June 26, 2019

Stagg Design Refugee Project: the before

We’re lucky to have some wonderful clients. The projects we work on are beautiful, exciting, meaningful, and we hope they improve a family’s quality of life and that our designs give their home a peaceful feel. But our firm’s recent service project for World Refugee day did that and so much more. Today I’m excited to share the first of two posts about the Stagg Design Refugee Project! I’m starting with how the project came to be, and what we were working with for the home design.

photos by Trevor Rimmasch

When we started bouncing around the idea of a service project, we weren’t sure what direction we wanted to head. A single mom? A shelter makeover? We wanted to do something that wasn’t just beautiful– we wanted to improve someone’s daily quality of life. One of our team members had the idea of working with a refugee family and tying it in with World Refugee Day and we knew it was going to be someone who desperately needed our help. We worked with some missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to identify a family with great needs and that’s how we found our family!

The Magar-Gurung Family

Meet the Magar-Gurung family. Kiran (dad), Champha (mom), Alex (7), and Allysia (4). Champha and Kiran spent much of their lives in a Nepali refugee camp after fleeing Butan. They met after coming to Utah and got married. Alex was born extremely premature and has severe disabilities. He is autistic, has cerebral palsy, is non verbal and has to eat through a GI tube. He is growing stronger and is harder and harder to take out of the house, so Champha spends most of the day at home in their apartment with Alex and Allysia while Kiran works overnight shifts doing janitorial work at the Salt Lake City Airport.

Let’s talk about their home: it’s a modest 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment that was a collection of items that had been donated to them or that they had picked up at thrift stores. When I saw it for the first time I knew we had our work cut out for us. I started making some mental notes of all that was needed, which was basically everything. Nothing in their main living spaces was suiting their needs.

We decided to focus our efforts on three main areas: the family room, the kids’ bedroom, and the dining/laundry area.

The dining and laundry space

All of these spaces needed a lot of love, but more importantly they needed a lot of function. Let’s start with the family room. The layout of furniture was wonky. The light fixture was icky. The furnishings really all needed to go. The bedroom: this is the one that had me all choked up. There was no where for the kids to play with the crowded furniture and layout. I knew we needed a solution for this and I knew it was going to take some creativity. I mean, this poor woman was home all day trapped in this apartment with her kids and they had no where to play! Unacceptable.

The laundry and dining area mostly needed a washer and dryer. They were carting all of their laundry to and from the laundromat with their kids and we knew buying them a washer and dryer would drastically improve their lives. It was a must.

Alex listening to music on a tablet
out with the old!

Day one: clean and clear. The first thing we had to do was clear everything out and give the home a good scrub. The missionaries and some wonderful volunteers helped us.

packing up old belongings to make way for the makeover

We got busy to work contacting companies for donations, asking for monetary donations via social media, and lining up everything we would need as well as a game plan.

And that’s where we ran into a major hangup. While cleaning out the old furnishings, we realized the beds had bedbugs. This is common in refugee apartment complexes, but we didn’t want to just ignore it. We had to address it! Intellibed, who had already donated one mattress, generously donated another one. We also hired an exterminator to clear out the bedbugs and spray for cockroaches. We then had to buy extra bedding, etc, that we weren’t planning on but we felt so strongly we couldn’t cut any corners.

Once we got over that hurdle, we could focus back on our original plans. We love our local Benjamin Moore store and the guys in there always have our backs on projects. They so kindly donated paint and Jon (and our wonderful photographer, Trevor) got to work giving it a fresh coat into the wee hours in the morning.

Day two: assemble, install, organize, beautify!

Installations are always long days but this one was exceptionally long. We had so many beautiful items donated from the furniture from Walker Edison to the mattresses from Intellibed. For the kids room, I knew we needed a trundle bed with a mattress underneath so they could save space during the day and pull it out at night. Many many thanks to former NFL star Merril Hoge who donated the money for the bed. It completely transformed the room.

the new trundle daybed for the kids’ room

Denise Sanchez, a business owner of Homewerks in San Antonio, donated the funds needed for the washer and dryer. So so generous!

Because of our setbacks we were way behind schedule and were really pushing hard to finish the home and turn it back over to the family. It was late and night when we finally finished up and the reveal had us in tears! But…. that’s the cliff hanger I’m going to leave you with! Be sure to check out this week’s Heart of the Home Podcast episode as Jon and I talk about the project and how it left such a strong impression on our hearts.

cutting the ribbon on their new home!

Big reveal coming next week!



  1. Stagg Design Refugee Project: the after - Stagg Design

    July 9th, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    […] quick recap (you can see the before and read about how the project came to be HERE.) Our design firm wanted to start an annual service project and for our first, we found a sweet […]

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She’s Jen. He’s Jon. We’re believers in the power of home, fearless DIYers, and eternal optimists who know with a can-do spirit, elbow grease and some guidance, you can create a home you love. We love a good project—or 20. Stick around and we’ll have you pulling out the paint brushes and fluffing throw pillows in no time.

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