My recent travels to Kenya, Africa, opened my eyes to so many things. I gained a new awareness and appreciation for the opportunities afforded to me as a single woman and business owner in America. I also gained new insight into the ills affecting young girls in a remote part of the globe. I thought I understood the horrors of FGM, but being there, listening to their stories and seeing their joy at finally having a home really showed me how dire this situation is.

One thing I didn’t think about until I got to Kenya was how the landscape would impact my philosophy as an interior designer and home developer. I unknowingly thought the trip would be a series of “giving” moments in line with the mission of the trip. Little did I know that I would experience many visual and cultural nuggets that would enhance how I consider design within home spaces when I returned to the states.

The first thing that hit me when I arrived in Kenya? COLOR! The use of bright, vibrant colors permeated everything, from the buildings to the the clothing. I tend to shy away from using a great deal of bright colors as a designer. I rarely use more than a pop here and there, muting and meshing color with either black, white or another neutral. Kenya greeted me with a vivid display of color everywhere I looked, it seemed. I noticed it first in the beautiful colors the children wore. Beautiful smiles adorned in red, yellow, green and orange uniforms greeted me, igniting a smile on my countenance as bright as their clothing.

Color continued to saturate the region, especially in the gorgeous metal doors I saw adorning all of the buildings we passed during our travel. Driving down the street, we would happen upon structures with intricate metal gates and doors painted bright blue, eye-catching pink, and so many other shades and hues. Even in the most rural schools and villages, these metal doors in varying colors accented the landscape. The designer in me wanted to bring them all home to use across LA neighborhoods. I settled on tucking the concept away in my mental Rolodex to possibly infuse in future development projects.

More than color, though, I was greatly affected by something much simpler, but much deeper. I work in suburban Santa Monica and Venice Beach. In this area there are unspoken rules regarding what a home is supposed to look like aesthetically, and that includes a perfect balance of furnishings and other interior accoutrements deemed appropriate for a “good” home. And, an appropriately designed home should be between this many rooms, have this many amenities, and satisfy a visual standard that aligns the look of surrounding homes in the neighborhood.

That’s simply not true.

I know it’s not true because I saw a village of young girls make a classroom with a simple tin roof over their heads, home. And it was truly home! They didn’t need patterned tiles or wood planks to walk on. They weren’t concerned with flat or gloss paint or elaborate murals on their walls. Neither did they give any mental space to marble or granite countertops. Dirt floors, a chalkboard, wood tables, chairs, a few bunk beds and a washroom served as their learning and living space. That’s all.

And they were so excited to have it, simply because it was theirs.

This new space for the girls represented something so much more than a place to stay. It was a place where they could grow, live, develop and prosper. It was a space that would foster mental and emotional peace. It was warm, spacious and replete with opportunity, newness, rejuvenation. This is what a home is and should be for everyone.

I have a renewed sense of home designing now, one that emanates peace, prosperity and heart in initial planning before any stylistic design conversations happen. That’s what my girls in Africa rekindled in me. I’m sure their subliminal effect will play into what I see and do throughout future projects. But their energy took me out of my own design ruts and paradigms regarding what “home” is supposed to be.

There are no rules, and the “Joneses” don’t matter. A mud hut can feel like a palace if it feels like home. And because “home” isn’t set by any physical location, I have a new inspiration for what future spaces that I design will have as their foundations: safety, security, family, comfort and love.

That, friends, is home.

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