Designing a place for women to recover

By Karen Kovacs Dydzuhn


The founder and executive director of Her Haven, a non-profit organization that assists women who need beautiful, peaceful living spaces, Dougherty, of Monroe, said she was privileged to oversee the redesign project that resulted in the opening of The Tina Klem Serenity House.

Sponsored by the Shelton-based Recovery Network of Programs (RNP), the 12-resident transitional housing program was named after the agency’s former chief clinical officer, who died three years ago after a short illness at the age of 39.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony this week, Recovery Network of Programs Chief Executive Officer John Hamilton thanked everyone who contributed to the project.

He complimented Dougherty and team of designers for doing “a tremendous job,” and noted that this was just the beginning of a partnership between Her Haven and RNP.

Working closely with students enrolled in the University of Bridgeport’s Shintaro Akatsu School of Design, and Giancarlo Massaro, adjunct professor of interior design, Dougherty designed and refurbished the two-story building, which was constructed in the Italianate style sometime in the 1800s. The design team maintained the structure’s extraordinary original decorative moldings, casings and fireplaces while providing much-needed contemporary color schemes, window treatments and furniture.

“It is amazing to be at the center of so much giving — students, local businesses, artists and everyday volunteers — all lending their support to help Her Haven help these women,” Dougherty said. “There is no better feeling than seeing people engaged and excited, knowing that their contribution has made a difference in someone’s life. Whether the contribution is of money, goods, in-kind services or time, it all adds up and it all matters.”

Safari Smith, 24, of Bridgeport was one of eight students in Massaro’s sophomore design class at the University of Bridgeport. They worked for eight weeks, both in the classroom and at the Bridgeport site, on the project. This was the most in-depth design project the students have been part of so far in their design studies, and Smith said she learned a great deal about ideas from the planning stage to implementation.

Under the tutelage of Dougherty and Massaro, the students were responsible for the living room, kitchen, dining room, main staircase and each of the bedrooms.

Many volunteers from RNP, friends, family and the community were also involved.

Dougherty said a crew of 20 volunteers refurbished and painted all of the bedroom furniture that had been “bare, raw wood that RNP was going to have replaced.”

“Part of our goal with our projects is to save what we can from landfills, and we knew the furniture could be perfect with a simple coat or two of paint,” Dougherty explained.

In keeping with Her Haven’s spiritual mission to instill hope in people’s lives by improving their surroundings, Dougherty encouraged volunteers to write a prayer, word of intention or the name of someone they wanted to dedicate their work to on the raw, unpainted surfaces.

“The day after one of my friends did that, she heard from her son whom she had not heard from in many years,” Dougherty said. “She and her husband had not even known if he was still alive, since he had been living on the streets. Coincidence? Maybe. But, then again … .”

Since launching Her Haven in 2009, Dougherty has created spaces for individuals and non-profit organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity.

“Design is not about beautiful furnishings and fabrics, colors and art,” Dougherty said at the opening of the Tina Klem Serenity House. “It’s about how we feel when we are surrounded by beautiful furnishings, fabric, colors and art. It lifts our spirits, affirms our dignity, and gives us hope.”

Each bedroom at the RNP’s newest residence is decorated with a unique theme and color scheme. With high cathedral ceilings, sunlight streams into most of the bedrooms throughout the day via oversized windows built into the Victorian frame. One bedroom has an oceanic feel, as its walls are painted a light green. On both levels, the hardwood floors are smooth and polished, with throw rugs, including a stunning Oriental print, meticulously placed to complement the décor in that specific area.

With a professional background in a variety of fields, Dougherty returned to school to study interior design in 2005. Although she initially worked on some high-end projects, her heart was in helping those who needed her expertise the most. Her dream was to design beautiful spaces for women who needed a place to call their own, a “haven” amidst the chaos of every day life. Through Soroptimist International of Greater Bridgeport, of which Dougherty was a member, Her Haven’s first recipient was chosen.

Clients are not charged a fee. Her Haven relies solely on donations.

Although materials are determined by the specific project, Her Haven could always use paint and painting services, art, framing, fabric and gift cards to home furnishing stores. Volunteers are also needed to work on the projects.

The Tina Klem Serenity House project was supported by Closet & Storage Concepts, A.G. Williams Painting Company, Kebabian’s Oriental Rugs, Rockwell Art & Framing, Cynthia Brown Studio, Anne Lee Window Designs, Romanoff Elements Robert Vale Designs, Ring’s End, Soroptimist International of Greater Bridgeport, 2nd Chance Restoration, Bella Interiors and Avon.

Artists Andrea Bonfils, Mari Gyorgyey, Elisa Keogh, Kendall Klingbeil, Xanda McCagg, Denise Minnerly and Carla Wales also contributed to the Tina Klem Serenity House.

Her Haven is currently working on the reception area, waiting room and interview room for the Center for Women and Families’ offices. This project is led by two Fairfield University students, Jenine Beck and Karen Stier, who worked with Her Haven on its two projects for Habitat for Humanity.

Dougherty said Her Haven needs a painting contractor to paint the three small rooms at the Center for Women and Families.

The organization is also looking for fabric for window treatments for some residences that are part of the Laurel House in Stamford.

“Also, we are hoping to help the Bridgeport Rescue Mission in the fall with their guest house, which is a homeless shelter, for women and children,” she said.

If there is funding available, Her Haven would also like to get involved in the completion of a Habitat for Humanity construction for a female veteran.

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