Fran’s Sunrise Senior Living Makeover

My very first job, besides babysitting (please, I was raised Mormon therefore I had my first babysitting job at nine), was waitressing at an assisted living community in Lake Oswego when I was 15. It was every day from 5pm – 8pm for dinner service and I loved it. The community itself was really happy and the seniors had fun. They were always in good spirits and seemed to genuinely like being there.

At the same time our 98 year old great step-aunt was living with us who had suffered from severe Alzheimer’s and had lost a lot of her sight and hearing. Despite the fact that she donned a less fashionable yet slightly hipster beard, she was an every day presence in our house for over 10 years. I remember on July 4th, we always had to keep her very monitored because the fireworks (that she could hear) reminded her of bombs from when she was a nurse in the war (I think WWII) and she would try to run and go for cover — outside, often in the neighbors shrubs. And these situations made me realize, Oh right … she was once 16 too, except she was a nurse in WWII instead of in high school …

LONG STORY SHORT, I have a thing for seniors and have known from a very early age that I would be one someday (hopefully) so they deserve SERIOUS respect.

Which brings me to Fran at the Sunrise Senior Living Community in D.C.

sunrise living makeover

Sunrise Living had a national contest for a makeover for one of their residents, and Fran, who nominated herself and was dying for a makeover of her space, won. As much as I’d like to say that Fran deserved it more than anyone, it’s simply not true — because they ALL deserve it. If there is one thing I’ve learned with my limited time with seniors is that every one has a pretty incredible story. And I feel like this generation might have even more; Fran’s husband was the first African American fighter pilot in Korea and went on to be a general in Vietnam. She was born in the ’30s, lived through segregation, the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, etc. and happily lived long enough to see Obama get elected. Her whole story is incredible and kinda makes me feel like I need to be more inspired to do bigger things, but give me 40 more years and we’ll all be there.

Anyway, back to the makeover. Fran, like most of us at this age, has too much. The apartments in Sunrise are spacious, but you still have to most likely downsize when you move in. Here’s what it looked like when we started:


The major needs were:

1. Storage. Fran, like myself, had tons of papers and crafts, which is fine, but not the proper attractive storage to house said paper, which is not so fine. So we needed cohesive, inexpensive, attractive storage pieces that were accessible to Fran, who’s in a wheelchair. Nothing too tall or cabinets that were awkward when opening outward.

2. Color. Fran loves color, specifically teal, aqua, turquoise, and salmon/coral. Asking me to use teal and aqua is like asking Kim Kardashian to show cleavage — it’s really what I want to do anyway, but when someone asks me to do it? I’m gonna really DO it.

3. Style. Fran is a fan of mid-century modern and definitely veers away from traditional design. She likes clean lines and high quality. The loopy valances for instance drove her crazy. She had a ton of really awesome Danish pieces that she bought from a dealer in Scandinavia in the ’50s while they were living in Tripoli. So they’ve owned it for 65 years. It feels like home to her, and it feels like awesome to me. Plus, Fran is happy and funny and it needs to feel happy and alive. So stylistically it was off.

4. Seating. While Fran is in a wheelchair and doesn’t need any seating (certainly not a sofa that was going to take up a lot of precious storage space) she did need somewhere for guests to sit. She has four daughters that needed a more inviting place to hang out and hopefully entice them to visit even more. PLUS, Fran is very popular at the community so she has a lot of friends that pop by all the time.

We had three days and $3,000. It’s a challenge, folks, but also like Kim K., totally doable. The good news is that A. all the apartments have a ton of light, which helps out design wise, and B. we could do whatever we wanted besides change the carpet or knock down walls.

Here’s how the space looked three days later:

After Shot 1

Ah, yeah. Now that is a happy room. We flipped a lot of the furniture, opening the layout and giving more access to the beautiful windows with so much pretty light. The walls went a very happy Benjamin Moore Ocean Spray, which instantly enlivened the space and just made it feel oh-so-inviting. The window mullions were already a dark teal so I knew that that would actually add to the color scheme. The window treatments look wildly different but all we did was get rid of the peach traditional valance, which instantly modernized the room.

The desk with computer monitor and the TV were both in front of the windows, so we moved them to walls that weren’t in front of the windows and replaced the TV with a flat screen, to take up less space.



A good trick is that if you don’t want to clutter a lot of counter space and you need more storage space, add some floating or bracketed shelving. It engages the vertical space, adds interest, and these showcased Fran’s more special accessories that she doesn’t need access to. Of course I added a brass animal from Target because like a vampire with human blood, I feel compelled, nay, emotionally forced to add a brass animal to every space. (I’m rewatching “Twilight” while writing this, forgive me).

Resources:  Desk, Fran’s own vintage; Shelf Bracket, $2; Shelf, $5; Work Lamp, $24.99; Frames/Accessories from Target.



We moved her bookcase between the windows to engage that vertical space and add some contrast to all the necessary horizontal and lower pieces of furniture. We brought in those club chairs to provide a comfy seating area for guests and to soften the room, which, let’s face it, has a lot of pieces of square hard furniture. I chose the coral as our accent color because Fran loves salmon but we were afraid that salmon and aqua could go ’80s really fast. We just saturated that color a bit to make it coral. Those chairs were the only things that we really planned in advance because with seniors you want to make sure to get seating that is easy to both get into and get out of, which is dependant on the seat height, arm height, and seat depth. These are not crazy low and the height of the arm allows for assistance getting out of the chair for all of Fran’s friends in the community who come to visit. These things I  don’t think about too often so I definitely learned a thing or two while doing this project. We added the round side table because A. round is safe on the hips, and B. it took up very little space, and took up even less “visual space” since it’s open wire and C. was $59.99. So good.

