When you tell people you work at Apartment Therapy, they often ask if your own place looks like the tours we feature—full of plants, ingenious DIYs, and other one-of-a-kind finds. But the truth is that I face the same struggles our readers often do: limited space, time, energy, creativity, and money to devote to my own home. If only my IRL looked like my Instagram feed—but the truth was that my space was looking a bit more like a “before” than an “after.”
I started this job just about a year ago (December 4, 2017, to be exact). I feel so lucky every day to look at inspiring homes and call it work. And bit by bit, I’ve spent the last year sprucing up my apartment—starting with my living room. Here’s what this site has taught me along the way.
1. Turn your happy memories into decor.
In February, we published a piece on 10 Simple Things to Make You Happier at Home. One of my favorite lines? “Make your home a gallery of positive memories.” My husband and I spent months looking for the perfect art to hang over our couch that wouldn’t break the bank. He’s an amateur photographer, and we decided to frame a large photo of a zebra he captured on our 2015 honeymoon in South Africa. It reminds me of the sweet memory every time I look at it.
2. Look at your place from a new perspective.
One of our classic January Cure assignments is to spend a night in, sans electronics (the horror) just staring at your space. We suggest sitting in a new spot—the floor, a different chair—anything that’s not your usual perch. I gave it a go this past January, and sat on the floor in our freshly-painted living room. It felt like the rest of the room could really use an energy shift. I switched my couch to the opposite side of the room, and made a few other small changes. It looked so much bigger and fresher, before I bought a single thing.
3. Plants really do make you happy.
When looking back at our most popular content from 2018, a lot of it is about plants. We also launched our popular plant-stagram: @iplanteven. And this is also the year that I became a plant parent. I went to Plantshed on the Upper West Side a few months ago and started easy, with a ZZ plant and a snake plant. I’m happy to report that both are thriving with low light and every-other-week watering. Also, a new Trader Joe’s in my neighborhood has really upped my flower game: One trip can fill two or three vases for less than $10.
4. It’s OK to like things that are “trendy.”
When our managing editor, Sarah Yang, offered me an ivory chunky knit blanket she got as a freebie, I asked her if my apartment was starting to look a little bit like a game of Millennial Apartment Bingo. So—natch—we made a game of Millennial Apartment Bingo. Turns out, it resonated hard: Tens of thousands of people have liked and commented on Instagram. Sometimes I worry that liking blue velvet couches, brass bar carts, and millennial pink makes me basic. But there’s a little, shall we say, “science” behind it: “Trends are heavily influenced by pop culture, fashion, food, music, the streets, and sometimes what is going on in the world politically,” Lori Weitzner, author of Ode to Color, told AT for a piece on where so-called “trends” come from in the first place. Millennial bingo let me poke a little fun at myself, while also owning that sometimes we’re all susceptible to liking what’s popular—I have plenty of unique details in my apartment, too, dammit (remember the giant zebra?).
5. But the only opinion that really matters is your own.
When I posted photos of my living room at the end of the summer, I got a lot of feedback. One person told me my blue bookshelf was “strangling” the room, and a lot of people were stressed about how much I spent on my white bookshelves ($366). While I love changing things up, trying new trends, and saving money(!), at the end of the day I have to choose what speaks to me, my life, and my budget. That’s one trend that will never go out of style, I promise.
6. Design doesn’t have to be superficial.
Home, if you’re lucky enough to have one (and one that feels safe), is really important. Sometimes I feel a little silly talking about blue couches when there’s so much serious stuff happening in the world right now. But the truth is that a lot goes down at home: it’s where we gather and connect with family and friends, recharge, make room for new ideas—and sometimes stay in all weekend binge watching TV. This year, I personally have been able to go inside other people’s homes aside from my own, from actress Tavi Gevinson’s Brooklyn one bedroom to urban planner Hayley Cranberry‘s place, which she designed as a respite to support her chronic illness. Opening your home to someone is deeply personal and I’ve learned something from each one I’ve visited, plus the hundreds of others we’ve toured on the site. As our house tour editor Adrienne Breaux wrote this past summer: “Experiencing someone’s home life is one way to achieve empathy, after all.”
7. And inspiration can be found in the most unexpected places.
Like a “Mean Girls” dressing room. Or the set of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (or “Ladybird” or “Dear White People” or countless other shows, movies, and plays we covered this year). At Apartment Therapy, we look at the world of design, but we also look at the world through a design lens, which has helped me to understand the deeper meaning in my own decor choices, as well. It also means every Netflix night in (my latest obsession is ‘Atypical’) could be the beginning of our next story idea.
8. Good design takes time.
One piece of advice we see over and over (and over) again in our house tour section is that you can’t rush thoughtful design. It’s kind of annoying, especially for an impatient person. But hasty decisions can often end up feeling generic or backfiring altogether. Like the time I ordered three dining chairs online without reading the reviews—and one cracked in half the first time a guest sat down. Talk about embarrassing, and annoying for my husband who kindly carted them on the crosstown bus to return.
Your space should hopefully feel like a reflection of who you really are—and the truth is that that takes time. I haven’t found a good shortcut (I did however eventually find three mismatched dining chairs that I absolutely love). And the fun part is that your home is never really done. It’s a constant evolution, just like you.