“Deck the Halls” took on a whole new meaning for one deserving family this year.
Ahead of the holidays, Target Home Style Expert Emily Henderson and interior designer Shavonda Gardner teamed up for a “Feel Good Makeover” for Gardner’s younger sister Andrea, a single mother of four and Air Force ICU nurse who has been deployed in hospitals since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It felt incredible!” Gardner tells PEOPLE of getting involved in the surprise overhaul. “Not only does my sister, Andrea, mean so much to me, but so do her children. I haven’t lived close enough to help out before, but now that I do, I wanted to do something big.”
A veteran herself, Gardner adds that growing up in a military family helped shape her love of design, and inspired her to take on this project. “When you grow up a military child you learn very, very quickly that home is wherever you’re sent and what you make of it,” she says. “A big part of what inspired me to become a designer is growing up a military brat myself. We moved frequently and no matter where we moved, I always tried to make my room feel special. It made such a big difference and helped me feel like I was home anywhere we landed.”
Now, she’s using her talents to provide that same sense of comfort for her nieces and nephews.
“What really drove me when curating the children’s bedrooms was the desire to create a sense of permanence for them in addition to a healthy dose of holiday cheer,” she shared, adding, “We are still uncertain how long Andrea’s children will be in this house and in their rooms, but it was important for me to give them rooms that felt like their own.”
When it came to decorating 3-year-old twins Isaiah and Jayden’s room, “I wanted it to be bright and energetic, just like them,” she says, noting that she approached it from a practical perspective, too. “I also wanted to make sure there was enough storage and room for them to play. This resulted in a lot of fabric storage bins as well as a bunch of fun holiday items, like the Christmas Tree shaped pillows and the hanging stocking.”
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“Shavonda really tapped into who each of the children are and let their personalities shine in the design,” Henderson tells PEOPLE. “I love the bohemian elements in [12-year-old] Ariyah’s room (like that wicker desk chair) and the jewel-tone bedding which really makes the room pop."
For Devin, 7, "the combination of the red rug, Star Wars wallpaper and sconce makes the space feel playful, but still ‘cool’ so it can grow with him.”
While Henderson wasn’t able to be on location after her travel plans were impacted by the pandemic, she and Gardner managed to co-design the space primarily over FaceTime and with help from a local design assistant, Jordan Ballenger.
“I believe the most rewarding part of our ‘Feel Good Makeover’ series is knowing that our careers — heck our lives — have a positive impact on others,” the HGTV alum says. “I know firsthand how being proud of your home affects every aspect of your life, from your confidence and stress levels, to your identity and how you move around in the world.”
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As Andrea can attest, the home’s redesign certainly transformed the way she and her kids enjoy the space. “I was filled with so much joy and love after seeing each room!” she tells PEOPLE. “I have always wanted to provide my kids with a space they could call their own, their own little safe nest where they feel most comfortable. Shavonda is amazing,” she gushes of her sister, adding that she definitely deserves “the best sister of the year award!”
Judging by their delight in the refreshed space, her children would agree. “The kids absolutely love their rooms,” Andrea says, sharing that her older kids like to relax in their rooms while her younger twins “are busy jumping on their bed, coloring, or sitting and playing at their table.”
Andrea adds of her sister, “She took such care and detail in putting each room together and I know that this will be an everlasting memory for them and me."
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