Chattanooga Ronald McDonald House Playroom Redesign: The Before

Chattanooga Ronald McDonald House Playroom Redesign: The Before

The very exciting project I’ll be sharing over the next several weeks is unlike any you’ve seen on the blog before.

For one, it’s not our house – imagine that!

But more importantly, it’s for the Ronald McDonald House – a local charity that is doing amazing things in our community. This post could get excessively long just with me sharing my thoughts on RMHC, so I’ll attempt to keep it brief.

About the Ronald McDonald House.

The Chattanooga RMHC is a 26-bedroom facility, each year serving 600 families with critically ill or injured children undergoing inpatient and outpatient treatment at nearby Chattanooga hospitals. It also serves childhood cancer patients being treated in Children’s Hospital Hematology/Oncology Clinic.

RMHC provides families with hot meals, laundry facilities and a place to rest. It has the benefits of a house, such as a playroom, library and kitchen. It has the responsibilities of a house, allowing families to take pride in the establishment by taking part in daily chores and helping volunteers with projects.

More importantly, RMHC provides an environment of emotional support from staff members, volunteers and other families who are going through similar circumstances.

Needless to say, the value RMHC brings to the local community is undeniable. So, if you’re local (and even if you’re not!), I hope you’ll follow along and encourage us all who are involved.

First, some background on the project and its main sponsor, Thirty-One Gifts.

A few weeks ago, the team at Thirty-One Gifts reached out to me for design help.

Thirty-One Gifts is family-owned, faith-based company, grounded on the principles of the Bible’s Proverbs 31, which celebrates hard-working women who are compassionate, gracious, and inspiring to their families and the people around them. Through a direct-selling business model, Thirty-One offers stylish and functional purses, wallets, totes, accessories, home decor, organization solutions, jewelry and more – most of which can be personalized.

A couple more fun facts about the company:

  • Their vision is to give women many of the tools to help them earn supplemental income, support their personal “Whys” and make the path to their goals simple, easy and fun, and full of rewarding experiences.
  • Thirty-One employes nearly 60,000 sales consultants across the U.S. and Canada.
  • Since 2012, the company has donated $100 million in products and cash to nonprofits that share their mission.

What’s even more fun is that Thirty-One was established right here in Chattanooga! In honor of the company’s 15-year anniversary, they are sponsoring a playroom makeover at the Chattanooga Ronald McDonald House – but needed a designer to lead the project.

That’s where I come in.

It was the easiest “yes” I’ve ever had to say. Of course, I considered the many limitations of my current situation – you know, pregnant with a 1-year-old and also living nearly an hour away. But one simple fact outweighed all concerns: I had been praying and searching for a way to use my design capabilities to, frankly, benefit someone other than me and mine.

If that is not divine intervention, I don’t know what is.

What can you expect to see over the next several weeks?

As with any design project, we’re facing several restrictions, the biggest of which is a (really) tight deadline. Everything must be completely finished by the end of September.

Just in case you’re blissfully unaware, we are currently in the middle of August.

The Thirty-One anniversary celebration, playroom unveiling and ribbon-cutting ceremony are scheduled for October 8, but because of travel schedules, most of the work has to be complete by mid-September. That gives us about a month to plan, design, source, demo, paint, organize and style the playroom.

Can you feel my anxiety yet?

Thankfully, much of the labor will be done by Thirty-One employees who live in the area. What’s more, Thirty-One is graciously donating $10,000 towards the playroom makeover.

I, too, will be reaching out to several partners I’ve worked with over the years to see if we can get a couple items donated (I’ll share more information when I share our our design plan soon). But if you’re a local furniture business that would like to donate (or know someone who is), please don’t hesitate to reach out! We would be soooo grateful and obviously you’ll get lots of love on the blog and social media.

The playroom in its current state.

Finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the “BEFORE” photos!

The photos below will give you an idea of just what I’m working with and the design challenges I’m facing. Maybe you’ll have an idea that solves one of those challenges, in which case please, please share in the comments section!

So, let’s talk about what elements are staying.

All of the structural elements, including the beams, the brick, the built-in shelving, windows, and – unfortunately, the carpet, are mostly remaining as is. I really, really wanted to paint the beams white to brighten the space. But the playroom is part of a larger open area that includes the dining area and kitchen. You can see a peek to the right in the photo below. The entire space has wooden beams, so painting the ones in the playroom white is not an option.

The light fixtures, however, need updates. The window frames need paint, as do the walls and possibly the built-in shelving. The shelves have a terrible beige-pink countertop that is as old as me. I need to figure out if we can update that (or possibly get rid of the countertop altogether?) without ruining the built-ins. I am also hoping to remove the random moulding on the far walls, as they add nothing to the space.

