This California Home Is Calming & Classic While Still Being Visually Interesting

This California Home Is Calming & Classic While Still Being Visually Interesting

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Name: Alyssa Fetini, Abe Pursell, Baby Remy (4 months) and Twigs (our dog)
Location: Lake Merritt neighborhood — Oakland, California
Size: 2500 square feet
Type of Home: 1903 Victorian home
Years lived in: 1.5 years, owned

When Alyssa Fetini and her husband bought this home, it was exactly what she was looking for: a complete gut job. “When we were touring homes, we were looking for location, good bones, and high ceilings… and this house had all three!” writes Alyssa. “Doing the interior design myself was one of the proudest moments of my life. I work in HR at a tech company so having this as a creative outlet brought me to life in many ways.”

Trips all around the world (pre-pandemic and pre-baby) have inspired many elements in Alyssa’s home, as well as work by local artists and artisans around California. But perhaps most of all, Alyssa stresses that her and Abe’s home is a match for themselves, the ones who are actually living in it, rather than just trying to follow trends. “There is a difference between being inspired by things you see on Pinterest and just copying it outright,” she begins. “Your home should be a reflection of you and all the things that make you unique. Some of the trendier things (like an all terrazzo kitchen) might look good on Pinterest but the functionality and timelessness might not be there. It might sound cliché, but just be yourself!”

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: I describe my style as a “Scandinavian professor” in that I like my living spaces and even clothing to reflect a cozy yet structural type of minimalism. My goal was for my home to feel soft, calming, and classic while still being visually interesting.

Inspiration: My husband and were big travelers before kids and used to take at least two international trips a year. When I look around the house, I can see how each trip is reflected in a different aspect of the home. My kitchen was inspired by a simple, yet beautiful Airbnb in Stockholm that was minimal but cozy at the same time, the colorful concrete sinks in the bathrooms were inspired by a funky little wine bar in Melbourne, the terracotta accents all over the house are reminders of all the time we’ve spent all over Mexico. In the same way that these trips have shaped and inspired me as a person, they have also had a major impact on how I thought about designing the house.

Favorite Element: The main bathroom is hands down my favorite room in the house. It was originally used as an office and while having an extra one of those would have been useful during the COVID lockdowns, I decided that creating a spa-like bath was more important. Given that I had a large space to work with, I immediately knew I wanted a double shower, which lent itself to my idea of using tile to create a “send nudes” mosaic and the wonderful people at Fireclay Tile in San Francisco brought my vision to life. Nood Concrete in Australia created the pale peach concrete sinks that I have all over the house and the blue bathtub brought it all together. Every time I walk in, I immediately feel like I’m at a fantastic hotel, which is the best feeling in the world when you’re trapped at home!

Biggest Challenge: We essentially had to gut and totally restructure the first floor of the house. As is typical for Victorian homes, the ceilings were gloriously high, which was a huge plus for us, but the actual layout felt small and confined since in the Victorian era, optimizing for as many rooms as possible was the goal. We used an architect to help us rethink the structure of the first floor to open the space up and moved the locations of every room other than the living room. The old kitchen is now a staircase, the old guest bath and bedroom are now the kitchen, and dining area and the old dining room is now a guest bedroom.  

Biggest Indulgence: The lighting from Entler studios was by far my biggest indulgence. I used them in the living room, kitchen, and dining room and in my opinion, the house just wouldn’t be the same without them. Entler is known for making tentacle like lighting fixtures and I first saw them in a coffee shop years ago and took note of the designer. Octopuses are my favorite animal and these alien-like octopus lights are totally unique but still classic. I’ll never get tired of looking at them, which is exactly how one should feel when considering whether or not to splurge on a home-related purchase.

What’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? The best compliments people have given me about our house is saying “wow, this is SO YOU” when they walk in. A well-designed home should feel like a true expression of your identity, not a reflection of what is currently trending on Pinterest. I’m also a big believer of having specific elements echoed throughout the house to add consistency without being too matchy-matchy. As an example, we used the same colorful sinks (in different colors and shapes) in all the bathrooms, we kept all of our countertops white, we used similar lights in different shapes and sizes in all the rooms, and I have artist Katie Gong’s wood wall structures in almost every room. The different rooms should feel like “sisters, not twins.” There should be a resemblance without being too identical.

