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Sunday, December 19

A wish fulfilled

It is hard for me to write this story, but I wanted to share with you a recent project that I have been working on for the last few months. This project really holds a special place in my heart.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with a wonderful 13-year- old girl named Jordan Barrett. Sadly, Jordan had recently lost her twin sister, Jensen, to cancer.

During Jensen’s battle with cancer, she chronicled a journal in which she made a list of 20 things that she wanted to see or do before she passed. One of the items on the list was to redecorate the room that she and Jordan shared together.

I was heartbroken when I heard the story, and wanted to help in anyway that I could. My first meeting with Jordan was very difficult. My heart went out to her - the thought of loosing not only her sister, but her twin. We talked about her room, and looked at ideas of beds and wall colors and new desks. Seeing the room for the first time, it was basically untouched, filled with two twin beds, desks and clothes left on the floor. It was like a moment frozen in time. I knew that, as wonderful as it would be to help makeover the space and give Jordan a new space that she and her sister had always dreamed of, it was going to be a hard challenge to not take away from the memories of the past. These thoughts were constantly on my mind throughout the process. We couldn't just replace everything in the room and forget the past. It was vital to incorporate the memories from the past and start to create new memories for the future.

There were certainly many tears while working on this project, not just for the family, but from me too. Each step along the way had its own layer of consideration. This was the room that the twins had been brought home together from the hospital. This was also the room where Jensen had been sick. These were the beds that they had slept in and the desks that they had worked at. Boxing up the memories for the room to be painted and new furniture to be installed, lead to the family discovering items that Jensen had left behind. Taking apart the twin beds for the new full sized bed to be installed felt like I was somehow breaking the twins apart.

Just last week, we installed the new room, with newly painted purple walls (Jensen’s favorite color) and all new furniture (thanks to PBTeen). Nothing made me happier than to see the joy in Jordan’s face with the re-design of the room. The room was fresh and new and exactly what she and Jensen had talked about. We filled picture frames with photos, moved in stuffed animals and many objects that were important to Jensen. It was vital to keep Jensen’s memory alive the space and the dreams that she had, but at the same time help Jordan move forward.

I was honored to be apart of such a touching transformation. The San Francisco Chronicle documented this process and I am happy to share this article with you.

A wish fulfilled: Teen gets a fresh start

Anh-Minh Le, Special to The Chronicle
Photos: John Sebastian Russo and Paul Chinn
Sunday, December 19, 2010

Shortly after her daughter Jensen died in August, Evelyn Barrett stumbled upon a journal that the 13-year-old had kept. In it, she chronicled her two-year battle with synovial sarcoma, a rare and incurable form of cancer that afflicts hundreds of young people every year.

She wrote about her chemotherapy treatments and many surgeries; about shuttling among hospitals in the Bay Area, Tennessee and Orange County - all via train or car because her lungs were too fragile for air travel. The accomplished piano player, who was also a competitive swimmer and tennis player before her illness, documented her experience as a junior bridesmaid in a cousin's summer wedding; a July trip to Alaska, where she participated in a sled-dog ride with an Iditarod race team; and other family vacations that offered a brief respite from reality.

"Her last entry was a list of 20 things she wanted to see or do before she passed," said Evelyn. One of the items was to redecorate the bedroom she shared with her twin sister, Jordan - to transform it from a little girl's room to a space better suited for a teenager.

"Jordan and Jensen shared a room since the day they came home from the hospital," recalled their mother. "They laughed, fought, cried, studied together, read together, yelled at each other like siblings often do, and learned how to get along with each other in their 10-by-12-foot room. Despite all of this activity, they loved sharing their room and were inseparable."
Evelyn and husband Greg's 9-year-old son, Blake, has his own room. And the family's Saratoga home does have a spare bedroom. But neither twin wanted it; they were roommates by choice.

In the weeks following Jensen's death, her side of the room remained untouched, "as if she was still there - unmade bed, papers on her desk, her clothes on the floor," said Evelyn, who saw a new purpose in completing the bedroom makeover on Jensen's list. "It would be great to give Jordan a fresh start and begin her healing process."

Through mutual friends, interior designer Grant K. Gibson heard about the Barretts and reached out to them to volunteer his services.

"I couldn't imagine what it would be like for a young girl to lose her sister and best friend. Jordan's had to deal with so much," he said. "My goal as a designer is to bring a smile to people's faces when I'm done working on a project. And I hope that I can do that for her."

During their initial meeting, to help provide a sense of her aesthetic, Jordan showed him some pages she had dog-eared in the latest PBteen catalog. Gibson knew that with the lingering medical and funeral bills, the budget was going to be tight. But he also knew that PBteen is headquartered in San Francisco. So he contacted the home furnishings retailer to inquire about merchandise donations.

With PBteen on board, the project officially got under way. "I'm excited to have a new room," said Jordan, who envisioned walls in shades of purple and furnishings in black and white. "Jensen and I had discussed what we wanted to do. Now I'll be able to incorporate some of the ideas that we talked about. I would love a place where I can relax, read, hang out with friends and do homework."

