When my boyfriend Jonah and I signed our lease on our apartment two years ago, it felt (almost) too perfect. Coming from a practically windowless sixth-floor walk-up, it didn't take long to fall in love with the light-filled, hundred-year-old Echo Park bungalow, with a kitchen window that looks out onto five layers of fruit trees, from kumquat to pomegranate. (Even now, these details make it my favorite house in L.A.)
But, having just moved from New York with an already limited budget, we made a lot of design compromises that were budget-friendly, though not necessarily ideal. One of those compromises was not having a place to sit down and eat dinner. The small space at the end of our kitchen became Jonah's office, as he worked remotely from his New York job, and we learned to get creative. We ate meals on the couch, on the floor "picnic style," and outside—an anti-climactic end to a thoughtfully prepared meal. When Jonah landed a job in Los Angeles and no longer needed a desk at home, it finally dawned on us how necessary a place to eat was. The same day I saw this shot on Katie Hodges' feed, I had a "that's enough" moment, measured the room, and was the proud owner of a tulip table by sunset. Now, the kitchen's not only the room we spend the most time in, but also my favorite spot in the house. Here's how we created our nook on a budget:
On making compromises: When I have big ideas—flying to Vietnam, eating vegetarian, redoing a room in the house—I tend to move quickly, and by that I mean immediately (which is how we found ourselves with a tulip table four hours after seeing an Instagram). Jonah, my cool-as-a-cucumber counterpart who instead abides by "slow and steady wins the race," has learned to respond to what he calls my "big announcements" with tentative enthusiasm. When I announced my plans for a breakfast nook, he was the first to help me move our desk out of the space, but also quick to insist that we maintain a personal touch in the room to keep it from looking like an Instagram cookie cutter. To pay homage to one of our favorite trips we've ever taken, a road trip through Iceland with his mom three years ago, we kept two souvenirs we purchased there—a vintage map of the country and a puffin print by a Reykjavik artist. What may look clean and calculated to a guest is a warm reminder of a favorite journey.
On finding where to spend and splurge: I'm a big believer in purchasing affordable, neutral foundational pieces (large pieces of furniture), then dressing those up with pricier accents (art, pillows, decorative items). To that end, I repurposed our plastic IKEA desk chair, found the rattan chair on sale, used IKEA children's furniture as the bench, and replaced our hundred-year-old pendant light with an IKEA lamp (inspired by our own post!)—and then splurged on the pillows from Katie's shop to finish the look. Even though we spent around $400 total on furniture, where we could have easily spent over $1,000, the end result feels like no compromises were taken.
On measuring twice: By far the trickiest part of this entire nook journey was the foam bench seat (argh, the foam!) and the pillows. After ordering too-thick and too-small foam on Amazon (My thought process being, "Where does one buy foam...?"), I found a niche miracle store in Los Angeles, Foam Mart. They cut me custom foam to perfectly fit my benches, which my friend Sarah then created a custom cover for, out of pink linen I'd picked out (bless you, Sarah). But because I prematurely purchased pillows from Lulu & Georgia (which I'm selling here!), I didn't realize until the cover was in, that the millennial pink plus millennial palms looked like millennial watermelon. Lesson learned: Be patient with design decisions. Making decisions over weeks and months, not hours, will save you a lot of future trips to the proverbial foam store, as well as expensive mistakes.
On unforeseen benefits: Because our kitchen is so small, cooking dinner sometimes means trading off, so that while one of us was prepping vegetables, the other was in the adjacent living room reading. With our nook, we can still be together while the other cooks, which has helped me fall back in love with cooking and made it much more communal. Also, because the couch is where we watch T.V., eating dinner there meant that we watched more T.V.—we'd often instinctively open up a show as soon as we sat down. By having a table, dinner's become its own primetime—we enjoy the food and catch up, and then move to the couch to watch a show or read, if that's what we choose to do. Since having our nook for the past month, it's already been home to countless conversations and game nights with friends that have gone late into the night. It's amazing how a change to your surroundings can also mean a change to your habits and lifestyle.
P.S., In case you missed it, be sure to check out LA-based designer Katie Hodges's tips for creating a cozy nook, here!