This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.

Adrienne Breaux

House Tour Editor

Adrienne loves architecture, design, cats, science fiction and watching Star Trek. In the past 10 years she’s called home: a van, a former downtown store in small town Texas and a studio apartment rumored to have once been owned by Willie Nelson.

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A 400-Square-Foot ‘In-Law’ Unit Is Small But Cozy, Modern, and Minimal

A 400-Square-Foot ‘In-Law’ Unit Is Small But Cozy, Modern, and Minimal

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Name: Lisa Swatt and my 13-year-old daughter
Location: Rockridge neighborhood — Oakland, California
Type of home: In-law unit
Size: 400 square feet
Years lived in: 5 years, renting

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: I am a special education teacher living in the expensive Bay Area with my daughter. I’ve made the choice to live in my family’s in-law unit to have low overhead and be able to travel and enjoy life the way we want to.

While a tight squeeze for the two of us, I feel it brings us closer together. My father, who is a well-known modern architect, is my style inspiration.

I like simple pieces with different textures and complementary colors.

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Minimalist, modern, cozy

What is your favorite room and why? The living room is my favorite place to unwind after a long day.

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? The West Elm Slope Lounge Chair in burnt umber distressed velvet is my favorite new purchase!

Any advice for creating a home you love? Take the time to find pieces you really love!

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

This Gorgeous Norwegian Apartment Is Soothing Scandinavian Style Embodied

This Gorgeous Norwegian Apartment Is Soothing Scandinavian Style Embodied

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Name: Kathy Hao-Hsuan Chang and her Norwegian husband
Location: Oslo, Norway
Size: 1076 square feet
Type of Home: Apartment
Years lived in: 1.5 years, owned

I still remember the first time my husband and I took a walk to our neighborhood. We wanted to check out the area before coming to any more open houses — we had been to more than 30 up till then. It was a dark evening in Norwegian autumn and we walked through some busy roads, but the moment we turned onto this street, all the noise disappeared into peace and silence. Tall trees stood along the path as yellow street lights shined through the leaves. All of a sudden, a déjà vu feeling captured me. “This neighborhood brings back my childhood memories,” I told my husband. “Really? I was going to say exactly the same!” my husband replied.

Funny thing is, I grew up in Taipei, Taiwan, and my husband is from elsewhere in Norway. Yet, this specific street made us both feel like home — our own sweet childhood homes. We went to the open house and felt in love with the inside of this home, as well. The apartment has two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, and the biggest living room and open kitchen I have ever seen for a 1076-square-foot apartment. It also has two balconies facing south and west respectively, surrounded by greeneries. We knew we wanted to live here, instantly.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Scandinavian style with a touch of Asian practicality

Inspiration: “Claire de Lune” by Debussy. A song so harmonious and soothing that it can be played as background music, but also so beautifully constructed with highlight moments that can be appreciated as a theme song.  

Favorite Element: I like every room but perhaps our main bedroom is my favorite room. We used to live in a 376-square-foot apartment. The bedroom was quite tiny, and the bed was tucked in between walls. One of us always had to climb over the other to get in or get out of the bed. Now, our bedroom has an en suite bathroom, plenty of space for bedside tables and side a table, and even an attached balcony that can be turned into a nice reading corner in the Norwegian summer! We kept the walls white, but brought in the colors from the public area — the blue, the gray, the beige, and a little pink. I always feel thankful and relaxed spending time in our bedroom. We also upgraded our bed linens to reasonably priced Egyptian cotton.

Biggest Challenge: We have a long balcony that is only 4.6 feet wide, and so the previous house owner didn’t use it at all. My husband and I decided to be creative about the space and built four homemade stools that bring flexibility to the space: Using four stools together, we get a big luxurious dining table for four people. Putting only two stools together, we get a nice tall bench for sitting high-up to enjoy a cup of tea while watching the sunset.

Proudest DIY: The entrance has several solutions that we are quite proud of: The cabinet is from an IKEA Pax system. The bench is tailored and homemade: we bought an extra shelf plate from the IKEA Pax system, trimming it to the size we need for the bench’s seating area, and installed the legs from IKEA’s Kyrre stool to make this bench. The key holder made of oak is minimalistic but functional, which is built by Buene Studio in Norway using the leftover wood from building other furniture. Last but not least, behind the painting is actually an electricity box — we found a painting to hide it.

