Interior Designer Francesca Rowan-Plowden talks to Rosalind Sack about the future of her charitable initiative, Design Havens for Heroes, and her mission to honour the heroic NHS key workers on the frontline of the pandemic
DESIGN HAVENS FOR HEROES FOUNDER FRANCESCA ROWAN PLOWDEN
Cast your minds back to Spring and the overriding memory of that time of stark uncertainty may be painting rainbow-coloured banners with the children; joining our neighbours to bang saucepans on the doorstep; or watching the masked faces of exhausted nurses and doctors on news channels in silent disbelief. Murals in honour of our NHS frontline workers sprung up on blank walls and car stickers signalled solidarity with their relentless efforts. Amidst the fear and unease of the global Covid-19 pandemic, we have looked for light in the stories of the heroic NHS workers who bravely put themselves at huge risk to care for others.
What does this have to do with homes and interiors, you may ask? Recognising the considerable impact of our homes on our wellbeing and compelled to offer support to untiring NHS key workers, interior designer Francesca Rowan-Plowden wanted to play her part. In April she launched Design Havens for Heroes, a charitable initiative offering free room makeovers for NHS staff.
Deserving NHS workers are nominated via email and, once it is safe to do so, they are matched with an interior designer who will redesign and redecorate a room of their choosing. In so doing, the Design Havens for Heroes team create beautiful spaces where workers can rest, recharge and find refuge after a long and stressful shift.
Within just a few weeks of launching, an incredible group of interior designers signed up to donate their time and services, including Kate Guinness, Hedayat Taymour, Sophie Ford and Clare Gaskin. Suppliers have been equally as forthcoming, with the likes of Little Greene, Tate & Darby, Pooky and Edward Bulmer Paints joining the ever-growing list of brands volunteering their products for the cause. Likewise, an incredible collection of stylists, makers and tradespeople are all donating their time and skills to the initiative.
We meet the woman behind this incredible movement to find out more…
THE WORK OF THE TALENTED INTERIOR DESIGNERS WHO HAVE JOINED THE DESIGN HAVENS FOR HEROES INITIATIVE, INCLUDING (CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT) YOKO KLOEDEN, AMY MAYNARD AND FOUNDER FRANCESCA ROWAN-PLOWDEN
Francesca, what gave you the initial push to turn this ambitious idea into reality?
To be honest, the idea itself wasn’t that ambitious; I just wanted to do something to give back to the NHS and I thought that offering a couple of room makeovers in my local area would be a nice way of doing so. It soon became apparent, though, that others in the world of interiors felt the same and the idea mushroomed. The reality is that in the first few weeks I was playing catch up with an idea that created its own momentum!
A well-designed and well-planned room is about so much more than just the aesthetics. Can you tell us more about the emotional impact it can have on people and why this is so central to Design Havens for Heroes?
People need a place of respite to start their day from and to retreat to at the end of the day. Our homes are incredibly important to both ourselves and our families; they should be our nests, our refuge, our safe place and our happy place where we can shut ourselves way from the rest of the world and recharge. Such a space is incredibly important for our mental health, especially if working in a high stress situation like many NHS workers do. We also know from research how different colours and furnishings can affect and improve our wellbeing.
DR CLAIRE FRASER TAYLOR IN HER NEW ROOM DESIGNED BY DESIGNER AND STYLIST AMY DAVIES PEREIRA; DESIGN HAVENS FOR HEROES’ FIRST HAVEN PROJECT
Can you tell us about some of the most memorable ‘havens’ you have worked on so far?
We have four residential room havens currently underway and we are just about to embark on a few ‘wellness rooms’ within hospitals for two different hospital trusts. Reading the nominations that have come in is incredibly moving, and I was very touched by what two of our first nominees, Dr Claire Fraser Taylor (pictured above) and Gigi the paramedic, have experienced and their incredible work during this time. As a young paramedic, Gigi in particular has had to deal with situations none of us could ever imagine.
When it comes to creating a restful and calm space, what have been some of the most important design elements to tackle in the rooms you have worked on?
Colour is so important; some nominees prefer soft colours that are restful, some crave bright cheerful colours to escape too. Lighting is something we are also tackling a lot; taking away harsh overhead lighting and replacing it with softer lamp light can instantly make a space feel more relaxing. And the importance of a decent, comfortable sofa to sink into, can never be underestimated.
(LEFT) DR CLAIRE FRASER TAYLOR’S ‘HAVEN’ FEATURING BAR STOOLS DONATED BY ROCKETT ST GEORGE, A SCALLOPED RUG DONATED BY TATE AND DARBY AND PAINT BY FENWICK AND TILBROOK; (RIGHT) THE OTHER END OF THE ROOM FEATURES A SOFA DONATED BY SNUG, CUSHIONS BY DIVINE SAVAGES AND CHRISTY AND ARTWORK BY LUSH ECLECTIC
What have been the most challenging and most rewarding elements that you’ve encountered since launching Design Havens for Heroes?
The logistics, paperwork, legalities and admin has been immense and a full-time job in itself. Design Havens for Heroes went from a small idea to a full-blown charity very quickly, and registering over 600 brands, 300 designers and hundreds and hundreds of nominees has been a lot of work. Not to mention the tricky logistics of allocating designers, getting products from A to B, organising trades to be on site and room installations during a pandemic. It’s been a steep learning curve! But what is rewarding is the incredible support that Design Havens has received not only from the interiors world and brands, but also from celebrities, the press, even recognition from the Prime Minister. But most importantly, the response from the NHS and seeing, first hand, how much these havens means to individuals makes everything worthwhile and I am incredibly proud of what the team has achieved.
How did it feel when you received the Points of Light Award from the Prime Minister which recognises outstanding individual volunteers making a change in their community?
I was very honoured. Someone from the Cabinet Office called to say that they had heard about the charity and could they talk to me about it for government research. They asked me a few questions about what we were doing and I thought nothing more of it. The following week I received another call to tell me that the Prime Minister wanted to award me with the Points of Light Award. I was delighted to accept it on behalf on the whole team, as it really is a team effort.
(LEFT) MOODBOARD BY DESIGNERS JULIA ALEXANDER AND FIONA DUKE FOR MIDWIFE VANESSA AND HER DAUGHTER; (RIGHT) DESIGN HAVENS FOR HEROES AMBASSADOR TWIGGY LAWSON IN THEIR WORLD RAINBOW DAY T-SHIRT
You have had some incredible designers, stylists, homeware brands, makers and suppliers join your collective. Have you been surprised by the response you’ve had?
I really can’t believe the response we’ve had. It was honestly just a little idea that I had in the bath, so sometimes I do have to pinch myself to realise it’s actually really happening! The levels of kindness and generosity there is out there has been incredible.
What are your main goals for Design Havens for Heroes moving forward and how can readers lend their support?
Just to keep going for as long as we can. I would really like to do some more hospital room makeovers as well. We are always looking for more volunteers and we can never have too many brands on board. Fundraising is becoming an important factor, too; we have the products and the designers’ time for free but we need donations to help with the haulage, storage and trades to help facilitate the room makeovers. Wonderful ideas like World Rainbow Day in October really help to support the work we are doing. We have our very own rainbow t-shirts for sale, exclusively designed for us by Carly Lawson, the daughter of our patron Dame Twiggy Lawson.
Discover more about Design Havens for Heroes here and donate towards their fantastic work here. Share this feature with friends and followers using the share buttons at the top of the page and read more from The Home Page below.