A Designer’s Adding Color to a 100-Year-Old Cottage While Honoring Its History

A Designer’s Adding Color to a 100-Year-Old Cottage While Honoring Its History

Name: Sophie Elinor
Location: Newcastle — NSW, Australia
Type of home: A 100-year-old miner’s cottage
Size: 1,150 square feet
Years lived in: 12 years, owned

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: My house used to belong to my Nan, Heather. She was a fiercely independent and dazzling woman who worked as a dressmaker, and she single-handedly raised my mum and aunty here. Her house was always a safe, welcoming space for cousins twice-removed and friends of friends.

I have so many happy childhood memories from here, too: climbing the huge frangipani tree out the back with my brothers, learning to bake Anzac biscuits in the kitchen, trying on all the brooches and clip-on earrings in Nan’s jewelry box…

When I was a teenager, Nan got dementia and had to move out of her beloved home, and a few years after that she passed away. My mum rented the house out, off and on, but when I finished university I decided to move to Newcastle. The house was empty at that point, so I moved in.

I rented and worked and saved and eventually pulled together enough for a deposit. In 2017 — on what would have been my Nan’s birthday — I bought the house on my own. That was only possible because I bought directly from my mum, the housing market is an absolute mess!

Even before my Nan lived there, the house had a long history. It’s over 100 years old, and it’s beautifully wonky and full of character.

Since buying it, I’ve been slowly peeling back the layers of dusty carpet and shining up the floorboards that were buried underneath, bringing in more light with bigger windows, fixing up the bathroom, and touching up the kitchen. It’s a perpetual work in progress, but it feels good to see it grow.

There was already so much love in the house, but I’ve worked really hard at pulling joy to the surface. Color has always been important to me, and more is more, so the collective aesthetic is pretty bold! I try to be really thoughtful with what I bring into my home, though, so a lot of the furnishings, decor, and artwork is handmade by family, friends, and artists I love.

Like a lot of anxious millennials, I’ve filled my house with far too many plants. I like to think they bring a sense of calm and tranquillity that offsets the cacophony of color!

I’m putting my own stamp on the place while trying to honor its history. It’s really special when family come to visit, and can enjoy the new chapter that builds on the original story.

You can see pieces of my dad all over the house — the bathroom vanity he built from rosewood that belonged to his dad who I never got to meet, the bench he made from pieces of my childhood cubby house, the stand-up mirror he created from an old timber bed frame that has the literal imprints of his grandparents in it.

Of course my mum is all over the house as well, having grown up in it. It’s a unique thrill to paint murals on the walls there with her, when once upon a time that kind of behavior would’ve got her in trouble! She is always encouraging me to make the place my own. It makes us both happy.

The typographer in me loves decorating with type, and the house is peppered with large-scale, papier-mâché lettering I’ve created for various design projects and exhibitions.

I’m also just a bit of a silly goose, and I like to let that shine though in places, too. For instance, my bathroom door is a cavity slider, so I turned it into a retractable, peek-a-boo mural featuring those wacky inflatable tube men you see in car yards. Why not?!

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Colorful, sentimental, arty, jungle-y, and joyful.

What is your favorite room and why? My small sunroom home office at the front of the house was once a verandah, but decades ago it was bricked in to become part of the interior. The space gets the most beautiful morning light, and my plants grow wild in there. My desk sits underneath a big bank of louvre windows, looking out onto my cottage garden and the street below. It’s a little voyeuristic, but I love eavesdropping on passers-by, like gardeners admiring whatever is currently in bloom, or little kids excitedly pointing out my rainbow front steps to their parents.

The space has evolved with me over time, and is now full of bright, vibrant artwork — some my own, some that I have collected. The combination of light, greenery, and color always makes me feel grounded and creatively stimulated.

When my Nan lived here, this was the room where she did all of her dressmaking, so sometimes it feels like that generational creativity is baked into the walls.

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? My most recent decor addition is something I created myself. I decided I needed a giant pencil in my life, so I made one! It’s made from recycled cardboard, it’s taller than I am, and it has an “eraser” on the end covered in 1,500 pink rhinestones. It is a profoundly silly object but I love it so much.