Resources: Colin Club Chair, $355.99 from target; Basket from Home Goods; Side Table from Target Threshold, $59.99; Throw pillow, Nate Berkus for Target.


This area was probably the most challenging because all those binders needed to be easily accessible as they are Fran’s photo albums and she looks at them a lot. Nor did we want to switch them out to less, well, plastic albums because we didn’t want to even attempt to transfer them in case we ruined the organization of them. Plus, they were in our color palette. The armoire next to them had some clothing storage but was basically unused. It was one of the provided pieces of furniture so she had no sentimental attachments to it, likewise with the recliner.  We did a bit of reorganizing (and yes, her daughter helped her sort through some of the files and put in storage the less commonly accessed boxes).


Ah. So much better. Really all we did was color block the binders, and bought some white magazine holders for the looser items, and some pretty storage boxes for the loose items. (All from Ikea.)


Wait, maybe this was the most challenging spot. Fran had a plethora of plants and craft supplies. I wish I could criticize even a tiny bit, but that would be like Snookie making fun of Tanning Mom. So I channeled my inner clutter addict (no H-word today) and we organized the hell out of this craft station.


Why can’t I do this for myself? We transferred all her items drawer by drawer so she still knows where everything is, but by making all the storage pieces cohesive it looks so much cleaner. For the desk we chose these drawer bases to save a lot of space and add storage. For the smaller items, we bought the other drawer systems that were the same style as the others — simple, white, and streamlined. Of course we spraypainted the cheap silver handles on them gold, as we do, which elevated them a ton. That stone lamp was hers, but we updated the shade with a new one from HomeGoods. And there is no chair (and no area rugs) because she is in a wheelchair.


For the plant situation we decided to corral them together and create a vertical garden on the windows with brackets and shelves. We changed out the pots to be more in line with the color palette, bought a few more to fill out the collection, and stacked them up on the shelves. Don’t worry; Fran has someone that comes in and waters the plants.

Resources:  Ikea Alex Drawer Unit, $79.99; Ikea White Desk Top, $70; Ikea Helmer Drawer Unit, $39.99; Coral Vase Target, Threshold; white and gold bowl Nate Berkus for Target; Mail Organizer, $19.99


We just bought simple white brackets from Ikea and white glass, although we thought we were buying the clear glass shelves so it wouldn’t block the view/light but once we opened them we realized they were white glass, which was fine. For accessories, we put old and new photos of Fran and her family in cute frames. Again, the frames were consistent whereas before she had random frames that weren’t necessarily high quality or cohesive, so these new fresh frames helped a lot. (HomeGoods and Target).

Here’s the space with the mid-century chair for all your pinning needs. :)


That chair has been Fran’s for 65 years. I mean, they really don’t make them like they used to, at least not affordable these days. And the fabric is original and perfect for our color scheme. Nice job, Fran. You made my job so much easier by liking good stuff.


Let’s go into the bedroom now, shall we? Fran had a beautiful screen and a great mid-century nightstand and a standing lamp she loved, but otherwise we had free reign to do whatever we wanted. She needed color, a proper headboard, and some pretty lighting and styling.


So that’s what we did:


We loved that piece of art, so we used that as the jumping off point for the design of the room. We pulled this more medium tone teal from the colors in the trees and it instantly gave the bedroom some life, while at the same time making it cozy and warm. The headboard was a much needed (and inexpensive) way to create a focal wall in her bedroom. We chose an upholstered one because, well, I love them the best because they are just so soft, inviting, and more comfortable. We kept it white to contrast with the wall, and yet keep the room feeling fresh and happy. We added a touch sconce on the left so Fran can easily turn it on and off while in bed and she doesn’t have to reach over too far. And we made sure that the bedding had contrast between the top layer and the sheets so if/when her eyes are weak she can differentiate all the layers.

Headboard, $254.99; Comforter Nate Berkus for Target, $89.99; Sconce, Lamps Plus; Throw pillow, blanket, and lamp shade, HomeGoods.

before bedroom

teal and coral bedroom


This side of the room had just too much, but that mid-century piece was beautiful. Her daughter helped us organize these things and took some to storage and put others in the storage in the living room.


Ahh. So much happier, cleaner, fresher, and way more deserving of a very good night’s sleep. Truth be told, when we shot this her TV was in her temporary apartment down the hall where she stayed for the three days. It came back that night and now lives on that dresser where the books are.


But meanwhile, this is just so pretty and calming. This room got a ton of light so that teal was just so alive and created an instant feeling in the room, whereas a neutral color would have made it feel more, well, neutral. This color tied in with the living room, but provided enough contrast to make them feel like the two different spaces that they are.

So how did Fran react? Just as a reminder, we went from this:


To this:

After Shot 1

And in came Fran:

sunrise senior living

sunrise senior living

Sunrise Senior Living

Emily and Fran hugging

I mean, could my job be any better? Could design work be more satisfying? Orlando and I arrived on Monday and transformed her home completely in three days, and made the deserving Fran oh-so-happy. Sometimes I can’t believe how fulfilling decorating can be.

