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HGTV's 'Deserving Design' Treats Helpful Teen to Makeover

Alpharetta — Let other teens snooze on Saturday mornings. Tanner Smith has better things to do.

Things so good that a national TV show has taken notice of the 18-year-old's extracurriculars; and no, not his basketball heroics taking him to Clemson on a scholarship this fall.

Tanner Smith of Alpharetta works in his cheery upstairs room, revamped by Atlanta-based designer Vern Yip. The 18-year-old created and runs Tanner's Totes, a nonprofit that gives canvas bags full of goodies to kids undergoing cancer treatments.

Instead, HGTV's "Deserving Design" will showcase Tanner's Totes, a nonprofit he began six years ago to help youngsters with cancer.

"My dad had cancer when I was 2, and I saw how lonely it was in the hospital," said Tanner, a shaggy 6-foot-5 blond. "I didn't really know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to help kids with cancer."

Enter celebrity designer Vern Yip, star of "Deserving Design." Now in its second season, the show overhauls two rooms in a featured person's home.

"If you look at Tanner you'd think, 'What a nice kid — his parents raised him right,'" Yip said. "But he has this burning desire to help others. To me, that's a gift."

So "Deserving Design" turned its attention to Craig and Kathy Smith's traditional brick home, from where Tanner and his parents run the nonprofit.

The episode featuring their Alpharetta home airs April 9.

When he learned that the show was interested in revamping a couple of rooms in his home, Tanner said no. Redecorate a bedroom for a young cancer patient, he suggested

"I definitely wanted it, but then I thought, 'Look at my house — We don't need a makeover,'" Tanner said. "A lot of people need it more."

But with a little coaxing from the producers, the Smiths relented — the attention the show would bring to Tanner's Totes was worth the imposition of film crews in the bathroom, lights everywhere and paper covering their windows to keep the curious away.

It was even worth Kathy Smith overcoming her camera-fright.

"She's a robot," Tanner joked.

Yip began in a room the Smiths call "Tanner's pad," a small area connected to his bedroom where he hangs out with friends and does his homework. Yip removed the old and worn in favor of all things hip, clean and guy-friendly — doggy bed for pet Griffey and game station included.

"He's very tall, and finding furniture that was appropriately scaled for him [was the priority]," Yip said. "This is where he can just be a very normal teenager."

The surprise room Yip redesigned was for Tanner's father, Craig, who suffers from graft-versus-host disease as a result of a bone marrow transplant. A former dentist, Craig now works for his family's small hydraulic engineering company from his basement office.

Yip said his challenge was to lighten the room with a blue-gray paint and make a more functional space for Craig and Tanner by removing the oversized furniture and reorienting Craig's desk and nearby exercise equipment. Yip made sure to declutter the bay windows, allowing Craig a peaceful view of an outdoor water feature.

"When [Craig] is down there, we want him to enjoy that view outside," Kathy said. "We love it now — the color [of the room] is so soothing."

Tanner said Yip's work was better than he imagined.

"It was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life, wondering if I was going to have to fake if I liked it, or really like it," he said. "Luckily, there was no acting."

Tanner's Totes, meanwhile, won't close when he suits up for the Clemson Tigers. As he networks with the basketball elite to spread the nonprofit nationally, his Mom and Dad will hold down headquarters at home.

And despite their hand in spreading cheer to children, Kathy and Craig are quick to credit their son for Tanner's Totes' success. After all, it was born out of his fourth-grade desire to help kids with cancer, a goal Tanner wrote for a school assignment.

Kathy calls Tanner's Totes the "silver lining" of illness.

"I look at this as an out for him," Kathy said. "He can't do anything to help his Dad ... but he can do something to cheer up someone's day."

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