On a tangentially silly note, I’ve also been making melty, shelf-y disco eggs (with bedazzled yolks), lately. I’ve been popping them all around the house and they add instant whimsy!

Any advice for creating a home you love? This has been an ongoing process, trying to pay attention to what makes me feel good. Design trends are always coming and going, but the things that bring me joy are fairly constant.

I love coming home through my bright yellow front door, greeted by a disco ball planter, under a canopy of rainbow streamers stretched across the ceiling. Sure it’s a bit like arriving at a kid’s party every day, but it’s hard not to feel happy in space like that.

Your home is for you, and if you’re into kitsch or kooky or kinda out-there aesthetics, embrace it. A home filled with personality is easy to love.

Color and Pattern Add Character to This Plain, Conventional Condo

Color and Pattern Add Character to This Plain, Conventional Condo

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Name: Allison Malafronte
Location: Somerset Hills, New Jersey
Type of home: Condo
Size: 1,200 square feet
Years lived in: 5 years, owned

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: I live in the suburbs of New Jersey in a two-bedroom condo, but I worked in New York City for more than 10 years and always wanted to live in a Brooklyn brownstone that I envisioned decorating with boho flair. I love living out here with so much open space, and I enjoy being surrounded by the beauty of nature, but condos can be pretty uniform in their layouts and architecture.

I knew I could add character and color through the decor, and I started by keeping folders on my phone or Pinterest of styles I loved. A few choice paint colors really helped set the tone. The pink in the living room is “Rose Blush” by Benjamin Moore and the yellow in the kitchen and office are “You Are My Sunshine” by Benjamin Moore. I layered in eclectic furniture, rugs, pillows, paintings, plants, wallpaper, DIY decor, and artful objects to create that artsy style I had always dreamed about.

I am a writer and editor who has always been an artist at heart. I write about fine art and design as my profession, but my own artistic side fully came to the surface when I had the opportunity to design and decorate this apartment. It was like having a blank canvas and clean state to write my story and style on. The process has been a real blessing, and little by little, I put myself together as an artist as I worked to put this place together. I call it my humble, artistic abode — it’s not huge or full of expensive things, but it’s an expression of the artist and designer in me. “Home is where the art is” has been my motto!

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Boho, maximalist, colorful, cheerful, and collected.

What is your favorite room and why? My favorite room to look at is probably the living room, but my favorite room to be in is the corner dining area by the window, which has a full view of the living room and which I turned into a makeshift artist studio and little sanctuary over the last few years. Early in the morning, I sit at the dining room table and do my scripture reading and prayer time in front of the open windows (where the same bird, or so it seems to me, comes back every spring and perches right outside my window, singing loudly and beautifully). On the other side of the table I work on my art and DIY projects.

Over the last few years I started painting with watercolors, learned to make hooped embroidery to hang on the walls, began hand-painting and decorating pieces of furniture, became slightly obsessed with decoupaging fabric and paper onto various surfaces, started making decorative paper flowers out of old literature and art history book pages, and so on. All of these little projects helped add personal, handmade touches around the apartment.

This is how my house was growing up: My mother was very creative and resourceful, and she made many things by hand. I love following in her footsteps in that way. The other reason the dining area is my favorite place in the house is because it’s also where I host little get-togethers and enjoy the company of family and friends.

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? One of the last pieces I bought to finish the living room was the Kalie curtains from Anthropologie Home (I would include the link, but they’re sold out!), which I first saw five years ago and put in a folder on my phone before I even moved in here. I also got brass bird tie-backs from Anthropologie to complete the look. Birds are a recurring theme here — my two-year-old niece calls it “The Birdie House.” It was also a small victory step in DIY because I was forced to learn how to hang curtains and use a power drill for the first time!

Any advice for creating a home you love? I think something I have learned over the last couple of years is that home is a haven. It’s a place you should enjoy spending time in, and also a place where others feel comfortable and welcome. I had no rules for myself when I started decorating — I simply filled the rooms with everything that I love and visually respond to.

For me, that’s florals, botanicals, birds, bright color, bold patterns, anything with script on it, paintings, music, art and design books, anything that reminds me of Italy, objects or textiles from independent artists I admire, and some of my own handmade touches.

