Lisa Robison and Kim Turner usually design high-end interior spaces for a small group of deep-pocketed homeowners in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But they've found a new clientele, one who can't pay, and love it.
The pair of interior designers are the driving force behind Dwell with Dignity
, a non-profit that furnishes stylish apartments for people less fortunate who are trying to get back on their feet. Turner, who also runs her own interior design business
, says it's a way for them to give back to their community.
"For one thing, we feel that it's one less thing [the residents] have to worry about," she says. "They come home and they have a nice, soothing apartment.
They work with social service groups like the Interfaith Housing Coalition
, a non-profit in Dallas that provides transitional housing for homeless people. But instead of an apartment with institutional-looking blinds and furnishings often associated with such programs, the Dwell with Dignity apartments have stylish essentials -- bedding, furniture, even food in the fridge -- but also feature contemporary art, electronics and upscale dishes. And the designers can do all that for less than $1,500 for each apartment. The idea is to inspire residents to strive for a better life and to give children a taste of what is possible.
Turner and Robison lean on their extensive design know-how, a list of industry contacts, donations and about 400 volunteers. They scour flea markets, estate sales, and Target clearance racks to turn basic, low-cost items into apartment flair.
For example, one of their tricks is to buy painter's canvas drop cloth from Home Depot, such as a 9 x 12' cloth for $19.97
, cut it in half, and throw it in the washer. Out comes a fantastic panel with chic, frayed ends that look like fine linen drapery, says Turner. They also have a knack for finding that $20 chair at a garage sale that can be spray-painted in just the right shade to match seat cushions. Or buying thick, woven bamboo placemats for $3 from Target and tacking them on the wall to create a message center or place to display art. Turner says it's also about showing residents that creating a beautiful home doesn't have to cost a lot.
"We're trying to show people you can mix and match and paint on something and it looks great," Turner explains.
Turner and Robison are never there on move-in day. It's a new start for residents who have come from a life of struggle and hardship. Turner says the last thing they want them to feel as if they owe the designers anything. After residents complete the 6-12 month program and move on to the next phase of their journey, they're given an opportunity to make a wish list to take some of the items from the apartment.
In nearly a year, Dwell with Dignity has designed four apartments, and another is in the works. Turner says there is so much work to be done.
"In any city today, the need is so great," she says.