From waste to whimsy: decorator's designs are transformational

September 1, 2023
Brenda Serna adds a colorful alphabet to the pediatrics space at an SSM Health Dean Medical Group clinic in Madison, Wisconsin. Serna began decorating the space, often repurposing cast-off material, during the pandemic with her playful creations. She changes the décor several times a year.

Mobiles made of crumbled tissue paper and vaccine vial caps that resemble vivid sea creatures dangle from the ceiling. Cutouts of themed letters of the alphabet — "B" for bee, "C" for caterpillar, "F" for fox — stream in a colorful array across a wall of cabinets. A small plastic dinosaur stands at the ready in a bright yellow cap and vest for crossing guard duty.

The décor is part of a back-to-school motif dreamed up by Spanish interpreter Brenda Serna to add whimsy to the pediatric space at SSM Health Dean Medical Group's clinic on the west side of Madison, Wisconsin.

A dinosaur is a regular prop in Brenda Serna's décor. Here, she dresses him like as a crossing guard as part of a back-to-school theme.

Serna freshens up her designs often, reflecting holidays and changes of season. Some of her past indoor wonderlands have included paper clouds polka-dotted with colorful leftover "COVID-19 vaccinated" stickers; lantern-like hangings made from upcycled plastic bottles; and delicate origami butterflies, some of them alighting on blossoms cut from the soft wrappers that once covered eco-friendly bamboo bath tissue. The dinosaur is a regular and popular prop, with a wardrobe Serna coordinates to match the theme of the décor.

She looks to nature for her inspiration and to her surroundings for her material — leaves, twigs, cat food boxes, used office paper, plastic parts from spent medical supplies and other cast-off whatnots. "It's nice to just be able to reuse stuff, to repurpose it," says Serna, who has worked for SSM Health for 21 years.

She started brightening the main reception area near her ground-level office in the multispecialty clinic with her vibrant creations several years ago. It wasn't until the COVID-19 pandemic that she thought to add some colorful touches to the pediatrics section on an upper floor as a surprise for the harried staff there.

She first festooned the space with paper flowers. "I did it at the end of the day so by the next morning, when they came in, they were so happy because it was colorful and fresh," she recalls.

That was three years ago, and Serna continues to use the space as a backdrop for the works of art she has taught herself to make, sometimes with a little help from YouTube videos.

Of the many off-hours she devotes to piecing her designs together, Serna says: "It's an activity that my brain enjoys."

She admits that she also enjoys it when her creations delight someone. "I like the smiles," she says.


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