By RITA KUEBER
Most of us have too much stuff. Good stuff, but excess stuff. Lamps, tables, beds, chairs, accessories – the list goes on and on. If only we could give these gently used pieces to someone who might truly enjoy them. Not in a jumble sale kind of way, but in a targeted, organized, holistic kind of way. Look no further. Humble Design is the answer.
While the concept is simple, the execution of the logistics is somewhat complex. First, the goal, which is to give formerly homeless people and families a home that inspires joy and offers comfort. Humble Design is not a housing organization, it’s a housing fulfillment organization. Its roots are in Detroit, where founder Treger Strasberg met a formerly homeless family. The long-awaited purchase of a house afforded them a roof over their heads but nothing else – no beds or furniture, much less lamps or curtains – all the things that give life and coziness to an interior.
Inspired, Strasberg rustled through her own belongings and asked friends and neighbors to do the same. When solving the problem for Family Number One was completed, Strasberg had extra inventory. She approached housing non-profits and city agencies indicating she wanted the donations to go directly to families who were finally gaining a home. But there was no mechanism to do that – the systems in place had a major flaw, and Humble Design was born.
In 2019 Progressive Insurance took a deep interest in the nonprofit. They offered seed money and recruited Debbie Eastburn to work as the director for Humble Design Cleveland. (There are only four other US cities home to a Humble Design chapter so far – Detroit, Chicago, San Diego, and Seattle.) The new nonprofit in town had to pull back just as it was launching, due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, they persisted, and today, Humble Design Cleveland has a 17,000-square-foot warehouse in Solon, with areas for drop off, loading, storage, offices, designing and organizing, and crafting home goods.
At Humble Design, a bed is not just a piece of furniture. It’s a place of security and respite, as well as a place to dream. For many formerly homeless children, bed was an air mattress, or a pile of blankets often shared with siblings. “We want everyone up off the floor – we want everyone to have a warm bed, chairs to sit in, and a table to share a meal. We want people to feel comfortable and invited into their home, to feel good in their space,” Eastburn says. “That’s why when we decorate these homes, we come in with linens, we hang curtains and we set the table.”
The “decos” as the worker bees call their upgrades, is a study in both logistics and absolute joy. Formerly homeless families, veterans, and young adults who have aged out of the foster care system are recommended to Humble Design by partnering housing/social service organizations in Cuyahoga County. It’s a tough reality, but not every homeless family is ready to occupy a new living space until other factors stabilize for them. However, once new ownership of an apartment, multi-family or single-family home is achieved, Humble Design is ready.
The first step is to interview the family or person gaining a home, so the designers have something to work with, such as preferences and favorite colors, but also layout and measurements. Then the design team goes back to the office/warehouse and starts pulling “stuff.” They pull from what’s in storage and start assembling not just a room but an entire house – from rugs to furniture, accessories to kitchen and bathroom stuff. Curtains. Dishes.Crafty volunteers create homey accessories – maybe a wreath for the door or a centerpiece. Decos are scheduled up to eight weeks out, and Humble Design is currently doing two of them each week.
“We take into consideration what that person loves, and what will make a home for them,” Eastburn says. “The first deco we did was for a single veteran who loved to cook. For his kitchen centerpiece we made a basket filled with gadgets and spices. We loaded the cabinets and set the table. When we have kids in the house, every child gets a picture with their name on it. Their bedroom has books pulled for their interests. We want to be very specific about the fact we heard what they like, and we want them to have that,” she says. For the adults, a tray on their bed holds significant pieces chosen just for them, based on their interests.”
Families walking into a completely newly furnished home are overwhelmed in a good way. “In four or five hours total, we’ve transformed everything. The family comes home for a meal and it’s quite moving, amazing really, it’s been an eye-opening experience for me,” Eastburn adds.
So far in 2022, Humble Design has created a new home interior for 63 families and counting, a number they would like to grow. “Once people realize who we are, they just come through,” Eastburn says. We have volunteers who help pull inventory, who design and craft, people who donate furniture. We have people who go shopping and come back with the 50 curtain rods we need for the month.” She points out that the organization’s needs change regularly and asks that anyone who is feeling generous to check the website’s wish list to determine current requests.
Due to COVID-19, Eastburn has never met the founder, Treger Strasberg in person. That will change when Strasberg attends the organization’s first friend/fundraiser this month. “We are trying to change the cycle of homelessness and give people a leg up. This community is a big part of that. Since we’ve been here the community has continued to embrace us,” Eastburn states. “Already we have a couple hundred volunteers, and if we need more, we’ll ask for it. We’ll be around a long time to help.”
Humble Design Cleveland improves lives one ‘deco’ at a time
By RITA KUEBER