The candlesticks were also contributed by the family.
For the 17 & 8 year old daughters, beautiful bunk beds and a wall of cork tile for posters.
A small desk to share and creatively stored office supplies provide a perfect place for homework.
Near the bunk beds, new hampers donated by the Container Store and Ikea shelving help keep the room uncluttered. Colorful baskets and picture frames add interest to this corner.
A new wardrobe for clothing and shoe storage. What every girl needs.
Looking towards the living space, another hutch provides more storage and showcases sentimental trinkets from the family.
The living space features beautiful Mexican-inspired colors and textures. The couch is an Ikea piece that was donated with dog-chewed back cushions. The women at DWD had these large pillows recovered in a coordinating fabric as a substitute. A small coffee table is just the right scale for this compact living space.
A beautiful dresser with new hardware adds storage and a place for the family’s new television, donated by a wholesale electronics distributor. Donated artwork featuring beautiful high-end wallpaper creates an incredible focal point on this wall.
Adjacent to the couch, a small glass dining table and a refurbished hutch (it folds out to provide more counter space). Red wallpaper provides a consistent, intentional connection throughout the space. Warm tan draperies mounted on plumbing hardware frame this incredible view of Downtown Dallas.
The galley kitchen is dressed up with more red wallpaper. The family received all new dishes/glassware/pots/etc. donated by a local Real Estate firm. Their refrigerator and “pantry” were fully stocked by Whole Foods.
Last but not least, the bathroom adjoining the two bedrooms was beautifully curated with towels from Target. A wall cabinet was installed for storage and stocked with toiletries, including goodies from Mary Kay for mom and daughters.
A new shower curtain (same as ours!) finishes off the space.
It was lots of fun to work on and the family was thrilled. The 17-year-old daughter described the process as “Extreme Home Makeover minus the bus.” DWD is considering partnering with Habitat in Dallas for a future installation in a Habitat Home. Overall, I was extremely impressed with their entire operation. For the families –though it’s not quite a Habitat home to call their own, it’s quite possibly the next best thing. DWD has gained national recognition for their efforts in the 3 short years they have been in existence. They hope to one day have affiliates across the country like Habitat for Humanity (maybe even one day in Pittsburgh?).
Many thanks to Lisa Nelson, Lisa Robison, and Priscilla Valentine at Dwell With Dignity for letting me help out. And a huge thank you to my friend Stephen and his parents, Joe and Sharon, for being such incredible hosts. It was a wonderful week in Texas.
P.S. More pictures of this installation can be found on Dwell With Dignity’s Facebook page, in their blog post here, or in this article featured in the Dallas Daily Morning News.
July 23, 2012
That sounds like an amazing project! Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful experience with us!
What a wonderful project, Lauren! I’m really impressed with the work that they do! As a Drama Therapist I’m all about the impact and importance of art, and this is another incarnation of art as health! So cool! Beautiful job.