We don’t just design for a living. We live by our designs too. So our designers are opening up about their favorite design techniques and sharing advice based on their personal experiences. Keep revisiting this post as we continue to add new content from our talented design team, and view our Housing Design Introduction below:

Renovating a new home

Scroll through to see before and after images of Christina's home renovation.

  • My husband and I bought our house just one year ago. It’s a fixer-upper, but we are tackling projects one at a time.
  • We just recently finished renovating our kitchen. The existing kitchen was a galley kitchen, and it was closed off from the living room.
  • We demolished the wall between the rooms to create a more open floor plan.
  • It makes our little home feel much bigger and lets in lots of light to the kitchen. It’s also much better for entertaining guests.
  • My favorite detail is the open shelving. I love displaying my glassware and dinnerware. For this wall, we ran our backsplash tile up to the ceiling for a dramatic effect and added brass wall sconces to match the cabinet hardware. Next up is new windows and siding!

Dana Ruh, Interior Designer

Renovating a rental unit

Scroll through to see before and after images from Dana's rental unit renovation.

  • Whenever renovating a rental unit, I always think of myself as the renter and ask myself the question, "what would it take for me to rent this unit for XXXX price?"
  • For instance, this unit in the photos has a small kitchen, so we used higher-end finishes and appliances to really spruce it up. Usually, the tenant thinks, "wow, this kitchen is so nice," instead of, "oh, it's so small."
  • I like to think about how we can design it to set us apart from other similar rentals in the area.

Personal home decoration

Scroll to see some examples of Dana's home design choices.

  • For me, I like to use a light gray wall paint that is a universal color.
  • Most rental units have white walls, and it feels stark. I think the color, although it's neutral, makes the place feel more like home.

Nicole Ezell, Architectural Designer

Home design tips

Scroll to see before and after design images from Nicole's home.

  • I’m very much a form-follows-function designer, so I rarely buy home décor that doesn’t first serve a functional purpose or have sentimental value.
  • I love to cook and travel, so most objects on display at my home reflect those interests. I have ceramic planters full of home-grown herbs, modernist and ethnic cookbooks which make beautiful ‘coffee table’ reads, and tons of African and Middle Eastern dishware that can be used for dinner parties and still look elegant when not in use.
  • When you have a small space, it’s important to curate it with items that are interesting, genuine, and specific to you.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of Craigslist. Nearly all my homewares – from couches, chairs, and cabinets to pillows, poufs, and plates – were purchased second-hand. It does take a little more patience, but if you’re selective and strategic, you can save yourself a ton of money by buying used furniture still from brands you know and trust. It’s also a great way to be environmentally conscious by reusing and recycling.
  • Don’t be afraid to be bold with accent walls. If you want a more contemporary look, go on and paint the entire thing… the trim, the door, all of it. Paint helps to define the spatial boundaries and becomes the backdrop against which all other items will be perceived.
  • Paint is the cheapest way to make the biggest visual impact on your space, and it helps to make distracting (but necessary) features like access panels disappear. Make a few big moves and don’t regret them.

Amelia Papadakis, Interior Designer

Curating Tips + Multi-Purpose Purchases

Scroll through to see before and after curation images from Amelia's apartment.

  • Don’t rush! Doing a giant haul in one day at home goods the first week you move in SHOWS. A place that is truly you takes time to curate. And that’s okay! You want your home to reflect different sides of you which will be evident in the pieces you pick.
  • For art, maybe you have a mix of posters or photography from your favorite cities, handmade pieces from local artists you’ve learned about over the years, or sculptures that remind you of that one time you went that one place.
  • Furniture could be a collection of antique shop finds, unique “feature” pieces, or timeless off-the-shelf finds.
  • The secret to a curated space is less about sticking to one “theme” and more about creating a cohesive, harmonious atmosphere that is representative of all the facets of your life and personality. It will feel much better to cozy up in that way, I promise.
  • Any good city-living renter knows that everything must serve multiple functions. Since my apartment only has two closets, already occupied by clothes and cleaning products, I knew I had to get a media cabinet that could serve as a linen closet. By using a piece with closed doors instead of open shelves, I can store away all my extra sheets, pillows, towels, and blankets in there.
  • Also, every single door in my apartment has some form of an over-the-door rack to store more items, too. My favorite is the kind with pockets that can hold all my laundry detergent and tools!

Krista Easterly, Associate and Senior Interior Designer

Renovating an old home

Scroll through to see before and after images from Krista's home renovation.

