Rooms to Grow - Design Gives Back

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By contributing writer

Judith Fertig

Boys photographed by

Darla Peters

Rooms photographed by

Aaron Leimkuehler

You watch it on home design reality shows from the comfort of your own sofa: the family whose home shows that they’re stuck. Something happened. And they haven’t been able to move on from it. They need a ray of sunshine, a glimmer of hope, a change of scenery.

They need a dose of therapeutic design.

Nakia Daniel knows the feeling. She’s a social worker with the Raytown School District. She and her husband, Jesse, who works at Lowe’s, lost their daughter, Essence, to sickle cell anemia, an inherited blood disease, in 2008. That tragedy, coupled with the difficulties their younger son, 8-year-old Elijah, has had with the same disease meant that coping had taken up all their energy. “The tiredness, the stress, can be overwhelming,” she says.

HM_1215_RoomsToGrow_BR2 Designer Kelee Katillac incorporated Elijah’s love of pizza and the Ninja Turtles in his room design.

Grief and constant hospital vigils also took their toll on the family’s home. The children’s bedrooms were frozen in time. Essence’s bedroom had been virtually untouched, and no one used it. Seventeen-year-old Isaiah’s room still had Paddington Bear wallpaper and Elijah’s baby clothes hanging in the closet. With Elijah spending much of his childhood at Children’s Mercy Hospital, he didn’t even have a bedroom at home.

But all that began to change when Isaiah became a bone marrow donor for his younger brother and Elijah’s health improved so that he could come home. That’s when Nakia learned about the Design Gives Back projects. And she asked for two redesigned bedrooms for her sons.

“Your space can help define who you are,” she says. “I wanted the boys to have new rooms that would take them out of the past, anchor them in the present, and point them toward the future.”

That’s just the kind of healing project that designer Kelee Katillac loves. She founded Design Gives Back with her husband, Steve Heiffus, in 2009.

For this home, Katillac teamed up with designer and public health advisor Sherry

Mirador to give Elijah and Isaiah new rooms, especially since Sherry and Nakia were old friends. “This was a pivotal point for Nakia and her family,” Mirador says. “There is always a correlation between design and health.” To do that, the team repurposed Essence’s former room for Elijah and redesigned Isaiah’s room to reflect his new stage in life.

HM_1215_RoomsToGrow_BR4 In Elijah’s room, Katillac integrated plenty of storage, art-covered walls and a trundle bed for friends’ overnight stays.

Over several months, Katillac worked with Isaiah and Elijah through word association and drawing projects to help them identify emotions they needed to clear, colors that best expressed their feelings, and a space that would help them each grow. Katillac does similar work with her other design clients, often combining two seemingly opposite concepts—Zen Cabin or Burlap Crystal—into one harmonious theme.

For Elijah, the theme became Ninja Chef because he loves the Ninja Turtles and he wants to be a chef. Katillac generated the Ninja Chef designs for the brick wall and the closet doors, which were then refined and fabricated by Brainstorm and Bennett Packaging. “We created a story that goes around the room,” says Katillac. Now that he is able to eat real food, Elijah channels his inner Ninja chef for his favorite pepperoni pizza. “Whenever Elijah eats a piece of pizza from Chef Elijah’s Pizza Shop, he becomes a powerful Ninja. He throws pizzas like throwing stars.” Elijah’s new favorite color—spring green—emerged after he fought back from bone marrow transplant complications. His mother Nakia believes it is a healing color for him.

Elijah’s favorite part of his room is the Ninja Turtle breaking out of the brick city walls simulated by wallpaper, ready for a new adventure. His room makes him feel calm and happy, he says.

Isaiah, a senior at Raytown South, has a more grown-up room with the mantra Work Smart—like the college dorm room any student would love to have. His favorite colors—teal, tangerine, earthy brown, olive green—appear in fabric and FLOR carpet tiles that he arranged with Josh Jett from Home Delivery. Isaiah and his father painted the room. Framed photos of Lebron James provide inspiration. “I love his work ethic and his versatility,” says Isaiah. “He gives back to the community.” Floating shelves hold Isaiah’s athletic-shoe collection (including a pair of white 1988 Air Jordans). “In this room, I feel that whatever it is, I can go and get it done,” he says. In the future, that might include a degree in political science or medicine.

To pull this all together, Katillac called in many of her design associates, who were glad to help. Lowe’s and Sherwin-Williams contributed materials, the Residence Inn Union Hill housed the family while the work was done. When Rick Bright found out that Jesse Daniel, a fellow Marine, could use a little help with his sons’ rooms, he volunteered to do the flooring. “I wish everybody could just give a little bit instead of taking,” Bright says.

What everyone hopes is that the boys see they can have power in their own lives.

“When you see you can change a room, you can change your body. If the room can heal, then your body can heal,” Katillac believes.


For more information on how you can help make a difference, visit Design Gives Back.


    Steve Heiffus Architectural Design (816-444-1008)

    Home Delivery Service (816-842-2950)

    Thomas Design Build (913-682-9513)

    Framework Design Inc.

    DCM Construction (913-927-1895)

    Travis White Painting Co.

MarvaDesign Gives Back thanks volunteer Marva Ford of Personal Concierge Services, LLC for her help during the Elijah Miracle Makeover.

As a professional in this area, with her business Personal Concierge Services, LLC , Marva, (left) is an expert at finding the right match for her client’s needs. For our makeover, she put together a group of Design Angel Donors, to bring comfort and joy to our family. Heading the list is her husband, Don Ford, a man of great kindness.