A rare look inside Ronald McDonald House

Public interior-design tours at new housing for families of ill children runs from Feb. 13-28

A large expansion that will more than double the number of accommodations for families with sick children at Ronald McDonald House at Stanford will be open to the public for a rare view starting Saturday, Feb. 13 through Feb. 28, officials have announced.

Organizers said nothing of its kind has been attempted before. Each room was designed by 48 of the Bay Area's top interior designers through a partnership with the San Francisco Design Center and San Francisco Cottages and Gardens magazine. The collaboration of design firms involved thousands of hours and more than $3 million in free labor and materials and the input of the designers' husbands, wives, companions and children to create "Where Hope has a Home," officials said.

Visitors touring the interior, with its one-of-a-kind suites, community spaces, living room, play areas, cavernous kitchen and butterfly-themed dining room will perhaps pick up a few inspiring ideas for their own homes.

The new, 52,000-square-foot, three-story building at 510 Sand Hill Road will be among the largest of the 353 Ronald McDonald Houses in the world, said Annette Eros, CEO of Stanford's House.

With 67 suites plus the 47 at the older adjacent building, all families in need will likely be accommodated. Currently, about 40 to 50 families are on a waitlist each night. When the older building is repurposed, the Stanford Ronald McDonald House will have a total of 123 rooms.

The tours will be available Thursdays through Mondays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and tickets are $35 per person for attendees 12 years old and older with a $10 suggested donation for children younger that 12. All proceeds benefit the House at Stanford. It costs $123 per night to care for a family at Stanford's House. The $10 suggested donation for children under 12 to take the tour is the equivalent to the $10 per night requested donation for families staying at the House. But no family is ever turned away because they cannot pay, officials said.

Public viewing of Ronald McDonald House is rare, since keeping contamination to a minimum is important for the families and children with compromised immune systems. Once the facility opens, public access will be prohibited on the upper floors where the families will live, Eros said.

Rhonda Hirata of San Francisco Design Center brought the designers together.

"It was a leap of faith and it just worked," she said.

Beth Martin, volunteer project co-chair and principal at the Martin Group, Inc. agreed.

"This project has been such a labor of love. If I was asked today if I had to do it all over again, I absolutely would. This is what we live for -- to give back to the community," she said.

There aren't too many times when designers can collaborate, talk and share, Martin added.

"It's truly that we give this with so much love," Martin said.

Residents are greeted by a "hope tree" constructed of wood and with welcoming messages on its leaves. A living room is just beyond, with aged-wood synthetic plank flooring, big-screen televisions, books, a fireplace and a soft sofa and chairs in soothing sand and earth tones.

If residents are hungry, they can dine in a large, cheery dining room with nearly floor-to-ceiling windows and decorated in aubergine, light tawny wood tones and orange seating. There are padded booths in intimate nooks; long tables for groups and child-sized round tables with bright orange mini chairs.

Designer Kristi Will said she envisioned the dining room as a place for other activities, including bingo, meetings and music performances.

"I interviewed four families who said they sometimes come back from the hospital and feel like they are in a cafeteria," she said of the dining area in the older adjacent Ronald McDonald House.

A wall-sized monarch butterfly paper sculpture by San Francisco artist Jeff Nishinaka provides a natural focal point and sense of euphoria after long hours spent closed in behind hospital walls.

Children's spaces for every age group also dominate the ground floor. An aquatic-themed toddler playroom with sea lion bean-bag chairs includes a "sea wall" designed by Butler Armsden Architects with a crawl-space "sea cave" for toddlers and seating for adults. The youth room, also designed by Butler Armsden, features a play-and-dress-up fort that doubles as a puppet theater. Bold primary-color seating and accents draw children into the sun-infused room, which has large tables for game play and crafts, said Reba Jones, one of the firm's associate principals.

A small reading room decorated with fluffy faux-fur pillows and cut-paper-and-painted decals depicting the rolling hills and oaks of Palo Alto grace the room in soothing mint and natural colors.

Butler Armsden also designed a reading room that functions as a place for visits with counselors, co-designer Dave Swetz said. Low-slung mah jong chairs in bright patterns and colors of carmine, eggplant and golden umber are paired with similarly colored walls to provide a relaxed, warm vibe.

The teen lounge is perhaps the piece de resistance for the younger set, however. Designed by Allison Dehn Bloom of the firm Dehn Bloom, the vibrant room includes a wall-length Zio Ziegler street-art mural in black and white tribal, Pacific Island and African motifs, a custom-made surfboard table and denim-covered sofas with colorful patterned pillow and chairs and a pool table and Foosball. There are also high-backed rattan Victorian chairs for reading time.

Dehn Bloom, a self-proclaimed rule breaker, said she wanted to capture what it is like to be a teen in all of its layers.

"I wanted the room to connect with teens on an emotional level, to reflect the intensity of their inner lives, but also be a sort of haven for them," she said.

The upper two floors have common areas ranging from intimate nooks to a recreation room with a tumble of giant body-sized pillows for romping and playing or sitting on during programs. But these floors also contain the 67 bedrooms and suites of all different sizes, colors and designs.

Unlike hotels, these well-appointed rooms often feature day-bed nooks, an easy chair, study area or other homey features. Some rooms are outfitted with two double beds divided by a curtain for privacy; others have trundle beds for additional guests. The wall treatments alone offer a primer for do-it-yourself designers: from cork to fabric; faux-painted wood planks to giant decal murals, such as the colorful wall covering created from a large painting by children through the organization Paintbrush Diplomacy.

Bringing together the visions of 48 designers to create a cohesive whole took many hours of back and forth phone calls, said project Co-chair Geoffrey De Sousa of Geoffrey De Sousa Interior Design.

"They picked the room they wanted to design and we pulled together images of the direction we wanted: warm, California traditional, modern but not too dressy and standoffish," he said. "We went through every single presentation and had an overall vision."

To create, he said, at the end of the day, a welcoming place where residents can return "to handle the challenged and celebrate the triumphs of the day."

Free special events during the tours will include appearances by Genevieve Goings, host of Disney Junior's Choo-Choo Soul with Genevieve!, Mommy and Me hip-hop classes, breakfasts with designers, children's arts and crafts and happy-hour social gatherings on scheduled evenings.

More information is available at; tickets can be purchased at

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11 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2016 at 11:39 am

A wonderful good news story.
So glad that the Ronald McDonald House is able to expand. It is an absolute gem that provides a warm, inviting, friendly environment to support ill children and their families.

1 person likes this
Posted by MarkSindone
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 22, 2016 at 10:47 pm

MarkSindone is a registered user.

Seems a little frivolous to open up a place of refuge and safety for some less fortunate families in order to give tours. But seeing as how the money goes to the house and the people who benefit from it, perhaps it is a good idea after all!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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