A home is many things to many people: a sanctuary, a haven, a place to grow and thrive. For those who spend time at Encircle’s newly renovated historic home in Salt Lake, it is all of these—and more.
Encircle, the LGBTQ+ Family and Youth Resource Center, opened the remodeled house earlier this year. It’s named The John Williams Encircle in memory of John Williams, a prominent SLC restaurateur, historic preservationist and LGBTQ+ community supporter. He was the first donor to commit to Encircle and was the uncle of Encircle’s founder and CEO Stephanie Larsen. “We hope that The John Williams Encircle will continue his legacy of love of community, family and the arts,” Larsen says. “John wanted Encircle to be a welcoming home for those who may not feel at home anywhere else, a place where people can connect with themselves and others. John wanted the youth to understand they should never feel shame for who they are, they are beautiful as they are and the world needs them.”
From the very beginning, all involved agreed that the design and décor of the home were important to that objective. “Our surroundings impact the way we feel about ourselves and our lives,” explains Larsen. “These kids are amazing and deserve the best place to call home.”
With the ideas of beauty and growth at the forefront, Larsen teamed with designers Chase Voekler and Paul Tew, and Encircle’s Chief Development Officer Landon Creer, to conceptualize, design and build the new space. “This is one of the most significant projects we have ever worked on,” Tew adds. “Rarely do you have the opportunity to use all of your collective professional experience to make a difference in the world.” As they transformed the 1981 duplex into a welcoming refuge, the team was further guided by the concept of planting and nurturing gardens.
That’s apparent the moment you step inside the front door. In the renovated foyer, a 3D mural featuring Utah flora and fauna motifs by Salt Lake City-based artist Matt Van Der Steen appears to grow from the walls. Bees buzz around a beehive and aspen trees take root in white baseboards, grow up the walls and branch out over crown molding meaningfully detailed with interconnecting rings.
“These kids are amazing and deserve the best place to
Nearby, a custom metal railing imitates climbing vines as it frames the staircase. Natural light flows freely, a tranquil palette of gray and white calms, and organic forms and floral references flourish at every turn. In the parlor, for example, the original fireplace tile boasts colorful cherry blossom motifs. Hardware features organic shapes and florals, and small floor tiles in the bathrooms are arranged to progress from dark to light, imitating thriving vegetation.
Designer Paul Tew worked with sculptor Ryan Lewis to create the banister and railings created to resemble climbing foliage and leaves.
Color, too, enlivens the interior, thanks in part to many stylish pieces donated by the furniture company Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams. “I hope this house is really a beacon to the entire community and to the state and to the country, and says that LGBTQ+ kids are cherished and honored,” says Mitchell Gold, this company’s co-founder. These furnishings are joined by artwork, musical instruments, books and art materials, all provided by caring and generous supporters of Encircle.
During the past 128 years, the house has served as a residence, an executive guesthouse and most recently, a law firm. Today, the newly transformed house offers a caring home environment for the young people and families it serves. “It’s a loving and beautiful environment where these kids can thrive,” explains Barb Young, founding board member. Like the first Encircle that opened in Provo in 2017, Salt Lake’s new John Williams Encircle facilitates support groups, provides individual and family counseling, collaborates with school leaders to help create safe, learning environments for sexual and gender minority youth, hosts guest speakers and workshops, and much more. Everyone is welcome and everyone is celebrated. “Beautiful things happen when people come together to do good for others,” says Larsen. “This happens at Encircle every day.”