A Fresh Start


Academy of Art University in San Francisco partners with Five Keys Home Free to give a few special women new beginnings

A group photo of the Academy faculty, students and vendors involved in the project. Photography and images courtesy of Academy of Art University.

When California design icon Kay Evans approaches you with a project, you know it will be extraordinary. Having played a pivotal role in the cultivation of this robust community, Evans has an astute understanding of how important design is in everyday life. When she joined forces with the Academy of Art’s Interior Architecture and Design program, a very touching opportunity came to life: a collaboration between the department and Five Keys, a national nonprofit charter school operating inside a county jail for transitional-age youth and adults. “The specific project is called Home Free, and its aim is to develop traditional housing for formerly criminalized survivors [women and transgender] of domestic violence, and to support them as they reintegrate into society after spending decades in prison,” says Evans. “There is a lack of housing and support for these women when they are released, and as a result many are placed into drug treatment facilities, even if they do not have a substance abuse issue.”

Located on Treasure Island, the six two-bedroom-unit apartments sit within two adjacent two-level buildings, which will house up to 10 women. The academy selected students to develop thoughtful design concepts that would create a welcoming, comforting and secure environment, giving the new residents a sense of independence and self-worth. “From the onset of this project, our students have displayed incredible empathy and determination to design the best spaces possible and have expressed their excitement at working on a project that will positively impact women’s lives,” says Evans. “More importantly, this project has opened their eyes to the power of design and their ability to utilize their skills to make a difference in the community.”

Academy students measuring one of the units for install.
Photography and images courtesy of Academy of Art University.

Each student went through the standard process of creating and pitching concepts, sourcing product, project managing and installing. “The relationship between the Academy of Art University and Five Keys Home Free evolved into a critically important alliance,” says Roberta Goodman, program manager of Five Keys Home Free. “Building community is at the core of this partnership as it is in the life of Five Keys Home Free. Involving students who understood the importance of aesthetics and the creation of a warm home environment for women survivors expanded the possibilities and ultimately evolved in an eclectic mix where all learned and benefited from the collaboration.”

Photography and images courtesy of Academy of Art University.

From beautiful blush hues to brass details and modern furnishings, each student created stylish, safe spaces where the women could reacclimate to life and feel at peace. “Our main inspiration was based on that feeling you get when you are on vacation,” says participating design student Maria Yajure. “We wanted this space to feel like a chance for them to hit the reset button and start this new chapter with a sense of relief.”

Photography and images courtesy of Academy of Art University.

“For me, this project is the personification of hope and change,” says design student Morgan Sandusky. “I feel much more confident in my abilities now that I have had this experience. This project also reminded me how much of a difference I’m able to make through my work and that designing a space isn’t just about the resulting beauty, it’s about the impact you leave on your client. “Hope and happiness are just two words to describe how the residents feel in their new homes. “It gives me stability and the knowledge that I can function free of the threat of homelessness,” says Rosemary Dyer. “I can learn life again in a peaceful atmosphere of support like in my bedroom, which is my favorite room, because I know I’m safe. I have no fears of closing my eyes and succumbing to sleep.”

“This home encourages me for the next phase in my life to be accountable and to invest my finances in long-term housing,” says Nilda Palacios. “The importance of living in a well-designed space helps bring about sanity, a good mindset and general well-being.”

Photography and images courtesy of Academy of Art University.

Love and collaboration are at the core of this entire project. This story should remind us all to cherish a simple paint color or a cozy chair. “Having the stability of a place to call home that is comfortable, safe and with all the basic amenities allows each woman to create a pathway to independence,” says Roberta Goodman of Five Keys Home Free. “Coupled with kind, caring and focused support, the homes will further guide their journey toward a positive and productive life outcome.”

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