The People and Stories Behind Design For A Difference

Experience the movement that is transforming spaces and people across the U.S. and Canada. Inspiring and informative, this blog is dedicated to all of those who make a difference with design in our every day lives.

Where Careers Take Shape

By Mark Brunetz, National Spokesperson, DFAD

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Anonymous

In 2015, when Fred Wee, the owner of Interiors & Textiles in Mt. View, California, decided to spearhead a Design For A Difference project, little did he know that what initially appeared as a significant hurdle in attempting to find local professional designers, would subsequently result in the shaping of not only spaces at local non-profit organization, but the careers of the design students that participated.

To build a team of professional designers to lend their talents to this DFAD project, Fred put the word out through local design organizations and his showroom trade clientele. Turns out, nearly every notable professional designer in town had just committed to work on the transformation of one of the Ronald McDonald Houses in the Bay Area. Relentless in his desire to get this project off the ground, Fred quickly pivoted and decided to host a community event targeted to local design students. Over 80 students from various design schools attended, resulting in a handful of students interested in the DFAD project.

The design team for this inaugural DFAD Mt. View project was taking shape, involving four students from two different schools, Cañada College and West Valley College. Spearheaded by Fred and under the guidance of Diane Hurd, the Design Department Chair at West Valley, the team was locked and loaded, ready to transform the lobby at Community Services Agency. And in the absence of local pros, this project represents the first and only time that as National Spokesperson for DFAD, I stepped in to serve as the working professional, to mentor the students throughout the entire process.

CSA is a local charity that offers services to individuals and families on low or fixed incomes, to those who are homeless, and to seniors (60+ years old). At first glance, the lobby was in desperate need of a makeover. After all, non-profit organizations (NPOs) like CSA rarely allocate funds for the design or beautification of their spaces. In fact, most of their funding goes to services and programs, the primary reason why DFAD is so essential to charities across the country.

As evidenced-based design continues to support the idea that how a space looks and functions significantly impacts its inhabitants, DFAD is proud to have been on the forefront of this notion since its inception. Giving back to those who give by improving the workplace only makes the work of staff members that much more effective.

Over the course of next few months, the student design team which consisted of Eileen Lin, Diane Forese, Milan Chen, and Michelle Talley, carefully and thoughtfully mapped out the design for this deserving and busy charity. It goes without saying, the level of intentionality was exceptional as each student tackled various aspects of the project; yet worked cohesively as a whole.

From the design concept & intent, color inspiration and space planning to specifying all commercial grade products, these students were gaining firsthand experience interfacing with industry sales reps, vendors, and manufacturers. In addition, the team was on site daily during the installation phase. They supervised installers, electricians, plumbers, and carpenters, answering questions, solving unforeseen problems and ultimately, taking charge to ensure an on-time completion. Up to that point, everything they had learned about interior design had been non-practical and taught in a classroom. Now, they were interfacing with every detail of a real-life commercial design project.

In the end, the students had not only succeeded at accurately capturing the true essence of CSA and what it stood for in the community, they also honored the staff by creating an exceptional workspace that effectively functioned and facilitated their efforts as an impactful non-profit organization. The work of the design team was so exceptional, in fact, the project received the Gold Award, Design Excellence for Community Service from ASID, the American Society of Interior Design.

There are professional designers who work a lifetime to achieve and receive this level of industry and peer acknowledgement. Yet here in Mt. View, an ambitious team of four eager students rolled up their sleeves and rallied for a higher cause. Not only did they make a difference in their community, but they also made a difference in their professional growth and development adding this exceptional project and prestigious award to their resumes. And now that each has since graduated, their legacy of leveraging the power of design to make a positive impact in other people’s lives and their community, will forever remain with them.

Thanks to the tenacity and groundwork of our IDG member Fred Wee, over 150 design students and counting have participated in DFAD projects across the U.S.

The entire DFAD Mt. View video is available on

About Mark Brunetz

Mark Brunetz is the National Spokesperson for Design for a Difference.

He is a well-known interior designer who is dedicated and passionate about not only creating stunning designs that suit his client’s needs, but also giving back to the community.