Introducing Jess’s Makeover Takeover…All 363 Square Feet of It
***Written by Jess Bunge
Hi everyone. It’s me, Jess, Senior Market Editor and Official EHD Spotify Playlist DJ (that of which I am completely unqualified for). I can’t believe my fingers are actually typing this post because it feels like 5 years since I started to design my apartment. I think Emily, the team, my friends, family and the guy at the liquor store would all agree with that timeline. KIDDING about the liquor store. Design hasn’t driven me to drink…yet. It’s just been a long process. I’m pretty sure Emily teased my MOTO in the beginning of last year. BUT this apartment is SO special to me and getting it right was non-negotiable. It’s 363 square feet (so SMALL) of pure cozy heaven. Guys, it’s my first no roommates/no boyfriend place. I mainly blame this on the fact I have lived in San Francisco and New York…cities that are not very budget friendly to the non-professional creative person’s income. I also lived with great people but I like to have options and living alone wasn’t one of them until LA.
So when I got the job at EHD and was on salary for the first time, I started the search for my new sophisticated and adult-like coop. Like Emily, I was/still am a reluctant Angeleno. While sitting in my Brooklyn apartment I actually used to say that it would be my dream to work for Emily but I’m never moving to LA so that dream is never coming true. Well, the universe had a different plan. Like moving to Australia with my boyfriend of two years, breaking up (on good terms) then moving back to Southern California into my dad’s apartment for a few months to try to figure out my life. Ya, my life flipped upside down hard. But I couldn’t be more grateful as I still am in disbelief that I get to have this life. Still, it’s extremely hard to shake that New York pride when you move to LA. But unlike New York, in LA, you can get a small place without going totally bankrupt and get this…sign a lease without a co-signer. If you’ve ever lived in NY, you get what a HUGE deal that is. So getting my dream job and living on my own has massaged this “calling LA home” reluctance a bit.
But we are here to talk about design. Let’s do that, shall we? About six months after starting at EHD, Emily told me if I wanted, I could start designing my MOTO (Makeover Takeover for anyone new here). When the initial wave of excitement/panic subsided, I got to work. This was about a year and a half ago. Yep, 18 months to design not even the entire 363 square feet, but just living room and kitchen. But when you’ve been dreaming of having your own place since you were little and you are given the best gift of all, fantastic companies that want to gift you decor, a little thing called Style Paralysis likes to visit and hang out. I wanted it to feel like me but also inspire me. How exactly was I going to do that?? My plan was to find pieces that were a little outside of the box from what I had previously considered my style. Fun fact: That takes an annoying amount of time and mental agony. So before I embarrass myself and show you some of my first moodboards, I want to show you the space. Let’s start with the living room.
I know she doesn’t look like much but as soon as I walked in, I knew it was perfect. I called in asking if I could be late to work (the answer was of course) and ran to the bank to secure it. City living has prepared me for the war of apartment hunting. You have to be prepared and take no prisoners in the process. I actually can’t fathom a world in which I would be given the option to take my time to think about whether or not I wanted to rent a place. Maybe in the afterlife…or a normal/not as overpopulated city.
I loved the light, wood floors, tall-ish ceilings, the location and the fact that even though it’s technically a studio apartment, the kitchen and “bedroom” (more of a bed nook) are in separate rooms (again, that is a loose term). The ceiling fan/light wasn’t great and the varied shades of “apartment beige” needed to go but I knew those were easy fixes. Changing lights is something I have done in every rental I’ve lived in. It personalizes your home instantly and isn’t a huge landlord red flag (as long as you keep the original fixtures or offer to leave them). The only real bummer was that wall-mounted gas heater and the fact that there is only ONE outlet in the entire main space. I guess in 1920, they didn’t predict our lives would be taken over by technology. But I do have internet access so I’m going to stop complaining and get into my design inspiration…
I would call the style I wanted as So Cal meets Modern European. Mostly textured neutrals with pops of color, curved furniture, geometric patterns and a TON of art (mixing modern and classic styles). Oh and so many books. Looking well read is essential to achieving this look. I’m not kidding. Over the course of working at EHD, I quickly became obsessed with that laidback, cool kid Euro/Parisian look. I know it’s all the rage currently, but I don’t care. I love it. It’s refined, collected with a hint boho. Plus, my actual life goal is to live in Barcelona surrounded by iconic architecture, old tiles, modern design and all the wine. But that will only happen if Emily opens a Spain office…Emily, thoughts?
