Some may think interior design is a frivolity—a unnecessary decadence. But I’m of the mindset that it can have a serious impact on your mental health—how you feel in the space where you spend most of your life.
This concept is especially important in a place of shelter, where women and children seek refuge from domestic violence—a space where they can regroup and plan for a better future.
Many of my designer friends are contributing their time and talents to a fantastic organization called Room to Rebloom, which helps low-income families in the National Capital area “by providing them with design services and other resources needed to create beautiful home environments and rebuild their lives.”
This summer, 12 teams of designers are refreshing 12 apartments in 12 weeks in a partnership with DC’s House of Ruth.
The first few are already done, as you can see on Room to Rebloom’s Facebook page. Tracy Schlegel and Kelcey Huff of Waterlily Interiors have graciously sent in this guest post detailing how they attacked their space.
(Props also go to Stuart Nordin, Sally Steponkus, Rebecca Penno, Shotgun Double, and Mary Katherine Stinson, who have also completed spaces. You can see their work on the Facebook page. Designer Liz Levin, meanwhile, has been instrumental in gathering the support of the design community, including the Washington Design Center.)
Take it away, Tracy and Kelcey:
As we started the project, we were told we would be “refreshing” an apartment for a family recently relocated due to circumstances of domestic violence. We were the first designers to take on an entire apartment for one of the families living in the building. The building was old, (really old) and there were problems. Much of the furniture was boxy and uncomfortable.
The two-bedroom apartment had one bathroom and one kitchen/living room area. Storage was a huge issue, even when our client had so few material possessions. We were soon able to meet our new clients (a mom with 3 children all under the age of 5) and begin planning our refresh. There were four people living in this apartment, and our goal was to make it softer, functional and beautiful. We were determined to make it their home!
We treated our new client like any other. We interviewed them to figure out what they wanted and desired. We looked at colors and talked about what was and was not working in their space. As it turns out, our family of four only had seating for three in the living room and the dining area. Our client stated that they were unable to eat together as a family because there were only three chairs. They rarely used the living room area because it was uncomfortable and, and they couldn’t all sit there together anyway. We decided the best way forward was to approach our design as we always do, with space planning first.
We knew we were going to paint everything we could thanks to Sherwin Williams donating the paint for the entire building. There is nothing like a fresh paint job to liven up a space. Paint has the ability to transform a space, making it feel cleaner and crisper and it adds the element of color better than anything else. We decided to paint the majority of the apartment gray.
Our client had given us color preferences of purple and teal. It was our job to find a way to make it work. Gray is the new beige, so we thought Lazy Gray SW 6254 was the perfect fit. Not too cool and not too warm. It’s the perfect neutral, and worked wonderfully with both the purple and the teal. We just had to ensure that our color tone and hue were complementary, so as not to be jolting as you transition from one space to the next.
One thing we realized immediately was that the apartment was lacking softness. Everything was hard. The furniture was crate-style—very sturdy, but all wood. The flooring was a wood laminate and the bathroom had ceramic tile.
We decided to add rugs to each space. We wanted the rugs to be as large as possible to anchor each room and to provide a soft foundation. This would also help define the color palette of each room.
The children’s room had two beds, but they didn’t match and neither did their bedding. There was very little storage space and the blinds were falling apart. We felt that if we could provide them with matching bedding, it would give the room balance and continuity. We added a rug with a large scaled pattern for visual interest, new blinds and a storage piece from IKEA.
The bathroom was the standard old DC apartment with the octagonal black and white tile. It’s really a classic and also neutral, so it allowed us the freedom to add a huge pop of color. We chose a bright teal called Fountain SW 6787 to bring in a water element, and added accessories including hooks and a new curved shower curtain rod for a fantastic transformation.
The second bedroom was for Mom and her 2-year-old. This room also had mismatched beds and was slightly smaller than the other bedroom. Mom’s favorite color was purple and the toddler loves Mickey Mouse. We decided another large rug was in order, and we chose a sophisticated purple called Obi Lilac SW 6556 for our accent wall. It was the perfect complement to our Lazy Gray. Not too grape and not too pink. The versatility of this color allowed us to mix and match several different shades of purple in the textiles we used. We went for matching bedding for continuity, but added some Mickey Mouse sheets underneath the duvet for the little one. All in all, the room pulled together nicely.
Our biggest challenge was the kitchen and living room area. We noticed that the refrigerator door opened to the window away from the kitchen. Our first assignment was to flip the hinges on the doors so it would open into the kitchen instead of the window. This was a simple fix to a problematic space plan, and it enabled us to create enough of an area in the connecting living room that we could add a new chair.
Without this change, our space plan could not accommodate the new chair our family so desperately needed. We were told we needed to keep the existing furniture, so we planned accordingly. Our new layout enabled us to add several pieces of furniture without making the room feel crowded. We chose a rug with a large organic pattern to make the area feel bigger than it actually is. We were able to add a television stand, a storage ottoman, a small side table, a floor lamp, and most importantly, the new upholstered chair. We also decided our existing furniture needed a facelift. We found an indoor-outdoor, stain-resistant fabric, had all of the cushions recovered, and added arm rests for the loveseat.
Last but not least, we needed to address the family eating area and hall. They needed storage and a place where the entire family could sit and share a meal. We decided we needed smaller chairs in order to improve the functional aspect of this area. We also added two coat racks stacked on top of each other so that the children could hang their own coats and backpacks.
At the end of our two day installation, we were overwhelmed. We felt a sense of pride and accomplishment. It was a month full of planning and hard work. We put everything we had into making this job a success—we called in favors, we bargain hunted, built furniture with borrowed tools, and even brought our children in to help out. We could not have done it without G&I Contracting, which graciously donated an amazing crew to paint the entire project in one day. It was an undeniably exhausting and exhilarating experience.
We were unable to see our client’s reaction, so we left them a note on the chalkboard we had installed for the children in the hallway. Later that evening, we received a wonderful and heartfelt phone call from our client. She was so thrilled that she stated she never wanted to leave!