ctpost1For many of us, getting home from work means quickly changing into comfortable clothes and then heading for a favorite space to unwind– someplace that’s warm and welcoming.

But not everyone has an attractive and soothing space to read a book, enjoy a cup of tea with a friend or entertain the family on special occasions. Not everyone has the financial resources to hire an interior designer or the energy, time or talent to create special spaces.

And that’s where Her Haven enters the picture. This new nonprofit organization, based in Monroe, is dedicated to bringing “beauty, comfort and care” into the lives of women and organizations that serve women through low-cost interior design projects.

Founded a few years ago by interior designer Carey Dougherty as a way of doing “something meaningful for the community,” the organization’s mission is to “help women in need by designing spaces that inspire them to live fuller, richer, more productive lives.”

Her Haven — with the slogan “Designing a Difference” — does not charge its clients; it exists totally on community support: financial contributions, donations of most supplies (from paint, floral arrangements and furniture to rugs, artwork and window treatments) and in-kind services from builders and others.

ctpost2And who comes up with the design proposals? Dougherty came up with a “light-bulb” moment a while back to partner with university interior design programs at Fairfield University and the University of Bridgeport. The creation of all the interior design work is part of their course load, “giving students real-world experience” and the “satisfaction of supporting women” who are trying to make a difference in their communities, she said.

Dougherty’s role is to oversee the process of choosing clients (along with her board of directors). Nominations from the public are encouraged or individuals can also request services by submitting an application. She is also the chief fundraiser and coordinates in-kind services and supplies.

Her Haven’s current project is for Huntington House in Bridgeport, a Victorian building being converted into a small group home to serve women striving to overcome trauma and addictions. Affiliated with the Recovery Network of Programs, the project is expected to be completed this summer.

Jennifer Kolakowski, chief clinical officer for the Recovery Network of Programs, said, “The program is phenomenal and an amazing fit for us. I’m sure that the common space will be welcoming, safe and warm. And that will be wonderful.”

For this project, Her Haven has paired with about a dozen students from the Shintaro Akatsu School of Design at the University of Bridgeport, under the supervision of Interior Design Adjunct Professor Giancarlo Massaro.

The public is invited to learn about this innovative program and to view proposed designs for Huntington House at a free presentation on Wednesday, April 24, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the first-floor art gallery at the University of Bridgeport’s Bernhard Arts & Humanities Center.

ctpost3A slide show will be presented about Her Haven and concepts for five bedrooms and a meeting space for the new recovery facility will be on view. Among those on hand on April 24 will be Dougherty and Massaro, an architect and interior designer, who describes the partnership as a “win-win” situation.

“It offers the students an incredible opportunity to work on real-world issues and to develop real design solutions” — which is rare for college students, he said. And with a “minimal budget to work with, the students have a chance to come up with highly creative design proposals,” he added. “Her Haven is inspiring to me and to the students because it allows us to contribute and help the community.”

“We encourage the community to join us in exploring the hope and healing that a well-designed interior can inspire,” said Dougherty. “Our surroundings do make a difference, and so do the students who have dedicated their time and talents to this effort.”

Dougherty is passionate “that a home can truly enhance one’s well being” when it reflects “who they are, where they’ve been and what they love.”

While Dougherty leaves the designing solely to the students working on the Her Haven projects, her approach to design is “to create rooms that are eclectic and unexpected: rooms filled with contrast, juxtaposition and balance.”

The first project came about when Dougherty asked Soroptimist International of Greater Bridgeport to join her in 2009 in transforming a storage room into a “comfortable and stylish” office for Bridgeporter Nancy Kingwood.

Kingwood, who is deputy director of HIV services for the Greater Bridgeport Area Prevention Program and recipient of many community honors, was working on a master’s degree (which she received) while sharing a home with her daughter and twin 3-year-old granddaughters. A preacher, Kingwood said the project was a blessing and gave her a place to “sit and be still — and to pray.”

“My work with Nancy … really changed my life,” Dougherty said. “Nancy got a newly designed space in her home … ; I got the amazing joy of having done something so meaningful for someone. I wanted to share that experience with other student designers and connect people in a positive way.”

Her Haven was thus born. Its initial projects united the efforts of Her Haven, 11 Fairfield University students and Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County in 2012 in creating living rooms and dining rooms for Nordia Black and Elizabeth Bosques, Bridgeporters who each have a child with special needs.

“The entire project, from beginning to end, was amazing,” said Bosques. “Carey is an amazing person, and her program is amazing, too.”

The 40-something student responsible for coordinating the Bosques’ project was Jenine Beck, of Fairfield, who has her residential interior design certificate and is working toward a commercial one from Fairfield University. Design student Bethany Armstrong was in charge of the Black residence.

Her Haven is “an extraordinary program that is so rewarding. It’s a great feeling to know that you are making a difference. Carey’s remarkable spirit is contagious,” Beck said.

Visit www.herhaven.org or call 203-216-4979.

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