It’s time for another Feel Good Flash Makeover. Every one of these will be different, obviously, but this one was extra unique because the single mom of three is about to have a baby (next week), so we had to move very fast. We got this “call” (literally and spiritually) right after I listened to a podcast about how obsessed we are about having “enough.” “Scarcity” the hot button word is a larger fear that people will never have enough. An example of this extreme is the success of storage unit companies. Think about it: people have so much “stuff” that we pay for essentially a garage to put extra stuff, of which probably won’t be touched for years, meanwhile—you guessed it—so many people around us, often in our own communities, don’t have ANYTHING.
It was literally that same week that Catie of Pen + Napkin, with whom I’ve worked with in the past for the Rummage Sale, called and said, “We have a family transitioning out of homelessness that has nothing and is about to have a baby, can you help?” The timing was pretty incredible, emotionally as I looked at our garage, full of beautiful furniture just sitting there and realized that instead of consuming more, buying more “stuff,” we’d give this family a lot of what we already have (as well as a supplement–I didn’t have bunk beds). So that’s where we started and what we based the design off. Velinda was the lead designer and took over once we decided what we could repurpose. After shopping my garage, our prop unit (which we technically still need for the book) and shopping retail, we pulled together this two-bedroom comfortable and happy apartment for this family of soon to be family of 5.
Take it away, Velinda!
“We are installing more than furniture. We are installing hope.” — Pen + Napkin
With that slogan, how were we to say “no” when reached out to us asking if we would sponsor one of their families who had just transitioned out of homelessness. Let’s be honest, we had no desire to say “no.” Flash makeovers are 400% our favorite thing to do. It’s all we want to be doing! This one was a slightly bigger challenge than our Feel Good Makeover last December. Our family of (soon-to-be) five had NOTHING but basic beds and a TV in their 507 square foot, two-bed apartment…for FIVE people to sleep, study, lounge and eat together comfortably. (And hopefully, have better access to their limited storage? This won’t do.)
Because this makeover was never meant to be a surprise, we met up with the head of the household and single parent, Mama Bear, to learn more about her family and their needs. Shockingly, “Mama Bear” isn’t her real name. But we were sworn to certain levels of secrecy because she and her three (almost four) children trying to remain anonymous after leaving an abusive home…house. An abusive environment isn’t home. After surviving a period of homelessness, it was time for them to have a home to feel safe and feel pride in.
When we arrived, the sleeping arrangements were as followed: Mama sharing a queen bed with her teenage son in bedroom one (which the new baby will also share), and her two younger “girly-girls” sharing a second room (above). We coaxed Mama Bear to describe her dream home, but she insisted we “do whatever we wanted” because she was just “happy to have furniture again,” though she did drop the hint she needed more color and “life” in her world right now. With her baby arriving mid-june we aimed to move fast (three weeks from beginning to end), so that she’d really be able to bring that new baby home.
Here’s what we learned about their needs for the space: School and homework take up most of this family’s time. Everyone living in the house is in school. But when there’s time, they enjoy doing crafts together and Mama insists they eat together as a family every night. But eat where?
Our top functional priorities were to:
- Get Mama and sons into their own beds and liven up the girls’ room
- Create a shared space with color and “life” and find a way to squeeze some sort of dining surface/area for the family to eat together
- Storage (always)
And of course, make it pretty!
I’m going to walk you through the rooms and what we did and why, but for anyone itching for a little “behind the scenes” and a quick tour, here’s a quick video we pulled together (but keep reading!).
Priority #1: Let’s get everyone in their own bed.
Here’s what bedroom one (where Mama and son slept) looked like before:
Anyone recognize that dresser below?? It was time it found a new happy home.
Bunk beds were the obvious solution for maximizing the limited sleeping space (always try to design “up” when your floorplan is smaller), but it meant swapping out standard ceiling fans (which Mama said they used often) for a safer/compact caged fan since we hoped to, y’know, avoid top-bunk decapitations.
Stacked beds are great, but can feel very kid-ish since bunks aren’t usually an adult’s first choice (and are typically twin-over-twin). We didn’t have the budget (or landlord permissions) to construct one of those grown-up-cool built-in bunks, so instead, I looked for a simple way to upgrade your standard bunk bed-in-a-box. And it was truly so easy (thanks to our volunteer seamstress, and my friend Maura who helped make the few needed cuts). The becomes more of a daybed lounge, but the “headboard” could also cushion a sleeping toddler in the future.
We put together this quick graphic in case any of you out there were interested in getting a closer look to make one yourself:
“Leather” makes anything cooler and the modern design detail “adultifies” the bed a bit. But we still had the kids in the room to consider. And I FELT for that teenager with no privacy! Hence the curtain design (sewed by our own Julie), which we made from Rebecca Atwood’s two-sided, and a .
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To maximize function, we repurposed (and dual-purposed) Emily’s chest of drawers by throwing a on top, creating both a changing table and dresser. Oh, and note the under bed storage! This 100-square-foot room now comfortably (and more privately) sleeps three (with a ) and more storage and space. And Emily threw in noise-blocking headphones for Big Brother to use when Little Brother cries.
