Sara Bengur is a celebrated interior designer. She’s a furniture expert, a widow wizard and a texture technician. Bengur recently helped decorate the common room at Marcello Manor, a new apartment building in the west Bronx for low-income tenants and domestic violence survivors. Beforehand, she consulted a panel of experts – the residents of Marcello Manor.
“I met with a group of tenants,” Bengur said. “We talked about the common room. The tenants knew exactly what they wanted.”
N, who chose not to use her full name, was the first resident to settle at Marcello Manor. The nine-story, 38-unit building – a New Destiny Housing project – opened last fall. Marcello Manor is a refuge, N said. She asked Bengur to use soothing hues in the common room. Half of Marcello Manor’s residents are survivors of domestic violence. Half are low-income tenants from the west Bronx. N and other residents suggested that Bengur incorporate inspirational photos rather than inspirational words. Marcello Manor’s domestic violence survivors are women who have exited the city’s domestic violence shelter system. N and other residents associate inspirational words with the shelter system.
“The women here are survivors,” she said. “Marcello Manor isn’t a shelter.”
Bengur listened, then complied; she had the common room painted green and recruited artist friends to help. One friend, Lillian Heard, stenciled bird silhouettes against the wall. Photographers donated shots of women praying – in Pakistan, Sudan and NYC. West Elm, a Brooklyn furnisher, contributed couches, chairs and ottomans.
Greg Gill of J. Mendoza Gardens worked on Marcello Manor’s outdoor plaza. He planted ivy and evergreen trees. Affordable housing financer Enterprise facilitated the design.
“The room and plaza are beautiful,” New Destiny executive director Carol Corden said.
Although the city shelters domestic violence survivors, the women must leave after five months. According to Corden, less than 15 percent of them find permanent housing. Many end up on the street or back with an abusive partner. Residents come and go freely; none are required to meet with the counselor. K, who chose not to use her full name, is a domestic violence survivor. She and her son moved to Marcello Manor in February.
“The common room is so pretty,” K said. “I want to get on with my life. Marcello Manor is a blessing.”
Bengur dedicated part of the room to children. At a dedication ceremony on Thursday, May 14, toddlers bounced on a polka dot rug. State housing credits, the city council and the borough president helped fund Marcello Manor, a $10 million project.