If you follow your heart in your home, it will be an honest reflection of who you are! Don’t worry about it being on trend or even matching. Bring it home and play with it. Mix and match colors and patterns, and try out arrangements and combinations in different, unexpected ways.

I would also like to recommend exploring your creativity and DIY spirit! There are so many things you can do to make your home your own on a budget, and so many online sources and tutorials to help. Lastly, try to enjoy the process! When I first moved in, I was pretty overwhelmed, and it probably took me three full years to get every room done the way I envisioned. I had to take it one step at a time, and really pay attention to what resonated with me so I could figure out my design style.

Some things flowed easily (like the plate wall in the kitchen) and other things took multiple tries to get right (like the gallery wall over the living room couch). But the experimentation, playing, searching (for me that was Anthropologie Home, Opalhouse, World Market, Rifle Paper Co., Etsy, HomeGoods, HGTV Magazine, and few really great bloggers), DIYing, and even the frustrations and setbacks were all part of the process. If you think of it as an ongoing creative challenge with no rules, the steps you take can be as fun and fulfilling as seeing the final result!

This Small Atlanta Studio Apartment Is a Safe Space to Recharge In

This Small Atlanta Studio Apartment Is a Safe Space to Recharge In

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Name: Bria Randal
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Type of home: Studio Apartment
Size: 548 square feet
Years lived in: 6 months, renting

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: This is the first time since living alone that I have come home everyday and smiled because I love my space. I am a extroverted introvert, so the way I recharge is spending time in my apartment arranging flowers or hanging art. I love light, color, and antiques. I also decorate with consistency, memorable pieces, and creams/whites. I think I come off as free-spirited and joyful, but in truth I am pretty calculated and thrive best when I feel like I can rely on my safe spaces. I want people to come into my space and feel like they can take their shoes off and lay back to speak freely.

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: A spicy siesta

What is your favorite room and why? Since my apartment is a studio, the entire thing is my favorite! My favorite piece of art is the only thing I’ve truly spent money on. [The print] is called “The Siesta” by Paul Gauguin. He depicts “the unaffected grace and communal ease of Tahitian women impressed Gauguin enormously.” As a woman of color, I wanted my art to reflect beauty I could identify with, not beauty that has been outwardly promoted.

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? Estelle Colored Wine Glasses. I know it’s not furniture, but they are very important for my wine nights with friends! Also this Johnny Was quilt. It has given so much life and spirit to the apartment.

Any advice for creating a home you love? Take your time. There is nothing like seeing a piece of furniture or art and having an emotion tied to it. For example, I got my Siesta painting from a vintage antique store with my mom. Every time I look at it, I think about the excitement in her eyes when she held it up for me. That was worth having bare walls for about three years!

A Former Builder-Grade House’s Reno Means High Ceilings and Cozy Nooks

A Former Builder-Grade House’s Reno Means High Ceilings and Cozy Nooks

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Name: Krystle Perkins, my husband, and our 3-year-old son
Location: Dallas, Texas
Type of home: House
Size: 2,300 square feet
Years lived in: 4 years, own

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: We purchased our home in 2018 knowing that it was going to be a fixer-upper. We had been shopping for homes in our $250k budget and when we saw this one we knew it was “it.” Most of the homes in our budget were small ’60s ranch style, but this was newer with tall ceilings and amazing natural light. We saw it Friday afternoon, placed an offer that night, and they accepted the next day. We quickly renovated the upstairs prior to moving in just to get it livable. The plan was to live up there and slowly DIY the lower level. Our plans quickly changed when we found out that I was pregnant and knew we needed to do the work fast. Now this house needed a TON of work, both structural and cosmetic.

I had always loved interiors and knew I wanted to try my hand at designing our home. My husband is Danish, which is perfect because we both gravitate more towards the core principles of Scandinavian style. One of the reasons we had so much trouble looking at houses was because so many of them were flips and we couldn’t handle the choices they made! I didn’t want to pay for someone’s poor stylistic choices. Plus, traditional Texas homes are very very beige. We decided to move forward with our remodel and hired a contractor, took out a loan, and began the most stressful 14 months of our lives. We had a horrible experience with a family friend that essentially ended up mismanaging/stealing funds. It extended the project and ended up costing WAY more than the typical twice as much. During the ordeal I was working a full-time job, designed an entire house, became pregnant, gave birth, and went back to work. All without a kitchen.