Thank you so much Sunrise for asking me to be apart of this project. Ultimately, the reason I wanted to do it was because I think that your home should reflect your personality at any age, and the reason I chose to work with Sunrise is that their communities are so happy, fun, safe, and they allow each resident to make their apartments feel like their home. Bring your pets, paint the walls, bring all of your furniture, accessories, pianos, lighting — anything. You get 24 hour monitored care in a really homey, happy environment. The food is GOOD (we ate there all three days), there are movies every night, a hair salon, day and night outings, game nights galore, and ultimate freedom to do whatever you want, but with guidance and monitoring to make sure you are always healthy. There are over 300 Sunrise communities spread around the U.S., so if assisted living is something that you’ve been considering for a family member, I highly recommend Sunrise. I’ve visited three now, and all of them have impressed me.  I spoke to an elderly man in the one at Westlake and he grabbed my hand and with tears in his eyes told me, “I just love it here so much.” I get chills just thinking about it. Sold.

Aunt Flossie would probably have loved it here.

Sunrise is having their “Tour of Homes,” starting June 2 – 8, which means when you stop by one the residents open their doors so you can see how they live. Plus, you get a design guide by yours truly that will help you design with seniors in mind. There’s a lot to learn, but I did the research for you.


  1. What a great job! It looks great with all of the existing pieces that you were able to incorporate. You can tell that Fran loved it!

  2. one of your best, emily. so touching. I’m a ‘senior’ person, too, and often visit our local retirement homes to visit friends there. my mom passed that love on to me…

  3. I can just imagine her smiling and laughing when you showed her that fabulous room! She had some great furniture, especially the rocking chair!

  4. Kelly Jo Bahry

    it’s not even 9:30am and my eyes are wet from reading/looking at this. fran is one lucky girl. does she have room for one more person living her midlife?

  5. Claire

    So completely stunning & heart warming. What a treasure she is and such a blessing that you get to give her an incredible gift.
    I absolutely love the vertical garden in the frames of the window and the colour on the walls!
    I was wondering about the lighting for your shoots. I’ve noticed that the lamps in photos aren’t turned on. I thought having them on would add warmth. Is there a reason why you don’t?

  6. Wow! You did such a great job. I love the colors you used, Fran’s furniture and the clever storage options (especially the plant shelves in front of the windows).

    Fran seems like such a neat and chic lady and now she has a home that fits that!

  7. This is so beautiful. My grandma is in a nursing home and the apartment rooms are so tiny and drab (although the common areas do have some pretty gorgeous wallpaper). I am so touched by your willingness to do this. Bless you!

  8. What a gorgeous transformation! And such a beautiful story to go with it. Now I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy… Thanks for sharing this, Emily!

  9. christina

    LOVELY post, Emily! I loved every detail of the story…personal and design!

  10. BridgetG

    Awesome and smile-inducing. :)

  11. Jessi

    This post made me cry like 3 times, in a good way. (don’t worry, i cry over like, cheerios commercials.) so special! please tell me her reveal is on video somewhere?

  12. Erin

    I have never commented on anyone’s blog and recently starting following yours after stumbling across it. I must say that after close to three years of following design blogs this is the most beautiful piece I have read. What you have done for Fran is beyond touching. Her smile is worth a million dollars and I hope you feel very proud of all that you have accomplished with this. The end result is simply amazing. This makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

    • Emily

      Wow. Thanks Erin. First time comments are like a HUGE get for us bloggers. Thank you so much. It was CRAZY rewarding and so fun to do. i’m still warm and fuzzy. :)

  13. Heather

    How awesome! Getting to do something you love while making someone’s day (or year!) in the process is so rewarding. They were lucky to have you and you were lucky go meet and spend time with Fran!

    On another note, I’d love to see HGTV cover something like this….the network needs a break from House Hunters and Love it or List It! Inspirational design like this is what they need more of. ON that note, when on earth will you be back on the air?? Or won’t you? Pleeeeeeeease update us on that front. Awhile back you said you were signed on for another season or two but that the show was being revamped. It’s been awhile since and I haven’t heard anything. The network NEEDS you on the air. I can’t watch anymore David and Hilary!!!!!

  14. Rae

    Well, I am crying now. This post is fabulous. Your comments are so intelligent and compassionate — and realistic — yes, we will all, god willing, be elderly one day. I would be thrilled to live in that space. It is absolutely beautiful and this post was filled with tips that apply to my much larger home as well. Thank you!

  15. emily

    happiest blog post in blogland today!

  16. Melanie

    Really really pretty and SMART design! Thanks much…very touching, and very fitting coming off this past weekend!

  17. Elyse

    Wow. This was such a moving story. Great work, Em! It all looks fantastic and Fran looks completely over the moon.

  18. Beautiful story – What a stunning transformation. I’m sure you’ve just added years to her life because, by the looks of it, that smile is not leaving anytime soon. Fantastic job, I hope the contest continues – perhaps yearly, or even monthly. Bring on more!

  19. Patty

    Emily, I just moved my Mom (who has Alzheimers) into Sunrise of Chesterfield MO 2 weeks ago – into a very similar apt. We are dealing with trying to find room for all of her stuff! Thanks for the suggestions!

  20. Jandy

    Best. Post. Ever. On any blog.

    And you know why (aside from the beautiful job you did)? Because I can’t recall ever seeing anything like this on any design blog. And I’ve always wondered why. Everybody wants a lovely, cheerful and organized place to call their own. Older folks are no different from the rest of us. If we’re lucky enough, we’ll ALL be elderly someday. And no age ever feels like you think it will when you’re younger.

    I so feel you on everything you said about older folks and aging. Maybe it’s because I had an Aunt Flossie, too. Maybe it’s because I had an amazing, hilarious, feisty grandmother who still had a teenage glint in her eye. Maybe it’s because my mother died when I was a teenager, so I understand the gift of aging.