Biggest Indulgence: The Kiyola KF-10 digital piano made in oak is quite an expensive item. However, it is totally worth it! Its minimalistic look generates much less visual noise as a upright piano would do. Any piano bigger than Kiyola would probably take away too much space and unnecessary attention from the living room. Fun fact: guests usually don’t realize that it is a piano until we tell them. They always think that it is a side table made in oak. I have always enjoyed playing piano but have never had a piano at home for a long time until now — this piano has become my good friend ever since the day it arrived.

Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? Discovering new corners in our apartment is very important to me. I like to move things around and create new places to work or relax. Hence, we bought a very flexible modular sofa. All the puffs are square shape, and can be easily configured into any setting — a L-shape sofa, two three-seaters facing each other, or even a large sofa bed if we need one.

What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? The Marisino floor spotlight from Astro Lighting. I really like the beautiful palm tree leaf shadows that the light creates on the ceiling. With a time switch, the light turns itself on at 8p.m. and off at 1a.m. — it is just the right amount of brightness and atmosphere when we want to relax in the living room.

Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? I have a special trick to share: Sometimes we will wonder “what is missing here,” or “which furniture fits better.” My trick is to take a picture, picturing the photo as a painting, and then ask myself “what would I have painted here.” It always works because you are much more creative when you are a painter! This trick will bring out the artistic side of you.

A Compact San Francisco Condo Shows How to Optimize Space Beautifully

A Compact San Francisco Condo Shows How to Optimize Space Beautifully

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Name: Laura, Pan, and Radar (the dog)
Location: San Francisco, California
Type of Home: Condo in a 1909 Victorian building
Size: 1000 sq. ft
Years lived in: 1 year, owned

A friend once described perfection beautifully for me: that it might not always come out the best option across all possible stack-ranked permutations, but that when you do encounter it, even if you know there are objectively “better” things out there, you’re done looking. Or, sure, you can look, but you don’t covet. That’s when you know what you have is perfect.

When we discovered our place, you could say things fell together by happy coincidence — we happened to know the buyer’s agent personally from a previous chance encounter, we knew the zip code well from having done many projects around the area — but most of all, when we saw it, we were filled with an emotion that might be best summed up as “coming home.”

Our home occupies the top floor of a 1909 Victorian building. We love the south-facing light in the bay windows, the view of the San Francisco city skyline out of our bedroom window, and the fact that it’s the perfect size for a small family starting out; cozy but still spacious, and not too much work to clean. We love the neighborhood for its diverse, come-as-you-are community, the parks, and the European-inspired public square (one of very, very few in the city) where you can throw back a coffee and linger in the sun.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Anti-farmhouse (just joking). Contrast that’s clean but not cold. Contemporary history you can live in, but more gallery than museum.

Inspiration: “Une Fille Une Style” series from Vogue Paris — I love their attention to small, practical city apartments full of sunlight, loved objects, and little dinner parties.

Favorite Element: Our south-facing open kitchen with its bay window dining nook. There used to be a peninsula; we opted to demo this, converting the storage into more available volume, to open up the two rooms. I like getting focused work done at the island with a cup of tea at 4 p.m., using the countertops as a window perch like a cat, or hosting friends.

Biggest Challenge: The bathroom and living room are basically caves with skylights because the walls have no windows. You’d think light falling from the sky is the best, direct from the source, but because the skylights have no pitch and long sun tunnels, this can make for darker, more shadowy rooms. Great for Halloween, less great for our hearth.

How we overcame this: In the living room, we splashed the room in terracotta pink limewash paint from baseboards to ceiling, to neutralize the shadows cast on the ceiling (pink canceling out gray on the color wheel), and to create more texture and dimension (lime-wash paint has great movement) that could disguise the residual shadow. And in the bathroom, we did the opposite, with high-contrast graphic black and white to make everything pop (hard contrast is also pretty good at canceling out soft shadow).

Proudest DIY: We turned the dog crate into a little table top, or what I call an “accessory altar” — equal parts altar (things I come to for peace, or a sense of groundedness) and diorama (a show and tell that is alive and interactable as much as it is statically on display).

