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Unsung hero: Interior designer Beth Phillips furnishes hope to families in crisis

There’s something different about the recently opened home furnishings store in Newport Beach’s Westcliff Plaza.

The store, called Furnishing Hope, supports families in crisis, sells at a discount and accepts volunteers to work with its paid employees.

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Beth Phillips, who has a 32-year career in interior design, went from furnishing homes for hire to furnishing homes for hope. In 2003 she founded the nonprofit organization Furnishing Hope, which has provided furniture and supplies to more than 375 families at no charge. She now uses her design skills to help wounded military personnel and, as of this year, women with children transitioning from shelters to fully furnished homes.

She decided to open a shop when she found herself with a surplus in the nonprofit’s Santa Ana warehouse. Phillips thought they could turn donated furniture into a way to generate income to benefit Furnishing Hope’s programs. Proceeds from the newly opened retail furniture store go directly to support their mission.

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“All of the donated furniture is new and comes directly from wholesalers, distributors, manufacturers and online retailers,” Phillips said.

To price its merchandise, Furnishing Hope’s 11,000-square-foot store starts with the lowest price available online for a comparable product and then discounts it 30% to 50% for sale to the public, according to Phillips.

Income from store sales is used to buy program necessities such as mattresses, bedding and kitchen supplies that aren’t part of the store inventory.

The organization also is supported by donors such as Blackmore Equipment Co., which provided a $40,000 truck to be used for pickups and deliveries.

During interior designer Michelle Belmont’s first visit to Furnishing Hope she noticed a three-piece wall hanging for $179 that was exactly like one she had bought a few years ago for $600.

“I think it’s fabulous; everybody wins,” Belmont said. “Designers can purchase below industry standards and be able to resell to clients at a discount.”

The selection of goods is an ever-changing display of styles. “Since all of the items are donated, you never know what you’re going to get,” Phillips said.

Belmont said she was so impressed that she called the store after she left and said, “Put me on the [volunteer ] list. I want to help.”

Phillips said the families for whom her organization furnishes homes are referred through government agencies or nonprofits such as Casa Teresa, Colette's Children’s Home and Crisis House. “Most of the young ladies coming out of these shelters need everything,” she said.

Each household receives similar items.

Alicia is a single mother who worked in the nursing field, lived in Huntington Harbour and was a PTA president. Then she lost everything as a result of financial hardships created by a domestic violence case. She and her son ended up living in her Toyota Highlander for seven months.

“I never thought it would happen to me,” she said. “Having my home furnished by Furnishing Hope made me feel secure again. Being able to tuck my son into his very own bed each evening makes me feel like the mom I used to be, before we became homeless.”

The Furnishing Hope application gives families an opportunity to provide input about the furnishings, ensuring the items reflect their personalities. A section includes their interests, favorite colors and favorite places to relax — for example, the ocean, desert, tropics, mountains or forest. They’re also asked to pick one style of furniture among country, contemporary, traditional or other.

The final phase of the process resembles the reality TV series “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” in which families are instructed to leave during the makeover of their home. A six-person crew can complete the installation in three to four hours.

Among the workers is Michael Wonder, a supervisor with Furnishing Hope for eight years. “I love working with the whole family,” he said. “The smile, along with the tears of joy, make it all worth it.”

When the families return, everything is organized, all the beds are made and the table is set, including a platter of freshly baked cookies.

Furnishing Hope’s Westcliff Plaza store is at 1100 Irvine Ave., Newport Beach.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.

For more information, visit furnishinghope.org or call (949) 524-5937.

Editor’s note: This is an installment of Unsung Heroes, an annual feature that highlights otherwise overlooked members of the community.

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