For the design of the home we knew we wanted to bring this 1980s basic builder grade home to a modern place. We removed some load bearing walls to make the home open concept. We focused on a neutral color palette of white, wood, and black knowing that we would use furnishing to add warmth and color. We were working on a budget so everything that I sourced had to be affordable while also giving us a more modern sleek look. I remember doing everything I could to pinch pennies on finishes. We finally finished the remodel at the end of 2019 and had a blank slate. No furniture, but a functioning kitchen, FINALLY. We were also severely overextended financially due to our remodel. But in 2020 I (like most of the world) was able to start working from home. It gave me some extra freedom to start DIYing some of the projects that I wanted to do.

My first woodworking project was a kid’s nook for my son in the awkward spot under the stairs. I love marrying form and function. Our house today is almost unrecognizable from where it started and we continue to evolve and tweak corners everyday. I still have a project list that is a mile long, but I love having this safe haven that is truly a reflection of our personal style. I am looking forward to adding some more color this year and redoing our upstairs (we’ve got some stuff that needs fixing after our quick flip four years ago!).

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Organic Modern Minimal DIY’d Scandinavian

What is your favorite room and why? My favorite room is our main living room right off the kitchen. It is one of the boldest design choices that I made, to have the wood slats on the ceiling and black beams. It informed a lot of design choices throughout the rest of the home. We also have our feature bookshelf wall — which created some mild controversy on TikTok. My husband loves to read when we finally had bookshelves to unpack his books onto after them being in boxes for so long he said “it finally feels like home.” It also features my kids nook, which I am so proud of and just overall it’s so cozy.

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? The most recent thing we bought for our home was a new fence! It was something that we have needed desperately since we bought the home, we kept thinking wood prices would go back down, but alas… we decided to bite the bullet (goodbye $$) and we are so happy we did. We have already spent so much more time out there since extending the side yard and making it more functional. More recently I just picked up my DREAM bedding from Dusen Dusen that I have had my eye on for years. I am working on a guest bedroom remodel and I can’t wait to use it!

Any advice for creating a home you love? I think a lot of making a home is trial and error. Some things that you try aren’t going to work out and you need to embrace it as part of the process. You are on a journey to find something that works aesthetically but also functionally for your family and sometimes the only way to know that is to try. Don’t worry about it being “Right” don’t worry about resale, if it’s something you love, go for it and live with it.

This submission’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.

A Spacious Chicago Condo Has a Hip 1990s-Style All-Black Bathroom

A Spacious Chicago Condo Has a Hip 1990s-Style All-Black Bathroom

Name: Sarah Buckley, my girlfriend Jenna, and our dog, Ruth
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Type of home: Condo
Size: 2,700 square feet
Years lived in: 3 years, own

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: Our home is… hard to describe. Our condo is the former loading/warehouse addition to five- and seven-story adjoining light industrial buildings. Therefore, it is both part of larger loft buildings, but also its own structure. The buildings were converted from multi-tenant manufacturing to a mixed-use residential and commercial loft property in the late 1980s.

I purchased it in 2019 from the original owner who had molded the space for the last 30+ years. The main living area is about 1,000 square feet of open space defined only by a raised platform and fireplace. The scale of this room is emphasized by a nearly 20-foot curved entry hallway. I painted the hallway walls and ceilings black and installed gallery walls along each side. The dark, compressed, art-filled hallway empties into the bright, vast main living area. A 12-foot long skylight and textured glass block windows flood the living area with natural light, which accentuates different areas of space throughout the day and nourishes countless plants. A fig tree has grown into the skylight and is at least 10-feet tall. The platform contains our dining area and record player. Custom speakers have been created out of fiberglass pedestals that formerly served a movie theater.

An exceedingly unique bathroom with floor-to-ceiling black tile, custom chrome sink, black toilet, and space-age tube shower stall exists behind the platform wall. The remainder of living space is occupied by a bar, seating area along the rear wall, and S-shaped two-sided sofa. The living area leads to an open kitchen with commercial stainless steel hood, hand-painted sage green cabinets, and large pantries along the rear wall. My friend and Chicago muralist LeftHandedWave painted a mural along the kitchen pantry doors. The mural depicts the Ohio House Motel, a Chicago landmark that I have appreciated since I moved to Chicago. LeftHandedWave creates murals emphasizing a neighborhood’s history and evolution. The two-story motel seems out of place in its downtown location but somehow proudly holds its own with an iconic “mod” sign above the office.

