On any project she takes on, designer Julie Kantrowitz of JK Interior Living likes to make the home feel like a sanctuary. But in a recent renovation, that goal had added meaning. For an episode of the NBC show George to the Rescue, where host George Oliphant leads renovations for deserving families, Kantrowitz was tasked with creating a living space for a family battling two medical conditions.
The Hymans, a family of five in New Jersey, have a five-year-old daughter, Cameron, who was diagnosed with Sanfilippo syndrome, a rare genetic disorder without a cure. Just days after Cameron received her diagnosis, her mom, Christina, was diagnosed with breast cancer. The past year has seen Christina undergoing cancer treatment while the family helps Cameron navigate the regressions in speech and movement resulting from Sanfilippo syndrome. Needless to say, any home renovations were not top of mind—but having a functional, comfortable place to relax and spend time together would be a game-changer for the Hymans. So, George to the Rescue made it happen.
Working in tandem with Ryan Hodgson from RTH Building Company, Kantrowitz set out to turn a cavernous, straight-out-of-the-70s living room into a multifunctional family space—in just six weeks. The first step: Getting rid of an outdated sunken seating area and stone fireplace, then visually dividing the room into different areas.
“The space was roughly 30 feet long,” recalls Kantrowitz. “It was so big that, had their been one seating area it would have been so contrived. And it wouldn’t have been comfortable or conversational—it would have been very cold.” Instead, she created separate zones that are visually connected with a soothing palette of neutrals and warm wood tones. “I wanted to give them a place where they could gather and I wanted enough seating for not only their family but extended family and their close friends.”
In addition to sofas and comfortable chairs, the design incorporated some unique elements for Cameron: “One thing they briefed me on was her sensory sensitivities,” says Kantrowitz. “And they recommended a swing.” Instead of just installing one, though, the designer incorporated two hanging chairs as part of the larger seating area, so the family could feel connected. “I thought, you know, one of her brothers could hang out with her so it’s not so isolating for her, and the brothers feel included too.”
Kantrowitz also designated a specific corner of the room for other sensory toys and objects Cameron uses, like a small ball pit and folding tunnels. “Then I designed the built-in for the purpose of stowing away any of the objects that they’re not using at any given time,” she says. “I wanted Christina to feel like she could come into the family room and have her own space to relax, too.”
Since Kantrowitz only had about six weeks to complete the renovation, she relied mostly on big-box stores and opted for fabrics the companies had in stock to ensure easy shipping.
Another consideration: ensuring the home could be made handicap accessible should Cameron need a wheelchair at some point. “I wanted to open up the entry points of the home so that would be easier down the road if they wanted to add a ramp or something to that effect,” explains Kantrowitz.
Ultimately, Kantrowitz hopes her space provides a backdrop for the most important thing for the Hymans: being together as a family. As Rob says, “Surrounding yourself with love—that’s really been the secret ingredient of keeping our family, our machine, rolling.”
“I love seeing my clients happy and loving their homes, but this is an actual need, not just a want, and I think that makes it so special,” Kantrowitz says.
Watch the full episode of George to the Rescue below.