Pasadena designer Karen Steinberg fights homelessness with decor
By Luke Netzley
At a time when there are over 63,000 people experiencing homelessness across LA County, local heroes like Karen Steinberg are needed.
Steinberg is a Pasadena-based interior designer and owner of Décor Revolution with a bachelor’s degree in design from Buffalo State and strong background in residential and textile design.
After reading an online post from design blogger Emily Henderson asking interior designers in the LA area to help with free home makeovers for homeless families, Steinberg volunteered and used her talent for designing Accessory Dwelling Units.
Steinberg worked with a 28-year-old single mother and her two children who were forced to live out of their car after the mother had to close her jewelry and accessories business during the pandemic.
When oppressive heat proved too dangerous to sleep in the car, the mother sought shelter in motels with her family while struggling to keep her children in school. Her savings were quickly depleting.
She ended up reaching out to nonprofit Family Promise, which was able to provide her with an apartment, hygiene products, and home goods while she searched for a new job.
“She gets an apartment, but it’s empty. All she has is a mattress on the floor and a few items that were donated to her by a church, and that’s where we step in,” Steinberg says. “What we do is fundraise, design, and install everything in about three to four weeks. It’s a whirlwind.”
The project was a partnership between Steinberg’s Décor Revolution and community nonprofit Pen + Napkin, who fundraised for the project on their websites and through wish lists on Amazon and Target. They organized the delivery of the furniture to the apartment and completed the entire installation within a two-day window.
While the tremendous task of furnishing and personalizing an entire apartment within such a short span of time was grueling, the result was well worth the effort.
“She was blown away when she walked in the door,” Steinberg describes about the mother’s reaction to her new home. “She kept saying, ‘I’m going to cry, I’m going to cry.’ She was just so thrilled.”
The design team installed new furniture throughout the apartment, including bunk beds for her children, and hung artwork, placed framed family photographs on the shelves, and designed the children’s room around their interests in Batman, dinosaurs and cats.
The result demonstrated an intense precision and attention to detail on behalf of Steinberg and Pen + Napkin.
“The statistics show that an overwhelming percentage of people without furnished homes end up homeless again versus those who have furnished homes, so it shows you that putting time and love into your space makes a difference,” Steinberg explains. “That’s what we did and now it really feels like a home to her instead of just an apartment.”
The project was not only achieved through the hard work and dedication of Steinberg and Pen + Napkin, but also a much larger group of individuals, including Emily Henderson, Décor Revolution Design Assistant Kateryna Calderon, and photographer Cristopher Nolasco, and companies like Calico, Poly & Bark and Oh Joy!
“It was amazing. So many people helped make this project possible,” Steinberg says. “Thank you so much to all the volunteers that worked to do the installation, we couldn’t have done it without them, and to all the people who gave online. The joy on this mom’s face when she saw her new home is due to all of their generosity. They made her dreams come true.”
Pen + Napkin