Lisa Robison was in a state of transition. The year was 2009, and the interior designer had taken a 10-year hiatus from her career to raise children. “I was ready to get back into interior design, but I didn’t want to work with privileged clients,” Robison says. Around that time, she happened upon Oprah Winfrey’s What I Know for Sure. “There was a passage that said, ‘Find what it is that you’re passionate about and what makes your heart beat fast,’” she says. “I realized the people who most benefit from good design are those who can least afford it. That’s what I could do.” With the help of a birthday gift from her husband, Dwell With Dignity was born.
Robison’s first client was a mother and infant who were only recently homeless. She sent out an e-mail to friends asking for donations and was reunited with her old friend and fellow El Centro alum Kim Turner. “Right away, Kim said she wanted to be a part of it,” Robison says. “She’s the one who suggested bringing the design community in. She had all the connections, and she started making appointments. We met with David and Ann Sutherland, and they were the first showroom to partner with us.” It wasn’t long before many others followed suit. She says it wasn’t a hard sale. “The people in the design community immediately got it because they understand how much your living environment helps your quality of life. They also know how much waste there is in our business.”
Over the last four years, there have been changes. Dwell now works with clients who have been in a program—through agencies such as Interfaith—for at least a year. “We find that we’re more successful when we get the family after they’ve been through transitional housing and they’ve received the tools to take care of their money and family and they’re moving to their first real home,” Robison says. They now complete a project every three to four weeks.
The launch of the Thrift Studio happened by accident in 2011 when an acquaintance offered to donate $10,000 if Dwell With Dignity could figure out a way to become self-sufficient. “We had quite a bit of stuff that had been donated that wouldn’t work in an apartment because of scale or maybe it was too highly handcrafted. So we figured out a way to sell to the public,” Turner says. (The guy never came through with the $10,000, by the way.) A friend suggested that they turn to designers to create beautiful vignettes featuring items from the Dwell With Dignity warehouse.
Response to the monthlong event has been great. “It’s quite a frenzy. The pricing is fantastic,” Turner says. “We have people who come every day.” This year, the team has also added an art auction curated by Megan Adams Brooks, and they’ll also be accepting Partners Card. So shoppers can maximize their returns and feel good about doing so.