Written by Mark Brunetz, National Spokesperson, DFAD
“Follow along, don’t take risks, just keep your head down and work, and you’ll achieve your dreams.” – Nobody Ever
Two years into our nascent idea of transforming spaces at local charities, the team behind Design For A Difference discovered that they had the unbridled support of the interior design community across the U.S. and Canada. Over 216 interior designers had submitted a proposed design of a local charity in hopes of winning our contest that would award five cash prizes: up to $25,000. A win for anyone of them, would mean financial support for them to move forward with their makeover plans. Little did they know, it would mean so much more.
While there were so many applicants and only five prizes issued each year, many of those designers and projects that were not selected subsequently decided to move forward and conduct the makeovers on their own. Needless to say, we were surprised, and moreover, delighted. We knew right away, there was something more to DFAD than winning a prize.
Enter Allen Gindt of Blakely’s Flooring, Barbara Fleming of BAF Corporation and Deanna Whetstone of Whetstone & Associates. Together, along with a team of voracious local supporters, this trio decided to pilot the first ever, city based DFAD project. Back then, we called it DFAD Indy. Today, we look back at it as a turning point in the entire movement.
The charity was called Outside the Box, a local non-profit organization based in Indianapolis. They work tirelessly to empower people with intellectual disabilities to move towards personal growth, through education, self-discovery, leadership development, and a customized career path. The scope of the DFAD design work included transforming four rooms, each inspired by the interests of the clients they served.
As the project unfolded, there were so many wonderful surprises including the support of local media. In particular, Anne Marie Tiernon, the co-anchor of WTHR-TV, the NBC affiliate in Indy who came to the charity to cover the entire makeover process. Her commitment to sharing this story on the news was contagious.
As each group of clients was led by the hand into these brilliantly transformed spaces, the excitement grew. If pictures are worth a thousand words, the look of pure joy on the faces of these deserving souls is priceless. Not only did this team pull off a makeover well-suited to these folks, they proved that the very best of DFAD can and does happen at the local level.
Thanks to the foresight of these visionaries, DFAD permanently shifted gears from a contest to a city-based movement. Instead of limiting the number of makeovers in a year with a close-ended contest, we opened the doors to allow all International Design Guild members and IDG designers to conduct their own makeovers. The first year alone, the number of DFAD makeovers nearly doubled; with makeovers occurring around the country.
From Carlson’s Fine Rugs transforming Little Angels in Fox Valley, Illinois, Select Surfaces revamping the Mountain Valley Developmental Services in Avon, Colorado, to Messner’s Carpet redesigning space at the Hochstein School of Music in Pittsford, New York, and Floor 360 who put the stake in the ground with the largest DFAD makeover that year at Center For Families in Madison, Wisconsin.
And while the quantity of our projects increased, so did the quality.
A few short months after DFAD Indy completed, we received this unsolicited note from the Cofounder & Emeritus Director of Outside the Box, Kelly Hartman, in Indianapolis:
“We’ve had a 75-90 percent reduction in behavior incidents (outbursts) just by changing the classroom’s design,” said Hartman. “It’s unbelievable to see this transformation. We have seen people who have ripped down blinds and put their heads in their walls at home – and they come here and don’t have behavior issues.”
While we celebrate the enormous success of Design For A Difference, a community based, design-driven movement set out to transform spaces at local charities, let us remind ourselves that we will never achieve our dreams if we simply follow along, don’t take risks, and just keep our heads down and work. Sometimes, we must go indie.
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.