New York designer Sean Carlson Perry recently launched a new business model, a start-up organization called Design Exchange that partners with his own architecture and interior design firm to provide pro-bono design projects.

Design Exchange's mission is to supply home environments that foster rehabilitation for people coming in or out of homeless shelters and organizations that serve those in need of basic living necessities.

For every project commissioned by Perry's namesake firm, Perry donates 10 percent of the design fee to Design Exchange to fund a free project for individuals, families, or organizations. Design Exchange, which consists of the employees of Perry's firm and a group of volunteers, also donates its design services for the project.

Design Exchange meets with the project recipient to develop a plan to match the needs of the client, which may include beds and furniture if the client cannot afford to buy furnishings. 

The Design Exchange campaign site boasts, "Nothing like this exists in the design and architecture world. We are the first to develop a model which continually gives back."

So far, Design Exchange has been working on projects with its partner organizations, the New York-based Ali Forney Center for housing homeless LGBTQ youth and Bottomless Closet, a nonprofit organization helping women overcome poverty and enter the workforce in New York. After completing these projects, Perry said he "absolutely wants to explore even more partnerships" with other local nonprofit organizations.

Credit: Courtesy Aaron Thompson


Perry has spent the last eight years working for various New York firms, including Gruzen Samton, P-TB Design Services, Organization Architecture, Robert Nassar Design, and LST Design—a work history that Perry describes as a "potpourri" of project types. The designers on Perry's team also have diverse backgrounds ranging from high-end residential to luxury retail projects.

"The work on these pro-bono projects is based around different types of environments. The focus of our design is centered on the need of the user of the space, the client," says Perry, explaining that the similarity between his background work and the work he is doing with Design Exchange is the focus is always about creating a plan that best suits the user's needs.

Perry says that he hopes clients of his firm will become involved in the process of choosing the free Design Exchange project for a charity recipient. "It is a great opportunity to connect people with organizations and open eyes to the need for design,” he says.

Perry notes the fashion industry's immediate response to the Haitian earthquake, a collective effort to send money and clothing to the victims, as one that the architecture and design world could emulate and expresses that he is hopeful that Design Exchange will inspire others to investigate ways to help those in need.

"In New York City, you see firsthand the poverty and struggle," says Perry, acknowledging that he is not a native to the city. "Our focus is on providing individuals with the design basics to create a foundation for them in which they can build a life and create an environment that promotes healing and success."