Dwell With Dignity received the first ARTS Visionary Award for its work in bringing good design to those less fortunate; inspiring families to maintain a standard of living they can be proud of and thrive in. Residential Lighting sat down for a Q&A with founder Lisa Robison that first appeared in its February issue.

Residential Lighting: Tell us about the concept of Dwell With Dignity.

Lisa Robison: We truly believe that if we can change someone’s environment, we can change their lives. It’s oftentimes those who can least afford good design who can benefit the most from it. We team up with agencies and programs to help families struggling to get out of poverty and homelessness. We provide everything — artwork, draperies, lighting, furniture. We stock their pantries. We make their first night’s meal. We use donations from the design community and the general community.

RL: How many cities are you in?

LR: Right now, we’re just in Dallas. But we have written a business plan to allow chapters around the country. We’ve had a lot of interest from design hub cities all over. The next step is writing the operations manual — very specific details about our operations and how we can become duplicatable. The more funds we have, the more it will allow for the time to do that. The other step is finding people in one of these design hub cities who have the time, effort and passion to devote to this kind of mission.

RL: Do you get lamps for projects?

LR: Hinkley Lighting, Global Views, Arteriors and Aidan Gray have donated lighting to us. We also get lamps donated from individuals and from the community. But the ones that really make the huge impact are those donated from the industry.
Pairs of lamps help us with our design process. We’ll know where we need a lamp in every install. They don’t have dimmers, for instance. So we use a lot of ambient lighting and it brings such warmth. Some of these families have never experienced this. They don’t understand the impact of the lighting. They just know it feels good.

A lot of times we get lamps, but no shades. That is definitely a need — simple drum shades. A lot of times we’ll switch out a pendant, for instance, above a dining table. A challenge is finding the skilled labor to switch out those types of things. Sometimes we’ll turn a drum shade into a light fixture and put that over a dining table.
Lisa Robison

RL: How do you coordinate the donations into a décor package?

LR: We work like a design firm. Volunteers measure the space. We put our plans on CAD. We do space plans and furniture plans, including lighting. We have a legend with all the furniture that’s going into a space. An on-site project manager directs where all of the furniture goes. It’s challenging because we’re using all donations, but we might get some fabulous piece of art or this wonderful bolt of fabric and that’s the inspiration for the design.

RL: How important is good lighting to good social outcomes?

LR: It’s absolutely one of the most important parts of good design. Good lighting makes everyone feel better and look better. It enables us to complete tasks. Balancing task lighting with ambient lighting is a true skill. You could have a beautiful room, but with the wrong lighting it won’t transmit the feeling that you were hoping it would. The right lighting for a room changes your environment. It’s really similar to our mission. If you change your lighting, you can change your experience.

RL: Have you seen that in practice?

LR: When I did my first installation, there was a woman across the hallway. She kept walking by and looking in. She walked in, took a deep breath and said, “I can breathe in here.” That warm glow and the sense of home that good lighting brings to the whole process is so impactful.