Interview with Sherry & John Petersik of Young House Love: The Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Project
Every once in a while, a project comes along that inspires generosity and love in the design community—this was one of those projects! When home bloggers, Sherry and John Petersik, of Young House Love were approached to give the waiting room at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU a holiday makeover, they jumped at the chance to inspire and delight families and children who are dealing with illness during the holiday season.
While the Young House Love team was ready and willing to donate their time to create a vibrant, joyful space in the hospital, they had a tight deadline for the project (before the holidays!) plus safety and sanitary restrictions to consider while redesigning. After all was said and done, the project proved to be the hardest and most rewarding design challenge they’ve ever faced.
I was lucky enough to be able to ask Sherry and John a few questions about this heartfelt and touching design project after the waiting room was sparkling and complete:
How did Young House Love end up working with the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU on this waiting room re-decor project?
The Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU contacted us about a month ago in the hopes that we could volunteer our time to warm up their family waiting room so it’s more cozy and homey year-round, as well as to add some festive touches for the holiday season. Not only did it sound like a fun project, it had such a deserving purpose that we couldn’t wait to get started.
How long did you have to plan and prepare for redecorating the space? Were you able to meet and chat with any of the patients and their families?
We spent about four weeks planning, doing projects loading everything into the room, and adding those finishing touches. It was so much fun to see things come together in the end, especially since it was a completely new environment for us, so it was more exciting and novel than working on things at our own home. And of course the feeling that we got when we saw the the families’ and staffs’ faces… that was the best reward by far! It was awesome to meet them throughout the planning process, but the real icing on the cake was seeing their reactions when we finished the room. We couldn’t stop smiling.
What were the most important factors (personally and aesthetically) that you wanted to address in the waiting area?
We set our sights on giving the space a living-room-like feeling for all of the children, parents, and staff that are spending the holidays at the hospital. The existing furniture had to stay, but one major change was a new paint color, Gargoyle by Benjamin Moore. It was inspired by staff members who requested something enveloping and cozy, since so many other rooms there are bright and clinical. Adding touches like a cozy armchair next to a glowing Christmas tree, some soft window treatments, and a bunch of holiday additions (like a little “forest” of wooden trees around one side of the room) helped bring in more of that homey vibe too.
There were definitely some unique challenges when it came to keeping with the hospital’s standards…but we love a challenge! So rules about avoiding certain materials, being mindful of fire code, and working around items that had to stay just made us to think a bit harder than we might when decorating our own home.
We also had a lot of fun creating special touches to make the room feel more homey, cozy, and even a bit handmade. We painted a faux-fire on a weathered gray plank of wood with real logs at the base to mimic the look of a fireplace. Hanging stockings above it on the makeshift mantel completed the look. And we made paper ornaments for the children in the hospital to color to create a personalized and meaningful garland across one wall. We also built things like a chalkboard for everyone to write holiday wishes on, and hung the word PEACE on the wall—which we painted in a blue gradient—just because we thought that was a fitting word for these families during the holidays.
One of our favorite elements were two cork boards that we painted white and used to display letters that our blog readers sent from around the world. That was the most heartwarming detail in the whole room by far! We got letters from Australia, The UK, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, France, New Zealand and beyond—each one sending warm holiday wishes to everyone spending this season in the hospital. And it was amazing to watch the families and staff stand in front of those boards and just soak up all those loving words.
Were any of the elements of the redesign borne of your own experience as parents?
I think being parents helped us realize that kids like to be involved with things, and parents love to see their children engaged and having fun—so we knew we wanted to give them a way to “contribute” to the room. That’s how we came up with the idea to have children decorate the paper ornaments for our garland, and scribble on our homemade chalkboard. Clara also gave us a lot of inspiration for the room in general, like by helping us pick some fun shatterproof ornaments for the tree— like little mittens and pine cones and owls.
Did you learn anything about yourselves while working on this project?
We went into this project thinking it would be a fun way to do something to make a difference for these families, but we didn’t really understand how great it would feel. It’s not really possible for us to put into words how awesome the whole thing felt. It was one of the most rewarding projects we’ve ever taken on. Just meeting such strong families and amazing staff members and volunteers made our holiday season this year. It was the best gift ever to us.