Written by Jordyn Hunter

UIC Parent Lounge Update

Creating a Welcoming Space in a Hospital 

By: Julia Richardson

The D4D renovation of the Parent Lounge at the UIC Medical Center was completed during the winter.  Afterward, we were able to stop by to hang artwork and take some photographs.  The finished space tucked into the pediatric unit is a calming respite in the hospital.

There are a lot of considerations in designing healthcare spaces: technical factors like specifying materials that are easily cleanable and promote a sanitary environment, as well as emotional considerations of the user in the space.  A hospital is not always the most welcoming or comfortable environment.  By choosing finishes and flexible furniture items to support the users of the space, it can greatly impact their wellbeing and overall experience.  A healthcare design can be used as a tool of encouragement or comfort.

The parent lounge provides a moment for parents to sit down to rest or nap, watch television, check their emails, or have a snack.  The space includes a lounge with comfortable seating, a kitchenette, a computer station, and storage.  The kitchenette features espresso colored cabinets, white countertops, and a subway tile backsplash donated by Virginia Tile.  The lounge includes comfortable seating and a television.  Much of the lounge furniture implemented is multifunctional, like the sleeper sofa from OFS upholstered with fabric provided by DesignTex.  The sofa can transform from a seated position to flat for easy sleeping.   The nature inspired color palette of greens and browns feels warm and revitalizing in the cool-hued hospital.   Framed artwork featuring forest scenes donated by Liz Sciortino and a walnut-look LVT provided by Shaw add cozy layers to the space.

Not all spaces in a hospital are built for medical purposes.  It is fantastic to see a how a single support space can be designed to uplift its users.

Mind + Hand Update

By: Julia Richardson

“Everyone should have access to a high-quality education regardless of financial background” is the belief of Mind + Hand, a continuing education center located in Chicago’s West Elsdon neighborhood.  By using a blended learning model of in-class instruction and online education driven by EDx, Mind + Hand is able to provide education to everyone.  Designs for Dignity had the pleasure of being involved with the renovation of their space.  This January I was delighted to join the team to photograph the completed project!  It was my first introduction to the project and I was so excited by the solution that D4D designed. It was fantastic to see how the new plan incorporated donations from Knoll, Interface, and AIS to create a lively, flexible space. As the design intern, I have been introduced to projects that are in different phases of completion. It has been thrilling to be present at the start of a project, to understand it fully at its beginning—but it is somewhat magical to join in at the end, to see a newly completed design come to life.

Mind + Hand provides higher education, college preparation, job retraining, and entrepreneurship education.  Among their education methods, Mind + Hand uses EdX to facilitate learning.  EdX is Harvard and MIT’s online education platform, providing university-level online coursework to students globally.

Mind + Hand’s 4,000 square foot facility includes many environments to learn in, including a classroom, makerspace, flex space, and conference room.  The facility is connected by a patchwork of Interface carpet planks that flow throughout each room.  The blend of greys in varying textures creates an energetic atmosphere.  Within the flex space, a cluster of tables offers worksurfaces for students to study or meet.  A grouping of AIS lounges create a welcoming area for breakout sessions.  Black and red ceiling fixtures provided by Ted Moudis are hung throughout.  At a recent evening event, Mind + Hand adjusted the lighting to so only these fixtures were lit, lending to a futuristic vibe!

One of their most exciting spaces is IDEA BOX, an 800 square foot maker space.    Mind + Hand offers programming in which students learn how to use fun digital tools like a 3D printer and a CNC, as well as traditional woodworking tools.  As a design student myself who loves using a maker space, IDEA BOX looked like an amazing environment to explore and create.


Mind + Hand

A Project of Firsts

By: Erin Socha

The first time for anything is nerve-racking. Taking the plunge into the unknown is one of the most exciting and terrifying adrenaline rushes one can experience. My first project at Designs for Dignity was to design the furniture plan for Mind + Hand, an organization that makes higher education, career training, and skills development available to all individuals. My first internship, my first professional project, my first real furniture plan – talk about a rush.

When I first sat down with Claire and Jordyn to learn about the project, I felt like a sponge. There was so much information to learn and I did not want to miss a thing. The project’s goal was to provide the furnishing for the interior of a new learning center for Mind + Hand. With spaces for counseling, instruction, and collaborative workspaces, we came up with two plans to accommodate the multi-purpose spaces needed. Based off feedback from Mind + Hand, the two spaces were molded together to create the most suitable space for collaborative learning.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned at D4D is that design has to be flexible. So many of D4D’s projects follow a flexible design process so they can continuously adapt as information changes.  A design can not be successful if it does not meet the needs of the people who will inhabit the space. For Mind + Hand, the inhabitants include teachers, facilitators, counselors, and students working together, creating a wide variety of needs and requests.

