Remember when I said I’d post more photos in a few days? Well those “few days” ended up being one month. OOoops. You’re probably thinking ‘surprise, surprise’. I am, too. Ha. You know, life just happens. It does. And, though I thought about blogging numerous times during those four weeks, I didn’t find time to actually write. So, now I am forcing myself to sit and write. Mostly for me. But, also for you lovely people who have been a part of this journey from day one.
And, I want to express my gratitude for your support, your comments, your encouragement and your excitement about this trip. It means so much that I can share my experiences with you. If you didn’t have the chance to read part one, you can read it here.
Here goes part duex…
The First Few Months of Bella House
My friend Cass acquired the house last August. She didn’t have any girls or anyone to take care of potential girls. She just knew she was going to. She began painting walls and deciding on furniture trusting she would end up with girls who wanted to leave prostitution and would need somewhere to live in order to change the direction of their lives. I remember when she told me she got the house. She was beyond thrilled. And I remember thinking, ‘what an incredibly confident and loving woman’. Who does that? Who gets locked into a binding contract (an African, change-all-the-time-if-we-want-to-and-you-don’t-know-what-you’re-doing contract) before there is immediate need? Cass does. She knew there was need. She saw it all the time. She had relationship with girls on the streets and knew if they found out there was already a safe place to live they would choose to leave prostitution. It didn’t mean getting the girls was easy. Without revealing too much, I can tell you I remember Cass saying, “I just pray _____ can get enough courage to leave her Auntie who is pimping her out & do it without getting hurt”. And I can remember rejoicing with her when another girl would arrive at the gate or get on that bus to head toward the house. Such joy.
By the end of 2012 (& after only 3 months), Cass not only had a house (with land to expand in the future), but 5 young girls who ran from the worst lifestyle and 2 Mammas to care for the girls (and plenty of women who wanted to be aunties to the girlsfor a few months at a time).
But, Cass still only had the bare essentials for the girls. Beds, basic kitchen supplies, & a few pieces of furniture. When she asked us if we wanted to be a part of making Bella House feel like a home for these girls we knew we had to figure out a way to make it happen. So Cass sent us images of the inside of the house & I started brainstorming ideas (and asking her lots of questions about functional space & needs).
Here is what the living room looked like before I arrived:
The girls’ schoolroom (just off the living room) before I arrived:
Bella House with Disregarden
So, naturally, after seeing these photos of Bella House I got SUPER excited. It was a great, blank palette to play with. I started pinning decor & style inspiration, and researching local markets in Nairobi. I asked Cass where the girls spent most of their time inside, what she’s observed with the overall use of the spaces and tried to gauge how to make the house beautiful while still be functional for young girls (and LOTS of them). I assumed most of my time, energy and money would be going into the downstairs (the girls’ rooms are upstairs) because the girls are encouraged to be part of a family and remain downstairs (instead of escaping into their rooms) during most of the day.
The most difficult aspect to decorating Bella House was the fact that I had no clue where I was going to get most of the decorative items. So, I had pillows and curtains made by my upholsterer here in Los Angeles, and lugged them across the globe in suitcases. This way, I at least knew the fabric patterns I was working with when figuring out the other decorative details.
Everything else (aside from a few pencils and tiny gifts for the girls) I bought in Kenya. I know. Crazy.
I could pretty much keep writing but I know you just want to see images (if you’ve not already skipped the writing altogether). So, here is what I got to do to their home (warning: images were taken from my iphone. Next time, I will have a photographer with me. Who wants to do it?!)
the living room
I wanted to make the living room feel organic & natural, and provide comfort to the girls while they sat on the sofas. So, I added greenery, blankets (even though it’s HOT & humid, the girls LOVE blankets and actually get cold), wall decor, custom pillows & curtains more seating and a rug. The space needed to have extra seating (adding stools & another sofa) and LOTS of color (though I didn’t have a choice in the paint colors). I wanted it to feel warm & full of life. I also wanted to incorporate different materials — woods, baskets, greenery & numerous fabric textures/patterns.
The empty space (under the 3 circular baskets) will host a custom-made sofa for extra seating (in fact, it should be finished now). If you remember from my last blogpost, I said African-time is very different from American-time. Meaning, things don’t happen as quickly as this girl would want. So, I had to be patient and be okay with leaving projects unfinished when I left. However, I do have a few photos of the carpentar, Isa, working on the bench.
I loved the idea of using as many local goods as possible. And I LOVED the idea of being able to hire someone local to build furniture for the girls. Thankfully, I met Isa. PS: can I just tell you that he built this bench with his HANDS?! He only used hand tools. NO ELECTRIC tools. None. Zip. It was beautiful to watch him carve away.
So, back to the house…
the girls schoolroom (just off the living room)
The schoolroom didn’t need much since it had furniture already. It mostly just need some fun chalkboards & art on the walls for the girls to be inspired while working. And, since it connects to the living room (and you can see it from sitting on the sofa), I wanted to tie the aesthetic of the living room with the schoolroom.
I promise these photos don’t do it justice. I wish I could have made the time for taking images with a better camera (or had someone tag along with me. Ahem). Next time.
Stay tuned for the next few posts. I can’t possibly fit all of these things in one post. You wouldn’t want to read through or look through a billion images. Ha. I’ll eventually share the dining room, kitchen, and more details of the overall house. And maybe I’ll get around to sharing more of Mombasa (the town) and stories with you.