    Whatever the reason, thank you, Emily. The gorgeous design work you did pales in comparison to the minds you opened with this post….And on a different note, it allowed me to see beyond the sometimes not so relatable Cali hipster life you seem to lead. Showing your humanity while delivering the design goods is a balancing act that not many even attempt in these quick-cut, ironic, hipper than thou times.

    Well done, friend.

    • Emily

      Wow. Thanks, Jandy. YES, it was crazy rewarding and i totally get you about the balancing act. Its soooooooo tricky because so many people come for really quick, hip posts and don’t have attention span to read the longer ones, but obviously these are so much more rewarding in every way. So thank you very much for the encouragement.

      Meanwhile, yes, the elderly are under-rated in general. I mean, where is Hallmark when you need them to create a new holiday for seniors? I suppose, we shouldn’t wait for one and yes, treat everyday that way. Anyway, thanks for your comment. I really appreciate it. xx

    • Vajra

      Vanessa DeVargas of Turquoise and other designers redesigned rooms for residents in homeless shelters. It’s so inspiring to see designers bringing beauty to everything they touch.

  21. this is beautiful – such a sweet post and I know you made Fran so happy!

  22. This is just too precious. I love how you addresses storage and organization – keeping all of her dear possessions close by. Sunrise sounds amazing. Do you have to be a senior to live there??

  23. Oh, lovely, lovely, lovely… as an ex-pat Swede living in the Pacific Northwest, I can certainly admire all her Danish pieces… (whispering to myself: Thou shalt not covet, thou shalt not covet!) But above and beyond that, I love that you really honored her personality, her personal keepsakes, and trinkets, and made a safe, warm, happy and useful space for her. Well done, Emily!

  24. Kristin

    This is an amazing post! It’s a great makeover with a touching story to go along with it. Fran’s smile says it all!
    I love all the flower pots you use esp the white one in the bedroom next to the dresser. Where do you find the flower pots you use?

    • Emily

      THanks Kristin! We bought them at Target and Ikea, super cheap and easy. xx

  25. Jennipher

    Wow, thank you so much for this amazing post. I love everything about it – and am so touched by it. The caring and compassion that you showed for Fran totally came through and really moved me. The design is beautiful, but the sentiment behind it is even moreso.

    • Emily

      Thank you thank you thank you. God, these comments are just amazing. I’m like on cloud 9 right now, so happy that the sentiment translated through a post. xx

  26. Anna

    This is wonderful! What color paint did you use in the bedroom?

  27. Karen

    Wow! Maybe it’s because it’s been a long day and I’m tired, but this post made me cry! It’s just beautiful what you did with Fran’s place- good job! And the post was just so lovely and lovingly written, thank you!

    From Oslo with love- Karen :-)

  28. Elise

    So much awesomeness I don’t know what to say. You just ROCK. Oh and Orlando too! And of course FRAN, who sounds like she was just the cat’s pajamas! Since my own parents are aging I have started to think about these things more. You are truly an inspiration (and I just LOVED the story of your family living with your 98-year-old great step-aunt). Please don’t ever stop blogging!!!

    • Emily

      AHH, thank you thank you. I rarely thought about it before but i’m just so happy that there are good options out there. xx

  29. Laura


    This is amazing and now I’m crying at work! Fran seems like such a happy, warm person and now her home is a reflection of that. It’s so nice to see your design skill go to such a rewarding project.

    This might be my favorite blog post of yours yet! You did an amazing job – Fran’s a lucky lady!

  30. This post just made me smile the entire time as I was reading it. This has got to be one of my favs! Not only because you did an awesome job like always but if I were Fran I would be totally thrilled to wake up every morning to that living space and the job you did was so much more meaningful. Love it!

  31. EMILY, THIS IS AMAZING! Oh my goodness, my favorite room re-do EVER. It wasn’t completely awful before, but now, oh my – it’s so cheerful and pretty. I want to move on in with Fran!

  32. shopkenley

    Well, add me to the list of folks with tears streaming down their face. This was such a touching, moving piece. One of my favorite blog entries ever. I agree with the other poster who said HGTV should do a show based on this concept. Fran’s reaction was just priceless and had me bawling just imagining what it must have felt like to be there in person. Her home is lovely, and you did an incredible job at designing a space that is true to her needs and sensibility. It’s one of those spaces that isn’t my particular taste and yet I love it because it feels warm, authentic, and homey. Amazing job.

  33. Azure

    Fantastic! A second on where you got those flowerpots, especially the little gold ones.

  34. Emily! This was such a surprising post and such a joy to read! You two did such an amazing job!

    I often wonder if I should keep putting effort into making photo albums and scrapbooks, but it seems like Fran really loves having hers around so I’ll keep that in mind.

  35. Tara Bradford

    Gorgeous! If only more senior citizens had such care and attention in helping make their space more comfortable and accessible. Well done, you! Thanks for sharing Fran’s fascinating story.

  36. Lauren

    Absolutely beautiful! What a gorgeous transformation for a lovely person. This project and post had soul…

  37. lamamatogng

    I have goosebumps and tears. So very, very wonderful. Well done, Emily and Orlando! Congrats to Fran, too!

  38. Jodi

    Ohhh my gosh! Tears!!!! How completely beautiful. The transformation is outstanding. I am so in love with the honoring of her photo albums. How completely precious. What a great thing you have done!

  39. Suz

    This is one of your best posts ever. And so timely as we just honored those who served in the military. We should also honor the wives of those soldiers, which you did in a lasting and loving way. I couldn’t be more proud of you, sweet girl.

  40. Sara

    This has got to be one of the best room makeovers EVER!!!! You are such a great person to do this for her!!! You were so thoughtful of her needs. Fantastic job!!!!

