Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Zoey Whitehead Faatz draws in the Road Home's newly remodeled playroom while mom Michelle Whitehead and brother Darrell watch.

Children staying at the homeless shelter in Salt Lake City have always had a place to go to get away from it all, but now their playroom is flanked with IKEA furnishings and lots of color.

"For them to have a nice, beautiful room to come and play with their family in will be so exciting," said Celeste Eggert, director of development for the Road Home homeless shelter. "It will make the situation of living in a shelter more bearable."

Instead of white concrete walls, brown tile floors and piles of mismatched books, toys, broken crayons and used coloring books, the children's playroom now has whimsical, brightly colored, distinct areas for creativity, reading, storage and relaxation.

Six interior design students at Salt Lake Community College volunteered their time to design the 900 square feet of space, as well as shop for and install more than $2,000 worth of IKEA-donated furnishings.

"They wanted to make this place a sanctuary for kids to come," said Mojdeh Sakaki, director of the SLCC program. "They wanted to make it so it was not just an ordinary place."

The project began in October when IKEA presented the idea to the shelter and needed assistance with a design phase. The students were recruited to work around various and multiple requirements and parameters set by the shelter and state health codes. They spent three days at the tail end of finals week completing installation and cleaning up the playroom.

"This room is going to bring a lot of joy to a lot of kids," Eggert said.

At any one time, Eggert said 50 to 60 children, ranging in age from birth to 17 years, might be living at the shelter, all of them eligible to use the playroom. Volunteers use the room to direct various activities for children at the shelter and it becomes a gathering place for families to be together outside of their regular dormitory-style, small rooms.

"There's more for the children to do," said Michelle Whitehead, who lives at the shelter with her four children. "I guess we can expect they'll draw more pictures for us." Her children headed straight for the egg-shaped, spinning canopy chairs and spent time drawing on large rolls of art paper. They proudly carried their masterpieces home to their room.

Designing a kids' space was a new challenge for SLCC first-semester design student Garrett Smuin, who typically deals with home and property management on a larger scale. The use of bright colors and different implementations of children's furniture taught him to consider multiple audiences when designing a project.

"We wanted to create something inspiring for them," he said while straightening four art easels and the wooden stools beside them before the initial unveiling on Monday. He said the group spent countless hours organizing the effort and "seeing the look on the kids' faces makes it all worth it."

Tessa Pike, another design student at SLCC, has previously volunteered during activities at the shelter, specifically in the playroom, and said the difference is astounding. Before Monday's reveal, she said children would have to climb over piles of toys and sometimes garbage just to get to the back door of the playroom.

"I want this to make them happy," she said. "I want them to come in here and forget all that is going on elsewhere." The yellow and blue walls covered with black-painted imaginative words are designed to give the homeless children a sense of creativity and purpose.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com