For People Transitioning Out of Homelessness, Pro Bono Interior Design
Liz Mearns' Arlington nonprofit, Imagine Giving Design, has furnished nine affordable apartments with community donations.
For 15 years, Arlington interior designer Liz Mearns has been helping clients make their spaces feel homier and more like them. During the pandemic, many began asking for help redesigning their bedrooms and home offices.
Those requests got the owner of Imagine Design thinking about how she could create a sense of comfort for people who were less privileged, including families transitioning out of homelessness. She rallied three longtime designer friends in Aurora Highlands—Tiffany McAvoy, Carey Bryant and Lucie McEldowney—and reached out to Carpenter’s Shelter in Alexandria, offering to decorate apartment units at The Bloom, an affordable housing property the shelter maintains in partnership with the Alexandria Housing Development Corp. Since August 2020, the foursome has furnished nine apartment units and two lounge areas, pro bono, contributing out-of-pocket funds as needed.
Working with a tight budget (about $1,500 per unit) was a challenge, Mearns says, but the outpouring of support was massive. Clients and friends offered cash and in-kind donations. Dozens of volunteers—from neighbors to an entire youth baseball team—helped collect goods; paint, assemble and move furniture; and hang artwork.
The response was so robust that the designers found they had the luxury of being a little picky. “We’re very selective [with furnishings],” Mearns says, “because ultimately, when we do the recipient’s home, we want it to look like it was done with design in mind.” Each unit so far has been designed to match the incoming residents’ tastes. One little girl wanted butterflies. A boy said he liked race cars.
The effort has now blossomed into a nonprofit organization, Imagine Giving Design, with plans for future projects. Mearns says they hope to redesign community spaces at homeless shelters, offering their services as a way to help young interior designers gain experience. Donations and volunteers are welcome.