  41. Elisabeth L

    This is wonderful! I had such an immediate happy reaction when I scrolled to that first “after” picture and I’m so happy for Fran that she gets to live in such a happy, happy place. My own grandma recently moved into a senior apartment and it is kind of…not great. I hope to use some of these tips to make it a little better for her.

  42. Hillary

    Oh, I love this! The end result is so cheerful and beautiful! You and Orlando knocked it out of the park.

  43. CT Design

    We all know you have mad skills, but seriously. This is amazing, and the fact that’s it was done for someone’s sweet grandma is just so heart warming. Made my day.

  44. Angela

    That’s crazy-good! Also, it makes me think that I really gotta stop buying cheap furniture. I can’t imagine a designer decorating my senior apartment in 40 years saying, “She already had this really great 2010 Ektorp that’s in mint condition….”

  45. Wow, Emily, wow. I agree with a previous commenter – this is one of your best makeovers ever. Not only is it visually gorgeous, but the care and thoughtfulness that you put into it really shows. I was smiling and kind of tearing up at the photos at the end. :)

  46. jeannette

    you did a great job and it looks beautiful. i’m glad miss fran liked it so well.

    i have to tell you that sunrise in d.c. is neither happy, fun, nor safe.

    my mother’s $8000 a month room in the alzheimer’s wing was so infested with cockroaches that her water carafe had cockroaches in it, and when the movers came to get her out of there they could not accept her furniture and files because it was infested with cockroaches. as my mother was already on a cross-country train with two nurses, and i was scheduled to depart cross country the next day, this caused almost unbelievable hardship for both of us. my mother lived without her precious things — what survived the downsize was extremely important to her — for more than four months while sunrise dicked around with me. then they lost her furniture. and so on.

    the manager (who later lost my mother’s most treasured furniture, papers, and things) told me the alzheimer’s wing could not be fumigated because that would involve moving the old people out.

    the consumerist model for old people’s housing is an extremely bad one, emily. please consider decorating the homes of old people who live in public housing on their own, or in senior co-housing, which is an important movement as penniless baby boomers hit retirement age. two must reads:

    the first intentional community senior co-housing development in the u.s., with mixed subsidized and owner-financed housing:

    the housing catastrophe shaping up for boomers, half of whom have no pension and no children (as fran does):

  47. Emily – this makeover is amazing and Fran’s smile melts my heart! I love the colours and how bright her home is now. Great job!

  48. Justin Jace

    I absolutely adore you for making this project about more than beautifully styled vignettes. This is my favorite post yet! It’s amazing to see the progression you (and your team) have made on this blog Emily!

  49. I am seriously in tears!!! What an incredible makeover Emily! Fran looked so filled with joy, and you included so many personal touches in her space. Beautiful!

  50. I can’t even tell you how happy this story makes me Emily! Every day I take a walk with my son to the park, and we walk past a few assisted living facilities… I say “facilities” because that’s what they look like… they do not look or feel like a home… and it makes me so sad! I always said that if I have enough money some day, I would love to redesign and redecorate some of these places. So BRAVO Emily! What a beautiful transformation and what a beautiful story!

  51. Mary

    Definitely got way verklempt (sp?) reading this! How wonderful to see her face at the reveal. You took that room from drab/depressing to fresh and full of life! Wonderful job as always and wonderful mission!

  52. Amanda

    This is one of my favorite posts ever! What a great job for a wonderful person. And I love that this could literally be a hipster college girl’s place just as easily. Absolutely awesome Emily!

  53. Monica

    Add me to the crying list, how sweet was this, plus, the apartment looks awesome!

    I remember Lake Oswego, grandpa Loyd’s house was there. Visited several times 20 years ago.

  54. Diane

    Wow, wow, wow – Incredible job and beautiful story!

  55. Jessica

    Emily, you are such a kind and genuine person. I love your styling and designs but honestly, I wouldn’t keep coming back to your blog if it weren’t for your personality that shines through all of your work. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  56. Joana Silleman

    This is what we call LOVE*

  57. Vajra

    So happy I found your blog a few weeks ago. This transformation was featured on Apartment Therapy to raves and requests for more projects like this one. I used to really, really like you…now I totally love you.

  58. Kayla

    What a beautiful transformation, Emily!! I just love what you did with the space, adding beautiful color and creating such a cheerful and happy place!
    I love your story of your childhood, especially mentioning Lake Oswego since I grew up in Tualatin. I just moved my grandparents into an Assisted Living facility and there is so many new things to think about when working around the elderly and disabled.

    Just beautiful!

  59. Emily, you make me want to be an interior designer, because you do it so well. Thank you for sharing this story. I love older people too ( I volunteered in the game room at a retirement home in my teens). I’m sure this was one of the most satisfying projects you’ve worked on, and I know you’ve made Fran’s life so much brighter.

  60. Paula

    Emily, I absolutely can not NOT comment. Your work (and Orlando’s as well) on this room is just lovely and incredible. I adore all the care and consideration you took into designing this space. You are such an amazing designer because of your ability to make a space fit a person so well and make it beautiful at the same time. Plus, I love the positivity and fun that just shines right through all your posts. Thank you, Thank you, for sharing your super power gift with us and all those that are so lucky to have you design for them.

  61. Look at you making a difference! I can tell that your heart was all throbby & shit through this whole transformation for your new BFF, Fran. It’s so fresh & beautiful. So well done.

  62. Lena

    Fran has amazing stuff, love, love, love the rocking chair! I think you did very well keeping it simple and adding so much cheerful colour,now her beautiful things really can shine.

