The challenge: Brighten up the Bridge for Youth, a transitional housing facility in Minneapolis.

The designer: A design team from Ikea. The Bridge won a $10,000 makeover in a contest after voting by customers and employees at Ikea's Mall of America store.

The starting point: The Bridge's TLP (transitional living program), for youth ages 16 to 20, had some pluses, including skylights and big windows to provide natural light. But it had bare floors, mismatched donated furniture and lacked homey touches.

"It looked institutional," said executive director Dan Pfarr. "We were looking for opportunities to turn it into a home. This is where these kids live."

The process: Ikea designers met with Bridge staff members to learn about their program, space needs and what was and wasn't working, said lead designer Gretchen Broussard. In the dining area, "there was not enough dining space for everyone to eat at the same time," she said. The living area was cluttered with books and games, lacked seating and had a TV that didn't work. The only artwork was a poster about sexually transmitted disease, Broussard said. "It was not pleasant."

The solution: In the dining room, Ikea replaced the furniture with two extendable dining tables and some benches, as well as chairs. "It's more flexible. You can push them against the wall," Broussard said. Customizable media cabinets provided attractive storage for games and craft supplies. New seating, throw pillows and a new TV turned the living room into an appealing place to socialize. "We hoped people would want to spend more time in the building, with each other and staff, rather than leave," said program director James Johnson.

New hues: The "before" colors were dark and dated. "They didn't lend themselves to elevating mood," said Janet Hallaway, community engagement manager for the Bridge. "These kids arrive in dark moods already." The designers chose textiles first, including rugs and curtains, then drew colors from those, Broussard said. "We were trying to keep it youthful and fun, a little more uplifting."

Personal touches: Residents had no way to personalize their dorm-style living spaces, Broussard said, so designers added magnet boards and shelving.

The result: Residents and staff give the new space rave reviews, and are looking forward to making the most of it. "We're going to have movie nights with popcorn," Johnson said, and the chef is planning cooking classes.

"The space is a lot better, a lot more comfortable and a lot cleaner," said one youth resident, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified. "It seems more inviting -- crisp and up to date. The old was nasty. Now I definitely try to take care of it and keep it good. I appreciate the gift."

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784