When a Project Changes You: Design for Those in Need

When DesignGroup interior designer Heather Clark joined on as a pro-bono team member to design a new shelter for the homeless, she discovered a profound feeling of pride - and a personal connection to the client’s mission.

By: Heather Clark, NCIDQ, EDAC // Interior Designer


Giving back to the community is important to DesignGroup. So we were excited when Light of Life Rescue Mission asked us to join a design team working on its new multi-purpose building. Based in Pittsburgh’s historic Allegheny West neighborhood, Light of Life is an essential resource for the homeless. Since 1952, it has provided food, shelter, and hope for the area’s poor, addicted, needy and abused.


Light of Life Rescue Mission's New Shelter // Pittsburgh, PA


As we prepared to help design the interiors of their building, we learned about Light of Life’s mission and the selfless, essential work they do to help people through recovery programs, employment assistance, mental health help, and more. We also got to know other members on the Light of Light design team and loved hearing what this project meant to each of them. We realized we were contributing to something special, something important, something bigger than the sum of its parts.

It’s easy to forget how fortunate we are to simply have a roof over our heads. It can be hard to walk a mile in the shoes of someone living on the streets or struggling with addiction. This project reminded us of all that and more. It hit even closer to home for me, having lost a loved one to addiction four years ago.

So we set to work, a small part of a large team. The opportunity to use sensitive interior design to assist in Light of Life’s mission touched us deeply. We knew that, in the near future, people in need would consider this “home” while getting back on their feet. We knew our decisions truly mattered. I’ve had a passion for healthcare design for more than 20 years, and after all that time in the field, this project felt different. I realized just how vulnerable the users of this building would be, and how great an impact it could have on their lives. So when we asked our typical project questions, they took on deeper relevance: What is the feeling visitors should get when they walk inside the building? Does it put their minds at ease, make them feel welcome, and help them begin to heal?


Children's Play Room


Like all projects, we listened to and interpreted the owner’s desired aesthetic and atmosphere, cultivating a relationship to bring their vision to life. Seeing and feeling their emotions as they explained what the spaces mean to them, and helping them improve people’s lives through design, was an inspirational journey.

We know a building’s interior can have a profound impact on one’s well-being. We considered their reaction seeing the space for the first time, knowing it was created just for them. So many emotions came into play during these discussions.

In our final design, guests will enter a warm, welcoming lobby. Colors and finishes were selected to lift spirits and make them feel at home. Wayfinding accents provide a pop of color, both cheerful and comforting. Our work included a children’s playroom and a place for kids to do homework and hang out. A custom wallcovering was created with leaves to bring the nature and the feel of the outdoors in. The prayer room is a place for healing, comfort, and respite for the women. Soft, textured seating, Zen-inspired wallcovering, and indirect lighting give the space a sense of calm. It is the first time an emergency shelter is implemented, that women and children will be housed together in the shelter.


Prayer Room


Working with the team, and hearing personal stories of how this building will change lives, changed me. Although our journey with the Light of Life team was brief, I will continue my involvement through volunteering. DesignGroup played a small part getting this building up and running, but it touched our hearts. We know it will make a difference.


DesignGroup’s Heather Clark sat down with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to discuss the interior design of the new shelter for Light of Life Rescue Mission. Read more about the inspiration behind the design choices.



Heather Clark, NCIDQ, EDAC // Interior Designer

Heather is a resourceful, accomplished and dedicated interior designer with 23 years of experience in conceptual design, space planning and client leadership with a specialty in healthcare planning and interior design. She is adept in working with colleagues & clients to achieve a shared vision that fosters creativity which delivers results that exceed expectations. Heather is an NCIDQ professional with a strong drive to engage in evidence based design and sustainable design.