  63. This made me a little misty-eyed! You and Orlando did such a fantastic job, and I can tell how much Fran loved it. It’s just awesome that you do projects like these, and it makes you even cooler. Keep on, sister!

  64. BreeAnn

    This is SO awesome. I love what you did for her and what you did to the space. I would love to live there now and I’m only 28.

    and ermagerd… that mid-century rocking chair is amazeballs.

  65. You were already my design hero but you’ve just stepped up to superhero status. This post is what makes me love interior design – the smile on Fran’s (and yours!) face says it all. Amazing job and I was all teary at work reading this and then read it again when I got home and got all choked up AGAIN. Amazing. You’re a freaking rock star (rock star/superhero – that’s pretty damn kickass). xxx

  66. Alexis

    So seriously lovely! I dare say its more important for seniors to have beautiful places since they spend so much more time there. And I love the background story on Fran, it’s amazing how much has changed it such a short period of time…having lived through the civil rights movement and all. You’re awesome! Keep doing what you’re doing!

  67. sophia

    Emily and Orlando this is such an amazing makeover, maybe one of my favourite. You have done such a fantastic job. Fran now has a beautiful relaxing space to live and be creative.

  68. Kimberly

    Outstanding post. The elderly are certainly not as highly esteemed in our fast-paced, youth-obsessed, technologically-savvy culture as they should be. We have so much to learn from their experiences on how to live and what it means to connect with each other on a human level.
    Emily, this was the most beautiful post (both aesthetically and emotionally) that I have ever read on a design blog. Thank you so much for sharing it! I hope this contest, and better yet, senior-oriented design in general, becomes a regular feature on this website. Like you said, if we’re lucky, we’ll make it to old age, and we will still want to be surrounded by beautiful environments that feed our souls when we do!

  69. Heidi

    Love it all. Emily, your heart really shows through your design work. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story.

  70. caroline

    Fantastic space for a lucky lady! Standing ovation. Fran looks positively tickled, which is the best part. (Wah! Makes me miss my grandparents and their fantastic teal-and-dusty-rose living room.)

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  72. Ash B

    Emily, you are such a wonderful person – you can just tell Fran loves that new space, and will be so proud to have her friends and family visit.

    And, THAT CHAIR!!! It does something to me! Fran has amazing taste.

  73. Kendra A.

    You’re one of my favorite writers – not just designers… WRITERS – and this post is easily one of your best. The design is spot on (Fran has awesome taste), and I’m totally pinning this room as one I love how it FEELS. It’s layered in such a lovely way that’s super accessible and something that I want in my home. But your story of Fran and speaking to the culture of assisted living and THOSE PICTURES OF HER LAUGHING are just dear and wonderful and I can’t get enough. You are so talented, Emily, but you show us so much of yourself through your writing and design; and in situations like this where we get to see your heart? You’re building a tribe, woman. Well done.

  74. Suemi

    Emily, you have such a BIG HEART! What a lovely thing to do! Bless you and Orlando.

  75. Holly

    This is very touching and you should be so proud of the work that you’ve done. The look on her face and the smiles on both of your faces are priceless – THAT is what life is all about. Bravo Emily!! :)

  76. Debbie

    Emily, you did a fantastic job here. Not only in the design but in the care and compassion you showed for a fun, vibrant older woman. I wish that my grandparents were still alive to share this with. My grandma, in particular, would have loved this. One time she said to me (she was about 94 at the time) that she still felt like a 16 year old inside and that she was surprised every time she looked in the mirror and saw an old woman looking back at her. She was a lot of fun. Thank you for all you do. It’s not every day that a design blog makes you cry.

  77. Jill

    I love how you listen to people and design with their lifestyle in mind. It’s not just beautiful, it’s also functional for her and allows her to have all her keepsakes and treasures at her fingertips. What a lovely gift for a special lady :)

  78. Michelle

    So important and so well done. Congratulations.

  79. Little Edie

    Fabulous!! What a beautiful transformation. I love Fran’s special pieces and she clearly has a great sense of style. She must have been a joy to design for.

  80. Nona


    This is so touching!I have read every single blog post you wrote, but this one…Such joy on her face:) Incredible!

    Altough I live in Europe, I still have high hopes that maybe you’ll design my house someday..hahaha…Secrets from a Stylist on TLC led me to your blog and since then…I’m hooked! Never thought home styling can have such a huge impact!

    Just touching! Keep it up!

  81. casey

    The ending pictures made me cry! This is the reason why I got into design. So much joy in both of your reactions! Good job Emily.

  82. This is so inspiring, you truly are a wonderful person, those images are so powerful and an renovation project like this is only going to capture our hearts, great post once again and thank you for a lovely read.

  83. Michelle H

    Not only beautiful, but so well-thought out. I hope she is happy there for many, many years to come!

  84. Sophie

    Emily, I was absolutely tickled to see a commercial of you styling a coffee table for One Kings Lane on YouTube this morning! Best commercial to have to sit through- I actually enjoyed it! Congratulations on another success!

  85. Ok so my eyes are filled with happy tears for two reasons. You’ve created such a rejuvenating space so full of life and secondly, I loved Fran’s reactions! What you did lasts longer than any visit. God bless you Emily. ::hugs::

  86. Deb Johns

    What a refreshing way to kick off the week! Una espacio linda! I frequently feel that this is the “lost generation”, and I’m thrilled to see to you lift up Fran and her late husband. Thanks for reminding us all, andparticularly the “younger set”, of the amazing stories and personalities that still burn deep within the souls of our elderly. This project and the results it rendered are one of your best. Would live to see more of this type of design, not just for our older generation, but for the disabled (regardless of age or disability). I’m struggling to arrange a home to accommodate our “hipster” 28 year old daughter. There’s a fair amount of information out there for the disabled, but where is the beauty to marry the function? Thanks for showing us how it can be done!!!

