Tackling a New Space: Nick's House


More lighting | Window Treatments | Coffee Table | Bigger Rug | Media Stand | Accent Chair | Fun pillows | Credenza – IKEA BESTA, I think | Party Seating

You know the folks you see on HouseHunters who insist they need a huge open space to entertain all their many friends? And you (the person binging on HouseHunters and oreos alone on the couch) can’t help but think, Who ARE these people with so many “friends” and so many “parties” to attend? If I didn’t know better, I’d think they were making it all up to look cool on national television. But I do know better, because I know Nick. He’s our friend who enlisted me to decorate his place in DC, and I’m convinced he has a close personal friend in the city for every single person I interact with in a three-month period, including cashiers, bus drivers and security guards. He’s just a magnetic, likable, interesting guy. He throws dinner parties and happy hours like nobody’s business, but his place really hasn't been living up to his standards as the ultimate entertaining space. To be frank, he was starting to get a little self-conscious about being a real-life adult who invited other real-life adults to come over for dinner at his bachelor pad that looked fresh out of college. He’s at the point in life where he wants his home to feel grown-up and settled, and he really wants it to serve as a welcoming and comfortable space for entertaining. 

Nick's living room before

Nick's place is d-rippppping in potential, so when he asked for my help I couldn’t say yes fast enough. It’s HUGE by city standards, with an open floor plan, gobs (I mean GOBS) of natural light, and a landlord who is game to make some improvements. That’s right – landlord, we’ll call him LL for short. This is a rental, which means the sky is not the limit, but I’m excited to see (and show) what’s possible without going overboard. The LL has agreed to replace the shabby broken window blinds with some roman shades I picked out, paint the (water-damaged) walls a color he agrees to, and even make some big (low-cost) improvements in the kitchen (hint: the top cabinets are falling off the walls). I’m not sure how Nick got him to agree to all that – he should probably get a diplomatic medal of honor. My guess is it has something to do with him being a dream tenant for the last 5 years and his not planning on leaving anytime soon.

That said, most of Nick’s own money in the space should go toward things he can take with him. He has most of the big pieces already – a versatile sofa he purchased last year, an extendable dining table, a credenza, and a TV. Everything else is fair game.

The first thing on the chopping block is the rug. The current 4 x 6 shag was a quick buy on Amazon, and it’s about a third of the size this room needs. We’re upgrading to a 9 x 12, which is big enough for each end of the sectional to get a leg on. I considered going even bigger than that, but there's a small step up from the living to dining room that cuts the floor space at an angle. A 9 x 12 would usually cost an arm, a leg and a firstborn, but RugsUSA is almost always running a 75% off deal that makes it way more reasonable. Since we’re going safe on the wall color (remember LL is making the final call), and given that the sofa is a huge swath of gray, I picked out this blue-and-white moroccan shag to bring in some color and personality. I’ll carry the blues around the room with pillows, vases and artwork, and inject some organic energy into the space with house plants. 

Nick's living room before

Second order of bidness: seating. Nick needs the kind that’s always available (like a cute, new accent chair), as well as the kind that can be stashed out of the way during business hours. I’m a fan of the Oswald tufted slipper chair from West Elm – it’s low-profile, reasonably comfortable and the frame gives it just a little touch of quirk. For stashable seating, I opted for the Terje folding chairs from Ikea – they’re affordable, easy to find if we need more, and they’re wooden. They feel sturdier than plastic folding chairs and classier than your basic metal option, plus they’re more comfortable than a backless stool. (You know you’re a grown-up when back support factors into your design) The Terje’s back has a convenient hole for hanging, so rather than take up precious closet space, we’re gonna keep them on the inset wall by the juliet balcony – out of the way but within arm’s reach. Here's a 3D rendering I built of the space so you can see what I'm talking about: 

Rendering of Nick's place

Rendering of Nick's place

The new coffee table will follow the same ethos – there when you need it, gone when you don’t. Nick loves having the ottoman in front of the couch for vegging out – because who wouldn't? –but he could really use more surfaces for guests to set down drinks and plates when he’s puttin' on the ritz. In addition to some side tables and trays, I think he could benefit from a fold-away coffee table like the one I have, where the top lifts off and the legs fold together so you can stash it when you need the floor. Then when you need a coffee table you just holler, "Annie, get the legs!" and BAM. Coffee table at your service. 