My living space is smaaalllll which means finding super unique furniture pieces that are the right scale are hard to come by. Fine. Instead of getting mad, I got even and by even I mean I begged my very handy dad for help. He agreed, rightfully with hesitation (I might be a picky client) and made this from a drawing I designed. May I introduce you to the beginnings of my wraparound low shelf bench…
Since it was impossible to make this one singular piece of wood because of its large size, he added holes and dowels where the two pieces meet. Then in his creative genius (which I normally disagree with…did I mention picky client??), he put two latches underneath to secure the two pieces together so they wouldn’t separate. It also makes it super easy to take with me to any future apartments I live in.
Now let’s move into my small but mighty kitchen…
My heart stopped when I saw that open shelving. I thought, “this is my chance (*cough* justification) to buy only beautiful things I love…or spark joy because I will be looking at them every day.” 🙂 Look, I read Marie Kondo’s book in 2015 so I’m old school about sparking joy. AND while small, there was space for a dining nook. A dining nook people! That IKEA bistro set didn’t make the cut because I designed a custom, somewhat DIY, banquette.
Onto the countertop…the original countertop was not my jam, but in my naive mindset at the time, I thought I would replace it. Silly, silly Jess. But keep reading because what I ended up doing turned out to be a pretty awesome alternative and is sort of another DIY. My last gripe was the fridge. Not beautiful but not the worst, this is apartment living after all. That is until I found out it only kind of kept things cold. Why they gave me a broken fridge is beyond me. Then refused to fix it saying they weren’t required to give me one in the first place…cool. Needless to say, big changes happened and below was my initial inspiration for those changes.
As you can see, it’s a very similar vibe to the living room. Euro-inspired, lots of wood and pops of color. But as I said before, my countertop was my biggest visual pain point. Replacing it would be financially irresponsible as a renter (my forté but I abstained) so I needed to get crafty. Enter Remodelista’s Sarah Lonsdale. In 2014, Sarah was willing to replace her rental’s kitchen countertop but her landlord was not on board…a foolish decision on his part. Unwilling to live with what was there, she covered them with pretty plywood. GENIUS. I again called my saint of a carpenter father to see if he could make me a similar countertop. It’s safe to say he nailed it…
I hesitate to say DIY for any of these pieces because to “do it yourself” you need a decent amount of carpentry skills and the right tools which I will get into more when I fully reveal it next week (living room is on tap for tomorrow, kitchen next week, so stay tuned).
The last “DIY” I conned my father into helping me with was my dining banquette. I designed, he constructed. Here is a sneak peek into the progress. FUN FACT: Those pieces of wood are actually red oak stair treads which means the front part of them we already rounded. #expensivehack ($46 a tread and I needed 10). But what was actually affordable were the back cushions (not pictured) that I tricked my cousin into helping me put together. Families who make things together, stay together (even if you kinda force them)… right? Also a special call out to my dad’s girlfriend who ensured my dad didn’t take any “creative liberties” with my design and found that brass rod for me (a curtain rod from the Restoration Hardware Outlet). And Julie, who helped with multiple installs and Arlyn, for helping me hang my living room curtain rod. What I am trying to get at is it takes either a village or A LOT of money to customize a home. I am lucky and have an unbelievable village but don’t be fooled…I spent plenty of money.
