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Savvy Giving by Design creates beautiful spaces for healthy recoveries

Interior designer Susan Wintersteen's passion for philanthropy sparks nationwide nonprofit dedicated to renovating rooms of children battling cancer

Susan Wintersteen with Ivy, who received a complete renovation on the room she shared with her brothers from Wintersteen’s Savvy Giving by Design nonprofit
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It all began with a Facebook group. Interior designer Susan Wintersteen created a page, Savvy Steals, to be a place where her clients could resell furnishings that no longer fit in the new spaces she designed for them, but it quickly evolved into much more. As she saw it was becoming an engaged, interactive community, Wintersteen used the page as a platform to spur involvement in various initiatives like pizza drives, fundraisers, and thank-you efforts for first responders. The momentum inspired her to take on a project even greater: enlisting the community’s support in the redecoration of a room for a child undergoing treatment for cancer. The response was resounding; Wintersteen was immediately determined to keep at it.

Susan Wintersteen

Since that first room back in 2014, Wintersteen’s project has evolved into Savvy Giving by Design, a nationwide nonprofit with chapters in 14 states. “I think after that first room, it was so addictive because we were on this high of ‘Oh my gosh, we had an impact on this child’s journey!’ and for many of us, I think that’s what we long for as a community,” she says. “It was such a grassroots effort — within a couple days we had raised enough money to do the room through our community on Savvy Steals when that first started. It was so great to be able to go back to [the group] and say, ‘Look what we did! You guys helped pay for this!’”  

Avila’s room in her San Marcos home was redone for her in 2019 during her treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia
Avila’s room in her San Marcos home was redone for her in 2019 during her treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia

Volunteer-based and dependent on donations from the community, Wintersteen says she renovates spaces at an average cost of roughly $10,000 per project for about 10 to 12 kids per year, though that number has been impacted by supply chain issues and contractor availability in the pandemic. Projects often benefit not just one child, but several. “We really want to focus on how can we better their rooms to make them more conducive to healing, and then we also incorporate their siblings’ spaces because we believe that siblings play such an important part in the family dynamic and in the child’s healing,” she explains. In addition to cash donations, a “wish list” of smaller items like pillows and décor is occasionally posted on Savvy Giving by Design’s Facebook page to allow people to purchase items for a project directly. Room makeover candidates can be referred on SGBD’s website and are evaluated by its local board based on where they will be able to provide the biggest impact, where the kids are in their journey, and what special needs they may have that the organization will best be able to provide. 

Four-year-old Joshy’s delight as he sees his new room for the first time
Four-year-old Joshy’s delight as he sees his new room for the first time

For all the giving, Wintersteen, who’s also the CEO, principal, and creative director of the Savvy Interiors design firm she founded in 2002, is quick to recognize all she gets out of the nonprofit work. “If you look at the statistics that say that 30 percent of somebody’s healing is related to their space … you can see [that] being in and out of the hospital comes at a cost to that child’s welfare,” she says. “To know that we’re able to come in as designers and make the space better and have it function better and also be really pleasing aesthetically, we know that we’re having an effect on their mood, on their quality of life, on their healing — all of that is just very satisfying.” savvygivingbydesign.org, savvyinteriors.com

Featured Photo Susan Wintersteen with Ivy, who received a complete renovation on the room she shared with her brothers from Wintersteen’s Savvy Giving by Design nonprofit
Image Credits Photography courtesy of Savvy Giving by Design

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