Perhaps most important for a good party (or life) is lighting! This apartment has more windows than I thought possible on a row house. It’s amazing during the day – the light streams in from all directions – but it’s seriously lacking at night. No dinner party (or room, for that matter) should be without mood lighting, y’all! Nick has a couple lamps but they're the kind that feel like they might collapse at any moment. So we’re bringing in some funky plug-in sconces, table lamps, and a big pendant over the dining table to get the party started. 

Nick's dining room before

Speaking of the dining table – it’s usually used as a desk like you see up there, and then Nick moves the computer when he's having people over. I want to change that. The thing is, this table is basically the first thing you see when you come up the stairs from the front door, and I can’t help but think it must be a wee-bit demoralizing to finish working a 12-hour day, climb 40 stairs up to your apartment and then immediately be greeted by more work you could be doing. No thanks! Instead, I want the table to be a nice focal point that says, “Hooray! You made it! You’re home! Dinner is on its way! Make yourself comfortable!” Y’know? So I’m banishing the iMac from the table and creating an office nook where the Billy bookcase is now.

Nick's living room before

The desk isn't on the mood board, but I'm looking at this one from CB2 or perhaps blinging out a modular closet like Dabito did here.  I want something wall-mounted to optimize the space and with shelves overhead so we don't lose the storage. What doesn't fit on the new shelves will go inside the existing credenza, which we're relocating to live by the balcony (see below).

Rendering of Nick's place

Rendering of Nick's place

Currently it's hiding between the back of the sofa and the table and it's taking up space where we could be seating people around the table. The sofa looks super low-profile in the photo below, but that's actually where the step is that I mentioned earlier. The floor of the dining space is a few inches higher and we don't want anyone falling off the ledge when they go to stand up from the table, alas, the credenza must move. It will have a much happier life by the balcony where he'll serve as the drink station and be the most popular guy at the party. 

Nick's living room before

The last big item I want to replace is the TV stand. It’s tough to make a TV look nice, but a sharper, brighter media stand with some closed storage would certainly help. The current stand is the same color and width as the TV, making it an even bigger eyesore. I want to get a stand like the Stockholm from Ikea, which would fill out that space better while still being low-profile and visually light. In case you’re wondering how practical it is to put your cable box behind a door, allow me to introduce you to the narrow band antenna. You can hide your cable box and eat it too! Uhhhh… I mean you don’t have to be able to point the remote or even see the cable box to be able to control it with an antenna like this. Forget Ryan Gosling, THIS is God’s gift to women. ;)

Nick's living room before

Blasphemy aside, I'm VERY excited to see this living/dining situation come together. It's been really refreshing to work on someone else's house and get out of my own head about my house. In addition to the living room, I'm also working on the kitchen and if all goes well with those we may tackle the bedroom too. I’ve spent enough time blabbering already, so I’ll save the kitchen for a different post.

What have you guys been up to? Any updates that made all the difference in your rental?

Styling a baby's room

No pregnancy news, friends! Today is all about decorating my nephew's nursery. When my sister & brother-in-law learned they were pregnant, they decided not to find out the sex of the baby. It's a challenge to style a baby's room without knowing whether it's for a boy or a girl, but I love it! A room doesn't have to be gendered for an adult – so why do we feel like it does for a baby or a kid? When you take "feminine" and "masculine" out of the equation you start thinking more about the feeling in the room and less about the wall color.

The mood board I pulled together is based around elements Candace had already decided on before having the baby... a blue rocker, a white crib, seafoam walls (Crystal Clear by Sherwin Williams). It was never intended to be a "boy's room" – it's just a coincidence that a little boy moved in. I'm convinced that if he were a she, "she" would still love it because of the feeling it evokes.

