Fast Company - - Contents - By Eil­lie Anzilotti

In­te­rior de­sign stu­dents at the Fash­ion In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy are re­vamp­ing ne­glected spa­ces.

Most week­day morn­ings, around 40 peo­ple file into St. Paul’s House, a home­less-ser­vices cen­ter in Man­hat­tan’s Hell’s Kitchen neigh­bor­hood, to re­ceive free break­fast. Un­til re­cently, the 16-by-34-foot base­ment room where they ate was func­tional—but far from com­fort­able. There were no ta­bles for the staff to use as they or­ga­nized meals. A tiny bath­room sat at the front of the room; its door opened straight onto the din­ing area.

In com­mu­nity spa­ces like St. Paul’s, which has been serv­ing low-in­come New York­ers since 1945, in­te­rior de­sign is of­ten an af­ter­thought. The Fash­ion In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy’s In­te­grated Ser­vice-learn­ing Project, led by as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor Car­mita Sanchez-fong, is try­ing to change that. The pro­gram gives places like St. Paul’s a quick up­grade—at no cost to the ben­e­fi­ciary. “We have to see in­te­rior de­sign as an en­gine of so­cial change,” says Sanchez-fong.

She first re­al­ized that her stu­dents could make an im­pact af­ter Su­per­storm Sandy hit New York City in 2012. The fol­low­ing year, FIT un­der­grads of­fered 17 fam­i­lies from Long Beach, Long Is­land, de­sign pro­pos­als that they could im­ple­ment as they re­con­structed their homes. Since then, Sanchez-fong’s stu­dents have com­pleted seven projects, with the help of fund­ing from a lo­cal non­profit, Hope for New York, and pro bono ma­te­ri­als sourced from lo­cal ven­dors. The work is en­tirely car­ried out by stu­dents and vol­un­teers from other schools.

This past sum­mer at St. Paul’s House, Sanchez-fong and her stu­dents swapped out harsh ceil­ing lights for smaller fix­tures. She moved in a long metal ta­ble do­nated by Ben­jamin Moore. Emily Vila, a fourth-year stu­dent, speck­led walls and sanded and painted doors, while Liz­beth Jimenez, an FIT alumna and ju­nior de­signer at a New York ar­chi­tec­ture firm, metic­u­lously laid out a her­ring­bone pat­tern in the wood floor. “Hav­ing a pat­terned floor makes it unique,” Jimenez says, “makes it feel like a home.” The team also built a wall to sep­a­rate the bath­room and eat­ing area.

Sanchez-fong sees FIT’S project in­spir­ing more pub­lic–pri­vate de­sign part­ner­ships. She’s al­ready field­ing in­quiries from other schools. “It’s my hope that just like we have Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders,” she says, “we will one day have In­te­ri­ors With­out Bor­ders.”

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