This San Francisco designer is pausing her follow to outfit houses for individuals in want
For all its beauty, it’s no secret that the interior design industry is walking with a lavish shadow. Damaged orders, incorrectly measured products – even furniture that has been little used – quickly pile up in the landfill. After 20 years in the home industry, the San Francisco-based designer works Carolyn Rebuffel grappled with this reality, wondering how she could turn her concerns into a proactive resolution.
Courtesy Make It Home
The answer came when she saw how their passions could intertwine. As a longtime philanthropist, Rebuffel has focused her volunteering work on the care system in Northern California. There she discovered the overwhelming statistics of homelessness among the elderly (around 50 percent of newly emancipated people in California spend their first year without a home) and saw a clear demand for homes among these young adults and families. But last year, after Rebuffel joined the Good Future Design Alliance, a local organization trying to change the course of waste production in the furniture industry, her plan took shape. “As a designer, there is so much waste in this business, it’s crazy,” she tells Business of Home. “So it made a lot of sense to put those two things together.”
On October 1, Rebuffel launched Make It Home, a nonprofit that places donated housewares in the homes of families and individuals emerging from homelessness. Organization is not a completely new concept; Rebuffel was inspired by similar nonprofits in the United States, such as Humble Design in the Detroit area and Grateful Gatherings in the Bay Area. “All of these people support people who are either moving out of the crisis, out of homelessness or out of emancipation into permanent residence and who set it up for them,” she explains. By modeling Make It Home after these nonprofits, the designer launched a version within her own community that brings the benefits of design to those who might otherwise not have access.
Since the start, Rebuffel has installed furniture in seven houses, with five to six other projects on deck before the end of the year. She works mostly alone or with small volunteer support staff, outfitting homes with basic furniture, from beds and tables to lamps and eating utensils – all for an estimated $ 1,500 per home, half of which is for moving expenses. “It’s one thing to live out of a trash bag on an air mattress,” she says. “But having a dresser to put away your belongings and dishes – that’s the kind of thing that will keep these people from becoming homeless again.”
There is evidence of it. According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, up to 50 percent of families return homelessness within a year of securing housing. However, according to the Pontiac, Michigan-based nonprofit Humble Design, fewer than 1 percent of families have worked with homelessness after receiving donated design benefits. In other words, surrounding people in need with the elements of home is more than a heartwarming idea. There is evidence that this can have a significant and noticeable impact on their long-term quality of life.
Courtesy of Grateful Gatherings
When Rebuffel spoke to Business of Home, she had just finished her first apartment for a newly emancipated foster child. She had worked with another volunteer all day packing the furniture for the apartment before the moving companies arrived to move the parts. Then she worked with the new resident, putting art on the walls, making the bed, and unpacking pots and pans in the kitchen area. “He was so happy – it couldn’t have been better,” she says.
To source furniture, Rebuffel has partnered with the Bay Area Furniture Bank in Santa Clara, a donation center that collects pieces from households, hotels, and universities and stores them in a storage room donated by Google. The collaboration also allows contributions to be counted as tax-deductible donations through the Bay Area Furniture Bank, with the goal that furniture can be donated directly to Make It Home. Word gets around quickly and because of her network, Rebuffel now has more furniture than she can place. But she’s working to change that.
“[Because] There’s so much more need of COVID – it’s horrible now, ”she says. “It’s time to give something back.” And although she has had her most profitable year as a designer, she takes a full year off from her design practice to focus her full attention on the growth of Make It Home. “70 children in San Francisco will need help in June – that’s why I need storage space, that’s why I have to speak up and organize things,” says Rebuffel. “Being at home when something is messed up takes you one step down. I’m not doing an HGTV reveal, but when that stuff is really pretty and put away it’s easy to get to the next level – it’s the same path for those people who have been homeless or lost everything in a fire or from domestic violence ran away. And I know that I can make a difference. “
Homepage picture: One of the completed projects of Make It Home | Courtesy of Grateful Gatherings