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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

South Shore Apartment Goes From Almost Empty To Family’s ‘Happy Place’ After Beach-Inspired Makeover

Humble Design personalizes homes for families who have experienced housing insecurity. Jesenia Perez wanted hers to look like the beach.

Natalie Daemi, interior designer with Humble Design, shows a mom and her young daughter their new crib.
Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago
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SOUTH SHORE — Jesenia Perez and her family love to go to the beach, but it’s difficult to make the trip with her 4-year-old daughter, Julianiz, who has a neurological disorder that keeps her at home on a medical bed for most of the day. 

But a community group brought the beach to them on Wednesday.

Humble Design fully furnished and decorated Perez’s apartment in South Shore with seashells, teal colors and family portraits to remind her of her upbringing in Puerto Rico. The family was also given houseware items, beds, food and more.

“This makes me feel like I’m in my happy place,” Perez said. “I’m just so happy to have a home, and to have her with us.”

The organization partners with social service agencies and shelters for custom makeovers of homes for Chicagoans who have found stable housing after experiencing housing insecurity. Humble Design is helping moms around Mother’s Day. 

Perez, her husband and two daughters were in need of rapid relief housing, which they found in South Shore in February. 

Wednesday morning, Perez’s belongings could fit in a closet. Her home had air mattresses and just one medical bed.

The Perez family shares a moment with their young daughter after seeing their newly designed home.
Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago
Humble Design printed out and framed family portraits for Jesenia Perez.

Perez’s 23-year-old daughter looked at the pictures of beaches on the walls. 

“Look at the picture frame right here, ma,” the daughter said.  “It looks like our beaches in Puerto Rico.”

Julie Dickinson, director of Humble Design, said the community group provides neighbors with “trauma-informed housing.” A week before the makeover, interior designers talk to newly housed people to get a sense of their style, family values and everyday needs. 

Above Julianiz’s bed in her new room was an art piece of “Cocomelon,” her favorite show. Humble Design also got Perez a working recliner chair so she can hold her daughter.

Dickinson said there’s a gap between affordable and dignified housing. While agencies and government services may help residents get housed, they often then lack essentials like beds and “toys, books, forks, spoons, knives — think about how expensive it is to build from nothing,” Dickinson said. 

Dickinson said she joined Humble Design in 2017 and has worked on more than 500 homes in the Chicago area. The first question often asked of recipients is, “What do you want your home to feel like? Bright colors? Like you’re sleeping on a cloud?” Dickinson said.

About 97 percent of those families have stayed in their homes, Dickinson said. 

Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago
Julie Dickinson, director of Humble Design, talks with Jesenia Perez.

“It’s by listening and by caring and by hearing, and then showing that you’ve listened,” Dickinson said. “And acting on what you say that you’re going to do.” 

Dickinson said she recently heard from a woman who said she was celebrating her 57th birthday on the table Humble Design got her. At a recent home reveal, Dickinson saw three young girls untie their hair in their first bathroom mirror, she said. 

“Everyone needs a regular place to put their toothbrush, something that takes the pressure off,” Dickinson said. 

Humble Design has more than 150 volunteers and a warehouse space in the city. They get sent beds, dolls, books and, every so often, teal curtains. 

Perez is relieved to have those curtains hanging in her new living room. 

“It reminds me of the beach in Puerto Rico, where I grew up,” Perez said. “I’m going to turn on the TV, sit here and have a family.”

Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago
Jesenia Perez and her daughter in her new bedroom.
Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago
Jesenia Perez reacts to seeing her fully furnished and redesigned home.

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