In my sister's words, she wanted this room to feel "a little bit cool, a little bit natural, and a little bit whimsical. Very happy, very playful, and not generic." Sounds great, eh? She got a good start without me – painting the walls and picking out furniture – but then a little baby arrived and distracted her with more important things...like kissing tiny toes and cuddling for hours on end. Y'know, the usual. Now she's starting to spend more time in the room & feels like the design has stalled out – something I can wholly relate to. Me being me, I pounced on the opportunity to become the favorite aunt lend my decorating advice.

Before I detail my master plan, let's see where the room stands right now. These are iPhone shots Candace sent me to jog my memory... long-distance decorating is not without its challenges:


It's precious already, right? Candace has great taste, so my job is easy. Her main concerns that I need to address are that it feels too serious and that the blue chair sticks out too much. There's no denying that the accent wall and chair are the stars here. The challenge is getting them to gel with the rest of the room, but I've got some ideas for how we do just that.

1. Bridge the blues

Candace's fear of the blue chair not fitting in is valid – it's dark and everything else is light. They're both pretty, but they don't really relate to each other. Sure, they're both blue, but they're so far apart on the spectrum that they don't have all that much in common. We can bridge that gap by carrying the darker color over to the walls and by introducing a third (intermediary) blue. Here's an illustration of how this might play out on the wall: 


Suddenly the chair feels intentional and at home. On the left, we've got 4 distinct colors: white, gold, seafoam and dark blue (actually called "ocean"!) Four is generally the max for a harmonious room, so it's counterintuitive to suggest adding yet another shade of blue. BUT in doing so (I hope) I've related the dark blue to the light blue so we can group them together in our minds as different shades of the same color. Yes? No? Maybe? Just go with it.

Then I suggest we take it a step further by bringing those darker blues into other elements around the room. And that brings me to suggestion numero dos...

2. Rug switcharoo

I love the current rug because it's really fun & bold & it echoes the triangles on the wall. However, I don't love how it competes with the wall for a starring role. We already determined the wall is the star, so the rug should be content as supporting actor. I'd swap it for something with a subtle pattern that ties in the darker blue from the chair. Here are a few that could work well:

These obviously aren't plain blue rugs. You could go that route, but these patterns work too because their scale is much smaller than the wall triangles. I personally love mixing patterns at every opportunity... I think it's a little more fun and exciting than committing to just one. Plus it's more of a challenge, so it looks cooler when you can pull it off :)

The second (more important) issue with the rug is that it's one size too small – this is a super common problem because big rugs = big $$ (usually). It's even harder to justify the expense of a big rug when you already have carpet. BUT, if you can swing the cost or find a good sale, I do think it's worth it. Rugs bring in color, texture and coziness that a typical carpet just doesn't have. Plus they make a room feel collected and layered. This current rug looks to be about 6' x 9', but the room, which is about 11.5' x 12.75', really calls for an 8' x 10'. 

2. Lighten up

Candace's house, like mine, has lots of boob lights hanging around. You know the ones... a ceiling flush mount that comes standard in lots of homes and just happens to look like a giant boob. While a nursery is probably the only place where such a light might be appropriate (boob jokes, anyone?), I'd swap it out for something a little more ...err... whimsical. Light fixtures can get 'spency in a hurry, but Ikea and Urban Outfitters have nice affordable options. This Maskros pendant from Ikea (left) is definitely playful... it throws fun patterns around the room. That could be fun for a nursery. The Boja basket (right) is another good Ikea option – this one brings in the natural element Candace wanted. Both of them have a nice texture and both offer a soft, diffused light. 

