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  • Writer's pictureAngela Chang

Transformative Interior Design for Nonprofits: Creating Lively Spaces for Equal SRQ

Updated: 5 days ago

by Angela Chang | July 1, 2024 | Interior Design Case Studies

Hello, there! It’s been a few weeks since our last blog, and I’m excited to update you on what we’ve been working on. Today, I want to share the newly upgraded space we created with the amazing Equal SRQ team.

When I first met Paulina Connolly, she was sitting next to me at one of the Sarasota Chamber events. We had an instant connection after we introduced ourselves. Paulina and her co-founder, Tom Rubins, became my good friends in the Chamber. Let me tell you, this project was not like any other project I had done before. This project was more than just a redesign; it was about transforming spaces into supportive and lively environments that reflected the mission of Equal SRQ.

Project Background

The Initial Condition of The Cottage

Paulina had a big vision for their startup non-profit organization, Equal SRQ, which is dedicated to improving the mental, physical, behavioral, and emotional wellness of those affected by substance use disorder and mental health conditions. After some time searching with Greg Wood, Realtor, C2EX, at Keller Williams on the Water Sarasota, they found a small cottage house with a detached garage and ample outdoor space. The cottage needed a little makeover, and the lease term was limited to one year with the possibility of renewal. This meant that everything had to be portable to accommodate a potential move.

The cottage house used to be a hair salon, as we could still see all the stains from the hair dyes on the existing flooring. The condition of the house was far from ready to serve as a functional hub for Equal SRQ’s activities. The kitchen was used as a hair washing station, so it did not have a counter space nor any real cabinetry. The existing carpet was old and worn; you could even feel the unevenness of the subfloor. It was clear that a significant transformation was needed to bring this space to life.

Exterior Design Transformation - Commercial Project 1
Cottage Exterior - Before
Exterior Design Transformation - Commercial Project 2
Garage Exterior - Before

Interior Design Transformation - Office Project 1
Kitchen - Before
Interior Design Transformation - Office Project 2
Meeting Area - Before

Paulina’s Vision

Paulina envisioned this space to not only be functional but also inviting and energizing. They wanted a place where the community could come together, feel supported, and be inspired to go out and help others. The challenge was to make sure that everything can be easily moved if needed after the one-year lease ended. On the other side of the property, the detached garage had the potential of being used as their future art studio and storage for supplies and events.

Interior Design for Nonprofits

Initial Design Concept

Our initial design concept revolved around creating a lively gathering center. We wanted to use vibrant colors and flexible furniture to create a space that was comfortable, adaptable, and not institutional looking. The idea was to make the space feel welcoming and dynamic, encouraging interaction and collaboration while still providing enough privacy when needed.

Goals for the Space

Our primary goals were:

1.       Portability: Ensure that all items and finishes can be easily transported if needed.

2.     Functionality: Create a space that supports various activities, from internal meetings to public gatherings.

3.     Aesthetics: Design a lively and welcoming environment that reflected the spirit of Equal SRQ.

Exterior Design Transformation - Commercial Project 3
Cottage Exterior Street Front View - After

Project Funded by Nonprofit Grants

Selecting Items from Pre-Approved Vendors

Interior Design Transformation - Office Project 3
Interior Seating Area - After

One unique aspect of this project was that it was partially funded by grants through the Community Adaptation Program (CAP) of the American Red Cross among others that required us to select items from pre-approved vendors. My typical commercial projects had me working with to-the-trade furniture lines where furniture dealers provided pricing and purchasing after we specified the items. This was new to me and added an extra layer of complexity to the project, as we needed to research everything their vendors had to offer while still maintaining our design aesthetics. I worked closely with Paulina to identify the best items that met both the functional needs and the design vision.

Ensuring Compliance and Design Integrity

Ensuring compliance with the requirements was crucial. We simply could not specify items not offered by their vendors. Not to mention, their vendors were not all commercial interior design-oriented. However, we stayed true to our design concept, choosing items that were not only compliant but also matched the overall look and feel of the space.

