SALT LAKE CITY — The BYUtv and CW show “Welcome Home” is a different kind of home makeover show.
For one thing, the families on the receiving end of the home makeover often haven't lived in a place of their own for some time. Additionally, the hosts, husband-and-wife team Treger and Rob Strasberg, never planned on being on a reality show.
Back in 2009, the Strasbergs started their Detriot-based nonprofit Humble Design — which Treger Strasberg described as "a logistics program with a heart" — as a way of connecting donated furnishings directly with families in the process of exiting homelessness. But the furniture isn't simply old castoffs — all their donations are carefully curated to meet the needs and style of each family.
"(It's) a nonprofit that has found a dignified way to help people exiting homelessness. They didn't try and start a TV show," said showrunner Robin Samuels in a phone interview with the Deseret News. "They left pretty lucrative jobs in advertising and design to follow their dream, which was to help people."
Treger Strasberg had the idea for Humble Design after learning that a friend and her children had moved into a homeless shelter. This friend was eventually able to find housing, but Treger Strasberg was surprised when she visited her house and found there was no furniture.
“She had nothing. She was sleeping on the floor with her coat,” Treger Strasberg said in a recent phone interview. “So it just started with me and my friend in a pickup truck driving our stuff down.”
When Treger Strasberg ran out of her own excess furniture to offer, she started asking her neighbors, people at her kids’ school — even people in line at the grocery store if they had furniture they would like to donate.
So many people got involved that even after Treger Strasberg completely furnished her friend's home, people were still donating things. When she came home to a sectional couch on her front lawn, Treger Strasberg began calling organizations to find a home for it.
“I had rules. I didn't want it to be sold. I wanted it to go directly to a family like the one that we had helped,” she said. “I quickly realized a program like this didn't exist. So, I had a real moment in time when my husband and I sat down and said, ‘Is this something that we want to try?’ … And we quickly realized … there were more families out there we could help if we just had the nerve to grow.”
Now 10 years in, Humble Design has 45 employees, four warehouses to store donated furniture, its own TV show and has helped over 1,000 families across four cities. Although they've expanded and honed their method, they're still doing what they have been doing since day one, according to Rob Strasberg.
"From the beginning, when Treger started (helping her friend), it was about making the home beautiful and unique for the family because it was a friend that needed help. We didn't just throw furniture at her. … This was about, 'No, you've gone through a lot. Let's give you an amazing, dignified experience,'" Rob Strasberg said.
Both on the show and with Humble Design, the couple has emphasized personalizing the home for each family they work with. They have designers on staff who find furniture to match the family's tastes. If the family doesn't own any furniture, the designers will repaint and repurpose furniture for the family's new home.
"It does end up looking magazine worthy every time for every family," Treger Strasberg said. "And we always want those touches — the things that actually make the family feel like they were listened to, and (that) they had a hand in designing their own home."
Once they've picked all the furniture, art and decorations from their warehouse, Humble Design will then move it all into the family's home.
"It's amazing to see the trucks arrive. It's like a NASCAR pit crew. They know where everything goes," Samuels said.
They've refined their process to this point of efficiency over the years. The first home they did took about eight weeks to source the furniture and move everything in. Now the company does three homes a week out of their Detroit location. They do the move-in process between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., finishing just in time for the family to arrive home from work and school for the big reveal.
"Welcome Home" only features one home a week and while the process might seem sped up for TV drama, they actually have to slow down the action so the camera crew can catch everything, according to Samuels. What they usually do in half a day they extend to two days while the show puts the family up in a hotel.
According to Rob Strasberg, seeing the family's faces when they arrive at their made-over home makes the hard work well worth it.
"(These kids) may have been sleeping in a car for a couple years, or in a shelter and felt unsafe, or just hasn't had a sense of permanence," he said. "(And) when they see a room that has their favorite sports team in it or the color they love and they see their name over the bed, their face lights up. Many times they go to tears because they didn't know if they'd ever get that. … Then they turn to their mom, and they say, 'Can I invite someone over for a sleepover?' … Because they haven't been able to. That's their big dream."
As a mother herself, Treger Strasberg relates most to the mothers of the families they help, knowing that they often bear the burden of the families' stress.
"For me, it's the moment of happiness and relief that the mom feels," she said. "She's been carrying the weight of her family, sometimes literally. … (That moment provides) a little bit of relief, a little bit of happiness in the worst year of their life. Sometimes (that's) almost as important as the furniture itself."Comment on this story
It's a feeling many people, homeless or not, can relate to — the relief in knowing one's family is safe and well. And for the people making this show, that's what their experiences are really about. They hope to show a different, more personal face of homelessness.
"Any one of us could end up homeless when one paycheck doesn't come through, or something goes wrong, or a medical problem, or something terrible happens in your life," Rob Strasberg said, "We've learned that the people who are in homeless shelters are no different from you and me."
_"Welcome Home" airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on BYUtv and Saturday mornings as part of the CW's "__One Magnificent Morning" programming._