O MAGAZINE X COVENANT HOUSE LA
Video: @punikasayshi Photography: David Tsay / Harpo Inc.
There are few people whom I am more in awe of than Oprah Winfrey. Her warmth, strength, and boundless generosity are a constant source of inspiration. So when she came to me with a charitable project – breathing new life, energy, and love into the Los Angeles refuge for homeless and trafficked youth, Covenant House – I couldn’t say yes fast enough. This project hit me at my soul’s core. Not only are these kids and teens in desperate need of a helping hand (which resonates so heartbreakingly with my fatherly instinct), but I also vividly remember being one of their own.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, in 2004, I had next to nothing. Luckily I had a car, and that Jeep became my home for the first year that I was in the city. Though I was technically homeless, I was one of the fortunate ones in that regard – at least I had a safe, enclosed space to sleep – and when I finally did get my first LA apartment, it was across the street from Covenant House. Seeing those kids, so close to my age, was a constant reminder that I should be thankful every day for the small blessings that I did have, even if I was struggling at the time.
I’ve come along way, but I have never forgotten that deep feeling of hopelessness. So in my first walkthrough of Covenant House, I was struck by its decors almost hopeless energy. The staff was warm, friendly, gracious, and inviting, but the space was less so. Entering the lobby, it felt outdated, and uninspiring. Yes, in the basest sense, the place provided shelter and a roof over the heads of kids who might otherwise have had nothing, but there was no life or energy. The blue paint was chipped and echoed an air of depression that nobody living there needed to be reminded of. I knew we needed to warm it up, give it some texture, instill some life, and bring some hope into the bones of the building.
Beyond the basics – standard furniture, paint, and lighting – I wanted to think about the little things that would go beyond base needs; that you would barely notice but which would make life so much easier. Charging stations, separate seating areas for conversing and working, study-stations with desks in the single rooms, beautiful art and objects to spark creativity, and window treatments to soften and warm the spaces: all of those felt like the forgotten layer of the previous space – the aspects that would make it seem less like a waystation and more like a home.
And then there were the obvious bits of the redesign. I cannot say enough thanks to my amazing vendors, especially Living Spaces who worked with me to fill the space with inviting, textural, comfortable, beautiful furniture; to the painters who tirelessly rolled and slopped on the toasty beige Benjamin Moore paint that I chose; to my team who made sure that no detail, however small, was forgotten; to my husband, Nate, and our amazing group of friends who came out to the install and worked till every single piece was in its rightful and perfect place. This was a group effort and it was a labor of love. Every one of us who worked on the Covenant House could sense the familial atmosphere that had developed – we all invested our hearts as well as our time into the project, and I believe it shows.
I could not be more grateful to have been able to join forces with Oprah to improve upon this space, to give these children a few more blessings to count, and to give back to a community that I was once a part of. The experience was beyond humbling, and I have profound respect and admiration for every individual working and living at Covenant House. I wish that there were never a day when a child was trafficked, abused, discarded, or forgotten – in this city or in any other around the world. But until we reach that point, I hope that the new Covenant House of Los Angeles will at least provide a bit of sunshine, a bit of hope, and a bit of home.
For the O Magazine feature of our Covenant House LA project, click here.