Throughout the project, I’ve been able to see the parallels between myself and the project itself. The individuals using the space are taking an even bigger jump into the unknown than I did. They are moving ahead on their own unique path to success, and many of their paths stray from the traditional route. But we are all unsure of what lies ahead. Keeping this in mind, I was able to let my D4D experience influence the design process. What’s been comforting about hearing the soft hum of Bryan’s music across from me? Why has it been fun having Claire and Jordyn’s bubbly logistic planning in the center of the office space? How does Jen’s open door create a sense of welcoming? In short, why is D4D a successful space that allows the individual to grow as both a designer and person?

I’m learning as I go, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to be a part of creating a space for others to learn as they go, too. There are still many “firsts” to come, but that’s what makes life exciting. And besides, who doesn’t like a good adrenaline rush every now and then?

4 Lessons from D4D

A Reflection on My Summer Internship

By: Erin Socha

As my summer at Designs for Dignity comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on what the summer has taught me. I learned and experienced a lot this summer – from moves to internal file structures to CAD plans to everything in between.

  1. Furniture is everywhere. A big part of my internship was researching furniture, looking up pricing or upholstery options for various pieces. After hours of searching through fabric memos for a certain piece, you tend to remember the piece pretty well. Pretty soon, you start seeing the same lounge set everywhere you go.
  2. Always buy the party bag of skittles. Or M&M’s, or whatever your sugar choice of intake may be. We sometimes use skittles as a prop when staging spaces for professional photography, and – just like life – you never know how many you’ll need to add a pop of color to the frame. And they provide a great 3 o’clock snack the next day.
  3. Moves take time. Not only does moving the furniture itself take hours, there are hours of planning and preparation that go behind every move in order to make it as efficient as possible. Thank your movers and coordinators, they do a lot of work you don’t realize.
  4. People are awesome. I feel like I write this in every blog, but it’s just so true! At a time when the world is filled with cruelty and sorrow, it’s amazing to think how far an act of kindness can spread. D4D is that first act of kindness, and watching it spread has been simply incredible.

These lessons only begin to scratch the surface of what this summer has taught me. Thank you, D4D, for a summer I’ll never forget.

A Date With Dignity

Designer Dating 101

By: Erin Socha

Date nights are fun. You look great and are glowing with confidence as the evening quickly becomes filled with laughter and smiles. It’s an evening of being doted, a reminder of why you are truly spectacular. A Date with Dignity was no exception. I had been looking forward to this event since I first heard about it. What better way to truly experience the D4D community than to be surrounded by a hundred people who passionately believe in D4D’s mission? Members of the Associate Board, Executive Board, and Corporate Sponsors filled Chicago Roof Deck + Garden as they munched on tacos, played cornhole and giant Jenga, and enjoyed the summer night.

A Date with Dignity is one of D4D’s annual fundraisers, planned & hosted by the Associate Board. A silent auction and raffle served as a means for party-goers to give back, raising over $13,000 by the end of the night! Prizes ranged from a bicycle to a vacation, and everyone was eager to take their chance at winning. Every time I walked past the table of prizes, I’d eye which one I would want to place my bets on winning.

As I meandered through the space, I couldn’t help but smile. I was far enough into my summer internship that I recognized many familiar faces, but around every corner was someone new to meet. I had already met so many incredible people, and I just kept meeting more as the evening progressed. The D4D community is constantly expanding, drawing in designers and volunteers from every corner of Chicago through collaborative impactful work. To be a part of that community is indescribable. The dating world can be hard to navigate, but A Date with Dignity made it evident that D4D has it’s own very successful matching system in place.




*This scenario of a date night is not the only option. There are many positive and healthy forms a relationship can take. For more information on healthy relationships, please visit

A Day in the Life of a D4D Intern

A Life Fueled by Colors and Coffee

By: Erin Socha

I suppose I haven’t introduced myself to you yet. Hello! My name’s Erin and I am D4D’s summer intern. I’ll be going into my fourth and final year of my architect undergraduate career at Miami University (OH) in the fall. Like any college design student, I thrive in an environment filled with colors, crazy days, and coffee. And that is exactly what kind of environment D4D is.

8:40 AM: Meet at the office to drive to an upholstery meeting.