  • Take your time. There is no rush to get all the work done at once. Prioritize the "I can't live like this" projects and get those out of the way. We have been in our house for over six years, and we are still working on improvements that we have wanted to make since day one.
  • Don't try to force a style into your house. My house was built in 1890, so we have combined a lot of different aesthetics into one. Putting in many modern pieces wouldn't have looked genuine, so we mixed in some modern with some more traditional pieces. Some people might say it looks like a hot mess but, to us, it's home.
  • Don't be afraid of color. Not every house needs to look like a Chip and Joanna house. Life is too short for black and white all the time.
  • If you are (sadly) scared of color, inject the color in the paint. That's the easiest thing to change when you get sick of it.
  • We believe our house colors were the original house colors. Around 1890, houses were just beginning to be painted in wild colors. We love it. It's the brightest, most cheerful house on the block. We always get compliments for being bold.
  • Carpet samples are great stair treads.
  • Always put two gorgeous pitbulls inside your home. They will fill it with a lot of love!

James Botha, Design Practice Leader

Renovation for a rental condo in Brooklyn

Scroll through to see images of James' condo with design renderings from before and the final result after the renovation.

I bought my Brooklyn condo in 2012, which was in an old factory that serviced the old trolley car network in Brooklyn (there used to be an elevated train track in front of the building). The developer did a good job with the “loft look” but left the space wide open with no individual rooms. I designed and built out cabinetry and partitions to create a living room, dining room area off the kitchen, an office/guest bedroom, and a master bedroom. For the portal into the bedroom and shelves in the dining room, I used reclaimed wood salvaged from a barn in Vermont. I now rent out the apartment full time while I live on the West Coast.

Rental home in LA’s Highland Park neighborhood

Scroll through to see photos from James' rental house in Los Angeles.

My wife and I are renting our house in LA and chose the Highland Park neighborhood as it most reminded us of our Brooklyn lifestyle yet had scenic hillside areas quintessential to East LA. The house is no bigger than my apartment in Brooklyn yet is freestanding, with both front and back outdoor space. We loved the location and the compact quarters as we didn’t want to live in a house that required us to buy a bunch of new furniture and helped us keep the minimalistic life we enjoy. I’ve also included pics of surrounding areas we frequent as this is an integral part of the way we live out on the West Coast; from the mountains of the Angeles Forest to the beaches of Santa Monica. We also love the farmer's markets out here!

Tara Martin, Interior Designer

Renters: How to turn a bland canvas into a designer’s dream

Tara's design advice:

  • Renters often feel that they can’t make adjustments to their apartment because they don’t own the space. But I think it’s really important to make the space you live in feel like home even if it’s temporary. Renters can make small upgrades while not spending too much money. The landlord should be grateful that renters want to increase the value of their property!
  • The best way to brighten up your space is to paint the walls a fresh new color. Replace accent lighting; keep the old fixtures so you can take your fixtures with you when you move!
  • My bedroom is my private little sanctuary; a place that I am happy and relieved to come home to. As a renter, I couldn’t make too many changes to the space, but I did decide to paint the room a bright neutral color. I wanted the room to be simple & stylish; organization was especially important so that I could easily keep the room as clean as possible.
  • Don’t be afraid to buy furniture pieces to fit your space even though this isn’t your forever home; you can always reuse or resell. And look for opportunities for small upgrades; do you have a niche that would be perfect for floating shelves? Is there an accent wall just asking for peel & stick wallpaper?

Slide below to see Tara's bedroom before and after.

Gissela Teran, Interior Designer

Life after College - Designing for an apartment

Scroll to see design examples from Gissela's apartment.

  • I enjoy curating items with meaning behind them. Collecting from trips, buying local, framing wall items, displaying books and magazines, and adding personal touches elevate spaces.
  • Explore your community with city guides and classes. Frame your photography – free items can be displayed in your house, and the things you create can be showcased as well. For example, I attended a local cocktail learning/making class and got books and fun coasters that are now displayed on my coffee table.
  • Shop for items with a neutral base and add in colors, patterns, and textures to create depth.
  • When setting up a home office, declutter by hiding wires and using multipurpose devices (charging doc for phone, watch, and headphones). Maximize your space to add a personal touch, plants, desk pads for protection, coasters, etc.”

Kristyn Hill, Senior Interior Designer

Keep a small apartment interesting – Add removable wallpaper to the bedroom wall to create murals

Scroll through to see Kristyn's process photos.

