Interior Design

Why Top Designers Love Housing Works’ Design on a Dime Event — and You Should Too

Booths at Housing Works' Design on a Dime 2023 designed by (clockwise from top left) LK Studio, Francis Interiors, Katie Leede, D’Aquino Monaco and Huniford Design Studio
Interior designer James "Ford" Huniford
James Huniford founded and chairs Housing Works’ annual Design on a Dime benefit. Interior designers who participate in the event create shoppable booths with furniture donated by well-known brands and makers. Proceeds fund Housing Works’ programs, which provide services and support for people living with HIV/AIDS (photo courtesy of James Huniford). Top: Some of the 2023 booths were designed by (clockwise from top left) LK Studio, Francis Interiors, Katie Leede, D’Aquino Monaco and Huniford Design Studio (photos courtesy of Housing Works).

This month, Design on a Dime (DOAD), one of the most hotly anticipated furniture and decor events of the year, celebrates its 19th anniversary at New York’s Metropolitan Pavilion, its home since the beginning. From April 24 to 27, attendees will be able to shop booths created by about 60 of the best-known interior designers in the industry, with all profits going to the HIV/AIDS service organization Housing Works

The extravaganza was the brainchild of James “Ford” Huniford, head of an eponymous interiors firm. “So much talent was lost to the disease,” he says, recalling the early 2000s. “I wanted to give back to the design community and people who were living with HIV.”

Huniford admired the mission of Housing Works, which was founded in 1990 to tackle the intertwined issues of AIDS and homelessness by providing housing for those with the illness. “I believe housing is a form of health care,” he says. Today, the group also operates six community health clinics in Manhattan and Brooklyn and advocates for health equity and social justice for people living with HIV/AIDS, in addition to running a bookshop-cum-café and several thrift shops, which produce revenue to help fund its programs. 

The thrift shops have long been a resource for style-savvy consumers and designers looking for unique items at reasonable prices. Design on a Dime, says Huniford, “started out as a glorified garage sale for designers doing vignettes in the shops.” It has since mushroomed into a much bigger affair. Participants solicit furniture donations for their DOAD booths from well-known companies. Visitors to the pavilion can shop the curated vignettes — often at deep discounts. Since its inception, in 2005, the event has raised approximately $22 million, and this year Huniford is hoping to bring in another $3 million. 

The festivities begin with the Groundbreakers Awards Dinner, which honors people who have made significant contributions to the fight against HIV/AIDS, homelessness and other humanitarian crises. The 2024 honorees are supermodel Linda Evangelista, Schumacher creative director and FREDERIC magazine editor in chief Dara Caponigro and HarbourView Equity Partners founder and CEO Sherrese Clarke Soares. “It’s a beloved event that’s like a homecoming,” says Huniford. “There’s a sense of joy to it.”

Here, some of the other designers involved in this year’s edition share their thoughts about what makes DOAD special and offer tantalizing hints about the booths they’re creating.

Wesley Moon Inc + Tyler Banken Design

WHY: “Housing Works is doing God’s work,” says Moon. “I’ve gone to Design on a Dime many times, and Housing Works is the first place I recommend people donate their furniture when they’re redecorating. And they make everything so easy for the designers. They take all the logistics off our plate.”

WHAT’S IN STORE: Moon is teaming up with landscape architecture firm Tyler Banken Design. “Tyler and I will be doing an indoor-outdoor space that walks a line between solarium, pergola and loggia,” Moon says. It will include Banken’s own moss art, as well as potted plants, a Henning Kjærnulf sofa, a tile-topped vintage coffee table from Newel and Phillip Jeffries custom-painted grass cloth.

Redd Kaihoi LLC

WHY: “We love Housing Works because we so fully support their fundamental ethos,” says David Kaihoi, “which boils down to the idea that a safe and loving home is the ultimate first step to getting back on one’s feet. Design on a Dime is jubilant and sexy and feels like the funnest wedding, with the party favors being all of the donated product curated by New York designers.”

WHAT’S IN STORE: “This year, we’re doing a library of sorts,” says Kaihoi, one of the event’s cochairs along with his design partner, Miles Redd. “Think tapestry-covered walls, salon-style art and books galore.” Among major pieces that will make an appearance are a black pagoda-shaped étagère from Liz O’Brien, a bamboo console from Mecox Gardens and Miles Redd trays and occasional tables for the Lacquer Company. Other vendors donating furniture and objects include Christopher Spitzmiller, John Derian and Bunny Williams Home

A still from the film The Favourite showing the tapestry-covered walls of the queen's bedroom
Photo courtesy of Everett Collection

Studio AK

Interior designers Anna Baraness (left) and Kristin Tarsi, of Studio AK
Anna Baraness (left) and Kristin Tarsi, of Studio AK, are participating in Design on Dime for the first time this year. Photo courtesy of Studio AK

WHY: “We are both longtime residents of New York, and we are proud and humbled to be part of helping such a great cause for New Yorkers in need,” says Kristin Tarsi, who heads up Studio AK along with Anna Baraness. “It is wonderful how the design community comes together to contribute in such a big way.”