9:00 AM: Brainstorm various ways to reuse fabric donations – pillows, table runners, quilts…

9:20 AM: Off to the warehouse to tag furniture pieces before our client meeting. Stop for coffee along the way.

9:57 AM: “What if we move the stools up front so they’re all together…” “No they’re in the back of the task chairs when we get to them in the move we can tag them then.” “Wait can we have the movers take down those side chairs-” “And open up the rack for the donation coming in, genius!”

10:30 AM: Close up the warehouse to go to the client meeting. Complain about the radio.

11:15 AM: Talk about the room, donation drop-off logistics, and other practical matters. Everyone seems excited and pleased with the space!

12:00 PM: Shake hands all around, excited for the collaboration that’s going to happen.

12:03 PM: Wait with Jordyn when Claire brings the car around. It’s raining.

12:30 PM: Hop out at the Mart with Jordyn to look at donations from Herman Miller.

12:50 PM: Back in the office, time for lunch and emails.

1:20 PM: Begin researching appropriate language to update our documents to give to the design team and volunteers at the start of each new project.

2:24 PM: “Wait, Erin, can you look up these KI values really fast?”

2:40 PM: Get lost in KI’s product price list.

2:43 PM: Find my way back to the start of KI’s product price list.

2:57 PM: Found the values, and back to language research I go.

3:15 PM: “Do we have everything for the photo shoot tomorrow?” Put together the bag of props for the shoot.

3:30 PM: Back to language research.

4:20 PM: Save research draft, we’ll have a staff meeting to talk about it in more detail tomorrow. Open survey forms to edit and update.

5:13 PM: “How is it already after five!”

It certainly hasn’t been an internship of getting coffee for the boss. Instead, it’s been an internship of trips to the Mart, moving tile, and meeting clients. Every day is different. You do a little bit of everything – fundraising, client meetings, furniture moves, days of service, the list continues. I’m so incredibly thankful for my summer at D4D. It certainly hasn’t been dull!


*Please note, this particular day has been fictionalized but is based entirely off my D4D experiences.

UIC Hospital Parent Lounge Remodel Site Visit

The Above Image is Before D4D’s Remodel

By: Erin Socha

I try not to spend a lot of time in hospitals. I have nothing against them – other than the needles and blood. I have therefore never had an interest in pursuing healthcare design. It made me squeamish just thinking about it. But after visiting D4D’s remodel of the UIC Hospital Parent Lounge, I realized healthcare design covers much more than the operating rooms.

No one ever tells you about the other side of hospitals. Waiting for medicine to work, for the surgery to be over, for the recovery to begin… there’s a lot of time spent doing nothing. Left unattended, this empty time can become overwhelming. It is our job as designers to stop that from happening. Spaces that welcome those in waiting can make the waiting experience much more inviting. Waiting can be a chance to relax and refresh rather than stress. Keeping this in mind, D4D is beginning to remodel what it means to be waiting.

The space will include a kitchenette, storage for toys, and relaxed seating. A wood-grain vinyl floor and pictures of nature add a touch of nature. After all, there are proven health benefits to surrounding yourself with nature. Working with the hospital to take advantage of the resources they already have, the design is able to relate to the rest of the space while giving it a new feeling of peace in their temporary home away from home.

Although the lounge is still under construction and blocked off to the public, you can still sense the curiosity of onlookers as we walked into the room. They know a remodel is occurring, but they don’t know the final plan. It’s these moments that make working at D4D so exciting, knowing that D4D is behind a plan to make the lives of so many better. There’s always two sides to a story – it’s just about which side you choose to take.


Aspire CILA Home Days of Service

Volunteers Painting a Home and Hearts

By: Erin Socha

I have been fortunate enough to meet some pretty special people in my lifetime. At Designs for Dignity’s Days of Service June 9th and 10th, I got to add to that list of incredible individuals. The Days of Service were spent painting at the Aspire CILA home, a beautiful example of the importance of inclusion and the impact even the simplest of details can make on a community.

CILA stands for Community Integrated Living Arrangement for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to build their skill sets with the supervision of the Aspire services. Staying true to Aspire’s vision, “To create a community where people of all abilities live, learn and grow together,” D4D worked with the residents to help develop a new training kitchen for the house. There were four residents involved in the process, working collaboratively to decide details such as floor pattern and paint color. D4D also learned more about the untraditional needs of the house from the residents’ perspective. For example, almost every suburban house has one main dining area. In the Aspire CILA home, there are two, as the residents enjoy the diversity the two dining areas create.

