James Huniford, founding chair of Design on a Dime.


In the early 1990s, an estimated 13,000 HIV-positive individuals were homeless on the streets of New York. The plight of this community, long ignored by city officials, was exacerbated by dramatic cuts to government benefits and the elimination of single-room occupancy hotels (SROs), a last resort for many of those affected by HIV/AIDS.

Enter Housing Works, a charitable organization established by four members of the activist group ACT UP: Keith Cylar, Charles King, Eric Sawyer, and Virginia Shubert. Since its founding in 1990, the organization has provided housing, primary care, job training and legal help to more than 20,000 homeless and low-income New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS. Today, it is the largest community-based AIDS service organization in the country.

Later this month, Housing Works will host the 13th Annual Design on a Dime, a series of events to raise funds to combat AIDS and homelessness. The proceedings kick off on April 26 with the Groundbreaking Awards Dinner, which will recognize John Demsey, executive group president at The Estée Lauder Companies, and Tamron Hall, a former co-anchor of NBC’s Today Show and recipient of the 2015 Edward R. Murrow Award for Reporting. Following the opening-night gala, Housing Works will host a three-day public event at the Metropolitan Pavilion, where 70 top-shelf interior designers will create room vignettes. Among the luminaries participating in this year’s event: Robert Stilin (on behalf of Incollect), 2Michaels, Antonino Buzzetta Design, Foley&Cox Interiors, Matthew Patrick Smyth, and Phillip Thomas Inc. The dinner chair is Sandra Lee, an Emmy Award-winning television personality and editor-in-chief of the eponymous magazine.

The annual event is the brainchild of designer James Huniford, founding chair of Design on a Dime and a regular on AD100 and Elle Décor’s A-List. “It all started with the idea that this would be a way for designers to come together to change the lives of thousands in need,” says Huniford. “It brings together the big personalities of designers in a collaborative way, working in harmony toward a shared goal, which is rare in the world today.”

The designers for this year’s edition of Design on a Dime at a Kick Off party. Gary Gershoff for Getty Images.


Unlike many philanthropic organizations, Housing Works is largely self-reliant, with much of its revenue coming from a network of thrift stores and a used bookstore on Crosby Street in Soho. Part of the organization’s mission is to hold public officials to account, and Housing Works once engaged in a battle with then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani over his plans to to restructure the city’s main AIDS agency. The feud escalated to the point where the Giuliani administration failed to honor a contract with Housing Works, forcing the organization to sue the city, which agreed to pay a $5 million settlement in 2005.

Today, Housing Works is a highly respected charitable organization with deep ties to creative professionals across New York. As Huniford explains, Housing Works has evolved from a grassroots organization to an indispensable resource for the HIV-positive homeless community. “When I came up with the idea for Design on a Dime, Housing Works was a ‘downtown’ kind of organization, not an ‘uptown’ kind of organization,” he says. “But, all along, Design on a Dime has enjoyed tremendous support from creative professionals. The impact of AIDS was devastating for the design and fashion industries, so they understand the challenges we are facing.”

In terms of what to look for at this month’s event, Huniford has envisioned the 13th Annual Design on a Dime as an occasion for creative risk-taking. “I want designers to have fun and take chances,” he says. “I hope this will be a playful event, an opportunity for designers to take a break from the highly competitive nature of our industry. You don’t have to have the best room or the most expensive chandelier. This is about coming together.”


Incollect is a supporting sponsor of Design on a Dime, which takes place April 26-29, 2017, at the Metropolitan Pavilion, in Manhattan. Click here to learn more.


James Huniford is the fourth philanthropist to be featured in this series, after Jamie Drake (who sits on the dinner committee for Design on a Dime), Ellie Cullman, and Bunny Williams.