How To Start Designing Your Forever Home When You’re Not An Interior Designer


I’m by no means an interior designer but I appreciate design and can put together a Pinterest board with the best of them. Turns out that’s a little bit different than actually doing it.

Regardless, for the non-interior designer who still wants to own the project of designing their space, this is what I’ve been up to as we prepare to move into our renovation project on the Upper West Side later this year.

How do you live?

We really had to be honest with ourselves on this one. As much as we wanted a completely floor through apartment that was loft like, when we walk into our home we have strollers and diaper bags and scooters. And while lofts are luxurious on Instagram, they’re only so when the front half isn’t littered with stray sunscreen and slippers. So we designed a foyer that maximized stroller storage and bench seating to get organized before entering into the living space with hopefully less bags in tow.

We thought about things that drive us crazy - i.e. the frenzied cleaning before visitors show up. So we built in doors to separate the family room from the kitchen/dining/living space so that we could shut the door on the kids’ chaos in case of visitors.

I fell in love with a really minimalist zen bathroom that had a barely there vanity and stuck to it until my husband made me audit our current bathroom state and recognize I need medicine cabinets and drawers.

Basically this was one big exercise in accepting that we don’t live on Pinterest and planning accordingly.

What’s your family’s authentic vibe?

When I designed our current apartment Dan and I were engaged and I loved the big light in our space and wanted to keep things fresh and calm. We’ve since added two children and lots of life into the space and when white couches started turning muddy and corners started filling up with art projects I knew we were ready for more space and a different vibe.

I’ve been really back and forth on what looks beautiful on Instagram and who we are. Because owning who you are as we know means owning who you aren’t. We are a bit more classic, warm, and playful than our current place reads. That said, I still want the calm. So our palette for the new place that I’ve landed on has shifted from whites and grays to warmer colors and textures.

What will make you smile?

I love this part. We get the luxury of picking things like tile and wall colors and lights. Simple is divine but once in a while something really speaks to you and you know it’ll make you smile for a long time. So, for places that can easily get forgotten but you spend a disproportionate time (kids bathrooms and laundry rooms) I made selections that are the vibe I want - fun and playful.

I literally have a secret Pinterest board now called “Things that make me smile” with art, phrases, colors, chairs that are elements of joy that I want to squeeze in.

Equally, does it still make you smile?

Here’s the thing about trends. They come and go. I designed our whole powder bathroom in terrazzo and was pot committed on it. Until 2019 came and terrazzo left the building. And I redesigned the bathroom with a vibe that had more staying power. I asked myself if I would still feel proud of this in 10 years and it was a bit questionable.

By the way I had to do that with the kids’ bathrooms in the sense of realizing that they’ll be teenagers eventually and maybe my 13 year old son won’t want stars and moons at that point.

What are you good at and what should you outsource?

So one of my closest friends is an interior designer that probably is shaking her head as she’s reading this, thinking why don’t you just hire someone. Anyways, what I did do is ask her to help looking at the dimensions of each room and plugging in the scale and orientation of furniture that makes sense so I didn’t end up buying a massive sectional only to hate it in our actual space because turns out our space isn’t as big as it is in my head.

Also, while I love the look of an organized pantry I’m not great at knowing what storage items or layout could maximize the space. To corral all our things and figure out the best storage solutions for very important rooms like the family/play room, I hired a professional organizer to assess our plans with the architect and adjust for the best storage utility possible.

Which design influencers would you actually hire?

There are Instagram interior designers who are beyond cool but find a few whose taste feels inviting to you personally while a touch aspirational but whose budget feels in line with yours. Follow them on Instagram certainly but especially on Pinterest and start scrolling back through history to gather images for overall look and feel and details that you’d like to draw into your space. The budget thing is important because the particularly helpful accounts like Studio McGee have tangible, accessible furniture and decor reccomendations that give you a starting point in assembling your selections.

What’s your non-negotiable in each space?

I collect everything on Pinterest but I know some people prefer doing this in Google Docs/Powerpoint. I started with a master board given the scale of the gut renovation to guide the architects as we crafted the space and chose finishes. Then I broke it down to furniture and finishes to point us in a direction of look and feel. Now that we’re five months out of move in, I’ve sectioned that board into room by room to start to cull down from inspirational image to precise product selections and see it hang together.

For each room, I commit to an anchor piece or even detail. For Lyla’s room it was a tile in her bathroom. For Bodie’s it’s a cool little built in that I’ve wanted to make happen. For the family/play room it’s a couch that is heaven. It’s a starting point to build on and come back to to when the options feel endless.

So, that’s where I am now. Sofa testing, art browsing and pinning after the kids go to bed. I’d love to hear from you and any and all tips from your end. xo

Featured Image via Sarah Sherman Samuel/Concrete Love