Atelier Akuko has partnered with a local church's "Refugee Resettlement Programme" to decorate a 3-bedroom home for a refugee family to be settled in London.
For the past six months, I’ve had the privilege of partnering with a local church’s “Refugee Resettlement Programme” on a pro bono basis to decorate a 3-bedroom family home in London in preparation for the arrival of a refugee family from Syria. (If you have been following my Instagram Stories, you will have heard me go on about it). I’m really excited to finally be able to share the final results as well as the whole story with you.
To protect the family’s privacy, the information I can share with you is limited. All I know is that the four of them (mum, dad, and their two sons, aged 14 and 21) are from Damascus, Syria. They fled to Lebanon in 2013 and waited 7 years in Cairo, Egypt to be resettled. As with so many refugees from Syria, the family had to deal with the loss of loved ones and fear for their lives due to the ongoing conflict.
The Project Background
The family is the fourth family being resettled in the UK by Hillsong church’s internal social justice arm. Besides guaranteeing a place to stay and practical support for a minimum duration of one year, each family is supported by a vetted and trained team of local volunteers that will be assisting the family in getting settled and becoming independent. The house was provided by a couple from within the church community who had moved abroad and wanted to practically support the initiative by making their house available for the programme.
Designing the family home came with unique challenges: The available information about the family was limited, the furniture was almost exclusively donated, the national lockdown and Brexit made sourcing difficult and the number of volunteers on the project was significantly smaller due to social distancing regulations. This meant that we really had to get involved and flex our DIY muscles (shoutout to my girl, Daniela Figuera for tirelessly working alongside me for weeks to make it all happen in time).
My goal was to create a cohesive scheme throughout the house that would spark both joy and peace by using colour to tie the donated furniture pieces together. Additionally, I took inspiration from the only architectural feature of the house — the arched doorway leading from the living room to the kitchen — by incorporating it as an ongoing theme in each of the rooms, whether in the form of a mirror, a wall mural, as upholstery or in the wall art. Finally, changing the light fixtures throughout the house made the greatest impact on the overall atmosphere and flow of the space by either generating an atmosphere, creating the illusion of additional wall height, separating the different uses of the space, or simply serving as a statement piece.
My personal highlight
The highlight of the project for me was the support it received from the creative community via Instagram. The pièce de résistance of the whole house (IMO), is definitely the mural painted by Adriana Jaros. I fell in love with Adriana’s work when I saw it on the walls of the Elle Decoration penthouse in Covent Garden and to think that a similar mural now graces the home of this family that has endured so much fills my heart with gratitude. Ottoline De Vries also sponsored her coveted wallpaper for us to use in the kitchen (which was by far the most transformed room of the house and therefore deserves a whole article all to itself — here) and Desenio generously sent us the prints we used throughout the house.
Selecting prints for people who you have never met was quite a nerve-wracking experience. There was so much to consider from age to cultural appropriateness to psychological sensitivities given the family’s history with violence. Desenio’s incredibly varied selection made them the perfect sponsor for this project. Last, but not least, these incredible photos taken by Taran Wilkhu were the cherry on top. I have admired Taran’s work for years and couldn’t believe it when he reached out offering his help. The craft he invests into making each image a work of art has taught me so much about interior photography and styling and the images — well, they speak for themselves.
The Parent’s Bedroom
The marble desk from Skum pictured in the parent’s bedroom was the first purchase we made for the house that was not a donation. Originally, I had thought we would use it as a dining table as with all the donated furniture that had been dropped off at the house, it was hard to gauge how much space we would end up having. I originally thought we’d be lucky to squeeze in a dining table at all, but when most of the DIY work of painting, etc. was done and I was able to rearrange the furniture, we realised we could get a much larger dining table. As a result, I had to find a new place for the marble table, and immediately knew it was the missing piece to the parent’s bedroom. From the paint to the headboard, the room really came together by using things that I had previously made or used for other projects.
The Boy’s Bedrooms
The same resourcefulness was needed for the boy’s bedrooms. I chose the colour for the mural of the larger room because I had some of Little Green’s Ultra Blue left from our Bathroom makeover. I also repurposed the blue velvet curtains from our old studio and used them as curtains in the bigger room and for the upholstery of the arched backrest in the smaller room. Since the smaller room could fit no more than a single bed, I had to get creative. I used upholstery to turn the single bed into a daybed and put a Kallax shelf on castors to double as a bedside table with storage that could be pulled out from behind the bed. I also installed a foldable table in the small room that could be used as a desk when needed and put away when not in use or when needing to pull out the shelf to reach the storage. My goal was to keep as much of the storage off the floor to make the room seem larger.
The family’s reaction
Sadly, I was not able to be present when the family first arrived as Covid regulations only allowed for people to be there who would also be involved with the continuing care of the family. I was told that they were moved by the amount of detail and care that went into the design of everything and couldn’t believe that this was their new home. I really hope that this new home and the love with which all the volunteers have created it will signify a new and more hopeful beginning for the family.
Some of the products we used to make this house a home
The biggest transformation of our refugee project was the kitchen, which went from a brown veneer with ornamental handles and yellow floor tiles to a modern and friendly sage green, brass, and charcoal combo using nothing but paint and a whole lot of time and perseverance.
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