Color, Polka Dots, and Hope for Shelters

In 2007 Terry Grahls, an interior designer, visited a women’s shelter in Michigan. She went through the normal routine for a prospective project, taking “before” pictures, yet felt overwhelmed with the idea of a pro bono shelter makeover. Grahls put the visit in the back of her mind until she developed the pictures and noticed polka dots—her long-time favorite pattern—on a stained pillowcase laid on one of the shelter beds. She took this as a sign and decided to do whatever she could to help re-decorate the shelter. She began looking for sponsors, donors, and volunteers to revitalize the shelter into a beautiful, inspirational place.

The project at the first shelter was so successful that Grahls has continued this kind of work. In January 2009 Grahls’ original design company, Terry’s Enchanted Cottage, officially became Enchanted Makeovers, a nonprofit that redecorates shelters for women and children in Michigan with story-book designs that encourage dreams, possibility and hope for the residents. With a plan in mind, Grahls creates a wish list of supplies that must be donated or sponsored before the refurbishing can take place with the help of volunteers. Everything must be new or handmade, to make it clear to the women that they deserve the best. “They see how hard people work and how they care to take the time to make handmade items for the rooms,” says Grahls.

Grahls’ style is colorful and fun, evoking faraway lands. Through her makeovers, she hopes to evoke a make-believe world and share her way of coping with life’s hardships “which is really creating your own life visually.” In the redone rooms, she hopes the women are not constantly reminded of their difficult situation. “I wanted them to really feel like they have these hidden cottages tucked away in the forest” says Grahls.

Inspirational and encouraging quotes pervade the redone rooms. In the hallway dubbed “the forest” for its mural of green trees trimmed with inspirational quotes that stretches the length of the stairs, one woman experienced the power of a positive environment. Alice, who arrived at the shelter with little faith in herself and the program at the shelter, was moved by the quotes on the wall. Upon reaching the top landing of the forest, “she knew she could do it,” Grahls said.

In another instance, Grahls noticed that residents argued over the single old mirror in their shelter. She remedied this by placing several mirrors throughout the room and embellishing them with the uplifting words, “You’re more than just a pretty face.” Every day when they look in the mirror, the women at this shelter absorb the positive words. The makeovers are not just about giving a beautiful place for deserving women, but also about helping them to think positively and confidently.

In the redone shelters, “there will always be inspirational quotes” says Grahls, but that is not all. Polka dots — the pattern that started it all — hold a symbolic value for Grahls and have become her trademark, finding their way into each makeover.

Enchanted Makeovers

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