From the living area, a mint green steel case desk (with original chair!) fits perfectly behind the entry hallway’s curved wall to create my home office. From the office, a door leads to the bedroom via several steps. Another skylight with the exposed structure of the ceiling illuminates a king-sized bed with an oversized Art Deco pink velvet channel tufted headboard. A large closet exists off the bedroom and is accessed via an unevenly broken penetration in the thick brick wall.

Finally, a spiral staircase from the bedroom leads to the primary bathroom below. The massive bathroom includes a stand-up shower and an “L” shaped, floating, high-gloss black laminate vanity with mirrors wrapping around each wall above. The mirrors extend to the ceiling, reflecting into the heart-shaped two-person Jacuzzi tub. The walls are painted black and white, with contrasting black and white ’90s pop art vinyl decals. Whenever a guest comments on the space, I always say “just wait until you see the downstairs bathroom.” and it rarely disappoints.

If I bring the design aesthetic, Jenna brings the comfortable, personal touches to our home. She has filled the vintage Art Deco bowl with rocks and seashells from our travels, displayed family photos, and filled every shelf with books. Ruth, or affectionately Baby Ruth, is a perfectly thick pit bull mutt that primarily naps in the path of the sunlight that filters through the skylight throughout the day. She loves to pile her toys under the dining room table and has claimed one corner of the sofa as her own.

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Art Deco Eclectic Mural Loft

What is your favorite room and why? Although the bathrooms and main living area get the most attention, my favorite room is our closet. When I saw how the bricks were unevenly broken to make the opening, I knew this was the place for me. You understand the structure and its history when you literally see and feel how the bricks were broken to make the space. The closet wall is also fun and gives off superhero vibes of breaking through a brick wall. Furthermore, the space works well as a closet. It is spacious, secluded, and cozy. Jenna even added a chair when she moved in. Getting ready for the day in our closet allows for a quiet, protected moment to gather your thoughts and I honestly cherish starting my day in there.

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? The last thing I bought for my home was the sofa. Because the living space is so large, I knew I wanted a sofa that was large and two-sided. By adding seating along both sides, the TV, fireplace, seating area along the back wall, and the bar would all be connected. But finding a sofa in the desired configuration or size proved difficult, and custom sofas were too expensive. I also have an inherent aversion to mass-produced furniture.

So instead, I purchased a vintage curvy “L” shaped sectional from a local Chicago shop for $600. The sofa had a great shape, but the original fabric and foam had seen better days. I found an (incredible) upholsterer that was willing to fabricate the curved corner, additional back pillow, and essentially an ottoman to attach to the back of the original sofa, creating the desired “S” shape. I picked a fabric, and they rebuilt the vintage sofa with increased support, new foam and legs, as well as added the channel tufting. It took nearly two years to complete this process.

Admittedly, it took this long because once I found a sofa with the right shape, I could not pick a fabric. My friends can attest to how many “pick your top five swatches” texts I sent over those months. In giving that vintage sofa a new life, I learned so much about fabric, foam, frames, and the upholstery process, and saved thousands of dollars in the process. And going through all of this only makes me love the final product more.

Any advice for creating a home you love? Work with what you have. I’ve always appreciated design that responds to its surroundings. When I was trying to figure out what to do with the downstairs bathroom and most “current” styles seemed to only call more attention to the 1990s heart-shaped Jacuzzi tub in all the wrong ways. But the tub works perfectly, and I use it all the time, so why replace it? Gut renovations are often wasteful and yield cookie-cutter results.

When updating room, I try to highlight some of the dated features to give the space character. The ’90s pop art shapes work with the elements of the bathroom. In choosing the vinyl decals, I leaned into the quirky 1990s elements like the tub and vanity, instead of masking or removing them. New light fixtures and vent were installed to give the space modern feel. These decisions have created a one-of-a-kind bathroom that brings me joy with every soak.


This submission’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.