Michelle Li is all too familiar with the quirks that come with living in New York City.
It's a life of compromise, humming radiators, and smoggy factory windows. It's small on square footage but big on everything else. You'll be too hot, too cold, and very rarely somewhere in between. And when it comes to finding that Sex and the City-approved, penthouse apartment (you know the one) — expect to be waiting awhile.
"I found this place after the apartment I wanted fell through," admits the Teen Vogue fashion and beauty editor. "I had viewed other apartments in the building before, but this one was right on the corner and newly renovated. It had so much good light and windows that I fell in love with immediately."
Make your way to SoHo — the lauded Lower Manhattan neighborhood as renowned for its designer consignments as it is for its famous residents or lengthy brunch lines — climb five flights of stairs, and that's where you'll find Li — sitting pretty in her sunlit, 400-square-foot apartment. Blessed with a surplus of floor space — it's roomy by big city standards — Li decorates with color and confidence, opting for cotton-candy pink over conventional hues. Li invests in art that makes her happy, pieces she not only loves but "actually knows how to hang."
"I think that's 100 percent the New York lifestyle? The pain of lugging large things to inconvenient places," laughs Li. "My place is small, but it's smart. There are little flaws everywhere, from the tiny bathroom sink, to the cabinet that's practically falling off its hinges. I'm always tripping over the step that leads in to my living room, and I have a really loud heater — particularly during the winter time. I have adapted to all of this and have learned to love it, for all of its quirks."
"I feel really grateful to be able to have my own space and to come home at the end of a long day and truly be able to decompress and relax," Li admits, when asked about the perks of living alone. "As a fashion and beauty editor, we get sent a lot of product, so it’s nice to be able to spread everything out, without the stress of making a mess in a shared space or upsetting a roommate. I like to try and keep things as organized as possible, that often means filing away products that I’m still waiting to try and having dedicated storage bins for the things that I’m going to donate. Sometimes, after a crazy week, the living room looks so disheveled — I’m lucky that I'm able to just leave it until I can actually get around to dealing with it."
Li admits that this is the first home she's ever properly furnished or truly put her style stamp on. Focus your gaze out the kitchen window, toward the city skyline, and it's hard to miss the Empire State Building. White subway tiles, black window frames, and a splash of pale blue paint complete an ultimately low-maintenance kitchen aesthetic. Li keeps her favorite mugs, collected during a trip to Tokyo, and assorted candy colored chopping boards — kindly sourced by her Mom, via HomeGoods — conveniently within reach. Working in editorial, the self-proclaimed homebody admits "cozy nights-in" are increasingly few and far between these days, so she's mindful to optimize, whenever one does arise.
"I’ve started to really enjoy being at home on a Friday night," Li admits, half-surprised. "I'll stay in and read, I might light a candle. On a Saturday morning, I'll wake up early to go play tennis."
Li's is a home that mirrors her lifestyle. A busy work schedule and apartment living requires a savvy approach to storage and space, opting to decorate white open shelves with tiny souvenirs and bottles of perfume. Li makes a conscious effort not to hoard, assuring the turnover in both her closet and bathroom cabinet is no joke.
The widely accepted notion that in a city like New York, you're never really home, or you're always on your way to some place else, is beautifully challenged by a pink daybed pillow —a vintage IKEA designer collaboration — outstretched on the sun-soaked bench seat and stacks of pre-loved books. Back issues of Vogue and leafed through copies of W Magazine, complete Li's busy book shelves, while a basketball planter by Bodega Rose serves as a quirky and creative nod to the city below. As far as must-reads go, Pocari Sweat by Yoshiyuki Okuyam, Grace: Thirty Years of Fashion at Vogue by Grace Coddington, and Rookie Yearbook One by Tavi Gevinson are high on Li's summer reading list.
"This is the first time I’ve truly decorated an apartment and made it my own," Li points out. "I guess I’ve learned a lot. To me, this means having a space that when you look at it, you’re proud and think "this is so me." Everything is where it’s supposed to be because you put it there. And that’s your home style, without having to put some kind of label on it — like minimalist, mid-century modern, or bohemian."
In the living room, a Noguchi coffee table — sourced via Craigslist — holds pride of place. "I still can’t tell if it’s real or fake, and to be honest, I don’t really care?" adds Li. The editor credits her neighbor — "thank you, Jake, in apartment 16" — for helping her haul 20 pounds worth of glass up the aforementioned five flights of stairs. In the bedroom, an old IKEA mirror boasts its own unique backstory, one that involves a drunken ex-boyfriend and perhaps seven years of really bad luck. "He eventually bought me a new and then himself one, a few months later," smiles Li.
In a New York apartment where "the heater is so loud" and factory edges misalign, Li has carefully created her own little corner in a city that never sleeps. It's warm, welcoming, filled with life and perhaps above all else — it's cozy. A colorful-yet-calming respite from the weekly grind of deadlines, launches, press events, and parties that spill over into a busy social calendar.
"My favorite space is my bedroom," Li emphatically explains, gesturing towards a technicolor wardrobe. "I used to be so frustrated by this room because of my headache of a closet — it’s still a work-in-progress and I'm trying to find a system to maintain it — but it’s come together and gets the most amazing light. My brother — who deserves a shout out for always fixing everything in my apartment whenever he visits — recently installed a new ceiling fan for me. I tie-dyed my own IKEA bed sheets and put up a shoe rack in my closet that I really love. I've spent hours sunbathing in my bedroom, eating in bed — truly the greatest luxury of all — thinking about my wildest dreams, and just listening to music."
Peppered among a line-up of IKEA staples, Li decorates with a piece of art she found in Cuba, assorted decor by Society6, and bits and pieces inherited from traveling friends and family. Exposed brick walls — worn, wonderful and so New York — feature an expansive window sill that Li can comfortably curl up on.
"Work-from-home days, I love them," Li says. "I start my day by opening up my blinds, I keep them closed because the window leads to the fire escape and I get paranoid that someone is watching me. Then I'll answer my work emails and write my stories. I migrate over to the couch after grabbing the lunch special at my local, Pi Bakerie. I'll usually finish my work day with The Office on."
While her closet is deemed a "work-in-progress" Li's extensive shoe collection is something to be admired. Double-doors boast everything from vintage FILA and retro Adidas to glittery pink Birkenstocks. A tangerine, floor-length dress — designed by Rodebjer — holds pride of place, neighboring a blue and white, vintage Stüssy bomber.
"Try and let go of the things you just don't wear," surmises Li, when asked what tips and tricks she's often dishing out to fashionable friends or readers. "It's really hard to do because a lot of my clothing has sentimental value to me — even if it's just not my style anymore. Especially the shoes — I have such a hard time getting rid of them. But just let it go, you'll soon forget about them and have photos to help you remember the pieces of clothing you once loved," Li adds, in the same vein you might expect someone to reminisce about an old flame.
"At this point, I can’t surprise myself with what I like, when it comes to my personal style," she continues. "I know myself, but with home decor and my home aesthetic, I am always finding new things I like. It’s hard to really hone in on what you genuinely like versus what you think you like, just because you keep seeing it on Instagram, I’ve made that mistake! I think my home decor aesthetic is probably just as colorful as I am."
When asked what advice she's quick to offer friends who take a leap of faith and decide to relocate to New York?