The thing I’ve always loved about interior design is that it’s never been superficial.
Those with a surface-level understanding of my industry might think so but having spent 26 years in the field, I’ve witnessed time and time again what a well-designed, thoughtfully crafted space can do for the people that spend their days in it.
Interior design is about more than crafting stunning living spaces or optimizing a floor plan to meet a client’s needs. The impact my work has on the emotional and mental health of the people I work with is a huge motivator. And though high-quality work isn’t cheap, the value of a custom-tailored, beautiful living space goes way beyond the amount of money that went into creating it.
Over the years, plenty of clients have come back to me because they love their homes so much. Many of them have outgrown their property but struggle with letting go of the house that fits their lifestyle and stylistic preferences like a glove. These clients often start their projects with the motivation to create a showpiece kitchen or a jaw-dropping living space. But once the job is done the universal response echoed over and over is this: “I’m happier, more relaxed, and feel more at home in the house we’ve invested in.”
My profession has taught me that the space we live in has the power to shape how we view the world around us and how we view ourselves.
This thought was at the forefront of my mind when I first encountered the Bridget House—the shelter portion of the Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center in Berkeley, a nonprofit that supports at-risk or unhoused women and children during some of the most trying times of their lives.
The Bridget House
As the daughter of a man who ran the state prison arts program and an active volunteer in an organization that helps ex-felons find work on local urban farms, I am no stranger to the needs of those that society often overlooks. And I understand the importance of giving back when you yourself have much to be grateful for.
I suspect this is why The Bridget House has so quickly become an HCD passion project I’m determined to see to completion.
The Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center is located in Alameda County, California, which has the country’s highest concentration of chronically unhoused people. As you can imagine, the women walking into the center are facing difficult situations at home they want to or need to walk away from. Most of whom are escaping unsafe living situations. All of which need to protect and provide for their children.
When a woman in need visits WDDC for the first time, she’s greeted with a safe space to find refuge in and warm meals for herself and her children. She’s given access to counseling services and other resources, including support to find housing during the day when local shelters are closed. In short, the center serves as a hub where women can go to meet basic needs whether they are in crisis or simply have nowhere else to turn.
On average the center serves about 400 women just like this every month… and they’ve been doing so for the past 35 years.
Of all the nonprofits I’ve researched, WDDC was the one that caught my attention because of The Bridget House, a safe haven that can house up to 5 families at any given time. During their stay—which averages between 4 and 6 months—each family is given the support they need to get their lives back together. They receive support with finding an apartment, finding employment, and enrolling their children in school. They are also given the time, space, and resources they need to start their healing journeys as they transition into a new chapter of their lives.
The WDDC has gone above and beyond to help women and their children get back on their feet after life-altering and often traumatic events. I cannot commend them enough for the work they do on a daily basis to bring necessary support and change to families in need.
However, in my opinion, there is more work to be done. Not by the WDDC, but by members of the local community who should be invested in the well-being of their neighbors—especially those who aren’t in a position to help themselves.
Yes, the Bridget House is fully functional with all the necessities they need to shelter the families in their care. But most of their furnishings consist of hand-me-downs that have seen better days or stuff that no one wanted but couldn’t justify throwing out.
And that’s where I think we’ve missed the mark.
When it comes to donating to the less fortunate, little thought tends to go into the quality of our contributions. I touched on the impact a living space has on its residents and the same idea applies to the women and children seeking refuge in The Bridget House.
Despite our good intentions we often make the mistake of donating our unwanted belongings without considering the implications of what that could have on the recipients. I can’t help but wonder what the psychological impact of living in a world of broken hand-me-downs could be.
Let me put it this way: A woman fleeing an unsafe situation with her children in tow finds her way to a shelter. She spends her days surrounded by pre-owned, mismatched furniture and clothes her family with tattered, outdated clothing. She is expected to support her family through a challenging transition,
heal from the traumatic events of her recent past, and make progress in a timely manner because resources are limited and there are other families in need waiting for their turn for help.
She makes strides in the right direction—maybe she finds a job, maybe she was able to put her kids in school—but no matter what she does, she’s only given what society has deemed is appropriate for her to have.
The donated furniture she lives with is often shoddy and nobody’s first pick. The messaging there, though inadvertently, is this: “This is what you’re worth. You only get the used hand-me-downs that no one else wants. And you should be grateful for what you’re given. You should not dare ask for more.”
HCD adopted The Bridget House project because we believe in giving back to the community and believe that we can do so in a way that’s more conscientious of the people we are helping. Our goal is to redesign the house with beautiful, thoughtfully curated furniture and decor that the residents want to live with.
Why? Because everyone is worthy of humanity and dignity. These families deserve to feel valued and important—especially after escaping situations many of us cannot even fathom. Especially if giving just a little bit more could mean the difference between a woman in need feeling like an afterthought and feeling like a person worth investing in, a person worthy of a second chance, or a third.
We may not be able to right most of the wrongs in the world but we can do this: We can put at-risk families in a beautiful space that makes them feel valued because, inherently, they are valuable, regardless of their station in life.
Put away your preconceived notions of what a women’s shelter should look like for a moment and imagine this.
Fully furnished rooms that are safe, comfortable, and beautiful to look at. These rooms are private and offer the space needed for families to heal and grow. They are a sanctuary for women and children, one they want to be in and one they can truly thrive in.
Two new and improved community spaces that the Bridget House residents feel comfortable using. Right now, these spaces are outdated and unimaginative. But after we’re done with them they’ll be warm and inviting.
Through their redesign, we hope to encourage residents to intermingle and allow their children to play together. Instead of sticking to their separate rooms—which has been the trend so far—families can start to form connections with one another in these communal areas. Through those connections, they’ll have the opportunity to build a community that can be instrumental in every one of their healing journeys.
That’s what we want The Bridget House to be for its residents. We’re well on our way but we need your help to make it happen.
My ultimate goal when I start a new project is to design a space that my clients are proud of, want to spend more time in, and truly feel like the one sliver of the world that is completely theirs.
And though the Bridget House residents aren’t technically my clients and the building is a temporary oasis at best, that doesn’t mean they deserve any less than what we are able to give.
If you have the means and motivation to contribute to our project, click this link to leave a cash donation and feel free to share it with whoever might be interested in supporting women in need. No amount is too small and all cash donations are tax deductible.
Before I close, I want you to know that I understand what I’m asking of you.
You may be supporting other nonprofits. You probably receive emails every day asking for help. The truth is that we’re all being asked to help those who are less fortunate at a pace that is often difficult to fulfill, which I recognize and why I don’t take any show of generosity lightly.
Any amount donated is greatly appreciated as we continue to turn The Bridget House into the type of living space those who are healing from unjust treatment or living situations deserve.
Join us as we stand beside the Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center and say to the families we serve, “We have your back. We are here to step in. We are here to help you put this chapter of your life behind you so you can walk into the next one knowing you’re important, valued, and cared for every step of the way. We are one."