A modernization of the Lazarus House breathes new life into this house of hope.
By Sarah Christy
In the world of interior design, there is no shortage of lavish design projects and clients willing to pay whatever it takes to make their residences the perfect place to call home. But thanks to an inspired designer and some very generous companies, some Washington, D.C., residents with fewer resources than most are living in a space nicer than they ever expected.
Penny Bonda, ASID, a D.C.-based designer with more than 30 years of experience, coordinated the recent update and modernization of Lazarus House, a single-room occupancy residence for recovering substance abusers. Lazarus House was opened in 1991 by Samaritan Inns, an organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., dedicated to substance abuse recovery and reducing homelessness. Bonda was the original designer of the facility, and has worked on a volunteer basis for Samaritan Inns since its president, David Erickson, approached her about 15 years ago. She didn't hesitate to help then, and hasn't looked back since.
"The work I've done on the Samaritan Inns facilities has been enormously fulfilling," Bonda says. "The pride that the organization takes in their buildings upholds the value of what I do and what the contributors do." Bonda, who was president of the Washington Metro chapter of ASID at the time, says Erickson was very explicit in his design requirements: No hand-me-downs, nothing secondhand and everything must be top-notch. In the original design, Bonda strived to create a cheery yet sophisticated atmosphere that reflected a residential rather than institutional feel. "We wanted to make sure that when the residents came home at night, their home made them feel good," she says.
Erickson says Bonda achieved his mission of developing a warm, beautiful space, and
that it is reflected in how the residents feel. An important part of rebuilding after recovery or homelessness is reconnecting with family, and Erickson says family members who have visited Lazarus House and the eight other Samaritan Inns facilities designed and modeled after it have been astounded by the design. "For the residents to have their family visit them, and to walk into a place that is so welcoming and so beautiful …
it rocks the visitors' worlds," he says, pointing out that most people associate a cold, shelter-type feel with homelessness and substance abuse recovery.
To create a design that flies in the face of that stereotype, Bonda, armed with materials and manpower donated from various sources, created a functional, safe, aesthetically pleasing and cost-effective design with durable materials. She says it was important to make sure the space would hold up for the long haul, as Samaritan Inns needs its money for programs—not building upkeep. The color scheme Bonda used in 1991 for the corridors and main areas—mauve and teal—was popular at the time, but nearly 15 years later needed an update. So early last year, Bonda drew up plans, created a new color scheme, enlisted the help of various contributors—including Mohawk Carpet, Solutia Fibers, Sherwin Williams and Wolf-Gordon Wallcovering—and got to work.
Bonda designed a modernized plan for the hallways and central areas using yellow, gold and burgundy colors. The walls were done with a gold-toned spray-paint finish that included brightening flecks, and the doors, frames and baseboards were painted a rich burgundy. The design was tied together with sophisticated carpeting infused with bright colors on a dark background. Bonda says she fell in love with the carpet, which Mohawk was quick to donate for the project. Overall, she had no problems finding donators and volunteers for the update, which was completed last summer. "The design community is very generous," she says. "Almost every chapter does community service. Volunteer work is a very large part of professional design organizations."
What keeps Bonda motivated to work with Samaritan Inns is the response from the residents. There is one story she constantly tells and can't erase from her mind. It was back in 1991, when Lazarus House first opened, and Bonda was at the facility to meet with a contractor when a woman arrived to live, with all of her possessions in one bag. Erickson, Samaritan Inns president, asked Bonda if she'd like to accompany the new resident to her room, and Bonda, eager to see the woman's reaction, followed. The woman walked into her room, sat down on the bed and started crying. When Bonda asked what was wrong, the woman looked up and answered through her tears, "I never thought I was a worthy enough person to live in a place like this." That was it for Penny Bonda.
"I want to continue to do anything I can to help people realize their full potential, regain their dignity, reunite with their families and become self-sufficient," she says. "What I do is easy compared to what the residents accomplish."