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A few weeks ago my sister asked me to help revamp her Manhattan apartment. Only trouble was, I wasn’t planning to head out East and so any help I could offer had to be remote. Luckily, my sister has excellent taste and so all she needed was some help in bringing her ideas together into a cohesive scheme. Sometimes, all it takes is a fresh pair of eyes…

She didn’t want to replace any major pieces and was limited on the decorating front by the fact her place is a rental. But she did want it to be more pulled-together and ‘grown-up’. It also had to function for a 20-month-old.

My sister loves eclectic spaces with anything from French to Moroccan to Asian influences. She also describes herself as a ‘color tart’ (!), loving pretty much any color under the sun. How to combine all this into an open plan apartment?

As a first step, she sent me a couple of images of rooms she liked, answered some of my questions and then I created an inspiration board (above). The goal here was to consolidate all the hundreds of ideas racing round her head. We found that warm colors, luxurious textures and pattern were recurring themes.

Then we built the color palette, based on the inspiration board. I felt that a relatively complex palette was needed in order to accommodate her love of color. It also needed to complement some of the existing hues in her space – chiefly the moss green. Pinky-red, gray and taupe were perfect solution. I also wanted to introduce gold for that luxe element. Finally, I felt that some rich, ethnic-inspired embroidered textiles would be the way to introduce pattern without looking too cluttered.

Finally, we put together selection of furniture and accessories to complement what she already had. Product details are below.

A big focus was the TV area, which needed organizing and defining. I found this room (via MadebyGirl), which inspired an asymmetrical arrangement of shelves and a media console around the TV:

She’s still working on implementing the ideas so we’ll have to wait and see how it turns out. But it was fun to pull together and a great example of bi-coastal sibling collaboration!

Here are the product details:
1 – Lamp
2 – Media cabinet
3 – Pillow
4 – Side table
5 – Lamp
6 – Tray
7 – Bus stop sign
8 – Pillow
9 – Lamp
10 – Vases
11 – Pillow
12 – Tray table
13 – Media cabinet
14 – Lamp
15 – Pillow
16 – Pillow
17 – Otomi textile throw
18 – Ikat chair
19 – Lamp
20 – Pouf


I just spotted this beauty in the window of Jonathan Adler. Stunning, sculptural shell-shaped lamps. What better way to cling on to the last vestiges of summer?

I’m obsessed. Maybe this is finally the lamp to replace our IKEA stand-ins (which we’ve had for seven years, mind you) in the master bedroom? That said, I’m also rather keen on these new ones from West Elm, also shell-inspired (it’s tiled capiz) but for a fraction of the price:

Hmm, decisions decisions…

We’ve had a LACK side table from IKEA in our living room for the past seven years. It has served us well but I’m beginning to think about swapping it for something a little more exciting. Looking around, it occurs to me that a side table is a fantastic, low-cost, low-commitment way to make a bold design statement in your room. Just checking out the major chain stores and online retailers, I’ve found some really unique tables that are totally affordable.

Top of the list has to be these Hexagonal yellow tables from West Elm. They pretty much stopped me in my tracks. Right now, they cost just $229 for a set of two.

West Elm side table

West Elm also has this lovely hammered metal tray and medina stand for just $139.

West Elm medina stand

Over at Anthropologie, I liked this copper table with an embossed brass top. It’s quite a bit more expensive though, at $398.

Anthropologie side table

Brocade Home, a favorite source of mine, delivers yet again with these two turned leg tables. This one with a dramatic glossy black finish is $199.

Brocade Home side table

The silver metal version is $299. This would look great next to a boxy white sofa (like the IKEA one we have…)

Brocade Home side table

Now this one’s really different. The ESSEY Illusion side table from Design Public is only $275. Being perspex, it would work really well in a smaller space.

Perspex side table

I would love, repeat ‘love’, an Eames walnut stool like this. But at the thick end of $900 it’s out of the question. But this Totem Stool from Room and Board is a similar look for just $399. It’s very tactile – would look fabulous in a room with lots of neutral colors and natural textures.

Room and Board side table

These little tables wouldn’t look out of place in a Paris apartment. They’re the Jules tables from Crate & Barrel and are made of iron with an antiqued mirror top. The smallest is $199. Top them with bonbon dishes, vintage books, overblown pink roses and you have the ultimate in Parisian vintage chic.