Our task was to paint the two kitchens and two living room spaces in the home. With 28 volunteers ready to help D4D and the Aspire staff see their vision become a reality, we set to work. I can honestly say I have never walked up and down so many stairs in my life, let alone in those two days. I was running downstairs to get more paint brushes and drop cloths, then back upstairs to deliver them and grab the paint to bring back downstairs. But through all the organizes commotion, I was able to hear the stories of our amazing volunteers. Two volunteers went to the same college and were fondly comparing memories, while two other volunteers were creating some of their first married memories together.

To me, that’s what a Day of Service is meant to accomplish. Not only do you create memories for yourself, but you also create a lasting memory for others – especially the residents of the CILA home. Sometimes a fresh coat of paint is the fresh start someone was looking to find.

NeoCon 2017

Cirque de Couleur – Circus of Color

By: Erin Socha

As I walk throughout the show, I cannot help smiling as colors zoom across the stages in excitement – after all, it is their first time in the spotlight. Sapphire and indigo run the show, enticing guests with a cloud of comfort and warmth. But ruby and blush draw in guests with their ingenuity. They shimmer and dazzle with every touch, the soft caress of a hand leaving a mark brighter than the sun. There is a sense of longing amongst the guests. To see the colors perform is one thing, but to have the colors dance in your own space – it is this blissful desire that drives the crowds. But which color to pick? Each stage is so different. How do you know how the colors will behave on a new stage? The show owners know this, and one by one make their way around to guests to let them in on the secrets of each stage – the customization that went into each one, the training of each color to adapt to a new stage. As guests understand the various functions and components of the stages, they return once again to a feeling of awe. The colors are beaming. As guests begin to drift out of the show, the colors quietly settle down on their stages, still smiling. They know the guests will be back to see them again.

NeoCon is the largest trade show in the Midwest, and ranks as one of the largest in the country. 50,000 design professionals walk millions of square feet of exhibition space and show rooms in the Merchandise Mart to learn, network, and celebrate the newest designs. Seminars are held, with presenters such as D4D’s own Jennifer Sobecki. With designers and corporate employees flying in from across the country, it’s a show that places a lot of pressure on the stars of the show: the colors.

There are so many moving parts of NeoCon, it was hard to label what stole the show. But there is only one shared component amongst everything at NeoCon, and that is color. I’ve learned a lot about color at D4D. It creates the tone of an entire space, and can drastically impact the emotions of the inhabitants of that space. There were endless walls of color at NeoCon – who would have thought there could be so many different shades of the seemingly same blue upholstery. Every showroom was bursting with emotion powered by the multitude of shades in the room. Surrounded by so much excitement, it’s almost impossible not to fall in love with design again.

Networking and product recall is important, but it’s also important to remember why we are designers. D4D’s mission vows to transform “nonprofit environments through pro bono design services and in-kind donations — empowering lives through design.” D4D is determined to bring the same atmosphere of excitement at NeoCon to everyone in the community. Design is meant to be shared and colors should shine vibrantly on every stage, no matter how small the stage may seem. Add some color, and it’ll shine like a star.

Refugee One Refresh Project

A D4D Refresh Project in the Uptown Neighborhood

By: Valeria Degutis

Last time I left you all in August, I mentioned a Painting Day of Service. We had a lovely group of volunteers join us bright and early on a Friday & Saturday to help D4D paint the common spaces of Refugee One in the Uptown Neighborhood. It’s a lot of fun to get to know the volunteers of Designs for Dignity because they always have such mixed backgrounds and connections. Many of the volunteers that participated were some of our design volunteers or Associate Board members that are repeat participants for Days of Service. A lot of the volunteers are also new to the organization through friends and acquaintances.

Events with D4D can be such adventures. I remember walking in that morning to no power in the reception area, and maybe a few too many volunteers – but that is never a bad thing! Mostly, however, I remember the faces of the volunteers so eager and ready to work – after donuts of course! There is always so much adventure when we’re on a D4D project site. The best part is seeing our volunteers roll with the punches no matter the situation.

Since then, the Refugee One ‘refresh project’ has been completed and installed for a few months. We were able to provide donated seating for the various programs that Refugee One offers, such as tablet arm chairs for their classrooms that might offer English classes. Some of the other items included tables, task chairs & side chairs for offices.

Working with Refugee One was a very enjoyable experience for me. It was great to see the project through, and make an impact in a small but effective manner. It was also a really great experience to work with volunteers to get this project done. Designs for Dignity needs its volunteers to make the impact that we do. Impacting lives is a collective effort of many who care, and I’ve been very lucky to have shared the mission of D4D with all of the staff and volunteers that I’ve come across in my short time here.