Hey there, I’m David Tovey, and I’m thrilled to share the incredible story of the House of Smiles, a remarkable structure built from recycled wood collected from various parts of London. This house is more than just a physical structure; it’s a symbol of creativity, resilience, and the power of giving back. Join me as I take you on a journey through the construction of this unique house, where each element represents different parts of the world and the homeless communities we worked with. And the best part? The House of Smiles is on display right now, spreading joy and inspiration to all who visit.

Recycling Every Part of the Shed Cottage:

When we set out to build the House of Smiles, one thing was clear: we wanted to honor the principles of sustainability. That’s why we collected recycled wood from all parts of London, including Hackney, Kensington, South London, Clerkenwell, and more. Every single part of the shed cottage was repurposed, ensuring that nothing went to waste. It was a labour of love to dismantle, clean, and prepare each piece of wood, but knowing that we were recycling every part brought a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

A Christmas Project Filled with Challenges:

The construction of the House of Smiles took place over the Christmas period, making it a truly special endeavor. However, it wasn’t without its share of challenges. As we transported the recycled wood, we faced a late return fee for the van and even received a parking ticket. But these obstacles were merely bumps along the road, and they couldn’t dampen our spirits or deter us from our mission. We worked tirelessly, often from 10 am to 2 am, to ensure that the House of Smiles would be ready to inspire and uplift.

Highlighting the Global Connection:

As we built the structure, we incorporated elements that represented different parts of the world and the cities where we worked with homeless communities. For example, the blue tarpaulin and bicycle inner-tubes symbolise Osaka in Japan, where individuals often wrap their belongings in blue tarpaulin and secure them with a bicycle inner-tubes. On the right side of the structure, the picket fence represents the American dream and the city of Portland. The colorful frontage on the left side represents Africa, while the tones and colours of India are showcased on the right side. Each element tells a unique story and serves as a reminder of the global unity and diversity found within the homeless community.

Symbols of Personal Experiences:

Within the House of Smiles, you’ll find hidden treasures that hold deep personal meaning. Behind the right-hand window, there’s a head made from materials sourced from the southern hemisphere islands, representing Australia. This head holds a special story from my own experience of homelessness—a friend surprised me by pulling it out of his trousers as we walked around a reclamation centre. Sadly, my friend passed away during our time of homelessness, but the memory lives on through this meaningful piece. The Brazilian flag represents Rio, while a bookmark from Flavas adds a touch of culture. An IKEA handle from a bag symbolizes Coventry, where a beloved IKEA store recently closed down but is now set to reopen as a cultural center, providing a space for the homeless community to gather once again.

A Tent With a Purpose:

Atop the House of Smiles rests a tent, which holds a significant story of its own. This tent was once my refuge when I slept rough during my time of homelessness. It has since become a symbol of resilience and transformation, as I repurposed the material for several of my exhibitions. For the House of Smiles, I used a sheet from the tent, infusing it with the spirit of hope and the journey towards a brighter future.

Building Together with Unwavering Support:

Throughout the construction of the House of Smiles, I had the incredible support of my friend, Dan Banja (right with me) and the cutest dog ever ‘Lancelot’ who kept us company and infused us with enthusiasm, especially needed as we were both struggling with colds/ chest infections. Together, we poured our hearts and souls into this project, driven by our shared belief in the power of art to create positive change.


As I write this, the House of Smiles stands proudly on display, radiating joy, creativity, and the spirit of giving back. It’s a testament to the strength and resilience of homeless communities around the world, reminding us all of the power of unity and the ability to transform adversity into something beautiful. If you have the opportunity, I invite you to visit the House of Smiles which holds the Send a Smile postcard exhibition which has just started its UK tour.

As we embark on a new year, 2024 kicks off with an exciting opportunity to share the Send a Smile project with the world. In collaboration with Underground Lights, we are hosting a free touring exhibition of 250 postcards created by homeless artists from around the globe. This remarkable installation will travel to various locations, starting at Old Diorama in London from 8th to 18th January, then moving to Theatre Royal Plymouth from 25th January to 7th February, Belgrade Theatre from 12th to 25th February, Rochester Library from 29th February to 13th March, and finally, Manchester Museum from 18 where you can witness firsthand the incredible journey captured within its walls. Let this house inspire you to spread kindness, embrace creativity, and always remember the transformative power of a smile.

Read more about the Send a Smile project on our website here.

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