Il Rifugio

Transforming a sterile environment for children in foster care.


Il Rifugio – the refuge. This customer was a non-profit organization who wanted to create an environment that was neutral, but transformative for the foster children coming through.  The typical Department of Human Services environment that these children see is gray and sterile so they wanted the opposite, while still respecting the difficult place that these children were coming from.  

I created Venice Italy on the first floor and Florence Italy on the second floor. This project was done slowly over several years. I learned a lot and became a better artist through this project.  I started incorporating 3D elements into spaces and really learned a lot about different mediums that made the spaces more realistic and interesting to the kids and families who use the facility.

This project required whole room transformations – oftentimes there would be a full week where I wouldn’t touch a paintbrush because I was building a stage or installing a facade of false doors, flooring or trim to achieve the venetian look I wanted. I created faux bricks with styrofoam and drywall mud. I wanted a 3 dimensional venetian relief for a part of an arch on the wall and so I ended up carving it out of foam.  I built out a wall to be able to add an indented arched shelf with a hand-carved lion’s head.

One room was oddly shaped and so I built out reading nook benches, built a faux fireplace and had an electrician add special lights and wire in a faux fireplace. I got creative within a budget, but one of my favorite mottos is that you can fix a lot of things with paint!

One of my favorite experiences while painting this was when a young boy came up to me and asked if he could walk out on the pier that I was painting. After I told him he couldn’t, since it was a flat wall, he responded with “but what if I take my shoes off?”   I also loved hearing the delight and excitement from the kids as the families walked through as I was working.  The reality is that I put my heart and effort into this project for these kids from hard places.

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