Sleepless in Spokane

Written by Mark Brunetz, National Spokesperson, DFAD

It seems like only yesterday, a team of designers from around the country descended on Spokane, Washington, for our first-ever Design For A Difference makeover. The project included a public area for the residents at a non-profit organization called Transitions. Since 1986, the community-based organization has worked to end poverty and homelessness for women and children in Spokane.

At first, we wondered how a team of independent designers could possibly agree on anything. Let’s face it, we are known (and paid) for our opinions. Moreover, we all know that design, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. On many occasions, I’ve designed by committee, learning every step of the way, it’s a give and take. Give your best and take the best ideas from everyone and use them on the project. Could we as a team adhere to a similar ideology?

In this case, the design team included Vivian Dowsett from Salt Lake City, Lisa Schmitz from Kansas City, Deanna Whetstone from Indianapolis, Tyler Wisler of NYC, Leslie Anne Schifferns of Spokane, and yours truly from Los Angeles. All meeting for the first time on a Friday with the plan to complete this entire makeover in 48 hours. Our return flights we booked and there was no turning back. The clock started ticking.

Let me start by saying a good portion of the furnishings were already pre-selected. But an equal number of DIY projects had to be completed by the designers on site. This included laying an entirely new floor, painting the entire space, building furniture, fabricating window treatments, the list goes on and on. And as much as I would love to tell you that we had professional painters and a workroom to fabricate all our custom detailing, we didn’t. We were the workroom, the painters, the millworkers, the artists, the furniture movers, etc. You get the idea.

Thank goodness for our local sponsor and IDG member, Gina’s Design Center, for stepping in and making sure the floor was picture perfect. And that was no easy task. Despite years of professional experience installing floors, imagine the look on the installer faces when owner Gina Cook asked her installers to complete this job in one night – overnight. That meant removing the existing flooring which was very old carpet glued to a concrete slab and then installing brand new luxury vinyl flooring.

Yet, when we arrived on Saturday morning, the brand-new floor was not only installed, but it was also picture perfect. Clean, shiny, and ready for action. A designer’s dream come true.

Something about this newly created space and the commitment it took to even get us to this point was a game changer. At one point during the installation, you could hear a pin drop. The design team was so laser focused on the tasks at hand, it was as if any distraction would derail the entire process. The team had worked into the wee hours of the night, making every effort to have this project be perfect. After all, it was our first ever DFAD makeover and we had something to prove. If not to ourselves, the deserving occupants of this space.

At some point during the intense amount of work taking place, we were asked to step into a kitchen area which was outside the space we were transforming. Reluctantly, we set down our hammers, paint brushes and staple guns and obliged. Once in the kitchen, we were greeted by a small group of kids.

All the kids were residents of the facility which means at some point, displaced from their regular homes and now living temporarily at Transitions. They arms were outstretched holding a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies. It was as if time stopped. And everything that seemed so important to us in the moment, was lost in the depth of gratitude being offered by these little ones. The moment remains with me to this day.

If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to make a lasting difference for someone, let alone a group of someones, this moment brilliantly defines and continues to define why DFAD is so important. Especially now.

Leaning in to a DFAD project or one similar will allow you to eat the cookies. Of course, the cookies acting as a metaphor for the act of contribution. There are many who smell the cookies, experiencing contribution as a secondhand experience. But showing up, rolling up your sleeves and doing the work is a whole other experience. And it’s one that will stay with you forever.

Some will say they simply don’t have the time. Others will argue that it taps into resources that could be spent elsewhere. We hear you.  Contribution is a choice. The same free will that governs all our decisions in life. And, if for a moment we think that we are not really at choice, let this be a gentle reminder that acting as if you’re not at choice; is a choice unto itself.

As showroom small business owners, designers, sponsors, volunteers, etc., we can only hope to lead by example. To all those brave souls who tirelessly made DFAD Spokane happen in a weekend, thank you. Little did we know then, the idea of transforming spaces at charities would catch on and become the movement it is today. And thank you for not just smelling the cookies but eating them. We have no doubt, the difference for you and others was indelible. And for that, we stand on your shoulders and carry 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.