Charting a Path
For 20 years, Sketch has provided a space for Toronto’s homeless and marginalized youth, aged 16 to 29, to pursue art, music, dance, woodworking, the media arts, and other creative activities. Its advocates say it helps engage youth on a social level, above and beyond the basic shelter-and-food programs offered by the city. Personal empowerment comes from learning and honing practical skills that might be applied to real careers; even better is the sense of self-sufficiency and self-worth these activities generate.
Four years ago, the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO) launched a charitable initiative called ROI: Renew-Originate-Implement. Its objective is to improve the way essential services and support are provided to Ontarians in need, utilizing the transformative powers of interior design. Previous recipients of ROI’s environmental makeovers include the CAMH Archway Clinic (2013), Fife House (2014) and Variety Village (2015). This year was Sketch’s turn.
“Our local GTA chapter has done a lot of fund-raising for Sketch in the past,” said Sharon Portelli, ARIDO’s executive director and registrar. “They really knew the impact Sketch was having on homeless and disadvantaged youth. One of our members, Janine Grossman, past-president of ARIDO, approached me and recommended we consider Sketch.”
Rudy Ruttimann, Sketch’s executive director, says their need was great. The program’s 1,200-sq.-ft. administration hub, on the second floor of a converted high school in the Queen Street West neighbourhood, was cramped and chaotic. Entry into the space beyond the double doorway was blocked by a big photocopier and made even more unwelcoming by the positioning of tiny work cubicles that presented their users’ backs to hesitant newcomers. Ruttimann mentions the horrible lighting, the lack of proper storage, and the daily cacophony of up to 45 people noisily conducting business for the 1,200-plus clients that come through the program on a yearly basis. To conduct private meetings or arrange seclusion during her annual bookkeeping audit, Ruttimann used to staple a piece of black cloth to either side of her open office area with a Do Not Disturb card tacked to its front.
“Comfort, productivity, and a professional atmosphere” were all priorities from the start, says Portelli, who, together with Mahesh Babooram and Dayna Bradley, comprised the ROI planning committee. Portelli adds: “The amount of important support from the design community to bring these projects to life is just overwhelming.”
Design team members Janine Grossman and Tabitha McCullum echo this sentiment. Grossman points to the dozens of suppliers who agreed to work on the pro bono project, and gives a special commendation to platinum sponsors Brigholme Interiors Group and The Pentacon Construction Group, along with engineers The HIDI Group. “We started designing in the spring, and everything was complete mid-September.” Just in time to celebrate Sketch’s 20th Anniversary.
Rudy Ruttimann is obviously thrilled with the outcome. “It went beyond our wish-list. We got things like sitting/standing desks, tackboards and whiteboards, new lights, a new front table, a new kitchen and lots of storage.” She makes specific mention of the Interface carpeting tiles. “We have dogs visiting us from time to time. One of them widdled on the carpet, so we just picked up the tile, threw it in the washing machine, and it was as good as new.”
The front table she mentions takes the place of the photocopier machine, which has been moved into a secluded corner. Workstations, complete with Mac computers, Meda chairs by Vitra, and overhead sound-baffles to lower the noise levels, now present a sideways profile to the entry – welcoming but not intimidating. A large clerestory window lets natural light into Ruttimann’s office, adjacent to a small meeting room, both of which can become private by a simple pull on a sliding door. Built-in storage units reach up to the open mechanical ceiling, now freshly plastered and painted, and fitted with a new HVAC system. The bright white-and-teal kitchen area boasts a stainless steel fridge and dishwasher, as well as overhead shelving so that Sketch now has a place to display its many community awards.
The biggest thrill for Ruttimann, who has experienced homelessness herself, is the newness of everything. As Janine Grossmann says: “Nothing here is second-hand or second-class. It feels like a real workspace … not overdesigned but with a level of finish to it. It gives people pride, and it gives the place more credibility, especially when it comes to fund-raising.”
Thanks to ROI, Sketch now looks like what it is: an established and valued member of our society.