The house has an obvious lodge-style aesthetic. So it’ll be interesting to step completely outside of my comfort zone and design around so much wood.

Most items here haven’t been updated since 1990, when the house was first built. When talking to the CEO of the Ronald McDonald House, a recurring issue she noted was a lack of organization. So we’ll be de-cluttering the toys and updating the larger play stations (like the little kitchen) with something more modern.

We will completely redesign the seating area on the left side of the playroom. I’m picturing a small sectional sofa, an outdoor rug (more durable!), a reading lamp, plants and a small ottoman. I’m also considering a wallpaper mural for that back wall, but we shall see what our timeline (and budget) allows. We want this area to feel comfortable and familiar – just like home. In the ideal scenario, I would completely demo out the built-ins you see at the bottom of the photo above to have more breathing room around the sofa or sectional. Plus, once we organize the toys, I don’t think we’ll need all that storage space.

Going back to the seating, the one request I received regarding upholstery is that it must be wipeable. Unfortunately, most sofas and sectionals with Safeguard upholstery options take 7-10 weeks to ship. We simply don’t have that kind of time. So if you know of a wear- and stain-proof fabric alternative (or a retailer that carries Safeguard options with faster shipping) please, please let me know!

A big plus of this space are those large, three-pane windows; they add in so much natural light to the space. Because everything else is so dark and brown, natural light is a must. Of course, I’ll do all I can to brighten the rest of the room, keeping in mind the existing style.

On one of the walls we’ll also need to incorporate some sort of mural (still brainstorming ideas!) that honors the original founders and the Thirty-One consultants that have been here from the start. I have a couple ideas up my sleeve and can’t wait to share more!

If you are still reading, thank you, thank you, thank you! As you can see, the space is in desperate need of some help. I’m so excited to start getting my ideas on paper (and into a 3-D mockup – everyone loves those!).

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

What was your initial reaction the playroom in its current state? If you could do anything with it, what would you do? And what do you think of the few plans I’ve shared so far?

Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

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  1. Goodness me this made me cry…this is my heart! Bless you, Oksana! Your mock-up is gorgeous! I’ve had a few of the same thoughts as those mentioned above. Having seen many precious little ones gather in a RMH playroom, I know they just want a place to have a little fun and forget their troubles for a while. Lots of “hands on” activities to pique their creativity. Definitely redesigned storage spaces (can be open or maybe with clear windows/doors so they can see what’s inside)? An oasis, even a themed one, that sparks their interest as soon as they step inside. The playroom at a local RMH in Houston has a jungle-like theme and those babies love it! But for sure furniture, toys etc that can be easily sanitized. A fun area to play dress-up?! And a mural…I can’t wait to see what your beautiful mind dreams up! With your expertise and savvy skills, this playroom will for sure be one those beautiful babies will never want to leave. Thank you for accepting the task…

  2. Can you put doors on some of the bookshelves or some kind of cover? Put cushions on some of the bookshelves to offer extra seating or a reading spot…

  3. You can never have too much storage space.
    And the task is commendable, but remember some of the kids (or their sibling that they’re there to visit) will have minimal immune systems so you’re going want items that are easily santized. Sheers would diffuse some of the stark lighting from the windows – easy to clean (they stand up well to multiple hot water washing) and are budget friendly. Remind yourself you’re redesigning a room for kids….the parents are the guests in a playroom. Good luck and God bless you!

  4. It’s amazing that you are doing this! Such a well deserving place!
    You mentioned the laminate countertops along the windows-I’m sure you’ve thought of this but just in case, there are some amazing ways to paint and epoxy laminate countertops. They are still super durable but you can change the color and at times it can look more like granite. I would definitely research that and it would also keep cost low instead of replacing it. Also I love the beams! I think you could definitely work with them. Have you considered doing something with the brick to tone down the red? Maybe whitewashing them or something. I love your idea of decluttering other areas in the room and focusing on the built ins. Will be interested to see the big reveal!

    • Thank you so much for reading and sharing your ideas, Lisa!

      The brick, unfortunately, has to stay as is, because there is a huge dining room connected directly to the playroom that has a massive brick fireplace. I’m afraid it would look disjointed if we painted part of the brickwork but not all, since it’s all in one open space.

      As for the built-ins, the wooden part is in bad condition and ideally should be replaced, so I think if we do go that route then we’ll just get a carpenter to build new built-ins without the countertop.

      Can’t wait to share my design plan this week, I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think!!

  5. I love the brick and wood beams! I think painting them white or a dark wood would give the room lots of character!
    And I love mural idea!

    • The beams really are beautiful, but they run throughout the entire house. In fact connected to the playroom is a huge dining room with really tall ceilings and beams throughout, so because of that, the beams in the playroom have to stay as is. Otherwise yes, I’d be all over staining them dark or painting them white. :)

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts, Nellya!

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