Confession: I work at a magazine devoted to design, but I’ve never actually tried to design any of my own living spaces. There was my room in my parents’ house, which remains a constant source of comfort. Still, it was a reflection of my dad’s tastes more than my own. Then there was my dorm room, which probably shouldn’t count for obvious reasons. And two New York City rentals didn’t seem like the right opportunity to express my creative side. Why spend the time, money, and energy to drastically change a place that you’ll soon move out of when you have a full-time job and an equally hectic social life? At least that was my thought process at the time.
So a year ago, when my husband, Rich, and I scraped enough money together to buy an apartment in a 1936 building in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, I finally saw a chance to make my space, well, my own. The previous owners did us a favor by renovating the kitchen and bathroom, and we revamped our storage with a California Closets upgrade that turned a famous New York City drawback into a serious selling point. With the major work finished, all that was left to consider were cosmetic fixes, including installing crown and picture-frame molding in the living room and new tiles in the kitchen, skim coating and painting the walls, and restaining the wood floors. There was only one problem: the original casement windows needed to be replaced throughout the entire building, an operation that was thwarted by the phenomenon now known as the Polar Vortex and a contractor that got creative with the phrase “work hours.”
What should have been an efficient three-month process ballooned into a half-year endeavor, and my motivation dipped to dangerously low levels as the summer progressed—without air conditioning, I might add. Thank God for our stylish yet functional burled-wood Kichler fan from Lamps Plus, which literally saved us! Lonny’s makeover series also restored my spirits. Inspired by the über-talented design mavens I work with on a daily basis, I vowed to whip my space into shape. I consulted with style editor Sarah Storms and associate editor Kaylei McGaw, as well as market editor Catherine Dash, to create a home that felt like it was entirely my own. But to do that, I first had to home in on my style.
Enter the inspiration boards. I’ve always gravitated toward rooms that display a love of travel, a warm and inviting atmosphere, a tendency toward the casual, and a timelessness that never feels too stuffy, and my husband has even more traditional sensibilities than I do. I also have a brain that’s constantly buzzing—whether it’s a side effect of my job or living in New York City is anyone’s guess. So using the pieces I already owned as a guide, I began looking for rooms that I could relax in, adding subtle touches that would transform my space without taxing my already overworked mind: a deep blue Benjamin Moore hue (Evening Dove) in the bedroom to make it more of a haven, a furry Desiron stool in the entry to welcome guests without overwhelming them, and a cozy tufted chesterfield to provide a soft landing after a long day. The sofa, by the customization geniuses at Cococo Home, in North Carolina, has since become our favorite thing in the apartment.
To turn it into the focal point of the space, we reconfigured the layout of the living room with the help of home design website Decorist, who hooked me up with Los Angeles–based firm 30 Collins, a participant in the brand's Celebrity Designer Program. I sent them pictures and a budget, and a couple of weeks later they sent me suggestions in the form of digital mood boards, with links to buy all of the pieces they recommended. The sofa was repositioned under the window, which freed up the area for more seating, and we created even more space by opting for two small side tables instead of one large cocktail table; to achieve the same effect, Rich and I hung the television on the wall with a discreet Sanus full-motion mount. Add a plush trellis-patterned rug by nuLoom, a faux bois accent table by Williams-Sonoma Home, and a teak-and-rattan chair from Zinc Door, and 30 Collins’s vision was nearly complete.
The rest of the apartment relies on well-loved pieces that remained packed away for the duration of the renovation: a dining table and Swedish demi-lune chairs from RH, a coppery hoop mirror from Anthropologie, a pewter-colored metal bed frame from Pottery Barn that I updated with metallic brass paint to better match a set of stunningly simple Coyuchi linens. In the bedroom, accordion-style side tables from Urban Outfitters and maps of where my husband and I both grew up in New Jersey lend a subtle campaign vibe. Everywhere, I’ve also included pieces from my travels. In the kitchen, framed works from Artfully Walls mingle with watercolors I picked up for my husband (back when he was my boyfriend) in Paris and Florence; coins collected on our honeymoon in Vietnam sit on the dresser in my bedroom. It’s nothing flashy, but that’s the appeal.
So what do I have to say after concluding my first personal design project? On to the next one! After the hellish beginnings—and the admitted stressing that went into it in the last couple of months—I ultimately loved the process from start to finish, so much so that I can’t wait to get to work on another undertaking no matter how transitional the space. It will likely be for a friend's rental in the East Village. How’s that for a turnaround?