Maskros  IKEA |  Boja  IKEA

Maskros IKEA | Boja IKEA

I'd also add lamps beside the rocker and the changing table for nighttime cozy vibes. Nothing kills the mood (or wakes up a sleeping baby) like flicking on the overhead light. Floor lamps are good for bringing in some vertical height, but in a carpeted kid's room I'd worry about it tipping over. Table lamps are a better option, but we don't have a lot of table real estate to work with. Instead, I'd hang a sconce or two. Here are some cute options that tie in the metallic triangles from the wall [confession: the middle light is not A) a wall lamp or B) gold, but it is C) a chime & light in one. And that's pretty cool):

3. Window treatments

Lights are great, but blackout curtains are the real saving grace in a nursery. I really like the ivory ones on the right from Urban Outfitters – the pompoms are playful without being busy, and the arrow curtain rod is cute too. The curtains on the left (from Anthropologie) are even more fun, but they're sheer... Womp womp. No matter though because we can always make our own by sewing some blue pompoms and tassels on regular blackout curtains. The window in the nursery butts up to the adjoining wall, so I'd stick to one wide side panel that ties to the right during awake time and covers the window during the sleepy time. 

4. Stylish storage

The only piece of furniture this room still needs is storage for books & toys. There are a few possible routes we could go: toy bins, wall shelves, or bookcases. Personally I prefer the latter two because they utilize vertical wall space. Right now, all the furniture is the same height, so the room's "skyline" is really flat. I'd like to add a tall bookshelf or a wall shelf hung high to break it up a bit. Let's call it encouragement for baby boy to start standing up :) The books & toys stored on them will almost certainly be colorful, so I'd stick to white shelves to keep it from looking busy. Here are a handful of options. (Sidenote: you can really see here how not white Ikea's white is with #2!)

5. Add the art

The triangle wall is already boosting our cool, artsy factor, but the other walls need some love too. Candace painted a cute chevron diptych that needs to be framed and hung, and a friend gave them a lovely hand-painted sign with baby boy's name on it. Other than that, I'm on the hunt for some prints that play nice with the color palette. One place I look for this kind of thing is Help Ink. It's a cool organization that features lots of different artists, and for every $5 you pay $1 goes to a good cause of your choosing. I first heard about them through Young House Love, and I like a lot of their smile-inducing posters and typography. Here are some that might work in this room:

Lastly, I want to bring in lighthearted, party vibes with garland and geometric paper hangings... I have a feeling one of these DIYs will come in handy!

That about wraps up my plans for now. You can see what else has caught my eye here on my nursery pinboard. I don't know about you, but I'm getting excited to see this room come together! I'll be sure to post pictures of the finished product before baby boy grows into a toddler ;)

Have you seen any nurseries lately that give you twinges of baby-mania? 

Plans for the kitchen & dining area

Every time we finish a big project we like to take some time to breathe, enjoy the house being back in order, admire our handywork, and evaluate what we should tackle next. If I'm being honest, I'd say the lull between our last project and the next one is really 20 percent strategic, 20 percent day-job busyness and 60 percent exhaustion : ] I mentioned back when we were painting the kitchen cabinets that paint was just the first step – oooooh, was it – there is still a scary amount of work to be done. For instance, the second half of it on the opposite wall....

Here's the plan for the other side of the kitchen


  • Install a tile backsplash (after choosing a tile, of course)
  • Install under-cabinet lighting
  • Build in the fridge, like this.
  • Create a pantry to the left of the fridge (again, like this)
  • Add lower cabinets on the right side of the fridge
  • Install a floating shelf or two above the new lower cabinets
  • Find an old, small island on casters so we can chop veggies without staring at the wall
  • Refinish the hardwood floors to eliminate the yellow
  • Spruce up the dining room with art and a rug (and remove the rug from the kitchen)
  • Convert the can light over the table to a chandelier

Next week I may ask for your help in choosing a tile backsplash, which is our next big to-do, but first a little inspiration for the dining room because a) that's much more relaxing to think about right now and b) you may need to see the vibes I'm striving for to choose the right tile next week! Since the first floor is essentially one long room, the kitchen, dining area and living room all need to relate to each other stylistically.

Here's the view of the kitchen from the living room

The dining area is a actually just a small segue between the kitchen and the living room. Currently its defining characteristics are a table and 4 chairs – pretty standard stuff. People only sit at the table when it's time to eat, but given its close proximity to the kitchen, it would be nice if it became more of a magnet for friends to congregate and socialize while dinner is being prepared (...y'all know I don't cook, but Eli does all the time).

