Andrin Kouame and Louanges Kouassi, her 8-year-old daughter, had been living in a Bellevue homeless shelter for three months when they finally received some good news. A low-income apartment was open and ready for them to move in. With the help of their case manager, along with funding from the shelter to cover the deposit and first month’s rent, they settled into the two-bedroom apartment in Bothell last summer.
Kouame moved to the U.S. from West Africa in 2010, but became homeless when her car broke down and she lost both of her jobs. She was forced to move with her daughter from an apartment to the shelter and give up most of their belongings. Since they didn’t have money for replacements, the family found themselves living in a bare apartment and sleeping on blankets each night.
That’s when their case manager told them about Humble Design, a nonprofit that furnishes homes for families and veterans transitioning out of homelessness. The organization relies on donated furniture and other household goods to transform these homes into more welcoming spaces.
Kouame, who now works as a preschool teacher, submitted an application and by September received word that she had been accepted. She said she expected the organization to simply bring over two beds, a couch and maybe a table. When representatives from the nonprofit started asking her about her design preferences, she was confused.
She told them she liked the color blue and her daughter really wanted a pink-and-white room. She said she’d love the living room to have a type of “rural hotel” feel, with wooden furniture. For her own room, she knew exactly the type of space she was looking for: “I told them that I want my room to be like a retreat, a place where you go and you feel safe and you feel away from all thinking,” she said.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
Humble Design granted 8-year-old Louanges Kouassi’s wish for a pink-and-white room.
Kouame handed them her keys on a recent Friday morning, and by the time she returned to the apartment a few hours later, the space had been completely transformed.
“When we came back, oh my lord, I don’t have the words to tell you in English. It was more than I think. It was wonderful,” she says.
The formerly bare space now had a dining room with a wooden table and matching chairs, along with place settings and an arrangement of bright flowers. The small kitchen was filled with everything from pans, bowls and plates to a coffee maker, toaster and slow cooker. And the living room had a beautifully ornate grey couch with an assortment of throw pillows, while the walls were decorated with framed art, including a striking image of sheet music.
Louanges’ room fit with her proposed color scheme perfectly. It had a pink lamp, comforter, pillows and curtains. The space even included an elegant white canopy over her bed, and a toy hedgehog, because that’s her favorite animal. Kouame’s room seemed to exude that calming sense she was hoping for. Its color scheme was a mix of whites and blues, and there were an assortment of images of birds and framed family pictures lining its walls.
“I couldn’t recognize my own house,” says Kouame. “My daughter doesn’t go out from her room anymore. She doesn’t come to the living room. As soon as we get out, she says, ‘I miss my room, mommy.’”
Originally published Nov. 30, 2019