Dog crates are an important part of an apartment pup’s training and well-being. They’re practical and strong. Problem: They’re also pretty bulky, and ugly. To fix this, we purchased an IKEA solid wood countertop and got a TaskRabbit’s help to laser-cut and sand it down to size. Then, we leaned a vintage brass-gilded mirror on the top, secured to the crown molding with eyelet hooks and cable ties, safely out of sight, and staged loved objects amid the dog equipment and treats. This is just one of the things we did to dog-proof the house without compromising on spaciousness or aesthetics. And now we have an extra table/dog station/surface on which to forget we left our phones.

Biggest Indulgence: Our marble-top kitchen island from Anthropologie. It was worth it, a thousand times over. The veining is beautiful, the texture of natural stone is unbeatable, and it’ll be cold enough for epic baking adventures (like achieving lamination on croissants!). As far as islands go, I think it was a solid investment; the kitchen is a hub for activity and we wanted an island that would stand up to everything we put it through.

Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? Instead of furnishing the second bedroom into a guest bedroom or a study, we use the second bedroom as a yoga/fitness studio. This is a bold move in that it might seem like we’re not making the most of our not-a-lot-of-square-footage by keeping a whole room basically empty, but I feel the opposite; empty means multi-purpose. So when guests come, they have a place to stay, and when it’s just the three of us, it’s where I can escape my dog and my office.

Having space to move is important to me. I used to teach yoga actively (completed my 200-hour training in 2014) and regularly do a dance-based workout to flush and decompress after work. The studio is more than a multi-purpose room; it’s a palate cleanser. Now that we’re working from home, I don’t just need different rooms to do things in; I need sanctuaries to reset and context switch.

What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? I love our Poster Club print set from Jaron Su, a Taiwanese painter. I paired two of his paintings — one more whimsical, and the other more thoughtful — in our entryway, as a reminder of Asia, where much of our family still lives.

I also love our curvy vintage chairs — we have an Alvar Aalto and a Herman Miller, both handed down through Facebook Marketplace with authenticity stamps. I know how quickly used furniture depreciates; these are classics we invested in that I think will hold their value better (or maybe even increase in value), and that double up as a little art collection while we get to own them.

My absolute favorite things, the things that really ground and lift our house, are not the ones I bought. They include the first ever letter a friend sent from her new house (she purchased right after us), a birthday drawing from our former neighbors’ 8-year old, a graduation photo set from a very dear college friend’s sister, two (well-meaning) attempts at ceramic teapots from another friend’s pottery class that remain unbroken through all my apartments, a Christmas card from Norway where one of my partner’s sisters lives, a family recipe I’ve framed against the kitchen backsplash. Moving into our first home away from friends and family was made easier with these sentimental, very treasured objects I can’t buy.

Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have:

Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Here’s a controversial principle that I live by: A great interior is never one-dimensional, so if you can fit your entire “interior design style” into a single textbook label like “mid-century modern” or “Art Deco” — sure, you may have a beautiful space, but it may not be interesting. Interesting is a dance, it’s tension, it’s playful, and fresh, and usually unique. It’s what makes a space really yours.

So my best decorating advice is: interesting, not pretty. Turns out, the end result is usually prettier, too.

This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.

25 Best Minimalist Gifts for Friends and Fam Who Like to Keep Things Simple

25 Best Minimalist Gifts for Friends and Fam Who Like to Keep Things Simple

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In this day and age, there’s room for all kinds of interior styles — maximalism, monochrome, mid-century, you name it. But there’s really something to be said about the minimalism decor movement, dominated by a simple, clutter-less lifestyle. To some, the concept of minimalism may come off as inaccessible and unattainable. But at its core, it’s all about shopping with intention and curating the pieces you really need or love. You’ve heard Marie Kondo’s catchphrase: only buy what “sparks joy.”

To that note, when the holidays roll around, what do you buy the less-is-more, don’t-get-me-anything types on your shopping list? We rounded up some of the best minimalist home gifts for friends, family, coworkers, and more. From space-saving double duty finds to modern kitchen staples that still allow for a fuss-free space, there’s plenty of useful, joy-sparking presents to be found. Also, even if this decorating style isn’t your speed, practice the minimalist mindset as you shop this year and prioritize purposeful gifts for every loved one.