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A style blogger uses her powers for good to transform a Northridge shelter for homeless families


Published on October 24, 2015 in the LA Times by Lisa Boone.

When homeless families arrive at the new San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission in Northridge, they are greeted by cheerful original artworks on the walls, cozy club chairs and stylish accessories.

The families come for shelter and find themselves at home.

Credit Los Angeles interior designer Emily Henderson for the mission’s welcoming atmosphere.

“My hope was to help set the families up for success by providing them with a warm and inviting home,” Henderson says. “Temporary or not.”

Henderson was moved to decorate the interiors pro bono after the North Hollywood mission burned to the ground in May 2014.

She was inspired by her parents, whom she describes as service-oriented. “There were six kids in my family, and yet we consistently had foster kids when I was growing up,” she says.

Like her parents, she viewed the project as an opportunity to do something good for children in need.

The mission was a blank slate for Henderson, who jumped in while it was under construction. And although there was money in place for essential furnishings, such as bunk beds, there was not enough money “to make it pretty,” she says.

But with her design blog, Style by Emily Henderson, growing in popularity, another opportunity became apparent. “I was turning down free products left and right,” says Henderson, author of the new book “Styled.” She realized the offers could help transform the 16,000-square-foot mission.

“It felt like it was time to use the power for good,” she says.

So she started a campaign using the crowd-funding website Indiegogo and raised $35,000 to help furnish the 90-bed shelter. “That was our fun money,” says Henderson. “We could buy things that weren’t necessary.” In addition, Serena & Lily, Lamps Plus, Lulu & Georgia, Minted, Industry West and Target allowed her to shop for furniture and products free of charge.

Henderson and her team chose furniture and accessories for the bedrooms, family room, playroom, nursery and living room.

The privately funded mission helps with more than just meals and housing. Families go through a screening process and must be willing to work. The mission provides life skills classes on such things as how to dress for a job interview and how to manage a family budget. Guests can stay at the shelter for up to 10 months, and 80% of them move on to more permanent housing, says Wade Trimmer, the rescue mission’s executive director.

One of the most important things families learn, however, is how to become interdependent. “We help them develop a sense of community with one another,” Trimmer says. “People are relationship poor. If you don’t have someone to call, you’re truly poor, as you’re without a safety net.”

In an effort to help establish that sense of community, Trimmer wanted the new mission to feel like a home and not a facility. “I want people to feel like they are being hugged when they first walk in,” he says.

In choosing furnishings, Henderson looked for comfort, durability and affordability. Most of the furniture is large-scale and fairly neutral yet looks pulled together as an ensemble. “It was meant to feel like a warm, inviting suburban home,” Henderson says. “It’s like your mom’s house that you visit in the summer.” The rooms feature relaxed yet elegant seating, felted animal heads mounted on the walls, pretty patterned curtains and four handmade quilts created by Crafting Community.

Trimmer says families like the décor. “This space communicates to the people we serve that they are important and we care about them,” Trimmer says. “It also communicates that they are safe.”

His only regret is that Henderson and her colleagues can’t see the effect they have had firsthand. “When someone walks in from the street with a 2-week-old baby and asks, ‘Is this where I get to stay?’ and then breaks down in tears, it’s incredible,” he says. “And it happens over and over again each week as new families move in.”


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