Pillows with Purpose
At Helping Hand Home, one Austin design firm takes comfort to a higher level
by Anne Bruno
Photographs by Claire Schaper
Ponder the question of the most versatile home-design element and what comes to mind? The humble throw pillow, of course.
This one simple object (whose powers increase when artfully multiplied) is hailed not only for its ability to transform a room with just the right color, pattern or texture, but also for creating the crucial difference between a space that is beautiful and one that is beautifully inviting.
For a group of talented interior designers, custom pillows provided the start to their growing full-service design business as well as their most rewarding project to date. Taylor Wilson, who with her mother, Aimee Laughlin, Jess Pearce and Kat Reyes make up Austin Design House, explains: “When we came over a few months back to donate some pillows, we walked into the room and just looked at each other. I knew we were all thinking the same thing.”
The room they walked into was the Therapeutic Family Room at Helping Hand Home for Children, a nonprofit organization that cares for Austin’s most vulnerable and one Laughlin had long been involved with. “My mom has volunteered there for years, and I actually worked there at one time,” Wilson says. “So when we had some extra pillows to donate, we called and they said, ‘Sure, we’d love to have them.’” What the designers found was a project waiting to happen, and pillows were just the beginning.
According to Julie Freeman, Helping Hand Home’s director of development, the Therapeutic Family Room serves multiple purposes and is a place where the kids’ comfort and creativity are especially important.
“The kids here have been through so much, and learning to trust and express themselves is very important,” Freeman says. “We use this room not just for playtime but for family visitations and for our Buddy program, where a volunteer is matched with a child and they spend one-on-one time together on a regular basis. That time — with one adult friend who focuses just on them — means the world to the kids. Our volunteers sometimes bring in the child’s favorite food for lunch, or they might read a book together or just sit on the couch and talk about whatever the child wants to.”
Knowing that the room serves as a safe space for hearts to heal as well as everyday kids’ activities like watching TV and playing, Laughlin, Wilson, Pearce and Reyes set their sights on more than just a refresh. They started a GoFundMe page to buy all new furnishings and give the room a complete makeover. “We ran everything by the clinical therapist to be sure what we were doing made sense in terms of meeting the children’s needs,” explains Reyes.
The room’s color scheme began with a painting Laughlin had fallen in love with on a market trip and purchased, with no particular client in mind. The pinks, blues, whites and yellows create a playful but soothing palette, making it a perfect fit for the space. The rug and performance fabric on the sofas and pillows were chosen for their durability as well as soft textures. (With several children and grandchildren among them, the designers are well-schooled in the wear and tear kids can inflict on a living room.)
“We looked at all the elements and then asked ourselves what would be the most durable and safe, while at the same time create a really warm and homey environment,” Wilson says. Throw pillows dot the floor, while a chalkboard wall and magnets allow for creative expression. Lighting, a big factor affecting people’s moods, was a key consideration; existing can lights were updated with new LED bulbs, and a decorative new ceiling fixture replaced an old one.
With donated items like a 60-inch flat-screen TV, Wii Games and a table for Legos, along with the pro bono services of contractor Lynn Stackable of Stackable & Associates, the room feels both comfortable and stylish, a place just right for kids and adults to come together. As Wilson says, “This is really built for the long haul, and we had so much fun doing it, especially knowing how the space will be used. It’s definitely been a special project for us.”