Furnishing a Future

By Steffie Nelson

A decade ago, interior designer Treger Strasberg was a new Detroit transplant, helping a woman and her children transition from homelessness by soliciting donations of home goods from fellow designers. What she didn’t anticipate was that once her job was done, the furnishings would keep coming—and her compassionate spirit would find purpose. “When I finished the first home, I felt fulfilled, proud and whole,” she says. “The appreciation energized me, so we began organizing more goods and found another deserving mom who needed help.” With her friend Ana Smith, Strasberg started Humble Design out of Ana’s garage. Clearly, she was on to something. Just one year later, 100 families were on the waiting list. 

Dignity by Design

With a mission and drive to furnish living spaces for families and veterans coming out of homelessness, Humble Design has since expanded to Dearborn, Michigan; Chicago; Seattle and, most recently, San Diego, where Strasberg and her husband (co-CEO Rob Strasberg) moved earlier this year. “We believe the dignity of ownership is the real difference here. If you take ownership of any part of your life, your rate of success goes up exponentially,” says Strasberg. “Dignity needs to be on the hierarchy of human needs.”

 

Strength in Numbers     

The success statistics are staggering. According to a 2014–2016 Humble Design client audit, only 1 percent of the 1,050 families have returned to homelessness, as opposed to the national average of 50 percent.

The Proud Family

And like all victories in progress, it takes a team. Humble pairs with local shelters and social workers to identify the neediest families—those with no furniture at all—and helps those parents and kids appoint a home that makes them proud. Once a family is situated in a new living space, the Humble Design team meets with them to get to know their tastes and needs. The process is “very emotional,” says Strasberg, for in most cases, “it has been the worst year of their lives, and nobody is interested in their story. Some have been living in abandoned buildings and cars for years.”

           

Where a House Is Always a Home 

After this initial meeting, which takes place on a Monday, the designers will select pieces from the HD warehouse, including electronics and artwork, and homes are furnished by the end of the day on Wednesday. (They typically furnish three homes a week.) Incidentally, Strasberg notes that the most useful donations at this time are financial, which help cover administrative and moving costs. “We have furniture coming out of our ears.”

 

Furnishing Fame

National partners U-Haul and CB2 are helping Humble Design move closer to their goal of expanding nationwide, and a reality show, Welcome Home, premieres in November on the CW network. “We hope to show that everyone has a unique story that led to their homeless situation,” Strasberg says. “A job lost, a medical emergency or a death in the family can quickly lead to living in a shelter or worse. Homeless individuals and families are not that different from us.”           

Toys, Books and My Bed          

If you’re wondering what’s in stock, many of the pieces aren’t necessarily that humble: donations have included mid-century modern tables, mint condition ’70s sofas, pristine floor models from furniture stores, and an entire houseful of furnishings from an NBA player. But, says Strasberg, nothing can compare to a child getting her own bed. “These are families who haven’t had a bed in two, three, four years,” she says. “We always provide a ton of toys and a ton of books, but the children always end up getting straight into the bed.” 

Article by Mosaic and provided courtesy of Morgan Stanley.

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