SUPER MEGA DISCLAIMER: I am fully aware of how privileged I am to have health insurance and to be able to talk about it in the ways I am about to talk about it, okay? I'm not an unaware privilege-monster, promise.

My mom raised me with a healthy fear of not having health insurance and of going into debt. I think one informed the other, no? We cut corners in a lot of other ways, but not having health insurance was not one of them. When I became an adult and had Zane I went on welfare and got MassHealth coverage for a couple years, so it really wasn't until my mid-20's that I had to worry about how I was going to pay for health insurance for us.

Owning a cafe didn't help my insurance situation (or my bank account) and I went without for a while. Not one to miss my annual check-up, I made an appointment at my local health clinic (they do amazing work in our community) and I arrived grateful for their existence.

Their offices are in an old house, which is the case with a lot of the local nonprofit-type social services in my area, and here is what I remember about the appointment: the rooms were small and oddly laid out, some were covered in bad 70's faux-wood paneling, a small air conditioner rattled in the small window in the small waiting room, barely keeping up with the unrelenting sun shining in on an already hot day, an office that was cobbled together with random furniture, having my blood drawn in what used to be a kitchen, the cracked floor tiles and beat up counter tops, the smallness of the exam room, it's wood paneling and oddly colored trim, a general awareness of the housey-ness of what was supposed to feel like medical officey-ness.

More importantly, I remember my diminished sense of dignity and self-worth, a lack of confidence in my care, feeling hyper-vulnerable, a concern for the burn-out rate of the employees there, and a strong desire to provide an interior makeover. I left daydreaming about putting together a team of volunteers and robbing a bank so that we could make the offices functional and beautiful in the hopes of creating a space that clients felt good about coming to and that employees felt proud to work in. I went so far as to come up with a business plan for a nonprofit that would perform this function throughout my community, soliciting donations from major construction stores like Home Depot and using volunteer forces to transform public spaces that serve low-income people. Sadly, I have worked in too many nonprofits to still be under the impression that I would ever want to start or run one.

That was my first foray into understanding how design impacts people and their work in deep and meaningful ways. Since then I've become a sponge for examples of how design hinders and how it helps, and they are everywhere I look (and everywhere you look, even if you don't notice them). When the New Yorker talks about better care for dementia patients here, they are really talking about design success. When buildings trap workers in them and fall or burn, as we have witnessed too many times lately, we are seeing design (and yes, employer policies and practices) fail. When maternity wards offer tubs and music and homey decor we see an attempt at comfort (whether or not it's successful lies in the eyes of the beholder). When schools resemble prisons it shouldn't surprise us that students in them feel like prisoners. I could go on and on and on and on.

All of this makes me very very excited. Not the people-being-trapped-in-buildings-part, but the potential for design to make so many things better for human beings world-wide. So when I said out loud for the first time, "I think I want to be an interior designer" two years ago what I really meant was, "I want to be an interior designer who works on projects that have a deep and meaningful social impact." So that's what I'm gonna do. Client work, while fun and more fun, is just not going to feed my inner-militant-feminist-activist heart the way I need something to if I'm going to make a career out of it. Happily for me the field of public interest design is emerging in force - I can't wait to contribute!

PS - I have no idea if Tapestry's offices still look like that, and want to reiterate how awesome I think they are. As is the case with most nonprofits, budgets for interior design are hard to come by and I don't blame them in the least.

AuthorSarah Reid