  87. Amy

    Hi Emily,

    I have been a silent reader of your blog for the last few months but this story touched me deeply. You have really done an awesome job and Fran’s expressions say it all. You are truly an inspiration and a wonderful person. Wish you all the very best.


  88. Nicole M.

    Fran’s reaction says it all! What a great way to use your talents and give back to those that truely deserve it. You gave Fran a place she can now call home. Thanks for your inspiration!

  89. gwendolyn

    this just makes me so happy! my grandma, who passed away a few years ago, told me how she felt like as you aged, the rest of the world didn’t think you needed to be stylish. she said it was hard to find fashionable clothes for woman her age, and people didn’t understand why she still decorated and fussed with her home so much. this reminds me so much of her. thank you for doing this and sharing it. as if i didn’t like you before!

  90. Tina Cahalan

    Emily, this blog was a pleasure to watch. Seniors in assisted living situations or in nursing homes miss all of the “things” that used to make them smile. Looking at the colors you used and the plants everywhere made me smile. Seeing that picture of Fran throwing back her head in glee was beautiful. It’s humbling to help someone else. I love all of the choices you made and her mid-century furniture was really cool. Your blog has such “good , postivie, energy, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Keep them coming!

  91. Chris

    The room looks absolutely stunning and warm. This story and your work are simply beautiful. I cried.

  92. AMAZING. What a spunky. sassy lady. I hope I’m half as awesome at that age. Oh, and I’m kinda obsessed with that agate lamp. And the ridiculous birdcage. I could fill my house with those things. It already looks like a menagerie. Fantastic job, girl!

  93. Deirdre*

    Fran is the cutest lady EVER!

  94. Ava

    You are such a sweetheart. I cannot wait to show this to my sister and my friend that works in a nursing home. Happy tears.

  95. Katie

    This will be forwarded along, for sure! I love that her sense of style translates through in this project. Her home is a lovely, special place for her to enjoy. goosebumps… We should all be so lucky one day!

  96. Alison

    What a special make-over! We are looking to downsize my Grandmother into an apartment after my Grandfather (they were married 68 years!) passed away. A beautiful and comforting space with her favorite things about her would really ease this difficult transition. Needless to say, I am inspired. Thank you!

  97. kim

    I’m in awe! Such great care and consideration went into the design of Fran’s space and you were able to stay true to your design sense. A win win win!!! Thanks for sharing the details on your awesome blog.

  98. Susie

    I love this post so much! The space you created is just beautiful and the way you told Fran’s story throughout the post made me feel like I’ve met her for real!

  99. Tracy

    echoing everyones’ sentiments.
    you are a gem!

  100. gah! i almost cried, and it’s not even that time for me. That was so touching, and you did such a beautiful job i am floored by it. And what great taste Fran has, you had such a wonderful jumping off point with all that gorgeous furniture and those amazing windows. Kudos to you guys!

  101. Steele

    Best. Post. EVER. You have inspired me to find a way to give back to a senior community. This is amazing.

  102. Leia

    Hey Emily,

    First time commenter, long time reader. This has to be the BEST post evarrr on any design blog. Not just for tears of joy/sweet-emotion factor (did you study Oprah’s Favourite Things episodes first before writing this? Nineties AT&T commericals??) but you gave really good tips on senior homes AND

  103. Leia

    Hey Emily,

    First time commenter, long time reader. This has to be the BEST post evarrr on any design blog. Not just for tears of joy/sweet-emotion factor (did you study Oprah’s Favourite Things episodes first before writing this? Nineties AT&T commericals??) but you gave really good tips on senior homes AND ungrateful-youths homes (and grateful ones too). Were the glass shelves for the vertical plant garden also from Ikea? What’s another good option to find glass shelves in case the Ikea ones won’t fit my large window?

    Once again, AMAZING!

  104. Eija

    Ohh…Absolutely beautiful job – and it was so great to see Fran’s happiness!
    I got all choked up.

  105. Trish

    you are awesome!!! and so is Fran!!! :-)

  106. Emily,
    I agree with Ava’s comments. Happy tears! You & Orlando did a fantastic job transforming her space and sticking to your 3 days & $3000 challenge! Such a rewarding project! You guys are amazing to help Fran!

  107. Edith

    Thank you so much for showing us that beautiful, useful, stylish (and organized) is something that everybody wants at every age. I’m not planning on being in assisted living for many more decades, but when I am I hope that there are people who can help me plan a really useful and rockin’ place!

  108. Christine

    First time poster because this post nearly brought me to tears – what a meaningful job. Kudos to you Emily! xx

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  110. gayleen

    Shut the front door! You are amazing.

  111. Karen Lee

    I loved reading this so much.
    You are amazing, Nicely done.

  112. Amazing project! I’m truly impressed by all you did in three days, and for such a great purpose. I was getting choked up as I read (I, too, was a server at an assisted living home as a high school and college student). So often, home decor is all about what’s cool, hip, and young and I love that you took time to serve the what I think is an underserved population. Great work!

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  114. There is a special place in heaven for people who do sweet things for our grandparents. Thank you for taking care of this wonderful woman, and making her room a happier, better place to be. My grandfather is a Sunrise resident, and just the thought of someone doing this for someone like him inspires me!

    Well done to you, Emily. Well done.

