RISD students bring interior design skills to recovery center

RISD students bring interior design skills to recovery center

One of the designs created by RISD students for the Whitestone Life Center in North Providence.

NORTH PROVIDENCE – An addiction recovery center on Smith Street should soon have some of the best new interior designs Rhode Island has to offer.

Operators of the nonprofit recovery house partnered with Rhode Island School of Design adjunct faculty member Elizabeth Debs and her interior architecture students to come up with designs that best contribute to the psychological well-being of men who are on their road to recovery.

Sophomore RISD students presented their final designs to the public during an open forum last Thursday, and the owners of the Whitestone Life Center will now seek help and contributions from the community to do the actual work of incorporating the designs in real life.

David Butera, vice president, recovery specialist and certified minister at Whitestone, said RISD students “went above and beyond what we intended this to be” in coming up with designs to help combat the ongoing addiction crisis, particularly those fighting addictions to heroin and alcohol.

Butera and founder Herman Falu, also a licensed Baptist minister, run their “restoration house” at 1373 Smith St. Since taking it over last year, said Butera, neighborhood complaints about incidents at the facility have subsided.

Restoration houses like this one are typically covered in a hodge-podge of donated items, said Butera, but the partnership with RISD presents a real opportunity to create something nicer in the rooms at Whitestone. There are 11 bedrooms, a full kitchen, and two common rooms.

“Not every room is uniform or consistent,” he said. “It’s not easily functional.”

To run a recovery center that truly heals mind and body in a holistic way, it’s critical to have an atmosphere conducive to helping people, said Butera. With the opioid epidemic “decimating our community,” he said he believes this partnership with RISD can become “a model for the area and the country.”

The physical environment at a facility like Whitestone should support consistency, orderliness and cleanliness. Many in recovery are coming from a place of chaos, so a neat and clean design can offer needed support in the journey. Clean lines and convenient storage spaces are key.

Having an open process, in which Butera and Falu gave feedback to students on designs that wouldn’t work, like inclusion of possible trip hazards, helped students hone in on the simple designs that the owners were going for.

The discussions also helped bring much-needed recognition to the problems of addiction, said Butera, issues that aren’t discussed nearly enough.

Butera said it was difficult to decide on winning designs based on how much effort went into the final products.

In an account of the project on the RISD website, Debs calls the designers who worked on the Whitestone project “an incredibly sophisticated and compassionate group of undergraduate students.” Butera said students made this project about much more than just a class assignment, embracing the idea of making a difference by helping people who are struggling with addiction.

At Whitestone, those in recovery start out in shared bedrooms downstairs before moving upstairs to single bedrooms. Butera and Falu are leasing the building with the hope of one day owning it.

The goal with the facility, backed with the planned new designs, is to create a place of honor and dignity, said Butera.

He said he’s looking for support from local people and businesses to help make the designs come to life. Email dwbutera@verizon.net .

For more on Whitestone Life Center, visit www.whitestonelifecenter.org .

David Butera, left, and Herman Falu run the Whitestone Life Center on Smith Street in North Providence.