Interior Design Opens Doors for People in Need
“Share my love.”
Surrounded by 20-somethings in a Residential Design II class at Collin College, with the prospect of starting a second career in her 40’s, Lenora Kelson said she prayed for guidance on how to use the things she was learning. The short three-word reply was her answer.
The message could have been a bit more specific, but Kelson said the more she prayed on the subject, the more she noticed a pattern emerging. Her stepfather in New Orleans had suffered multiple strokes and was having trouble getting around his house, even with her mother’s assistance, because of doorways too narrow for his wheelchair. Kelson attended an American Society of Interior Designers student symposium where a designer outlined the steps she had taken to make her own home more disability-friendly. She saw first-hand how making a home more accessible could improve people’s lives when her husband suffered kidney failure and had trouble entering and exiting the bath after a two-week hospital stay.
Kelson said her experiences kept bringing her back to the same realization. She was being directed to help the elderly and those living with physical disabilities.
“I just wondered how many people with a disability are living this same struggle,” she said.
The simple message, “Share my love,” when applied with patience and persistence over the next six years would result in Livable Arrangements, a non-profit organization founded in 2015 and dedicated to sharing God’s love by assisting the elderly and the those with physical disabilities by making their homes more accessible.
By the end of 2017, the program had helped 10 families address their accessibility needs. Those renovations ranged from providing bath lifts and complete bathroom remodels to the installation of wheelchair ramps and the widening of doors. Clients come to the organization with a need and Kelson uses her interior design training and knowledge of accessibility issues to find a solution.
From there, a crew of volunteers attacks the problem, no matter where it is in the home. Livable Arrangements uses subcontractors – often donated labor from the Dallas chapter of the National Association for the Remodeling Industry – when her crew doesn’t have the skills for the task at hand, but otherwise completes the work on their own.
“We do this with a small band of people,” she said. “In addition to our board of directors, we have a handful of volunteers.
“Our goal in the next few months is to try and increase our volunteer base. We don’t have nearly the amount of help we need to accomplish our mission.”
Even with a small group of volunteers, the mission has touched several lives. Clients like Charlotte Dixon have major quality of life improvements because of Livable Arrangements.
Despite having rheumatoid arthritis since childhood, Dixon said she was a very independent person for her whole life. That changed after a pair of surgeries to replace a hip and an elbow. That, along with the accompanying rehabilitation, left her without the income to finish remodeling work she had begun on her bathroom. Dixon’s family helped as best they could to take care of her personal needs, with her mother coming over to assist in Dixon’s showers.
“My family members were more than eager to help, but at some point, you just wanted to regain your independence,” Dixon said.
Dixon learned about Livable Arrangements while she was rehabbing her elbow. She said her experience was wonderful. The organization installed a modern shower with grab bars and an adjustable showerhead, making it possible for her to sit down to use the shower. Shower Doors of Dallas even donated glass doors for the project, making it as fashionable as it is functional.
“The shower looks like one you’d find in one of the nicer hotels,” Dixon said. “It is so beautiful. Each time I take a shower, I am so grateful.”
Kelson said she would never have imagined working at, much less founding, a non-profit when she started at Collin College. Always a creative person, Kelson had already begun creating custom bedding and drapes inspired by remodeling shows on HGTV when she was laid off from work. She confesses to having dreams of being the next HGTV star when she came to Collin College to study architecture and interior design. It was a second attempt at post-secondary education and Kelson wanted to strike out on a new path. Collin was a good first step for her.
“I loved my time at Collin,” she said. “I loved my instructors.”
One of those instructors, Professor Ali Kholdi remembers Kelson as a very responsible student.
“I believe she was a straight A student all the way,” he said.
Kholdi teaches green architecture and interior design theory, which trains students to create sustainable footprints for homes and businesses.
“Our concept of green design is to create an environment for the client that is healthy from all sustainability points of view,” he said.
Kholdi said that universal design of the kind Collin College teaches, if applied to construction codes, would eliminate the need for retrofits like the ones Kelson is doing because the needs of the disabled and elderly would have already been considered.
Kholdi said he has not seen the work Kelson has done since founding Livable Arrangements, but he believes interior design work can definitely improve people’s lives.
“An interior designer thinks about so many things that ordinary people won’t,” he said. “Any space that is designed by an interior designer is going to be a better place to live in.”
That is one of Livable Arrangements’ main goals, and Kelson is just glad to have a way to use her talents and training to make people’s lives better and to share her faith. Her hope is that the organization will continue to grow and will be able to help more people in need.
Learn more about Livable Arrangements at www.livablearrangements.org. Visit www.collin.edu and search “green architecture” for more information about the Collin College’s green interior design and architecture programs.
Reprinted with permission of Allen Image