Meet One Of Our Readers, Rusty, And A Feel Good Safe House Room Makeover On The Other Side Of The Planet
Hello! I’m Rusty. I live in Perth, Western Australia. I’m a very early retiree and have a background as a Secondary English, English Literature and Art Teacher; Educational research; PR and Recruitment; Occupational Safety and Health, Youth Programs in the construction industry; and ran an Education and Training Consultancy as well as doing Freelance Writing (although with all the typos I regularly make in the comments, you’d wonder, right?! Ha! I blame my numb fingers on a touch-screen tablet late at night when I settle in to snack on the blogosphere).
Phew! That’s a lot, but I enjoyed every single career change because it involved making a difference in the world and my community, particularly youth.
I’ve been following Emily for a lonnng time, finding her via Jungalow’s Justina Blakeney; Charlie was on the way (and look at him now!). I was immediately drawn to Emily’s fun approach to design, her quirkiness and love of vintage, the way she takes design risks rather than sticking to one ‘forever style’; she moves and changes as life changes and I’ve basically checked in daily ever since. I subscribe to Emily’s “Done is better than perfect” approach. I love that she doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics either and also walks her talk. Emily is, indeed, a good human.
Some of you may know that I escaped long-term domestic abuse, including coercive control, in a flippin’ pandemic, last year. Man! It was hard. Since I was somehow lucky enough to remain in my cozy home (I still dunno how that even happened!), I committed to pay it forward and help others.
I’m mentoring Sienna, a 20-year-old young woman, who has lived with abuse her whole life. She finally escaped by literally jumping out of a window through the flyscreen and calling the police who came with body cameras! She left with her clothes and has never returned. By working with the (wonderful) youth services, after a couple of months of couch-surfing and living out of her car, she was given a room in a Safe House – a large, supported accommodation, secluded in the outer suburbs of Perth, with 24/7 carers on-site for safety and advice.
She moved into a large-ish room, with hospital-grade linoleum floors, broken closet doors and zero outside light, because the area outside her room is a storeroom. She was so grateful to have a roof over her head, but the furnishings were limited and basic – let’s call the furniture ‘bodgy’, (an Aussie word). There was only a blind on the lightless window and it was, well… Ugh!
Emily posted about Pen + Napkin doing a-maz-ing work in LA (they do fabulous, much-needed home makeovers for families transitioning out of homelessness) and blogged about a project she worked with them on. I commented, “Whaaaaaat?!? I’m doing a makeover for my mentee…”. Emily commented back “Hit me up, you’re paying it forward. I wanna help!”, or words to that effect!
I was a little in shock that this legit, famous person called Emily Henderson (that we all love to bits!) was going to help little, nobody-me do up a room in a Safe House, for young person she’s never heard of, literally on the other side of the planet! It took me a minute to believe it was happening. Then I got big-time imposter syndrome, but kept barrelling along, driven to help my mentee. TIP: Trust your gut – you can do it.
Due to my personal situation, I had no car, so getting to the Safe House was difficult – it’s 22 miles from where I live. As a result, I only physically went to her room just three times through the whole project! #Just.three.times! It was my first attempt at remote designing too. I shared with Emily, what I hoped to get for Sienna – a bed, mattress, a chest of drawers, a rug, maybe some lamps, a pouf, and the like. I decided against getting a desk, because in all likelihood, when she moves into a share house, her room won’t be big enough to fit it in. We used a desk at the Safe House. Her goal is to study to become a Primary School Teacher and continue to pay it forward. Yaaay!
I got Sienna to send me photos of her room and take basic measurements. Sienna came to my house numerous times and I worked out her ‘style’ and colors she really liked (warm tones and nature), found comforting and inspiring (being an ex-Art Teacher helped with this process). Turns out her style was modern, clean Bohemian. We also made the artwork for her room – it needed to be personal and actually mean something to Sienna. We made a huge wall hanging to cover the big empty wall, using a ginormous Eucalyptus branch I found one day while walking my scruffy-dawg and lugged it home, and included some photos of her with her friends to remind her that she is loved. She also took a photo of the city skyline, had it printed cheaply and we whacked it into an IKEA frame – the river foreshore is her favourite “safe place” to sit and contemplate her future.
Make the artwork yourself so it’s cost-effective and meaningful.
I got to work fast and looked for furnishings online, making ridiculously meticulous lists, including prices and alternatives for each store we needed to go to and ensured we stuck to budget every step of the way. I needed to keep the number of stores to a minimum due to the transport issue. Sienna was also working three part-time jobs, so I had to fit in around that. Gah!
Find back-up alternative products in case you can’t get what you planned.
I did hand-drawn sketches of the room and furniture placement (just call me technically challenged) and collected ideas like I was obsessed, because I was. My hope was that she could own some furniture for when she moves out, since they can only stay at the safe house for 12 months.
We did in-person shopping, because I wanted to teach Sienna how to shop, choose colors that complement and contrast, deal with measurements, how to buy full-looking curtains that cover the entire window, benefits of mixing textures, and especially, the difference the little details can make to the overall feel of a room. We could do in-person shopping because Western Australia really has not had any Covid (for real – how lucky are we?!), due to our border with the rest of the country and the world, being shut hard for two years.
