Last week, I was in sunny Atlanta with Homes.com and ForRent.com working on a Crafting for Charity project at the Nicholas House, a homeless shelter for families. I am a Homes.com brand ambassador and write for the Homes.com blog. When they asked me to be their designer for this challenge, I was honored. I knew from looking through the before pictures that the redo was going to be a tough one; however, I had NO IDEA how challenging the planning process was going to be. I’m used to just coming up with designs for homes, having people like them, and moving forward. I’m not at all used to doing commercial design and having to think about federal code, fire retardant materials, etc. There was a lot of back-and-forth and major design changes as we went along, but I am thrilled with how it all came together.
My original plan was to create a space that would stand the test of time. I wanted to replace the tile floor with commercial grade laminate (THANK YOU to Metroflor for the generous offer to donate flooring). I wanted to install board and batten under the chair rail and paint the walls a gorgeous blue-gray. I was hoping to frame out the entire side-wall and create a chalk board to display pictures of residents. I wanted to upgrade the cheap ceiling tiles to something more traditional and clean. My plan was to incorporate color into the room with less expensive elements that could easily be updated—such as paper lanterns, word art, window cornices, and an indoor/outdoor rug. Unfortunately most of these elements were given the no-go, so I regrouped and came up with a few new plans.
When I learned that 35 out of 50 residents at the Nicholas House are children, I decided to go in a completely different design direction. Instead of traditional, I went full-on “ice cream shop”. I wanted the dining room to scream fun, happy, yummy, family, good times, community, and smiles. Have you ever walked into an ice cream shop and noticed any sad faces? Okay, well there is always that one kid who drops his cone, but typically the decor is vibrant and families are gathered together and happy. I wanted that so badly for these families! With Mandi’s daughter’s room as my inspiration, I drew up another plan for the space that incorporated a citrus color palette and a bunch of bold design choices.
The residents at the Nicholas House have some meals provided for them; however, they are responsible for some of their breakfast foods and snack items. Each family is given a kitchen cabinet with their corresponding room number on the front to store their families’ food. From the before pictures I received of the space, I didn’t think the cabinets looked too bad. Once up-close-and-personal, however, I saw that they were in pretty bad shape. I would have planned on gutting and reinstalling new cabinets if I had known beforehand how badly damaged the laminate and hinges were on the cabinets. There was no time for that now, so we headed to Home Depot to track down some cleaner, Bondo, sanding blocks, and new hardware.
We carefully removed all of the cabinet doors, and I asked everyone to label the cabinets and hardware with the corresponding room number using frog tape and a pen. This is such an important tip to remember when painting cabinet doors. Your cabinet doors typically need to go back exactly where they came from in order to have a decent fit and save you from having a nervous breakdown trying to get them rehung. When the doors were removed and free of hardware, we scrubbed them down with an outdoor cleaner and then filled in all of the holes and damaged areas. This was my first time using Bondo, and I have to say that I was impressed! You mix together a tiny amount from a tube of red paste with the Bondo gray stuff and quickly, quickly, quickly patch your holes using a putty knife before the Bondo sets up. It definitely takes an artistic hand to neatly fill larger gaps and we all did our best. Once it is dry, you sand it down and are ready to prime. It took our cabinets from wholly messes to clean looking doors.
Once the cabinets were primed it was time to paint, and I hadn’t exactly pre-planned on where all of the colors would go. Amanda from ForRent.com (who has a natural DIY ability) sketched out the cabinets for me, and I placed sticky notes of the colors on the cabinets to use as a map for our team. We primed the cabinets with two coats of primer and two coats of paint and they turned out gorgeous! Side note: I had Gillian from Homes.com, Amanda from ForRent.com and three PR ladies from Zimmerman helping me on this project the entire time (along with several ForRent.com Atlanta volunteers some of the time). Most on the team said that they had little to no DIY experience. It was fun to teach them some tricks and watch them tackle very difficult projects like pros. I was so proud!!
Staging for the final reveal was definitely my favorite part! I love designing those last minute details which are truly like icing on a cake.
I designed two word art canvases using my Silhouette, and I precut the vinyl to bring with me to Atlanta. Some of the vinyl was 9 inch vinyl, so I had to cut my design in half which caused some glitches for me on install. My knife next to the plate ended up being backwards due to this and drives me bonkers! Just try and look past the bad etiquette please and admire the rest :).
With the help of Katie Healy (who did all of the photography you see in this post on behalf of ForRent.com and has her own photog business), I placed the vinyl on the canvas, painted over it, and carefully lifted each piece with my fingernails. They turned out so cute!
For this piece below, I used my 3M Mobile Projector (which I LOVE by the way—it is so handy for creating art). I had printed out the scrolly font in vinyl but it was way too intricate to place on the board without transfer paper. I projected the words onto the canvas and used white paint to trace them onto the canvas.
My original plan was to stencil the walls using this Moroccan Dream stencil and fill in the colors with something like the following. It quickly became apparent to all of us that we just didn’t have the time for a full wall stencil, so I opted to use my final canvas to create some stencil art.
I should entitle this section The Walls and The Ceilings from Hell. I’ve removed ceiling tiles before so I knew it was going to suck. It’s dirty, dirty work and it’s just no fun. I had no idea that huge chunks of plaster and brick were hiding behind those ceiling tiles waiting to crash all over the floor and break a coffee pot and a brand new iphone screen. It was a MESS! We powered through it all though and put up the new gorgeous tiles.
The walls required filling, sanding, priming, painting, striping, and decorating!
Everyone on the team was amazed that you can paint over cork boards. I assured them that you can paint over just about anything! And we did. We gave every item we could get our hands on a little colorful makeover. The cork boards contain a lot of important information and announcements for the residents, but for the grand reveal I thought it would be fun to turn them into picture collages using scrapbook paper and fun push pins.
I wanted Gerbera Daisies in vases of sliced citrus fruits on the tables and colorful chalkboard frames at the end of each table. The numbers on the mini-chalkboards correspond to the families’ room numbers and are necessary for assigned seating purposes. I wanted a large gallery wall on our chalkboard so that families felt more connected to the space. Amanda did a fantastic job at completing the gallery wall project!
Phew! If you’re feeling like this post is incredibly long, you are right. We worked our butts off on this space with so many projects. Our hard work definitely paid off though. On the last night before the final reveal, our team was spent. We had been working constantly for over 12 hours that last day, and we were just over it. We had taped off the doorways to the dining hall with trash bags so that residents couldn’t see the space until the final reveal. However, we needed some help carrying in the new chairs and some residents offered to help, including a father and his son. The little boy wandered into the dining room, carrying his heavy chair, and gasped. He exclaimed, “Oh WOW!!! This place looks like a REAL home.” I burst into tears. It was so incredibly precious and made every single hard hour worth it. A REAL home is what I wanted for all of them. A REAL home is what every child deserves.
Thank you Homes.com for being an amazing organization who cares about helping everyone achieve the American dream. It was an honor to work with you!