Designer Leslie May was always looking for ways to use her design for good and kept searching for a project that spoke to her heart. When a friend told her about Charlotta (Lotta) Sjoelin, founder of A Lotta Love in the Triangle, she felt certain this was it. “Not only does a beautiful, cared-for environment impact your mood and outlook, but I think it is important that everyone know they are worthy of beauty in their everyday life,” explains May.

“After my first meeting with Lotta, and feeling Lotta’s passion and excitement for transforming lives, I knew I had found the opportunity for which I’d been searching.”

Lotta Sjoelin was inspired to help homeless shelters in 2014, after she walked into one in Chapel Hill to donate and felt a deep sadness for what she saw. “If a homeless shelter was supposed to be a safe space for transforming lives, I couldn’t see how this environment could uplift anyone,” she recalls. “I went home and cried; then I got to work.” Eight years later, A Lotta Love has grown to include twenty-four shelters across North Carolina with hundreds of volunteers—people like May, who were eager to use their talents for good.

“The house I worked on was in horrible shape—holes in the floors, flickering electrical, and a raccoon inhabiting the upstairs bath,” recalls May. “I knew we needed a builder with patience and creativity, so I called on Steve English in Chapel Hill. He did a masterful job of bringing the house back from the brink. With a fresh, clean slate, I could focus on lived-in spaces with personal touches, like enveloping wallpaper and bold light fixtures,” says May. She layered the home with cozy furniture and designed multiple quiet spaces, as well as places to gather and maintain normal family life around dinner tables and TVs.

To say the results were fulfilling would be an understatement. May is already chasing that high with another A Lotta Love family shelter in Chapel Hill. Results for residents are even more satisfying. In a recent two-year study on Trauma-Informed Design conducted by A Lotta Love, shelter residents reported feeling 20 percent more hopeful and prepared, and up to 40 percent safer after the redesign of their space.

“We all know that the physical environment you live in directly impacts your physical and emotional health. It’s even more imparative for homeless families,” says Sjoelin. May adds, “I hope this encourages others to get involved. These families need and deserve love poured into them from their neighbors, and the design community can offer so much more than just ‘pretty things.’”