The living room of a Studio AK project IN BETHESDA, MARYLAND
“We love to layer vintage and custom pieces, and in this family living room we pulled the furniture away from the walls to create a salon-like feel,” Baraness says, referring to a Studio AK project in Bethesda, Maryland. “This helped with the circulation through the space, so in our Design on a Dime vignette, we went for a similar concept.” Photo by Jenn Verrier

WHAT’S IN STORE: “This is our first year designing a vignette,” says Tarsi. “We knew we wanted to create a multifunctional living-room-dining-room space where curved furniture would be mostly pulled away from the walls, inviting patrons in by creating paths of circulation throughout. We took style cues from two of the first items donated: a Crosby Street Studios rug and a Bower arched mirror, which were both modern, graphic and saturated.” The mirror, adds Baraness, “plays with the idea of reflectivity and has an accent of bronze glass.” This served as a springboard for various metallic items, including a 1960s chrome bar cart that Studio AK purchased from Horseman Antiques, a 1970s chrome-and-brass console, a chrome-accented ceramic table lamp from Stone and Sawyer and a 1980s sofa from 1stDibs.

Apartment 48

WHY: “I first became aware of Design on a Dime about twenty years ago and immediately felt a connection to both the cause and the event,” says six-time participing designer Rayman Boozer, of Apartment 48, who’s also a 2024 cochair. “Having lived in New York since the nineteen eighties, I have lost several friends and family members to HIV/AIDS and witnessed the tragic effects of an ongoing housing crisis. A collaboration of new designers, well-established veterans, vendors and showrooms, contractors and upholsterers, clients, celebrities and countless volunteers come together to raise funding and awareness for those less fortunate.”

WHAT’S IN STORE: “This year we took inspiration from the old-world seduction of the Iberian Peninsula to craft a café and lounge layered in the colors, patterns and themes of the region. True to the Portuguese and Spanish locale, we’ve embraced elements of Art Nouveau, Moorish design and Romanticism.” To wit: pieces by ddc, Julian Chichester, Thibaut, Hooker Furniture and Arteriors, among others.

Tina Ramchandani Creative

Interior designer Tina Ramchandani
Tina Ramchandani is planning two vignettes this year — one for her own firm and one for the Asian American Pacific Islander Design Alliance. Photos by Winnie Au

WHY: “I’ve been a supporter of Housing Works and its efforts through visiting their stores and the bookstore for as long as I can remember,” says Ramchandani. “I feel strongly that everyone should have access to medical care and treatment and comfortable, safe housing. Both are basic human rights, and Housing Works does an excellent job supporting those in need in a way that is kind and uplifting. Design on a Dime is just one of many innovative ways that Housing Works engages the community.”

The living room of a HOME IN THE BOERUM HILL SECTION OF BROOKLYN designed by Tina Ramchandani
As she did for a home in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn, she’s leaning into color and great art to outfit both booths. Photo by Jacob Snavely

WHAT’S IN STORE: “This is our first time participating, and we’re doing two booths: one for our firm and one for the Asian American Pacific Islander Design Alliance

“Our vignette is called A Total Dinner Throwback. We’ve seen the eighties inspire so much furniture and textile design recently, so I wanted to blend that aesthetic with the contemporary interiors we know today. We’ve created a dining area filled with curves and color, with a focus on artisans and art curated by Bhalla Munro art advisory.” Among these is a large wall piece by British-born, Brooklyn-based Quentin Jones and a vintage David Weeks light fixture. 

For the AAPIDA booth, Ramchandani says, “along with AAPIDA artists and designers, I created a cocktail lounge in the colors of the Year of the Dragon.” Cocktail and mocktail recipes by several of these creatives will be served, paired with illustrations on the walls by Naomi Otsu. Also occupying the space are a Hellman Chang console and a chandelier by Rosie Li.

Matt Blacke Inc.

Interior designer Cliff Fong of Matt Blacke, Inc.
“There’s always a mixture of vintage and contemporary and high and low,” Cliff Fong, principal of Matt Blacke Inc., says of his work. “It’s this mix that makes things feel fresh and personal.” Photo courtesy of Matt Blacke Inc.

WHY: “This is the fourth year I’m participating in DOAD,” says Cliff Fong, founder of L.A.-based Matt Blacke Inc. “I really love the work this charity does, its history of helping those in need and the wonderful creatives that all contribute for the greater good. The dinner is also always a fun and stimulating evening.”

A lounge in a private terminal at LAX airport designed by Cliff Fong of Matt Blacke, Inc.
His vignette will have a vibe something like the one in this laid-back space he designed for a private terminal at LAX airport. “The donated lounge chairs are similar to the feeling we have in this photo, as well as some of the art perhaps,” says Fong. Photo courtesy of Private Suite

WHAT’S IN STORE: “I don’t think in ‘themes.’ I have always prided myself on being able to make a good meal out of whatever is in the fridge or pantry. This year, we have some amazing contemporary designs in the booth and a slightly more conceptual edge than in earlier years, where the presentation leaned more on vintage and antique.” Some brands and furnishings that will converge in Fong’s booth are a sofa from ddc/Minotti, a Lindsey Adelman chandelier and a lounge chair from Lemieux et Cie

Mark Cunningham

WHY: “This will be our seventh year participating in Design on a Dime,” says Mark Cunningham. “Collaborating with our fantastic vendors to craft our vignette is always an enjoyable experience. It not only allows me to reconnect with the individuals I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years but also enables us to contribute to a wonderful cause.”

WHAT’S IN STORE: “I found inspiration in the spring season, shaping my theme as Industrial Garden and using a blend of graphic patterns, florals and vibrant hues.” House of Hackney’s Hollyhocks wallpaper provides the backdrop for a booth that includes a Munder Skiles dining table, a custom coffee table from J.M. Szymanski and divers works from local artists, such as Bill Tansey and Peter Speliopoulos

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