Here's the view of the dining and living areas from the kitchen

As I said before, the first floor is open and small, so the rooms need to have a cohesive style. That doesn't mean everything needs to be color coordinated (though color palettes are your friend), but really the vibe just needs to feel consistent. When I walk through my front door I want to feel like I've arrived at my oasis on the coast, like if there were more open windows I could hear the waves crashing in the distance instead of sirens blaring through the city streets. An escape, if you will. "Beachy" can start to look kitschy real fast, so my plan is to temper it with modern accents and hits of black. 

A mood board of the beachy yet modern vibe I'm striving for in the dining area

1. Large Prism Chandelier | Shades of Light

There's a can light conveniently centered above the table that is just BEGGING for a dangly chandelier necklace. I'm convinced that converting it to hold a bold light fixture will really be the gamechanger – anchoring the table and making the dining area feel intentional. I love this black geometric chandelier for many reasons, but mostly because a) it's a bold contrast to all the white, b) it's funky, and c) it's airy enough that it won't obstruct the view from the kitchen to the living room.

2. Monterosso photo | Gray Malin

I'm obsessed with Gray Malin's photography, and I want to hang a really massive print like this one on the wall to the left of the table if you're looking at the last photo of the room. Unfortunately I am so far from being able to afford the size I want, so either this will show up on some future gift registry or I'll ask Eli to take a similarly gorgeous and relaxing beach shot on our next vacation.

3. Barnwood table |  Salt & Sundry

Salt & Sundry is another local go-to shop (will feature it soon), and this table was built by the shopowner's daddio in Cary, NC. It's rugged, rustic and petite, but easily seats 4 people. Plus, North Carolina holds a very special spot in my heart, making this table that much better. I bought this a couple months after moving in so we could stop eating on the couch.

4. White upholstered chairs 

I want to lighten up the table area by bringing in some fresh white chairs in an easily wipeable finish to complement the wooden ones I've already got. The ones seen here are from Dot & Bo for $350, which is about $300 more than I personally like to spend on a chair ; ] Sooo, I'll be hunting for a more affordable alternative.

5. Wood chairs | Persistent yard sale at 9th and K NE

The wood chairs were a discount find at a weirdly awesome yard sale in DC – weird only because it's open every day in some guy's front yard (I think his name is Reggie?) I paid $60 for the set of 4! The wood chairs + wood table is a lot of wood, but I kinda love it and the contrasting styles (mid-century and rustic). The white chairs and other accents will help to break it up.

6. Table runner, napkins, bowls | West Elm

This stuff is really easy to switch out whenever the mood strikes (or the season changes). I like this white and slate runner because it ties in with the black chandelier while still remaining easy breezy, and the napkins and bowls grab some of the coral from the beach umbrellas in the photo.

7. Area rug | Dot & Bo

An area rug is another one of those items (like the chandelier) that will help to ground & define the dining area. When choosing a rug, I'll be looking for something that's very easy to clean so the ravenous animals in the house (aka Eli & I) don't have to worry about stains from dropping food. I like the pattern of this imperial stamp rug (and that it ties in with the black accents), but it's probably too high maintenance in terms of cleaning so I'll be searching for something more food-proof.

8. Refinished floors

The persistent element on the first floor that makes me crazy is the yellow oak floors. So while this update is not specific to the dining area, I included it here so I can picture the whole transformation in my head and reassure myself that the floors won't be yellow forever. (A change gon' come!) Refinishing the floors is going to be a whole big process, which is why we haven't done it yet, but I think the house will look so much better once it's done. I haven't decided on a stain yet, but I like this dark walnut color. The darker floors might tip the balance between the wood table and wood chairs to "Whoa, that's a lotta wood!" so the rug will be important for breaking up the lumber show.

I'm excited to have this mood board for the room as my road map to a beach oasis in the city, but most of the stuff there is way more than I can afford right now. I'll be searching for similar pieces that fit into the plan at a price I can stomach. Rest assured, I will update you when I find them! 

Happy Friday, friends! All this beach talk has me itchin' for a vacation before the summer is over. Anyone else escaping to the coast?