For design students in New York, Christmas comes in April. That’s when SpecSimple.com, a New York–based company that operates an online directory of design products and services, distributes free swatches, material samples, brochures, finish cards, and other goodies to local schools.

Now in its tenth year, the Save a Sample! Box-A-Thon is gearing up for what it hopes will be a record amount of donations and deliveries. Trucks and drivers provided by local furniture dealers will fan across the metropolitan area from April 7 to 9 to collect the spoils from architecture and design firms and to deliver them to participating schools.

Image courtesy SpecSimple.com
Volunteers from Evenson Best, a furniture dealer, pick up samples from the New York firm, Kenne Sheppard Interior Design and Architecture. The photo was taken during the 2008 event.

Frequent, large contributors include Hillier (now RMJM), Kenne Shepherd, and Perkins Eastman. In addition, manufacturers and distribution representatives contribute funds to the effort.

Beneficiaries of this year’s program include the Art Institute of New York City, Fashion Institute of Technology, New York Institute of Technology, Parsons The New School, Pratt Institute, and the School of Visual Arts—all of which are located in New York City. Donations also will go to Sage College in Albany, and Kean University in New Jersey.

“Those schools with the least access to samples have found the Save A Sample! program a godsend,” says SpecSimple.com president Suzanne Swift. “In some cases, these schools did not even have a [materials] library before participating in our program.”

In 2008, the program collected 400 boxes of materials weighing two tons, and Swift says this year’s haul should better that by 25 percent. And lest you think that Save a Sample! yields only sloppy seconds, Heather Smart, curator of the Angelo Donghia Materials Center at Parsons, says, “The biggest trend I’ve noticed is the quantity of material and the quality of samples. There’s a larger variety of types and samples, and there are more of them in general, so students have a lot more to work with.”

Smart also notes that, while the number of vinyl wallpaper donations is diminishing, the donation campaign itself exemplifies a trend toward sustainability. “No materials library curator wants to throw things away,” she says, “and this consolidated event wastes less time and energy than firms independently calling me to pick up, collect, sort, and redistribute samples.” 

Save a Sample! also raises funds to support resource-library scholarships for participating schools; last year’s figure topped $14,000.

Swift says she is always on the lookout for contributions. Firms interested in donating materials and companies interested in sponsoring the effort should go to www.specsimple.com and click the icon marked Save a Sample! Box-A-Thon.  

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