Earlier this month, the painters and furniture installers descended on Jordan's bedroom. Out went the seafoam green walls, pair of twin beds and two desks. In went a full-size bed; a storage tower that is the perfect spot for personal mementos, not to mention a set of "Twilight" books; a bookcase for more academic reading material; and a combination desk and hutch.
Graphic and textural accents - such as the PBteen Nouveau Floral bedding, a wire letter "J" and a lavender flokati rug - imbue a sense of fun.

"It will be easy for her to change the accessories in the room over the years," said Gibson. "Because you know with teenagers, one day it's in, the next it's out."

The room includes some holdovers, of course. A piece of Jordan's old desk, for example, was brought back in. "I started to write on it about a year ago," explained the eighth-grader. "Then when friends came over, they'd sign it." Gibson proposed retaining just the autographed panel of the desk and repurposing it as wall art. It now rests on top of her new desk, behind a trophy that Jordan and Jensen won in a doubles tennis competition.

"It was important for me to keep objects that remind me of Jensen," said Jordan. Among those objects are lots of photographs and Jensen's beloved stuffed animals - like a monkey, Elliot the Elephant and a caterpillar that Jensen received as a newborn.
Caterpillars are a subtle, recurring theme in the room. There's a colorful ceramic caterpillar from a paint-it-yourself studio. Jensen started it, and Jordan finished it last month. A plastic caterpillar holds a small collection of medallions and pendants that were given to Jensen while she was undergoing cancer treatments. "We just found this when we were clearing out the room," said Evelyn. "I had no idea she had saved all of these."

On the day that the finished room was revealed, Jordan invited her friend Camille Tabari to share in the excitement. "I know it was hard to change," said the fellow 13-year-old, "but it looks a lot better now."

Added Jordan: "It looks different from what I thought it was going to, but it's so much better than what I imagined!" In addition to the purple, black and white palette, Gibson introduced pink into the room - a pleasant surprise to Jordan, whose second favorite color is pink.

Her father, Greg, noted that "it's a good step in moving forward. She's growing up and entering the next stage. It's important to keep your memories, but don't let them hold you back."

And now the Barretts can cross this item off of Jensen's list. "This is what she wanted," said Evelyn. "I feel like she's smiling down on us saying, 'Good job, guys.' "



Wow this is so touching. It's wonderful how you were able to contribute to this family. Thank you for sharing this story.

My best!

Laura Casey Interiors said...

Grant, what a gift to give a wonderful sister. This is such a sad story, but also one of hope. Thank you for sharing it with your blog readers. They are lucky to have gotten to work with you. Merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...

I love ya Grant.. great story. ;)
The young lady is lucky to have had you.

D. Scott Tjaden

home before dark said...

Grant Gibson, you are my hero. So beautifully done. The showcase house for teen girl was smashing, but this one has pure heart shining through.

Global Atelier said...

This is what the season is all about - thanks for sharing such a special story.

Design in the Woods said...

Love this story, Grant. So glad you helped this family move forward with their lives. Good design does make people happy and you have proven it! My heart goes out to them.

Anonymous said...

How touching. As the mother of twin girls and a long time reader of your blog, I am in tears. Your gentle and thoughtful personality is just perfect to help someone through their loss. I am glad they had you and it sounds like you felt the grace of it. Happy Holidays.


Anonymous said...


The piece about your work in today's Home section was utterly moving. What a
wonderful thing to have done! The room itself is lovely, and the gesture
makes it timeless and beautiful. I can only imagine how much comfort you
have given in making this transformation a reality.

I hope you have the most wonderful Christmas!!!!


Anonymous said...

Dear Grant,
You are a beautiful man,
You have given this girl a real sense of renewal
Blessings to you at Christmas!


Jennie Anderson
Founder and CEO

Mood and Space Design said...

Now THAT is what it is all about! Wonderful, Grant! Truly! Please let us know if you ever need any help. We'd be thrilled to lend a hand! This made my day!

Anonymous said...

When I read that article, I THOUGHT that the re-do had your "stamp" on it:)

Happy holidays, Grant!


P.S. There is still a glass of wine waiting for you over here...

Anonymous said...

You are such a wonderful man, Grant. This is a gift that will change this girls life. You gave her reason to be excited - even just for a minute - after such a deep loss. Thank you for all that you do to make this world a better place. Love you for it!

Karin McKinnell

kayce hughes said...

A good monday morning cry. Thanks.

My Notting Hill said...

Grant - I'll echo what everyone has said - you are such a special person. I can imagine how sensitively and beautifully you worked with Jordon and her family. In your description it really comes through how much you shared with them. I am reminded of the line from St. Francis of Assisi's prayer - "For it is in the giving that we receive."

House and Life said...

Oh Grant, I don't think I ever cried so hard reading a blog post! Here I was sweating the small stuff this morning and I am completely letting it go. It is awesome what you did for this young lady, thank you for sharing!

The Buzz said...

What a touching story and how lovely that you shared it with us. We are identical twins running a business together and can't even conceive our lives without the other. How wonderful of you to work with Jordan and create a beautiful room filled with love and hope.