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  116. Jay

    Beautiful beautiful work!
    Not only was this so inspiring, it has given me the momentum I need to attack my clutter.
    Thank you

  117. Barb

    I just stumbled upon your blog via Apt Therapy. What a great job!

    I have to know, I love the teal walls in Fran’s bedroom. What is the paint???

  118. Why can’t I do this for myself? We transferred all her items drawer by drawer so she still knows where everything is, but by making all the storage pieces cohesive it looks so much cleaner. For the desk we chose these drawer bases to save a lot of space and add storage. For the smaller items, we bought the other drawer systems that were the same style as the others — simple, white, and streamlined. Of course we spraypainted the cheap silver handles on them gold, as we do, which elevated them a ton. That stone lamp was hers, but we updated the shade with a new one from HomeGoods. And there is no chair (and no area rugs) because she is in a wheelchair.

  119. Ivy

    That brings tears to my eyes. And I learned so much!! You did an amazing job- such gorgeous color.

  120. Kym

    Love this!!! Now can you come to my 1950′s cape cod?

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  122. ria

    How cool Emily, I absolutely love your work and when you can make it this touching its beyond awesome :)

  123. chris

    AWESOME! What a beautiful transformation for a charming lady. You must have had so much fun. Would love to follow your blog, any way your posts can be sent via email? Thanks and keep up all the great stuff you do, so fun.

  124. Grammar nerd

    Not to overlook how cool this makeover is, but the nitpicker in me is screaming: Rein! Free rein! There is no such phrase as “free reign.” Think of freeing a horse from its reins. Please.

  125. Kate

    Oh my goodness, I teared up reading this and I’m not even premenstrual. Just lovely.

  126. This is BEAUTIFUL from beginning to ending. LOVE LOVE LOVE it. You will be blessed because you are a blessing to others!

  127. Wow! Your story and giving spirit blew us away – and your design for Fran did too! We just learned about you through Dolan Geiman, one of our fabulously talented supporters, and we would love to chat sometime! As our name implies, we believe that if a person can “dwell with dignity” their outlook on life can change. We work to help break the cycle of poverty through design, one household at a time, with support of the interior designers, bloggers and the community. We’re a non-profit in Dallas, Texas, and growing quickly with plans to expand to other cities.
    Kudos on your giveback to Fran, and hopefully we’ll have the pleasure of meeting you one of these days!

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  129. Kristy

    Just another reminder of why you’re my favorite! Well done, Emily. I am so loving your original content. Exciting and refreshing. Also – how amazing is that picture of you and Fran?! LUV.

  130. Amy

    emily I always love reading your blog, but this post is by far my favorite. you’ve brought tears to my eyes!

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  132. Kelly

    This is my favorite thing you’ve ever done. Definitely made me misty-eyed too. My Grandma is 98 and not able to get out much anymore – her little place is everything to her. What a wonderful thing to do!

    P.S. Had not checked in a while. Congratulations!! This just shows what a wonderful Mom you will be. ;}

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  134. Emily, I really love it when design is used to help people in need and transforms their lives. I love your work here, it is such an amazing change! Like the others, you also brought tears to my eyes! You are such a wonderful person!!!!!

  135. tammyCA

    I’m reading all your past blog posts I’ve missed in awhile and I think this design post is by far my favorite. It makes me happy to see seniors able to live in a warm, cheerful space even if they are limited physically/mentally. And, what a pretty space you created…terrific furniture pieces and artwork…just wonderful. :)

  136. taylor

    the details put into this room are safe, special, and beautiful. wonderful job! thank you for modeling such respect for our elders. i’m reminded all the time that maintaining dignity while losing independence is a really tough thing. you made a difference.

  137. This is amazing! Her reaction made me teary eyed. wow, just a great job!!!! xoxo

  138. Rachel

    Fabulous! Would you please share the bedroom paint color? Thanks!

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  140. Lori

    I read through all of the comments to see if someone had already asked and been answered on this, but I didn’t see anything… What does that clock say? I was trying to figure it out from the couple of pictures it shows up in, but can’t quite make it out.
    Beautiful job on this; it is amazing the detail that went into it to ensure it would work for senior citizens.

  141. My mom works in the office at one of the Sunrise facilities in Louisville, KY. I’ll have to show her this. What a fun room, and how amazing that Fran was into MCM/clean-lined furniture rather than traditional!

  142. I love this so much! U are an inspiration! Loved everything about your work, love and dedication. All my best wishes to you!

  143. Pingback: Little friday update … ramblings of an expectant career mom | Emily Henderson

  144. Renae


    I love this and am going to see about doing this in my community. I have volunteered at a Senior Living facility for over 4 years doing crafts with the ladies. I love them!

    Did Horizon offer the $3k for the decorating?

  145. amanda

    Does anyone know what the paint color in the living areas is? I’d love to know!

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  147. Sally

    Awesome! And thanks for the reminder that seniors have a range of styles! Many of us could make changes like this ourselves to our relative’s room…take down the swags, add stylish storage.

    My paternal grandmother lived in a Sunrise facility and loved having her beloved furniture, art, and accessories around her.

    My maternal grandmother just spent a couple months in a nursing home. The first time I visited her I was shocked by the boring walls. Even in a temporary space, you can dress things up. I brought in colorful pictures of flowers that my grandmother loved, and taped them to the walls with painters tape. They were big enough that my grandmother could see them from bed, and covered enough of the wall that even without her glasses the room was a blur of green and color instead of beige. I also brought in her plant stands and houseplants from home. I checked with the nurses on this and they said as long as it wasn’t in their way, no worries.

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