Design For A Difference in Ithaca, New York: A Work of Art

When it comes to finding four-season beauty in the heart of New York, look no further than the college town of Ithaca. Home of Cornell University, Ithaca is known for its breathtaking landscape, including several gorges, waterfalls and lakes, and its campus community vibe, which is made up of small eclectic shops, restaurants, a deep interest in politics and a culture that celebrates liberal arts.

So it should come as no surprise that our latest Design For A Difference makeover, located at Finger Lakes Independence Center (FLIC), has been graced with a complete state of the art renovation that is just as beautiful as its geographical location, and as functional as the town in which it stands.

Sponsored by IDG showroom owner Bruce Baker (B&B Floor Coverings) and design team members Omer Faizi, Diana Katzmann, and InShik Lee, the employees and clients of FLIC are enjoying a space that is updated with new flooring, paint and wall coverings, a kitchen and bath reno, new conference room, director’s office, and like all Design For A Difference makeovers: a theme or focal point that brings that special wow factor to the space. And in this case, it is “Open Doors,” a 3-panel mosaic wall mural proudly adorning the reception area.

What used to be a rather drab and undefined entrance is now a celebration of color, man, and nature. The new FLIC logo signifying their open door policy to “empower all people with disabilities” is front and center of the mural. It is surrounded by an array of splendid mosaic tiles which create an eclectic landscape that mimics the beauty of Ithaca and the helping hands of the community.

Today we are fortunate to be talking to the three local artists who generously donated their time, creativity, and expert skills to make this makeover extra special. Meet Wes Blauvelt (WB) and wife Margaret Corbit, (MC) owners of Raven Barn art studio and workshop along with their associate, Louisa Sandvik (LS) who, without a doubt, have turned this Design For A Difference project into a work of art.


The Interview:


HG: What led to your involvement with B&B Floor Coverings and Design For A Difference?


MC: Louisa and I are members of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, which is a group open to anyone interested in natural science illustrations. It was through this group that we met a member of the design team, who brought up the possibility of a Raven Barn collaboration on the FLIC project early on.

We have worked on community projects in the past- About 6 years ago, Wes worked under the direction of artist Isaiah Zagar, the creator of Philidelphia Magic Garden, which is an immersive mixed-art environment that is completely decorated with mosaics. And Louisa was involved with a 4-year community project consisting of a 100 feet wide by 9 feet high city-owned wall located near the science center. We’ve all experienced seeing the joy that a mosaic work can bring to others, and the idea of contributing to a non-profit was a natural for us all.


HG: Tell us about the scope of the project and your process.


WB:  Well, in the beginning, the project leaders gave us the new FLIC logo, which is an open door, suggesting that they welcome all within the community. They asked that we play off that as well as the new color scheme of the space, and that’s what we did. Bruce gave us some discontinued tile samples from B&B, which just so happened to work with the neutrals going into the space, so we were able to bust those up to incorporate them into our work.


MC: We made about 50 custom tiles for this project. You’ll see little birds used to dot the I’s, and if you look closely, you can see little faces in the circular tiles. There are rabbits and other animals and plenty of nature-loving images. You name it, we created it, making due with the tiles the design team gave us. And in the end, it all came together beautifully. Like it was just meant to be.


WB: One method that Isaiah Zagar taught, was to integrate the use of mirrors into our work to bring the reflective quality of light to the space. So by sprinkling in little mirrored cubes, our entire mural immediately sparkles and comes to life, which  brings a sense of movement to the work.


HG: How does your mural impact the overall design of the space?


LS: The mural is an integral and important part of the entrance, which gives a feeling of light and open heartedness to the space. I have dealt with FLIC myself when my sister-in-law was battling cancer. In my experience, their facility was hard to navigate and awfully depressing. You had to walk through a maze of various rooms to get to your meeting location, and the reception and aesthetics were less than pleasing. Now, thanks to the design team, the space has been completely reconfigured for easy access, and the welcoming design will make the process a much friendlier experience for future clients.


MC:  When you come to FLIC, you’re stressed out. You’re dealing with things like finding out you need a ramp for accessibility to your front door, and have a list of ADA guidelines that need attention for your home. The mural gives you a place to escape- to see something different while you’re waiting.  And it’s remarkable as to how integrated it all is to the overall design of the facility. It picks up the color scheme of blues, oranges, earth tones… even pops of red, all of which can be found throughout the space


HG: How did this project impact you as an artist?


WB: When I do my art it comes from me, in a sense that I’m creating something without outside direction. In this case, it stretched me as an individual artist because I was working with others to create something for others; my mindset was all about what do they want verses what do I want.


MC: Creating “Open Doors” is by far the largest piece we have made in our studio workshop and we needed to plan production around other projects. Design wise, we had to balance the layout, spreading out the unique features and keeping a flow of similar materials across the three panels based on what was available. This meant roughing in everything, working out the design as we went along, and then going back to glue. We are usually looser, but this was still a pretty freestyle collaboration.


LS: Anytime I get to work with other artists and designers it is a joy. I compare it to when musicians get together for a jam session; it’s like that. We jam with our artistic abilities.


Louisa, we couldn’t agree more, and believe that it is part of what makes a Design For A Difference Makeover such a rewarding experience for everyone involved. It’s the beauty of the collaborative effort of our IDG showrooms, design teams, local businesses, skilled trades, and other artists like you, who with their talents and hearts, are jamming to give back to those in need. We thank you for your time, and it has been a pleasure learning more about your work, your art, and how this magnificent mosaic landscape will impact those at Finger Lakes Independence Center.


To learn more about Raven Barn Studio visit


To learn more about DFAD visit