The first time I went to the Safe House, I spent about 20 minutes getting a feel for her room. Then, we went shopping in-person! Meticulous lists in hand, handbag cross-body to free up my hands, tape measure and a pillowcase from the quilt cover already purchased that would guide the color scheme of the room; we grabbed a cart each and hit Kmart (really great in Aussie), Target (nothing remotely like the fabulous US Target – sooo jealous, you guys!) and IKEA, over only two separate shopping trips. We also went to a haberdashery store for some craft supplies to make the artwork. We added some vintage at the end (hello giant Leopard that waves to Caitlin’s giant bathroom Giraffe). Whoo-hoo!
Through sharing about the project with everyone I came into contact with and saying what a good human Emily Henderson is, I made a connection at IKEA via Sienna’s Case Worker. She couldn’t help with discounts, but met with us there and short-circuited the process of finding what I’d selected online (IKEA is such a rabbit warren!).
We live in Perth, Western Australia, the world’s most isolated capital city. Uh-oh! Stock shortages galore! I roped my friends and family in to help with gathering the items as they arrived, remember – no car. My brother lives between the city and a rural property about 4 hours away and he came to the city to assemble furniture, put up curtain rods, and be the wonderfully supportive big brother that he is. I gathered the furniture as it came into stock, piece by frustrating piece, thanks to the generosity of others.
If you are considering doing a project like this, know that you need a support team. Share about it, inspire others and they’ll come running to help, with bells on!
Early one morning, my brother came to my house and we loaded up all of the furniture onto his ute (you guys call them trucks). We drove to the Safe House and got to work! The first thing to happen were the curtain brackets and rods. We only had permission from the facility, to drill into the wooden window frame since the walls are brick. Consequently, the curtains aren’t hung as high as I’d like them, hence the puddle of curtain on the floor is more of a tsunami. My brother and Sienna started putting the bed together while I hung the curtains. The second they were up, Sienna had a mini-meltdown of happy tears – turns out these were the first ‘proper’ curtains she’d ever had! Hugs were needed and fast!
Once the chest of drawers and bed were assembled and I’d put the ‘coffee table’ together, things really started to look better! Now, this ‘coffee table’ is mighty sturdy and cost a total of $19 on clearance! I re-worked my plan on the spot in the store for this unplanned mega-bargain and we used it as a ‘drop-zone bench’ at the end of her bed. Pivot, people, pivot, to take advantage of an unforeseen bargain!
I didn’t have any wire hooks to fit the picture rail and we were dead on budget, so I got old wire coat hangers from a friend and my brother made hooks out of them which we attached to fishing line to invisibly hang the mirror, photo and wall hanging (Yes, he’s amazingly creative and handy). I covered the wire hooks with masking tape to make them ‘disappear’ against the wall, hehehe.
Pivot, take advantage of unforeseen bargains & be prepared to make what you can’t buy/afford.
Once the furniture was assembled and in place, we unpacked the mattress. Have you ever seen one of those rolled-up mattresses unfold? Crazy-cakes people! You slice the plastic bag and “Whooosh!” that thing does a mighty gasp as it inhales and grows right before your eyes, you have to jump outa the way! I wish I’d videoed it. Hilarious! Sienna couldn’t sleep on it for 48 hours for the springs to settle in, so she slept on her old mattress on the floor for two days. (The mattress from IKEA took too long to arrive, so I went with one from another big box store).
I went back for the final time, to style, put all the flourishes in place and take the after photos to send to Emily. This was a pretty quick process compared to the rest and sooo much fun! Within about three hours, we’d finished, had another couple of happiness-induced, mini-meltdowns and sat on the bed for decompression and an ‘after’ chat.
Really, it’s the little things that make it a home. Mood lighting; the money box bird; containers to corral make-up and perfume (these are actually from the kitchen aisle); candles; soft furnishings.
I cannot tell you how satisfying, heart-warming and rewarding seeing the finished room was. In the week following the safe house room makeover, Sienna started saying “I’m home” when she called me, instead of “I’m at the house.” Yes, I’ve written a novel here, but I cannot find the words to explain the feeling. It made me happy to my bone marrow, to the very core of my being, for her to call it “home”. Mission accomplished, team EHD!
I often comment that Emily is “A good human”. I mean it. Seriously, this remarkable super-woman is making a tangible difference on the other side of the planet we call Earth, our communal home. Gratitude and kudos flow!
The next project is likely to be a Women’s Shelter – making the common areas friendly and welcoming, instead of the standard bland, institutional look they so often have. Here we go again – at least this time I now have a car to cart stuff around. Yippee!
With love, Rusty. xx
“I never realised how important being in a comfy, safe and beautiful room was until I experienced it for the first time. The room I had helped me get out of an unsafe situation, yet I felt like I didn’t really belong – it felt very temporary. Now, knowing that I can keep this furniture and it really speaks ‘me’, I can definitely sleep better – it’s now something I love coming home to. It feels like me. I want to thank Emily immensely for her generosity, and for reaching out and really making a huge difference to my life when I was forced into a situation that had almost left me homeless.”
*Design and photos by Heidi Schmidt AKA “Rusty”