About the Foundation
The mission of the Sara Little Turnbull Foundation is to further the advancement of underrepresented youth in design education and women in professional communities of design practice and leadership. The Foundation also
promotes public awareness of design at the intersection of business, culture, and education.
Sara Little Turnbull, a trail blazing designer and design consultant, operated at the nexus of design, culture, commerce, and education during the second half of the 20th Century. She described her practice as “applied cultural anthropology.”
Sara Little Turnbull created a Foundation Trust as a vehicle to continue her work and to reflect her love of design education at the intersection of business and culture. The Trust was formally created in 2015 and officially launched in 2018 with a mission to serve Sara Little Turnbull’s legacy and vision.
The vision of Sara Little Turnbull is difficult to define: innovative, anthropological, observational, inter-disciplinary, consumer focused, but without any fixed methodology. Her legacy is easier: a long list of innovative products, successful corporations and CEOs, inspired Stanford University graduates, and the dedication of her close friends and mentees who have been charged with sharing her stories and continuing her legacy.
Born Sara Finkelstein in New York City in 1917, she attended Girls Commercial High School in Brooklyn. In 1935, she won a scholarship to Parsons School of Design, where she graduated in 1939. This launched one of our country’s most stunning careers in design, business, and education.
At 4’11”, she was called “Little Sara.” Adopting “Little,” she used the name “Sara Little,” throughout her career. Selecting the asterisk as her symbol, she explained, “I’m the something extra. I’m the catalyst.”
After college, Sara worked at Marshall Fields as a furniture designer and assistant art director and at Blaker Advertising Agency at art director. In 1941, she joined the staff at House Beautiful magazine, where she wrote the “Girl with a Future” column and served as Decorating Editor, a position she held for nearly two decades.
She wrote prescient articles about changing American lifestyles post-World War II. For instance, she anticipated the family room when she encouraged readers to create more informal spaces in their homes. She understood that women would continue their desire to work, and wrote articles for young professionals about sharing apartments with roommates. Living and, eventually, operating her business out of a 400-square-foot apartment, Sara wrote about her passion for simplicity, versatility, and organizing small spaces for maximum domestic efficiency.
Magazine advertisers were eager to hear Sara’s insights about women and the domestic market. In 1958, she launched Sara Little Design Consultant and worked for more than 60 years as a corporate design, strategy, culture and marketing consultant. Her clients included Corning, Revlon, Campbell’s Soup, 3M, General Mills, Neiman Marcus, Dupont, Ford, Macy’s, Coca-Cola, among many others. She has been described as “corporate America’s secret weapon.
Sara was one of America’s first industrial designers. She was also a self-described cultural anthropologist, finding inspiration during her extensive travels throughout the world when she studied how people in different places engaged with their environments. She also found inspiration in nature’s beauty, engineering and design. She famously developed designs for ergonomic pot handles after observing cheetahs in the wild, grasping their prey at high speed.
In 1988, Sara founded the Process of Change Laboratory for Innovation and Design, a design studio and archive imbedded within the Stanford Graduate School of Business. At Stanford, Sara engaged students in tracking trends and challenged interdisciplinary teams to address real world challenges through design. She encouraged students to embrace curiosity and to explore the “why” before designing the “how.” Sara’s students became leaders in engineering, design and business throughout the world. Sara is a beloved mentor to many.
Sara’s legacy is realized as a living legacy, alive through the people, initiatives, and organizations supported by the Sara Little Turnbull Foundation.
Grants and Awards
The Sara Little Turnbull Foundation awards grants to organizations who share in our mission to further the advancement of underrepresented youth in design education and women in professional communities of design practice and leadership. At this time, the Foundation reviews proposals on a by-invitation-only basis.
The Furniture Society
The Furniture Society was awarded a $20,000 grant to support Craft for a Greater Good Local Resident Fellows, 2021 and 2022. Craft for a Greater Good takes shape at the intersection of business, culture, community, and education as Fellows build coalitions among creative and community partners to engage youth and community members in a purposeful project, working with design and craft professionals. This project positions craft and design as tools of empowerment and universal connection. Learn more.
Manitoga: Russel Wright Design Center
The Foundation continues its support for the permanent Design Gallery and Artist Residency program with a $15,000 grant. The Design Gallery will present Russel Wright’s designs for the American home and also elevate Mary Einstein Wright’s marketing genius as Russel Wright’s business partner. The Artist Residency program invites artists from diverse disciplines to respond to the power of place and invites audiences to encounter architecture, design and nature through immersive, multi-sensory experiences. Learn more.
