The challenge: An apartment at the Ronald McDonald House in Minneapolis was showing its age. The nonprofit facility, which provides a home away from home for families with seriously ill or injured children, first opened in 1979, and its oldest units had outdated floors, furniture, lighting and more.
The team: The Tile Shop (tileshop.com), a national retailer based in Plymouth.
The request: A volunteer for Ronald McDonald House Charities happened to live next door to a Tile Shop executive and asked if the company would consider donating services and materials. A team from the Tile Shop toured the Ronald McDonald House and decided to tackle an entire apartment. “It looked like the ’80s,” said design director Kirsten Froelich. “Plumbing was [exposed], and the tub was smaller than I’ve ever seen.”
The goal: “We wanted it to be so great,” Froelich said. “It’s important to families. The average stay is 180 days, at the worst time in these people’s lives. We wanted to make sure it was clean and beautiful, a good place to come home to and to wake up when you’re facing a tough day.”
Comfort and privacy: The apartment had an open floor plan with the living area open to the bedroom area. “We wanted to create a little privacy,” said Froelich, who designed a partial wall with a TV mounted on one side and an armoire built into the other, with space for hanging clothes and storing shoes.
No elevator: Complicating the project was the fact that the unit was on the fourth floor and the building had no elevator. “When we started tearing it apart, staff was carrying everything up and down” the stairs, Froelich said. The new partial wall was too big to make the turn and had to be cut in half, then put back together.
Practical materials: The bathroom isn’t the only space that got the tile treatment. The flooring and even the wall in the kitchenette and on the new partial wall are clad in tile. “Tile was a better choice, and not just because we sell tile,” Froelich said. “It’s so easy to clean. There’s less bacteria. And it made the entire unit look bigger.”
Little conveniences: The apartment includes two sets of bunk beds; each bed is equipped with its own little tile ledge designed to hold a glass of water, plus a USB port and a night light. “You can lie down and have everything you need,” Froelich said.
Design details: The color palette of blue, white and light gray was chosen for its calming effect. Rugs soften the tile floors. Elephants appear as a motif, in artwork and custom pillows, because they evoke the mission of the Ronald McDonald House, Froelich said. “Elephants are very nurturing. The females care for the young and sick.”
First family: During the project, Angela Sharp of Detroit was staying at the Ronald McDonald House while her infant son, Aaron, was undergoing surgery and treatment at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. Aaron was born with Hurler syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that requires a bone-marrow transplant, which his body first rejected.
“It was the hardest thing I’ll ever have to do in my life, watch my child go through something so horrible,” Sharp said. The Ronald McDonald House was a godsend during her extended stay. “Having a safe, clean place to go to for a break, even if it’s only for five minutes to take a shower, was wonderful!” When the project was completed, Sharp was invited to move into the newly remodeled apartment, and jumped at the chance. “All the rooms are wonderful, but this one is so welcoming. It’s bright and new and very comforting,” she said. She recently returned to Minneapolis for her son’s follow-up appointments. Now 20 months old, Aaron is thriving. “He’s our little Miracle Boy,” she said.
Like a new condo: So far, five families have stayed in the new apartment. “It’s a bonus, unexpected. It looks like a downtown Minneapolis condo,” said Jill Evenocheck, president and CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities, Upper Midwest.
Featured on TV: The apartment makeover was featured on the Lifetime TV home-makeover show “Designing Spaces, Spaces of Hope.” After the episode aired in August, the Ronald McDonald House heard from people all over the world, some who had stayed at the facility when a child was sick and others who felt moved to donate.
The Minneapolis facility accommodates 48 families each night, and other apartments are also in need of updating. To help, contact Amy Ament, vice president of development and facilities, 612-767-2786, firstname.lastname@example.org.