Crate and Barrel side table

I’m also rather partial to ceramic garden stools. They’re so versatile: you can use them indoors or out, as seating or tables, or just to satisfy a desire to buy something in luscious cherry red. These are from Pottery Barn and are $159 each. Wisteria also has them in white, pale green, pale blue, silver or gold at $129 each. I fancy silver since I’m still in a sparkly mood.

Pottery Barn garden stool

Ahhhh, speaking of sparkly, now we come to the Michael Aram ‘Enchanted Forest’ side table. Ok, so this is not exactly ‘affordable’. It’s $570. But it certainly lives up to its name – this is one enchanting table. It’s made of polished aluminum and looks like it’s straight out of a fairytale.

Aram enchanted forest side table

So, there’s my round-up of show-stopping side tables. Even the most inhibited interiors should be able to step out of the shadows with one of these…

I like reading Apartment Therapy‘s ‘how to’ posts. Today AT Chicago has a post that’s particularly close to my heart – ‘how to avoid the catalog look at home’.

When we moved to the US seven years ago, we first lived in San Diego. We had visited a couple of months prior to scout out rentals and had managed to line up a nice townhouse in UTC, near La Jolla. But it was unfurnished. We were renting out our London house as a furnished property so shipped nothing more than a few clothes and books. Everything else stayed behind or went into storage. When we got to SD, we had just one weekend to furnish the entire place with the basics.

Knowing nothing about the city, or where to look for furniture stores, we went to IKEA. We bought beds, tables, chairs, sofas, kitchen equipment – just about everything – there. Then we had to personalize the place. Seven years on, we still have most of it and, although I love all the pieces we still have, I am constantly looking for ways to create an ‘un-IKEA look’. The fact is, though, as my experience shows, sometimes there is no option but to kit out your entire place from a catalog store. So, if you have to do it, here are my own tips for making it work.

Bring out the family photos

Luckily, shortly after we moved to the US, we got married so had tons of great photos to display. We bought multi-photo frames from Pottery Barn and created combinations of our favorites. One evening and a bottle of wine later, we had simple, but truly personal, art for our walls!

Stock up on books

When we moved, we had five books. Now we have three huge floor-to-ceiling shelves of them, plus three boxes in the garage (I’m intending to get more shelving for them). You can pick up dozens of secondhand paperbacks cheaply (or even new ones on special offer). They instantly make a place more personal and ‘lived in’. Now we feel like we have a history of our last seven years sitting on our book shelves.

Choose the catalog store carefully

I buy at all the usual favorites: IKEA, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Crate and Barrel. But, to me, two stores really excel at offering unusual, eclectic products at a decent price: West Elm and Anthropologie. Here’s why:

Bridge coffee table

This is West Elm’s Bridge coffee table. It doesn’t exactly scream catalog to me.

Sheesham objects

These ‘Sheesham Objects’ are also from West Elm and would make a really personal touch to an office.

Jacoby bench

This is the Jacoby bench form Anthropologie. It looks like something picked up from your travels, not at all catalog.

Pillows as gifts

Whenever people asked what I wanted for Christmas or a birthday, I would tell them a pillow cover. It’s the easiest thing to mail overseas (you just buy the pillow itself locally) and you can always find a home for a gorgeous pillow. Even though we had limited time to travel beyond the London/San Diego (or London/San Francisco) route, it still looks as though we have been around the world because of the eclectic range of pillows we have.

Deck the walls with art

This isn’t an easy, or cheap, approach. But there is no doubt that, with a few personally-chosen pieces of art on the walls, you could furnish an entire home in IKEA and it wouldn’t matter. In fact, it would be the perfect backdrop. Instead of registering at a store when we were planning our wedding, we registered at Wills Art Warehouse in London. After the wedding we chose four spectacular paintings that we absolutely love and which have guided every design decision we’ve made since. Here are two of them.

The Wave painting

Pomegranates painting

My sister and her husband recently also moved from London to the US – they are in NYC. They had to fill an entire apartment from scratch in four weeks – in time for their first baby to arrive! Needless to say, IKEA played a starring role, but they also have a great collection of paintings, etchings and photos collected from their travels around the world. It makes their apartment look effortlessly stylish and really welcoming.

Apartment Therapy has more great tips here. At the end of the day, though, once you have the basics in place, it’s more about patience and being willing to let a home evolve around you over time. And there’s no quick-win solution to replace time.

To some, a home is just four walls and a roof. To others, it’s a showcase for a lifetime’s achievements. To a few, it’s a canvas for artistic expression. To me, it’s a refuge and a source of comfort. It’s also a lab for design experiments, some of which go well, many of which don’t.