Anonymous said...

Grant, you are a compassionate, caring man who has shared his gifts to help a dear young woman move through the loss of her sister. I am a Hospice therapist and I want you to know you live the way we are all created to live in relationship with one another.

Angie said...

I read this in the paper yesterday, and I was very touched. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose a twin sister, but I'm sure that what you have done has somewhat helped her get through a hard time. Bravo to you!

Anonymous said...

Lovely Grant -- it's a priviledge to know you. I read this article in the Chron yesterday and was just sitting down to write you when here you are.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful to hear this inspiring story. I know you helped that young girl out very much in her healing process. Thank you Mr Gibson. Hmmm, you have given me the  idea ,to help in the same way, up here in Maine. Thank you!

Cheers and Happy Holidays,
Jane Mangan

PS I loved your visit with Bunny Williams, designer extraordinaire, as you are too!

Cristin @ Simplified Bee said...

Grant, this post brings tears to my eyes. What a wonderful project helping a family grieve. The new room is gorgeous. I love how you used the desk top as art. My heart goes out to the family and I wish them love and peace. xo

Ideezine said...


Some of us are placed in some pretty "heavy" situations and know we are there for a reason. Your ability to "handle with care" is the reason and in this season you were positioned for this task.

God Bless your skill set, emotions, and ability to handle and share with us the reasons in all seasons. Quality of life not stuff at every delicate level.

Merry Christmas,


mary said...

I'm responding with tears in my eyes. What a wonderful gift you have given Jordan. Life is in the gving--I just need to remember this when I become impatient. Thank you for this Christmas gift to inspire me.

christine Carroll said...

So very sweet of you to take this heartbreaker on. You are amazingly talented but, more importantly, a compassionate and loving soul.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the wonderful story. If you are ever in palm beach I would love for you to come to my store. Thanks again.


katiedid said...

You are one busy guy! But I cannot think of a better way to spend precious time than by giving of yourself in this way. The room is adorable, and so are you!


Wishing you the happiest of Holiday Seasons my friend!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful gesture you did for Jordan. I am sure this well help her heal from her lose. You our a very giving person. I am happy I know you through your blog.

Marie Whitehill

Louise Berto said...

As a mom of twins who share a bedroom, I was incredibly touched by this story - in particular, your willingness to help this family. I can just imagine the sense of sadness and paralysis at the thought of redecorating, and to have a generous and kind professional such as yourself as a guide must have made a huge difference. The redecorated room is lovely! So perfect for a new start - honors the past but also is a good place for new memories. Well, well done; this was truly a blessed thing you did.

Suzy said...

Well done Grant. Great job, great cause. Wishing you all the best for the festive season and wonderful 2011.

pretty pink tulips said...

A truly touching and moving story. I know that you made such an impact on Jordan and her family....far beyond the beautiful new wall color and bed.

Lisa said...

You're good man Grant K. Gibson with a great big heart.
I'm so glad that I read this before heading off to bed.
You put it ALL back into perspective.
Thank you and Merry Christmas!
xo Lisa

Grant K. Gibson said...

Thank you everyone for you kind comments.
I am honored that I was able to be apart of such a wonderful project and really do something special and give back. I hope that this re-design puts a smile on Jordan's face for many years to come.

Happy holidays to all!

La Maison Fou said...

This was a wonderful gift Grant. I am sure this made her holiday a special one. I adore the use of er sisters desktop, that was not only bril but really speciasl.
Happy Holidays to you,
La Maison Fou

Iman said...

Very heart warming!

Loretta Fontaine (APPLESandRUBIES) said...

Grant- This beautiful story is the in the true spirit of the season. Such a beautiful girl and you made her wish come true.

The photos of the two twins in the frames are so lovely. I wish that family a happy and peaceful holidays.


Caroline Yu said...

Grant, this story brings tears to my eyes. How wonderful of you to help this family, you are such a generous person (which I knew from our meeting together). The room looks great! Perfect for a teen and so personal as well.

Anonymous said...

Dear Grant - Thank you for giving of your time and energy for such a moving project. I love your work and your blog. I have twin boys who share a room and well.. share everything.I can't imagine one without the other. This Holiday vacation we have been redoing their room. What a lot of work but boy are they happy. This article made me bawl.
Best wished for a grace filled 2011 -

red ticking said...

lovely story... so heartfelt.... she will love sharing her new beautiful room with her sister in heaven....

wishing you safe travels and a joyful new year... i will be with the clan in napa... and wish you were able to join... will see you next time we visit... xx

Lauren said...

How amazing. It's beautiful and really what it's all about.

Ludmila {} said...

Grant, this story brought tears to my eyes. Such a great gesture for the young lady and her family. I deeply admire your work! xo

Pink Wallpaper said...

what a wonderful story to share and help us all realize what is really important in life. you did a great job grant!

Claudia Juestel said...

What a wonderful project Grant, and a perfect example of the impact of design.



Cote de Texas said...

omg. Grant. this just slays me. its so sad for the twin left behind. wow. i'm crying. you did a beautiful job. omg.


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