Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Where Hope Lives

Fairyland’s creators wanted to send a clear message to adults: this park is all about the kids. “A surprise around every corner, and no straight lines” has been Fairyland’s design inspiration for 66 years. We’ve seen first-hand the positive and even therapeutic effect of a whimsical, colorful environment that’s both energizing (as in slides and rides) and calm (as in gardens and the Chapel of Peace).

So we understand the vital importance of the design of a Ronald McDonald House—a place where families live while their loved one undergoes care for life-threatening illness. After all, this is a place that is a temporary home to people under tremendous stress, who’ve had to leave jobs, schools and communities during a medical crisis.
A robot-themed bathroom in the new Ronald McDonald House.

Montclair resident Rhonda Hirata, vice president of the San Francisco Design Center, understands the importance too. When Stanford’s 52,000-foot addition to its Ronald McDonald House has its ribbon cutting ceremony on May 10, Rhonda will be recognized as the person who  persuaded 48 stellar designers to donate their time and talent to turn the building’s interiors “from standard to fabulous,” as Annette Eros, CEO of the House, puts it.

Rhonda got the idea for the design team when she heard about how a Long Island Ronald McDonald facility was refreshed with the help of local design superstars. She did a little research and discovered that the Stanford facility expansion—a $40.5 million capital project that adds 67 family suites and dozens of community areas to its existing facility--didn’t include custom design of each of the facility’s rooms. Nevertheless, “If they could do it in Long Island, then I thought we could certainly do it here,” she says.

At first, Annette was skeptical. But Rhonda’s personality, professionalism and contacts turned her around. “This is crazy enough to be really cool,” Annette recalls thinking.
Most important, she says, is that Rhonda clearly understood that the house had to be about the families and not about designers’ egos. Her goal was to create a place of comfort and serenity, a real home for people going through the worst time in their lives.

With the help of design co-chairs Geoffrey De Sousa and Beth Martin, the enormous project—named “Where Hope Has a Home”—started to take shape.

Ultimately 48 Bay Area designers were given assignments: 67 guest rooms plus sitting rooms, rec room, kitchen, teen room and gym. The designers were responsible for providing both labor and materials. The project presented special challenges: everything needed to be easily cleaned, and products had to be chemical free to protect guests with autoimmune diseases.

Undaunted, the designers infused every room with creative touches like tree houses, forts,  robot wallpaper, elephant-patterned shower curtains, butterfly-covered walls, sea lion bean bag chairs and toddler crawl spaces.

For 18 months, the house was Rhonda’s second job, getting her up early and keeping her up late at night. Her hard work inspired the rest of the team. To cite just two examples: Half Moon Bay designer Kristi Will raised $226,000 in commissioned art, lamps, tables and chairs to create a breathtaking butterfly-themed dining room. Locally, Wood Tavern in Oakland hosted a “Party with a Purpose” last fall to fund Oakland-based Laura Martin Bovard Interiors’ design of two guest bedrooms.

Not only does the house benefit the community of care at Stanford—and the high percentage of families whose fees are waived for their stays there—but it also brought the San Francisco Design Center community closer together. “These bonds will never, never go away,” Rhonda says.

“By creating a comfortable and welcoming environment, we help families say, ‘I think it’s going to be OK’,” says Annette.

After next month’s opening, Stanford’s Ronald McDonald House will be the largest of its kind in the world. It may also be the kindest of its kind, thanks to Rhonda and her team of 48 designers who brought both art and heart to their community.

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