That’s the real reason I started this blog: to record the changes in our home, capture the things that inspire those changes; and document the disasters so I never repeat them!

To some people, I suppose our home looks finished. Or maybe it looks like we’ve barely started. But to me, it’s a work in progress. So here are the first photos of our home – finished or otherwise.

Living room

We live in a San Francisco Edwardian. There are three stories, including the basement garage. The living room is at the front and is open to the hallway via a double-width arch. We’re lucky to have tons of natural light, with windows on two sides – although that does make it chilly on winter evenings. The sofas are from IKEA (when we moved to the US seven years ago, we had to furnish an entire apartment in a weekend so most of our basic items are from IKEA – and still going strong, I might add). The ottoman is from Pottery Barn and has been absolutely invaluable – there’s nothing better than kicking back in front of a movie with this as a footrest. Good for extra seating too when we entertain. The shades are raw silk from the Shade Store (excellent for reasonably-priced custom shades). The mirror and lamp are from Pier 1 and the apothecary chest is from Gingko, a little store in Soma that makes items to order for a great price – mostly from reclaimed wood. I also have a beautiful Louis chair (out of shot) covered in cream velvet, with silver gilt arms. It’s rather ornate but balances out the two boxy IKEA sofas. The challenge here is keeping the effect modern while indulging my preference for vintage, gilt and shiny things. Seems I’m constantly teetering between the two.

Living room / hallway

Ok, this shot is taken from the sofa under the bay window, looking through to the hallway and then dining room. Here’s the Louis chair. The painting is by Chris Hankey. We asked for contributions to an art gallery for our wedding gifts, and this was one of the pieces we eventually purchased. If there’s one thing in our home that helps me relax, it’s this.

Dining room

Dining room

The dining room wall color was a major change for us – it’s quite a cool blue/green/gray. It’s Iced Marble by Benjamin Moore and seems to change color depending on what you put next to it. But it looks great as a backdrop to the wave painting. The table is (of course) IKEA, but the chairs are from a, now closed, store on Fillmore Street. I loved the leather but couldn’t justify buying six of them so two are in a charcoal fabric instead. The sideboard, just seen, is from Gingko again. I had trouble deciding what to do with the front door, which is glass. I didn’t want to block out the light completely, but also didn’t want passersby peering in while we ate our dinner in the evening. The laser-cut paper screen by Tord Boontje seemed to be a good solution – and, somehow, we’ve managed to prevent our toddler from tearing it to shreds.

Just off the dining room is a tiny sitting area, which we use as a playroom. I’ve already shared my excitement about the West Elm zigzag rug in an earlier post: I’m loving how it contrasts with the more somber dining room.

Master bedroom

This is the master bedroom. It’s above the living room so we get the same great light. But we had to invest in extremely well-lined drapes and shades to keep the warmth in in winter. The bed is IKEA again, as are the lamps. I feel like we should replace the lamps with something more visible against the light-colored drapes. But the light they give is so warm it’s perfect for a bedroom so I can’t bear to part with them. The pomegranate painting was another wedding gift and was the inspiration for the colors in this room.

Bedroom dresser

Ok, I’m no stylist. But I like to see this little collection of things on our dresser in the mornings. The photos are of my father as a child, the handheld silver mirror (lying flat) was an 18th birthday present, the mother-of-pearl inlaid mirror is from Wisteria and was a source of much soul-searching (should we really spend the money?) but it was the best price I’d found for this type of mirror and I absolutely love it. The domino box is also from Wisteria and was a present from my sister (with some strong hints…). The large paper flower was made by my two-year-old at his daycare and is, quite frankly, the best thing about this collection (in my humble, doting-parent, opinion!)

Guest room

Last but not least, the guest room. The photograph isn’t great, but the room itself is really relaxing to be in. The wall color is Morning Dew by Benjamin Moore – a really pale, creamy green. The drapes are white linen and from the Shade Store again. The bedside tables were an absolute find for $140 each in a local antiques store (Past Perfect on Union Street – same place I got the Louis chair). Somehow they work with the IKEA bed and lamps. The rug is from South Africa, a gift from my parents.

In another post, I’ll try to show some pics of the nursery, office and kitchen. The latter is definitely a work in progress – we’re contemplating a renovation.

So, that’s our home. I hope it provides some ideas – even if only what not to do!

The design discoveries and dilemmas of a Brit in San Francisco as she turns a house into a home.
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