  • My latest mural is a Halloween/ Donny Darko theme because 2020 is a “mad world."
  • I’m a big fan of street art and have painted a few murals for friends, so this was a perfect creative outlet during quarantine to help me zen out and have freedom in changing my visual environment.
  • I’m trying to make a new one every few months. I’ll initialize a concept in my head, loosely map it out via sketch, grid the wall to have a scale reference, and then begin the chalking process! Chalk is great because I can easily erase and change the composition as I go if something isn’t working out.
  • I’ve also used the wall to create a quick backdrop for a coworker’s zoom birthday celebration, and it’s a fun way to visually communicate something to a friend via text instead of words.

Jess Williams, Interior Designer

Designing for a condominium

Slide to compare before and after.

I chose this home for its character, size, and proximity to downtown Salem. Although the interior doesn’t reflect it, my home was built as a theater back in 1828. I love the Greek Revival architecture, with a brick façade and slate roof. Walkability and access to public transportation and amenities such as restaurants and shops are extremely important to me and were a prime reason for moving here.

The architecture of my space influenced my design choices. I only have two windows, which means all plant life must live in that area. My garden unit has a ledge on the exterior wall, so instead of adding more furniture to the space, I took advantage and use it as a bookcase.

Tips to consider:

  • Add vignettes around the house. Some of my favorite art moments have evolved over time, as I’ve collected pieces.
  • In my opinion, the way to make a house a home is to add personality. Bring in art and accessories that don’t come out of a catalog; find pieces that speak to you and make you happy each day.
  • I loved that my building size isn’t too small or too large; about 16 units. It’s mostly owner-occupied also, which is nice. Owners tend to take better care of the building and want to get to know the neighbors and form a community (I highly recommend asking about this if buying into a condominium).

Scroll through to see Jess's before and after condo redesign photos.

Kate Francis, Interior Designer

Apartment in Los Angeles, CA

Drag the slider to see how Kate transform her living room into a meditation room.

When your space is small, dual function is the name of the game. I have filled my apartment with movable pieces that function in multiple ways and arrangements. My nightstand is also jokingly called “the office” and keeps all-important paper documents in the apartment organized. The living room is made up of a sofa and ottoman that can be continuously re-arranged to allow for space for a gym or some downtime for meditation when we aren’t lounging (Los Angeles will change you!).

Scroll through for a look at Kate's different setups and design details.

I believe your furniture and décor should bring you joy - you shouldn’t settle for a piece because you need it, but instead, wait for the right one to come along. For the environment and the sake of design, I have been a fan of investing a little extra in furniture and décor that will last a long time. I also appreciate the traditional and classic pieces that I have that balance with my contemporary taste – so I aim for an eclectic vibe. If I fall in love with anything unusual, and often do, I can make it work with my existing aesthetic.

The porch furniture is made for lounging and working with your feet up. The ottomans can be scooted out, and the side table can easily be repositioned as the centerpieces to a four-person hangout. The plants are all on casters to be moved around based on the number of guests or creating privacy from the adjacent street.

Steve Seminelli, Senior Architectural Designer

Apartment in Boston, MA

Scroll through to see before/after pics, detail shots, and final design photos.

Steve's tips and recommendations:

  • It can be tough to view a potential home with someone else’s belongings. Try and have a vision of the bones and how you would occupy the space.
  • Upgraded lighting in a space, especially rentals, really adds a touch of personality while being functional.
  • Making a space your own is all about adding layers. Rugs, pillows, and art all come together to feel like home.
  • Don’t be afraid to try a few furniture layouts. Never know where a sofa might look best.
  • Don’t over think on gallery walls. Layout your art on the bed or floor, then snap a picture so you can eyeball locate them on the wall.
  • Living in a building with amenities really contributes to extend my personal space. Pool time in the summer, package concierge, and a fitness center are all perks that are hard to beat – especially living in a city like Boston!

Home renovation in Philadelphia, PA

Scroll through to see before and after photos.

This renovation is of a 1915 Philadelphia row home, that had a 1970s makeover. Stripping back the years of neglect meant ripping out pastel carpets and pulling up bland tile, in order to let the original spaces shine. Highlights were a budget-conscious kitchen upgrade with paint and new appliances, a vintage-inspired tile foyer redo, and exposing the brick wall to add warmth and character. Tips to consider:

  • Paint can be magical. Painting outdated wood cabinets or dated yellow tiles will give them new life. Add a sleek countertop, and you can really transform a kitchen or bath!
  • You never know what is behind a wall. After removing a closet, it exposed 2 windows that had been hiding.
  • Look to both past and present for design inspiration. Mixing the two can be even more rewarding.
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