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The gallery wall from livens up the space and pulls together a color scheme of their combined favorite colors, green and blue. And hold onto your “how to do a gallery wall” questions, because we’ve got tips on that and more art pairing coming tomorrow in a special post.
On the other side of the wall is the shared girls’ room, and though they had their own beds, it was far from cheerful. These two girls had such vibrant personalities, and we wanted their bedroom to match that. In fact, their brother teased that they lived in a “prison cell” (brothers…). And these are girls who love pink, purple and glitter. Remember it looked like this… lacking anything shiny, bright or happy.
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Several key pieces came from Elliot’s former nursery and the books and craft supplies came courtesy of you readers (THANK YOU!). The bunk/new fan was the same functional solution as the other bedroom, but what makes this room SO fun, undoubtedly, is the art we sourced through . The is from Minted and is a temporary, sticker solution so great for a rental.
Each lady now has a space just for her, with some shared room to play AND access to all of the room’s storage (one of the beds was blocking the closet). Toss in shiny pom-poms, a dose of sparkly lights and pink fringe and faux fur, and you’ve got a room that “glitters” (without the embedding torture of actual glitter. Oy!)
Okay, now onto the shared spaces, where we had to check off another priority:
Priority #2: Bring “life” and color into a shared space + create a place for the family to eat every night together.
Here it is when we arrived:
They weren’t even using this space because there wasn’t even a chair to sit in. But we changed that…
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The family’s favorite colors and Emily’s were in sync (reminder: blue and green) and we got to bring a ton of fresh color and “life” from our own inventory to this little living room (longtime readers, spot the repurposed pieces?). And here, we found a perfect home for Emily’s turquoise-eucalyptus-jade-ish (??) . Whatever color that is, it’s SO soft and deep; the size of a twin bed actually, which means extra bed options for the growing family.
Since it’s a house full of students, a desk or homework space would be ideal, but unfortunately, there was just no room. Not-so-secretly, I love small spaces. So many creative solutions and cleverly designed products to uncover under such limitations. And one thing any truly small space needs is a lift top . Storage (priority #3!)? Check. But look, an instant desk! No excuses for not doing homework now. Sorry, kids.
With a mission to find a new home for some of the great pieces we had just sitting in inventory, we hoped to reuse the tulip-esque table we used in our basement turned office reveal, but quickly realized in the design process it would’ve “eaten” the entire kitchen (kitchen pun). But we had to bring this family around a TABLE, considering dinner together was a nightly tradition. This became a perfect solution thanks to a low profile (it’s just long/wide enough to seat four)… it’s more counter space (counter height!) and storage (shelving).
With it, the 95-square-foot space became an eat-in kitchen, anchored by a large, cheerful piece from Artfully Walls.
We WANT so badly to share the reveal moment with all of you as we usually do, but we’re keeping this family safe by keeping them secret, so you’re going to have to tap into your imaginations just a bit…
The family returned home around 5 pm on our second day of install (we had put them in a hotel overnight to keep the whole thing a surprise). We hadn’t really met the kids until the reveal. From past Flash Makeover experience, we expected them to show up cautious of a small crew of strangers in their home, but the little ladies showed up dancing, so eager to get a peek of their new rooms. The teenager played it cool as any teenager would do…until the surprise was revealed. Once inside, dancing became singing, with songs featuring catchy lyrics like, “Kitchen looks goooo-oood, kitchen looks goo-oo-ood”. No tears this time, all bouncing, “ooOOoo-ing” and climbing on new beds. So much joy and “life”! When we left, they were touring every room for a third time, seeing new things with each revisit as the initial shock wore off.
Flash Makeover execution days are the best days of our work-lives. This time, nearly the whole team got involved (though Sara and Bowser were on another shoot this day and Arlyn popped in not soon after this photo was taken). THANK YOU, Team. The “flash” part of the Flash Makeover was 100% possible because of your hanging and hammering.
If you guys want to contribute to the next flash makeover (and help support the lovely people of Pen and Napkin and the general overhead costs of running a non-profit) you can head to —typically 80% goes to the makeover and 20% goes to Pen and Napkin but EHD is foregoing any help with the budget and 100% will go towards Pen and Napkin and the next family.
These projects are so important to us for many reasons, but mostly because they’ve taught us that when a person/family transitions into an empty home, they are more likely to return to homelessness. But with furniture, the Pen + Napkin team has seen a 100% success rate of ending the homeless experience. We believe in them and these families. Help us support them, if you can. Thank you, Catie (pictured above with Emily) and Corey (her husband) for this amazing thing you do.
Also if you are an interior designer (or enthusiast), you can sign up to help a family and raise the funds to support it. Learn more .
***photography by Sara Ligorria-Tramp, creative direction by Emily (Henderson), design and styling by Velinda Hellen with styling support from Emily (Bowser)