Taking My Own Design Advice

Image Description: white fireplace with large canvas print of colorful elephants hung above it. The fireplace is framed by a medium sized houseplant and a woven basket full of blankets.

Yes, this is the first sneak peak at the maybe-eventually-will-be finished new apartment.

It’s no secret that I absolutely love interior design, I mean I did put down a few thousand dollars to get part way through my design degree. And during that period of my life, I learned an awful lot.

Aside from various codes and learning the differences between residential and commercial design, working in the field taught me some valuable lessons.

Lessons that I need to revisit.

I’ll admit, it is really easy to be someone else’s interior designer. They come to you and you learn about their space, how they want to use it and what they’re really looking for. This can be as vague as needing a family room that’ll be kid friendly but still look elegant for adult company or as specific as “I basically want you to Joanna Gaines my house.”

As a designer, you spend time looking at budget, existing pieces that’ll be used in the space and you create a plan for them with maybe one or two interchangeable parts if a portion of the design doesn’t end up being right for them.

It’s the designer’s job to take a bit of the guess work out of it. Sure there’s a lot of moving parts, but the client is relying on you to make their vision come true and often times goes with the majority of suggestions.

But, as the designer when it comes to designing for yourself it gets so much harder. Sure you still know the space you’re working with, you know what pieces you’ve already got, and identifying a budget is pretty straight forward. But there’s a million little details from accent color choices, to optional multipurpose spaces, to deciding which pieces are worth investing a bit more into.

So I wanted to break down the advice I’ve given countless clients that I need to remember for myself – that I full on ignored in the beginning of this apartment process.

Piece of Advice #1: Functional Pieces Are Worth Investing In.

What are the pieces in your home that you use the most? Like most people, my bed and my couch get the most use – since I’m always home and often limited with movement I actually use these pieces for close to 24 hours of my day.

I lucked out and had my couch from my previous apartment and although I did get it for a steal, it isn’t a cheap piece of furniture.

My bed on the other hand had to be ordered – mattress too. I thought I was being relatively thrifty and spent about $200 total on my bed frame and mattress. I opted for a platform bed so I could eliminate the cost of a box-spring. I ordered both pieces from Wayfair…

Here’s the really bad:

  • My bed frame came damaged. Thankfully it’s just the headboard and they can send me a replacement part. I assembled the bed with the busted headboard and decided I’d swap them out when the new headboard came. I ordered a replacement a little over three weeks ago and haven’t received any update.
  • My mattress was a mattress in a box. These things come in a super sealed rolled up bag with careful instructions for how to get the mattress out. I’m 5’2″ and have no ability to control a mattress that wants to expand as I’m trying to cut the outside of layer of plastic, therefore I made a small slice in the top of my mattress. It doesn’t impact the functionality of the mattress, but it does void my warranty.
  • Speaking of warranty… mattresses come with a bit of a “sleep on it” period where you can decide if you like it. My mattress is harder than a rock and I haven’t slept since I got it. But my warranty is void so returning it is out of the question.
  • It also isn’t worth selling it because I fully recognize to get the mattress I want I’d have to spend about $1000.

And with the really bad, there comes a solution to alleviate it as best as possible.

Although my bed frame is damaged it still works and my pillows do hide the damage, so I can’t worry too much about it. When it comes to bed frames, this is definitely a part of the functional category that deserves to have a little money spent on it but making a mistake here isn’t catastrophic.

Mattress wise, last night I relocated my papasan cushion and used that as a temporary mattress topper.

My charcoal infused memory foam topper will arrive tomorrow. Instead of opting for a whole new mattress, I dished out $100 for a topper that will not only increase the longevity of my mattress but will provide the added comfort that I need.

In all honesty, I messed up. I was offered the bed I had been using at my parents and I should have accepted it instead of opting to get my own on the basis of not wanting a sleigh bed. Having a strict budget doesn’t mean you can’t still have high quality pieces, but it means you’re most likely going to need to get things second-hand and really pay attention to what you’re buying.

Piece of Advice #2: Be Thrifty When It Comes to Extra Pieces.

I lucked out and didn’t fully screw up on this piece of advice, but I came incredibly close multiple times.

This concept comes from the most basic part of working with a client – when you present your design that’s loaded with awesome pieces of furniture and incredible decor to go with it the client WILL have a panic attack when they see you’ve selected a $300 lamp. Sell them on the big stuff, then work with them to find similar style decor for a mere fraction of the cost – it lets them know that you aren’t all about money and actually care about the design.

So where did I come close to the hypothetical $300 lamp? Barstools. TV stands. Storage options.

If you know me, you know that barstools are my least favorite piece of furniture. They are all hideous. None of them are comfortable. But, having a large island meant I’d be eating there and could potentially use the space as a desk/work-space if need be, meaning I needed comfortable barstools.