Design Implementation

Transforming the cottage

The transformation of the cottage was a step-by-step process. Equal SRQ is a startup non-profit and every dollar spent had to be well planned out. They gathered volunteers and talented trades people from the recovery community to help paint the interior walls with the fresh white paint we chose. They also installed new vinyl floor planks with loose-lay installation for easy removal in the future. Next, we selected furniture that could be easily reconfigured for different activities. Artwork with vibrant colors, donated by another local nonprofit warehouse, Streets of Paradise, was used to bring life and warmth to the space.

Key Design Elements

1.       Indoor/Outdoor Furniture: This allowed for flexibility in using the same furniture for bigger outdoor events, making it easy without having extra space to store them.

2.     Vibrant Color: We used bright, cheerful colors to create an inviting atmosphere.

3.     Portable Décor: All décor items were selected with portability in mind, ensuring that they could be easily moved if needed.

Interior Design Transformation - Office Project 4
Interior Meeting Area - After

Challenges and Solutions

Specific Challenges

One of the biggest challenges was ensuring all the design elements were portable except wall paint. This required a careful selection of kitchen equipment, storage units, flooring materials, and décor items. Our second challenge was working within the constraints of only selecting items from the pre-approved vendors, which limited our choice of products. Lastly, we had to secure all the outdoor furniture and items because anyone could access their exterior space.

Innovative Solutions

To overcome these challenges, we got creative. For example, we used commercial stainless steel kitchen worktables, a stainless steel free-standing sink with counters on both sides, and a mobile kitchen cart table. We also made sure the flooring installer only secured the planks at the perimeter and did not glue all the vinyl planks down to the floor. For the outdoor pieces, they either had to be super heavy so that people could not easily move them, or they needed to be able to be chained together and locked up at night.

Interior Design Transformation - Office Project 5
Interior Office Lounge Seating Area - After

Collaboration and Gift-Giving

Donation of Design Time

At Angela Chang Design Studio, we believe in the power of giving back to our communities. Much like Equal SRQ, we want our local communities to be the best versions they can be. Portions of our design hours were donated to help their efforts in bolstering community engagement and participation.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

Importance of Community Collaboration

This project was a testament to the importance of community collaboration. By working together with Paulina, Tom, and their staff, we were able to create a space that not only met the practical needs of Equal SRQ but also embodied their mission and vision. The collaborative effort ensured that every aspect of the design was thoughtful, impactful, and useful.

Outcome and Impact

Interior Design Transformation - Office Project 6
Interior Kitchen Area - After

The Revitalized Space

The transformed cottage now serves as a vibrant hub for Equal SRQ. They host weekly gatherings and provide healthy cold-pressed juices and workshops to teach people how to grow their own vegetables in this flexible and welcoming place. The newly painted bright colors and thoughtful design create an inviting atmosphere that encourages interaction and collaboration.

Positive Impact

The positive impact of this new Equal SRQ facility on its community has been profound. The interior design for nonprofit creates a lively environment, energizing the staff and volunteers, providing them with a supportive and inspiring place to work. The space has also become a welcoming destination for visitors, enhancing the overall sense of community.


Exterior Design Transformation - Commercial Project 4
Exterior Outdoor Seating Area - After

Reflecting on this project, we are filled with gratitude for the opportunity to work with Paulina, Tom, and the rest of the Equal SRQ team. It was a rewarding experience that taught us about the power of thoughtful design and community collaboration. We didn’t have a big budget for this project, so we were extra careful in selecting finishes and furniture.

I am proud of the space we created for them and the positive impact it has had on Equal SRQ and the people they reached in this community. I look forward to seeing the continued success of Equal SRQ and am grateful for the chance to have been part of their journey.

If you are inspired to help Paulina and her team in any way, please feel free to reach out or simply donate to them directly here.


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