Interiors for refugee home offer message of joy and peace

Atelier Akuko has created uplifting interiors for a Syrian refugee family settling in London, with the help of volunteers and the creative community

Akuko Atelier Refugee Home Web
(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu)

Designer Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein, of Atelier Akuko, has created bespoke interiors for a Syrian family settling in London. Working with a local initiative assisting refugee families through a resettlement programme, Achumba-Wöllenstein decorated a three-bedroom family home in south-east London, ahead of the family’s arrival this year. 

The family of four fled Damascus in 2013, and spent the following seven years in Cairo waiting to be resettled. Achumba-Wöllenstein had a few weeks to deliver the project (after being invited by the social justice arm of the international Hillsong Church), working with limited information and budget, relying on donated furniture pieces and creating some of the elements for the interiors. ‘We really had to get involved and flex our DIY muscles,’ she says.

Atelier Akuko’s work, with a focus on the psychology of interior design

(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu)

The resulting bright spaces include modern furniture and pops of colour typical of Atelier Akuko’s work, with a focus on the psychology of interior design (Achumba-Wöllenstein’s specialism). ‘My goal was to create a cohesive scheme throughout the house that would spark both joy and peace by using colour to tie the donated furniture pieces together,’ says the designer. ‘I really hope that this new home and the love with which all the volunteers have created it will signify a new and more hopeful beginning for the family.’

‘This particular project has shown the impact that young people and creative professionals can have on the lives of these families,’ added Ralph Boer, Hillsong’s refugee response lead.

Taking the project to social media to post updates of the progress, Achumba-Wöllenstein attracted dream collaborators such as Ottoline de Vries, a London-based wallpaper designer who donated some of her pieces for the kitchen cabinets, while other brands offered items including a collection of posters and artworks displayed throughout the home. Another collaboration featured artist Adriana Jaros, who createden an abstract mural in the living room. ‘I fell in love with Adriana’s work when I first saw it,’ says Achumba-Wöllenstein.‘To think that a similar mural now graces the home of this family that has endured so much fills my heart with gratitude.’

Akuko Atelier Refugee Home with blue chair potted plant and white wall

(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu)

Akuko Atelier Refugee Home bedroom with table lamp white bedlinen and flower vase

(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu)

Akuko Atelier Refugee Home with wall mounted coffee table and potted plants

(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu)


Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.

With contributions from