I picked out a pair that I absolutely loved, but they essentially ate up the rest of my budget meaning I’d have to stretch when it came to any other expense. Fortunately, I suddenly had my car in the shop and was at risk of needing a brand new tire… This unexpected expense forced me to really put a lot of thought into the stools – would I really use them for more than a year if I end up moving in with a friend? Am I actually going to use it as a desk space or work from the couch as I always do? If I’m rarely using them do they absolutely have to have a back? So, I chose to go with a set no more expensive than $150… and what do you know in my exhaustive search, I found stools almost identical to my first choice. My tire ended up being plugged for free, but I saved $150 because of it.

When it came to my TV, mounting it is an option but that’s a lot of added work. So I began my search for a cabinet. I had a variety of options picked out and was under a time constraint because almost all of them were on sale for Amazon’s Deal Days. A $100 TV cabinet was no where to be found in my budget so I took a quick glance at Facebook Marketplace just in case and what do you know someone listed a cabinet for $10 right as I opened it up.

So I got the $10 cabinet and spent an additional $40 on legs, brackets, a knob, and wood to stabilize the back and create a nice custom door.

Lastly, storage is huge and living in a studio meant my walk in closet was close to all I had…

I ended up buying two 4×3 cubes from Wayfair, and honestly that was a mistake. I had a vision for how they could be used and after getting into the space and really toying with the furniture arrangement that plan didn’t work out. I’m using one in my kitchen as a coffee stand and partial pantry, the other could have been a tv stand or a room divider or even a place for my art supplies… until I realized how incredibly flimsy it was. Weight limit? 15 lbs. And so, I now have a great shoe display and all my books have to fill up the lower shelves…

In hindsight, reading the specifications would have alerted me to the weight issue and I maybe wouldn’t have ordered them.

There’s always cube storage available on local swap pages.

My next storage dilemma was for my shoes – even with cube storage, that doesn’t solve storage for the other 30 pairs. And so, under-bed storage was my best option.

And under bed storage is not cheap… but what is cheap, free rather, is slapping labels on the same paper boxes I used for moving and sliding those under my bed to use as storage bins. Being limited with the weight on the cubes means that I also had to utilize paper boxes for the bulk of my art supplies and stationary.

Remember, when it comes to being thrifty on lower use items it always pays to see what it costs to buy it new.

You may save a fortune buying things used and slapping some paint on them, but you may also lose money doing the same thing for a piece that may not live up to what you imagined.

Piece of Advice #3: You Are The One Who Actually Has To Live With What You Choose.

It actually hurts to hear it.

Why on earth I bought a gold bed frame rather than something black or you know… actually visible when the bed is made… Especially when the chair that sits beside it has silver nail head. Mixed metals only work in very specific contexts and this isn’t one of them.

I have to live with my mattress. My fingers are crossed extra hard that the topper provides what I’m looking for.

My pale pink velvet chair was incredible for the space I bought it for. Just like my wall of lights made the entire room when my walls were black. But my walls here are light grey. The lights don’t show up. The chair is much more muted. The emerald version of the chair would have been a better investment had I known I’d be moving so soon because the color is a bit more versatile and it looks good against dark and light walls.

Piece of Advice #4: Buy With Intention.

It all goes back to the idea of really loving something before you buy it. So much of my purchases were rushed and not fully thought out. It’s like going into Target and buying a bunch of clothes that you’ll never actually wear because they looked *great* in the dressing room but that’s about it.

My barstools were incredibly intentional – they had the right back, they were the proper height, and the right price.

My couch was intentional. I searched for weeks. I knew I needed something with a firm back. I needed something usable and something that was really me. I got to feel it and sit in it in person and happened to see it on sale when I got home. It was truly meant to be.

We have to remember that life changes. We move – I of all people, move quite a lot. So being considerate of how pieces will function in a variety of spaces is really important. You opt for a foot stool that can be used as additional seating in a different setting. You opt for a sofa rather than a sectional because even though the sectional will be perfect in your existing space, it might not even fit in your new space. And sectionals are expensive.

Get pieces that can transition from space to space. Your entire space should flow together. If you have gold on your coffee tables, keep gold throughout all of your accents.

Keep large pieces neutral, accents can come and go and freshening up a space with new pillows is much easier when you don’t have a bright yellow couch.

And lastly, allow yourself to live with things before making hasty decisions.

Hate the way your kitchen is set up? See if you get used to it or do you actually need to invest in some fancy spice rack to make your life easier.

Do you actually need another shelving unit so you don’t have everything hidden under your bed or is the few times you have to pull out paper or supplies a bit irregular and not worth investing in ANOTHER piece of furniture?

It doesn’t all have to come together right away. And the second it does come together there’s going to be a sale at your local Pier One so you’re bound to be rearranging or redecorating anyway.

As best said by an old coworker:

There is no such thing as a furniture emergency.

Which I guess is pretty true, even though I seem to have quite a lot of furniture emergencies.


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