What I want to touch on next was my search for the perfect white paint color because white is hard. That original beige bummed me out every single day so I reached out to Farrow & Ball to see if they would be willing to gift (each gallon of that stuff is nearly $100, but their paint is SO GOOD). I have a deep love affair with this brand that dates back to my New York days. Knowing that my perfect shade of white is Farrow & Ball makes me stupidly happy.
I wanted to do this paint selection right, so I took Emily’s advice and painted all of my samples on the wall to see how they look at different times of the day. Now most of you probably think outside of the gray they all look really similar. But look at how they change throughout the day. My goal was to pick a warm white. Not beige but not icy white with blue undertones. I must have stared at those swatches for a week before I pulled the trigger. I ended up going with Pointing (second row, middle) and could not be happier.
To finish off this intro, I thought it would be *gulp* fun for you to see my first five moodboards (yep there were more) to show you that almost all design plans evolve into something VERY different from their original idea. Well unless you are a pro like Em with a ton of practice, but even then it usually changes. But you have to start somewhere and this is where I started mine.
As I already stated, I wanted this apartment to feel like it could be in a cool European city. So I chose a pretty neutral sofa, elegant but textured pillows and sophisticated accent pieces. But when I see this board now my first thought is, WHAT?! The main reason I cringe is for my lack of any real scale. Did I think I all of a sudden I lived in a huge apartment? The accent chair is great but there was zero chance of a normal human-sized chair fitting well into my little living room. The rug was a definite “risk” I thought I wanted to take but am glad I didn’t. I actually still like the idea of it but an orange rug was going to be bold and probably weird. Also, this one looks shiny. Not my ideal look. Mostly, this board just bored me. See what I did there? 🙂 And lastly, why did I think a candle holder by a tree was smart???
Okay, out with the orange and in with the boho. The rug is so pretty but disappears into the wood. Too similar in tone. I also wanted a slightly more youthful feel and added that Lulu and Georgia throw and Rebecca Atwood pillow. Those helped but the room still felt blah. That coffee table is great but was really too big for the space. I will talk tomorrow about my coffee table nightmares. And still the candle with the tree (palm in face emoji).
Since I wasn’t happy, I thought that maybe I should switch it all up and go bold with a mustard velvet sofa. Fun right?? I just needed to mix it up and boy do I love me some mustard (color not condiment). But I know myself and although that color is cool, I really wanted an off-white sofa. Thought I should take advantage of the no boyfriend, no kids and no pets thing while I can.
This board is where I felt like I was getting somewhere. The sofa (the winner) was perfect, the side table was natural yet modern, and the rug grounded the space. All in all, it was more of the look I wanted. But I still wasn’t in love and once again that coffee table was WAY too big in real life but definitely was the look I wanted.
This is the last moodboard I’m going to show you so I don’t give it all away. I was crazy inspired by Caroline Gayral’s living room and created this board. Her space is warm, yet so eclectic and soooo cool. I wanted more of that. But I felt like it was a little too similar to her home. The light fixture and pink curtains to start. Plus while I love a bold curtain, pink curtains just aren’t me. But the new additions like that beautiful floor lamp (Em has it in chrome) and that heart-stopping pouf were keepers. I also fell fast and hard for that bench but A. it was soooooo expensive and B. wasn’t an ideal size. I do thank it because after knowing it wasn’t a possibility I was inspired to design my low shelf. It all worked out.
Well, that’s all you get from me today. Come back tomorrow for my living room reveal. I hope you are pumped to see it. I know I probably won’t be sleeping due to the anticipation. So until 2 am PST (when the post goes live), here is a progress picture I took a while back with the newly painted walls with that killer sofa, pouf, lamp, throw (not currently available) and rug all in. Also, please take a moment to note the craftsmanship of the cardboard coffee table I made to make sure the one I wanted was the right size (FINALLY). I’m handy, but am going to leave the real carpentry to the pros. xx Jess