My first job out of college was as a sales assistant at Domino Magazine. At the time, I'd just moved into my first (and slightly dilapidated) apartment with an older woman I'd met days before. It felt both uncomfortable and unfamiliar living in someone else's place without anything of mine that felt like home. The IKEA dresser I'd haphazardly thrown together (with the cardboard panel mistakenly facing outward) felt like a metaphor of my life—things were in place, but didn't feel quite right. I ended up moving out just three months later to a sun-drenched studio with hardwood floors and little alcoves in the hall. That apartment still holds many dear memories and served as a jumping off point to hone my interior aesthetic. Here are some of the design rules I follow to this day:
You know that saying on your wedding day that you should wear "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue?" I follow a similar motto for each room: "something old, something new, something personal, and happy too." Yes, it's kind of dorky, but let me explain. As for something old, those are the vintage or hand-me-down pieces that break up a space. Whether it's an antique bench, an oil painting that belonged to your grandma, or a well-loved leather chair, those are the items that bring life to a room. That being said, if all of the items look tired and tattered, your place will have a tendency to either look like a dated movie set or worse, just kind of dingy. It's all in the balance—current items look best when offset by slightly unexpected vintage pieces. As for creating a space that feels uniquely yours, add little touches throughout that are personal. On our bookshelf, in front of the similarly-colored beige books, we have Scrabble letters that spell out 'Fuller' (a nod to a favorite game and our last name). It's a small detail that most people probably miss—but all of those little moments add up. And lastly—don't forget to fill your home with things that make you happy. Souvenirs from trips, photographs, a quirky piece of art—each room should include at least one thing that truly speaks to you in some way.
I keep a running list of items I'm looking for in an electronic note-keeping app (I use Evernote) so that all pertinent information is at my fingertips. In it, I also have our house's measurements, room by room, in case I come across something and need to see if it will fit the space. I've been searching for a rather specific and oddly-shaped mirror for above our fireplace now for about two years and I like knowing that the precise measurements are with me always for the time when I finally find the perfect piece.
This is something I learned the hard way, but any time you're considering a purchase (especially a big ticket item), focus on its versatility. Sure, a pair of chairs work with your current living room, but if and when you move, or simply rearrange things down the line, will they still be as functional? I have a pair of vintage wingback chairs that have stayed with me through two moves and all that I had to do was reupholster them. The nightstand in our guest house was repurposed with a new coat of paint and fresh drawer pull. The wooden bench that used to be at our old dining room table now rests at the foot of our bed with a Moroccan wedding blanket thrown over it. Pay attention to things like quality of construction, the timelessness of a piece, color ways, and dimensions to make sure you're investing in quality items that will stand the test of time.
When it comes to major investments, I now try to stay away from trends that haven't been around for that long. More often than not, if they seem really of the moment, chances are, they'll feel dated soon after that. An example of a design choice that worked in our favor are the bright white subway tiles we put in our kitchen. While gray was kind of the color du jour when we were redoing our house, I opted for something that felt current, but with a bit more staying power by sticking with a classic. That being said, if you want your space to constantly feel fresh, add in trendier pieces in smaller (i.e. less permanent) ways, like throw pillows, a new coat of paint, swapped hardware, etc.
I never took to art in school and have always been a little self-conscious about my lack of knowledge on the subject. But if I've learned anything over the years, it's this: It doesn't really matter. What's most important is to fill your home with pieces of art that resonate with you and not to stick to any rules. Sloan's first "painting" she made at school isn't just taped to our fridge, but is framed with a white matte around it. It still makes me tear up anytime I look at it, so why shouldn't it be nicely displayed? I actually love when someone's home has those slightly random pieces scattered about. My best friend, Rachie, has a framed piece of scrap paper with the "swear words" her brother-in-law once wrote down as a kid. Not only is it a cost effective way to decorate your walls since art can be exceedingly expensive, but adds a nice personal touch.
The not-so-glamorous areas in a space are often the things that are overlooked when it comes to design. In our kitchen, for example, is where we stack our mail, receipts, forms from Sloan's school, etc. Needless to say, it's kind of a nightmare to keep organized. But instead of it just becoming a massive heap of papers that spill onto the entire counter, I keep it corralled in a lucite tray with leather handles. The same goes for my nightstand, which has a tendency to become overrun with cords, books, glasses of water, etc. I combat that with a vase and fresh flowers, a dish for jewelry, and a chic carafe. Even the space on top of the toilet shouldn't be overlooked. Place a hardcover book with a candle on top and a matchbox from your favorite restaurant. Despite how utilitarian a space may be, find a way to make it a little prettier with a few simple touches.
This is one of my all-time favorite design tips I got from Domino that makes a serious impact. Instead of hanging your curtains directly above a window, hang them as high as they'll go (about an inch below the ceiling). It doesn't matter if there's an extra five inches or five feet above, they will look great once they're hung. Longer curtains open up the space, makes any room appear larger, and look dramatic cascading to the floor (just make sure they're also the right length—I like mine to hit juuuust at the floor - anything shorter looks like a mistake and they'll appear sloppy if they're too long and bunched up collecting dust).
One of the first design mistakes I made was visiting one store and making it my one-stop-shop for my entire apartment. While the look was admittedly cohesive (albeit far too shabby chic), it also resembled a page torn out of that store's catalog. To keep things visually intriguing and not too formulaic, I try not to have more than two items from one source in each room. That being said, if time or budget is an issue, make adjustments where you can. If you have an IKEA sofa, coffee table, and rug in your living room, add a throw and pillows from another source. The coffee table can be spruced up with a unique tray and a stack of books. Or, consider one of the many companies that now offer leg alternatives so that your sofa has a unique touch.
Even in my studio apartment, which upon opening the front door, spilled right into my "bedroom," I created a makeshift entryway. Granted it didn't have a luxe bench with storage underneath for my shoes, but I made do with the room I had. My nightstand doubled as my entryway table and I hung a mirror above it (beyond making the space appear bigger, it's nice to be able to quickly glance at your reflection on your way out the door). I added a small tray on top for my sunglasses and odds and ends, a little hook right next to it for my keys, and a room diffuser, which made it smell nice as soon as you walked in. The entryway is the first thing you see when you walk in a room so make sure it makes a strong first impression.