Kimberly and Sean Pastuch, who have lived in a first-floor...

Kimberly and Sean Pastuch, who have lived in a first-floor apartment on West Broadway in Long Beach for two years, are getting some help from FIT interior design students in envisioning how to redesign and fill their apartment after superstorm Sandy flooded their home. (Jan. 26, 2013) Credit: Brittany Wait

When Kimberly Pastuch looked at the proposed new design of her Long Beach apartment, she began to tear up.

A replica of her favorite shag rug, which was ruined by floodwater during superstorm Sandy, and her husband’s favorite painting -- one of the few things in their apartment to survive the storm’s damage -- had been thoughtfully incorporated into the new plan.

“After seeing the designs, I’m itching to get started,” said Pastuch, 29. “This makes us more excited to move forward and gives us even more of a reason to move forward.”

Pastuch and her husband, Sean, were overwhelmed by the task of restoring their ground-level apartment on West Broadway, which was submerged in nearly a foot of water during the storm, until they discovered the Interior Design Relief Project.

The project is an effort by 14 students and four professors from the Fashion Institute of Technology to help victims of Sandy with the process of redecorating their homes.

Since mid-January, the group has worked with 13 Long Beach families, measuring space in their homes, creating layouts of existing conditions and making 3-D renderings of their proposed designs.

Natalie Zepeda, an FIT student who lives in a second-floor apartment in Long Beach that wasn’t damaged, helped get the project off the ground because she wanted to help her neighbors and also realized it would give students hands-on experience.

“What better way to practice our skills and help people at the same time?” said Zepeda, 22. “We can’t go in and make a new room for them physically, but mentally we can really help give them that little push and a little more of an idea of what they want.”

Carmita Sanchez-Fong, associate professor of interior design at FIT, advised students throughout the process.

“For all of us, this is an unprecedented opportunity to serve, gain in-field and hands-on experience and to have a tremendous social impact on a community that is in much need,” said Sanchez-Fong, 53, of Leonia, N.J.

The group is working with Bryan Murphy -- who created the Facebook page “Sandy Help LB” -- to coordinate meetings with families and connect them to other resources, such as volunteers who are gutting homes and putting up sheetrock.

“At this point, most families pretty much have a blank canvas and many of them are still displaced,” said Murphy, 44, who also lives in Long Beach. “So the idea is to get people back in their houses and help them move forward.”

Jonathan Alarcon, 33, of Oceanside, said the FIT students are providing a vital service to the people of Long Beach, where Alarcon's mother still lives in his childhood home on Franklin Boulevard.

His mother, Marina, rents out the basement to a single mother of two. The family was forced to evacuate after the basement apartment was submerged in 4 feet of water during the storm.

Alarcon turned to the group of FIT students for help in coming up with ways to redesign the space. The proposal included new designs for multiple rooms in the apartment, including hemlock wall paneling and a gray shag rug in the living room and a wood-top bar in the kitchen.

“We need to get the family back in here, so I really needed these suggestions,” said Alarcon. “This time, we’re trying to make it look more modern. Now that it’s all gutted, might as well.”

For Sean Pastuch, 29, the FIT students helped turn a disaster into an opportunity. He’s hoping a new design will give his apartment a new, more sophisticated look.

“We just need to find a new normal,” Pastuch said. “Now, we can change the color scheme and style to suit our lifestyle.”

Zepeda said she thinks the group is making a difference.

“A lot of these families don’t even know where to start; they can’t envision it,” she said. “We’re helping them use what they have and giving them options that will be the most affordable when they get to the construction phase of rebuilding.”

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