A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

Design for the Displaced


Lesley Marie Jackson (BFA 2013) founded the SAIC student group, Furnishings for Refugees, in April 2012. Students involved in the group use their skills to build or refurbish furniture for displaced families who have immigrated to Chicago.

What does Furnishings for Refugees do?

The student group constructs and restores furniture from secondhand materials to create comfortable living environments for recently displaced families. The project exercises the creative and practical skills of working artists in order to support individuals who have experienced adversity at home and resettled in Chicago. We have an ongoing dialogue between RefugeeOne and the SAIC community in order to properly address the refugees' needs and share updates on the project. 

How did the project begin?

It grew from a desire to improve the experience of the incoming refugees as well as my skills as a maker. 

How do you work with RefugeeOne?

The Housing Department at RefugeeOne shares information with us about the refugees so that we can construct furniture appropriate for their needs. 

An SAIC student turns an old chair into a usable piece of furniture.

Why is your relationship with RefugeeOne important?

By working within the framework of an established organization like RefugeeOne, we are able to improve a system that already exists instead of starting new from the ground up. The project unites two distinct organizations—the students at SAIC and the community of RefugeeOne—in an attempt to share resources and address a pre-existing need. 

Does sustainable design play a role?

Most of the materials used for the furniture are recycled. The sustainability aspect of the project is motivated by environmental concerns, but it's also just practical. We explore adaptive re-use—turning a sewing machine base into a side table or a door into a tabletop—allowing the found object to guide our designs. This way, we expand our tool set as makers and arrive at fresh designs that wouldn't have been conceived of otherwise. 

What type of furniture do you construct?

Many of the families resettle in Chicago, but may not stay for longer than a year. We address this transition by constructing portable furniture pieces that can be taken apart for easy storage and transportation. We strive for simple designs in order to refrain from making assumptions about style or taste.