Designing Through Love, Loss, and Grief
How design design can bring joy, light, and laughter into this grieving family’s home again
In the throws of Covid, as most people were beginning to hope for a return to normalcy, my world came tumbling down.
My rock, my number one supporter in life, my mom (and amazing grandma to my children), was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Within weeks while I was still reeling from this news, my best friend's mother, who happened to be my mother’s roommate in college, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. They were both terminal.
My best friend Jacqui and I are both working moms to three young children. Overnight we were forced to take on another role of health advocates for our mothers. We were the point of contact between their doctors and medical team, our family members and friends. When life hands you this unchangeable situation, amidst the fear and overwhelm, perspective sits in. With these new additional responsibilities, I quickly realized I had to stop taking on additional design clients because of the fear of not being able to handle the additional workload. There’s a certain level of stress that comes along with gutting clients' homes and building them back from scratch I couldn’t manage anymore. How could I be expected to do this for others when I was gutted and rebuilding myself?
Jacqui and I spoke at the end of each day, swapping oncology updates and sharing in the heartbreak of watching our mothers slip away both mentally and physically. Our moms were becoming unrecognizable from one day to the next. This part of the cancer journey was the most heartbreaking.
For any work at this point I had to be careful not to overextend myself and I knew it was a very particular type of client I could take on. Jacqui’s career as a political lobbyist had taken off, and she bought a fixer upper that needed a lot of work. She had been in the house for a few years and with all of the other turmoil we were facing, she couldn’t come home to her house any longer and feel joy in that space. She needed to remodel her kitchen and kids bathroom, and this could be our outlet. We hoped we could both find the slightest bit of hope in time of prolonged grief.
This project became a reprieve and especially fun to design because I knew the family and their personalities intimately. This project was never going to be a white and bright type of design. Eclectic punk rock music has been a steady undercurrent in their life, and speaks to who they are at their core: fun-loving, passionate, and driven towards new and exciting experiences. The heart of the design and starting point was the original terrazzo floors, which were hidden under a layer of tile and a layer of laminate. Playing with warm wood tones, terrazzo, and a beautiful porcelain slab backsplash was the launch point for this beautiful kitchen, and the bathroom followed suit. Through the bathroom we carried the terrazzo to the wet walls and added neutral white and grey checkered floors that brought a little bit of fun to the space. Midcentury lights and mirrors were the pop against mod scribble wallpaper imported from England, and the warm wood vanity and tall cabinets added functional storage. These rooms are a beautiful mix of textures, tones, and bold patterns with a hint of vintage flair that spoke to their personalities.
Throughout the project, we found empowerment through making these decisions when so much of our lives were out of our control. In the face of our grief, I was able to bring joy, light, and laughter into this family’s home again. This project was a reminder that no matter how heartbreaking and overwhelming your life can feel, doing something you love with a friend (and client) who trusts your vision is such a gift.
- xoxo, Meghan
In loving memory of Mary Jones and Judith Bachay
See the rest of the project: Mid-Century Mod Kitchen Project