The Foundation awarded the Manhattanville College Center for Design Thinking a $50,000 grant for the Design Scholars Program, establishing the Sara Little Turnbull Endowed Scholarship in Design. Manhattanville College has included design thinking as part of its foundation for a 21st century liberal arts education. Learn more.
Parsons School of Design
The Foundation continues to support the Parsons Scholars Program with a $25,000 gift. The program is committed to bridging the gaps to college and careers by addressing economic and social challenges faced by many urban youth. Students in grades 10 through 12 have benefited from the program’s year-round, comprehensive, and sequential offerings in art and design education while forming relationships within its connected community, a bond that lasts well beyond high school graduation. Learn more.
The Foundation awarded $25,000 to support the Center for Art, Design and Community Engagement K-12, including programs and general operating support. The Center demonstrates a holistic approach to serve its community and advance underrepresented youth by providing art and design programs to children and teens, demonstrating a commitment to addressing issues of equity and access in art and design education. Learn more.
The Design Thinking Initiative was awarded a $15,000 grant to support programs that enhance the educational experiences of Smith students from multiple academic backgrounds and holds promise for their advancement as they apply human-centered design-thinking principles to a variety of fields.
The Sara Little Turnbull Design Initiative is a four-year project to introduce design to the Lehman College Community through a cross-curriculum, experience-based program. The initiative, backed by a $50,000 grant, promises to be mutually beneficial, as design leaders will be introduced to the diverse Lehman College community and a new generation of multi-cultural minds will be introduced to design. Lehman College is located in the north Bronx, has a student population that is two-thirds female, over 50% Hispanic, 56% first generation college students, and is #1 in upward mobility among U.S. Hispanic Serving Institutions. Learn more.
Manitoga: The Russel Wright Design Center
This $50,000 grant recognizes Allison Cross’s leadership and supports Manitoga’s programs and initiatives, including the artist residency program, a permanent gallery of the Wright’s designs for the American home, and topical conversations among leading women in culture, business and design. Learn more.
Parsons School of Design
The Foundation continues to support the Parsons Scholars Program with a $25,000 gift. The program is committed to bridging the gaps to college and careers by addressing challenges often faced by students from low income backgrounds, first generation college students, and students of color. Students in grades 10 through 12 have benefited from the program’s year-round, comprehensive, and sequential offerings in art and design education while forming relationships within its connected community, a bond that lasts well beyond high school graduation. Learn more.
Design Thinking Initiative: Smith College
The Foundation gifted a $200,000 grant to the Design Thinking Initiative at Smith College. This program sees design in service of broader social issues of participation, intervention, and leadership. Students from multi disciplines question gender, race, ethnicity, power, and ability as dynamics that shape who gets to participate in creating the world in which we live. The mission of the Design Thinking Initiative is to develop agency in individuals and communities and to facilitate ongoing dialogue about the role design plays in shaping human experience. Through courses, studio resources, and events, students, faculty, and staff critically engage with real-world challenges.
University of Washington College of Arts & Sciences
Sara Little Turnbull Foundation awards $200,000 to benefit University of Washington Design Students. Learn more.
The New School’s Parsons School of Design
The New School’s Parsons School of Design announces $200,000 gift from the Sara Little Turnbull Foundation.
The Sara Little Turnbull Visiting Designer Speakers Series at Lehman College
The Sara Little Turnbull Visiting Designer Speakers Series at Lehman College
Smith College Design Immersion Fellowship Presentation
November 11, 2019
Smith College Design Thinking Initiative students presented their Summer Design Immersion Fellowship experiences during the Smith in the World conference on November 11, 2019. Bruce Moen, Trustee, Jennifer Brundage, Special Trustee and Dorothy Dunn, Special Trustee attended.
Gift Presentation to the University of Washington
November 06, 2018
The University of Washington College of Arts & Sciences and the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity (OMA&D) announced that the Sara Little Turnbull Foundation has made a $200,000 gift to benefit underrepresented minority, low-income and first-generation students pursuing design degrees within the School of Art + Art History + Design . The gift will be used to establish the Sara Little Turnbull Foundation Endowed Scholarship in Design, providing financial assistance to undergraduate students who are affiliated with OMA&D’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). This gift is one of two inaugural gifts by the foundation.
The University of Washington is accepting contributions to the Sara Little Turnbull Foundation Endowed Scholarship in Design. Show your support.
Gift presentation to The New School’s Parsons School of Design
October 04, 2018
Presentation of the inaugural gift from the Sara Little Turnbull Foundation to The New School’s Parsons School of Design. A $200,000 gift was given to advance the university’s Parsons Scholars Program, a free
multi-year, need-based college preparatory program designed to remove social and financial barriers that prevent motivated teens from pursuing education and careers in art and design.