After moving into her new townhouse in North Philadelphia earlier this summer, Latasha Raynor hung a "Bless Our Home" poster on the wall. She and her four children were finally home.
Raynor, 37, grew up in rental properties in North Philadelphia and later rented an apartment for herself and children in the Logan section of Philadelphia. Home ownership had not been on her radar.
She had a dream, though: "I wanted a blue house," she said. By chance, her new two-story dwelling is sheathed in blue-gray siding.
Three years ago, at the suggestion of a coworker, Raynor, a staff coordinator at a retirement and rehabilitation residence, attended an information session sponsored by Habitat for Humanity. The nonprofit has built more than 200 affordable houses in Philadelphia.
During the presentation on how to purchase a Habitat home, Raynor remembers thinking, "I can't do all this paperwork." But she summoned the will, completed an application, and was accepted to the program, which granted her an interest-free mortgage.
Among Habitat's requirements were that Raynor contribute 350 hours of "sweat equity" with the organization. She spent time cleaning up construction debris and painting Habitat homes and worked as a sales clerk at Habitat's discount home improvement store, ReStore, in South Philadelphia.
To furnish her future home, Raynor teamed up with interior designer Ellen Farber and eight of her design students from Harcum College in Bryn Mawr. Farber had been a design adviser at ReStore and wanted to involve the students in a project to assist a Habitat homeowner.
Farber and the students started by interviewing Raynor about her preferences. "I told them I wanted the house to feel warm," she said.
Habitat workers had installed hardwood floors and painted walls cream and the wood trim white. The students studied the layout of the three-bedroom house with its full bath, powder room, and basement and created design boards with furniture suggestions and fabric swatches.
Armed with the boards, Farber spent two months helping Raynor shop. At less than 1,200 square feet, the house posed some furnishing challenges. They found bunk beds to fit the tight spaces at Bob's Discount Furniture in Cherry Hill.
Sisters Aniya, 15, and Malaysia, 5, share one bedroom. Brothers Curtis, 20, and Darnell, 11, share another. Because of the range in siblings' ages, the décor could not be too cute or too sophisticated. The boys' room has a Marvel Comics poster, which appeals to both brothers, and the sisters like their white, yellow, and blue striped sheets and colorful pillows.
Raynor initially admired the pink and purple color scheme that Harcum students chose for the master bedroom until she found a gray, white, and teal print comforter at At Home in Cherry Hill. She shifted course and found gray-and-white curtains and rug and a teal lamp from At Home, as well. Two fur pillows and a teal bench came from ReStore.
A beige couch, glass coffee table, and side table for the living room were also ReStore buys. Black-and-white chairs and pillows came from Bob's, as did the dark walnut dining table and chairs, which match the kitchen cabinets.
A giant kitchen clock came from At Home. "I always wanted an oversized clock" Raynor said.
A framed photo of Barack and Michelle Obama with the presidential oath of office hangs on the wall near the front door. A red and black floral print brightens the dining area. Framed family photos are arranged on walls and scattered on tables.
To create a cozy living space in the unfinished basement, Curtis and three friends laid carpet tiles from Home Depot over the cement floor. The tweedy squares in various colors form a patchwork pattern. The young people can lounge on the gray sectional from Bob's.
The house has central air, but on a hot day, the above-ground pool in the backyard beckoned. The adjacent cement patio accommodates a table, chairs, barbecue, and kids' bikes and toys.
Raynor is not the only family member to recently acquire a house: Malaysia received a Barbie Townhouse for Christmas. Raynor persuaded her to keep it boxed until the move, when it was set up in the basement. Now the little girl can care for her pink house while her mother tends her long-awaited blue house.