Local Nonprofit Designs Spaces for People in Need

Inspired Spaces Foundation works with other local nonprofits, charities and volunteers to design “inspired spaces” for families in need.

“There is absolutely tons of science behind (the importance of) living in a space that is soothing and comfortable,” says interior designer Natasha Stocker. This concept could apply to the residential and commercial design work done by Stocker’s Santa Rosa-based firm, Inspired Spaces. But in this case, she is referring to her work decorating the new dwellings of formerly homeless clients.

“The majority of the people we’re helping are coming from shelters and didn’t even have a door to close,” adds Stocker.

During the pandemic,when a knee injury had the busy designer convalescing on the couch for eight months, Stocker knew it was time to launch her years-long dream to start a nonprofit.

Fifteen years ago, Stocker did some design work with The Living Room in Santa Rosa. The nonprofit works with women and children who are at-risk or experiencing homelessness. Stocker knew she wanted to extend her work beyond that initial design. “My time at (The Living Room) stopped at picking out paint colors,” says Stocker.

Now the team at Inspired Spaces Foundation saves discards from design jobs and actively seeks out donations of furniture and goods. The pieces are configured into coordinated looks and an “inspired space” is created for a family in need. Coming full circle, Stocker’s foundation is matched with clients through The Living Room. Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa also partners with the foundation.

It proved serendipitous five years ago when Michelle Frydenlund joined Stocker’s firm. Frydenlund has a background in nonprofit work and mental health services. When the facility she managed closed in 2012, she headed to Santa Rosa Junior College to take their interior design classes. Frydenlund was looking to delve into creative work.

Stocker, meanwhile, was looking to veer her creative work into a service-oriented vein. Their intersection of skills brought the Inspired Spaces Foundation to life. A couple years into planning, the foundation has warehouse space and a months-long waiting list of clients. They hope to address the latter by increasing their volunteer force.

In addition to running the design firm, the team spends evenings and weekends on nonprofit work. On some Saturdays, design installations take place in clients’ new homes.

“We cry a lot,” says Stocker describing how meaningful the work is. Frydenlund emphasizes the importance of clients feeling “seen and listened to.” They attribute the secret to client happiness to attentiveness and bringing clients’ ideas to fruition. 

A living room with a "beachy vibe." Inspired Spaces Foundation aims to design a space according to a clients wants and needs. (Emi Curtis)
A living room with a “beachy vibe.” Inspired Spaces Foundation aims to design a space according to a clients wants and needs. (Emi Curtis)

Many clients, the duo says, are escaping abuse, recovering from addiction or coping with mental illness. The design process offers them a chance to make requests, take control of their spaces, and feel empowered to think about and ask for what they like–something many of them have not experienced before.

“We can step in,” says Frydenlund, telling them, “You have worked so hard. Let us take care of this.” She adds that this frees up clients “to focus on thriving.”

When the duo describes their designing process, they’ll discuss the practical needs of a space and the technical elements of design. But it’s impossible not to see how psychology is woven through their thinking.

When designing for herself, Frydenlund turns to her own instincts. “What colors do I love? What colors make me feel calm and zen? That’s what I need when I’m at my house,” she says. “The home is the place to decompress, and colors that I like make me feel calm.” Frydenlund prefers to stay away from color trends and go with what speaks to her.

Stocker has design advice that’s also based on personal preference. “Clean out your space of anything you don’t absolutely love,” she says. “When people don’t have a lot or feel like they don’t have the money to make their space beautiful, they tend to collect a lot. They have stuff just to have stuff.” Stocker suggests focusing on having things that bring joy, and having fewer of those things.

To help by donating items or volunteering, contact Inspired Spaces Foundation at 707-546-0997, @inspiredspaces.foundation, inspiredspaces.org.