“Oh my goodness,” “holy cow” and “I can’t speak” are just a few of the exclamations that came from the Grand Avenue Club members after seeing their office space at 210 E. Michigan St. completely remodeled. Design for a Difference Milwaukee – in partnership with Floor360, BILTRITE and Milwaukee Magazine – had completely reimagined the space to suit the needs of the local nonprofit, which helps people who have experienced mental illnesses find jobs.
“It’s a quality of life change,” Grand Avenue Club Executive Director Philip Connelly says about the makeover. “Who wouldn’t want to come and work in this space? It’s just absolutely transformative, and I think it gives the opportunity to staff and members to build upon the foundation here.”
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From durable new flooring to freshly painted purple ceilings, every corner of the space had been touched by the project, which added up to about $200,000 worth of work gifted for free by Design for a Difference. But what impressed members of the club most, was not the splashy new wallpaper and flashy design touches, but the attention to the Club’s needs and how having this new space will help change lives.
“This place saved my life,” says Genesha Reed, a member since 2012. “I didn’t have a social life, I didn’t know how to work, I didn’t know how to communicate. And now I’m getting my degree in Human Services and going into restorative justice.”
Reed was especially excited about the electronic standing desks, which will make it possible for her to work from this location more often. Other thoughtful touches included a sewing corner, where members can mend and store clothes for the Water Street Boutique.
“The thing that’s interesting about the Boutique is it gives people retail experience,” Grand Avenue Club board member Paul Christensen says. “The club members run it all and get the experience counting money and everything.”
Even the closets got a spruce with fresh molding, wallpaper and more functional design.
“[The closets] were pretty beat up and banged up and needed to be refreshed, so I just added a little life to it,” Floor 360 volunteer Peggy Hemzacek says. “One of the first things you do when you come in every day is take off your jacket and hang it up in the closet.”
BILTRITE has been working with the Grand Avenue Club long before this remodel. Since 2005, the locally-owned furniture, leather goods and mattress store has been hiring Grand Avenue Club members to add to their staff, and they’ve donated furniture and monetarily through the years. Participating in this project was kismet, and BILTRITE donated all of the furniture for the Lincoln Room.
“It was a no brainer” says Randi Komisar Schachter, a fourth-generation family member at BILTRITE. “For us to be 94 years locally- and family-owned, we are a part of this community and we have to give back to our community. This is right in our hearts and our passion so this was a very special moment today.”
After months of planning logistics, designing the space and doing the work, project leader Kelly Kuehn is looking forward to seeing the long-term impact this space will have on the community.
“It was really meaningful to see the reaction to things that had once been problematic, or needed improvement for functionality – when they saw what we had done, they were so surprised that we paid the attention to detail that we did for them,” Kuehn says. “I hope that this draws some much-needed attention for [the Grand Avenue Club] and they get more support for this organization, which does really wonderful things in outreach for the community.”
Read more about this Design for a Difference project or past projects, here.