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Key’s New Office/Guestroom/Workout Space Intro (+ A Big Dilemna She Needs Your Opinion On…)


Hey guys! It’s Key, the EHD mentee (I love that that rhymes)! Yup, I’m still here, steadily surviving the EHD Design Blogger Bootcamp… I mean, school 😉 If there’s one thing I’ve learned these last few months it’s how much work, and time, and planning goes into growing a successful blog. Sheesh! Em & her team are powerhouses, and consulting with them on how to get my blog off the ground has been a godsend and saved me from several mental breakdowns. But enough mentee talk, let’s get to the business at hand — my makeover project!

Just to recap, as part of the mentorship program, in addition to having access to the EHD team to answer my blogging questions/concerns (which may or may not have resulted in me texting design dilemmas to Emily at 9 am EST when she is on PST time 😬 sorryyyyy.) I will also be making over a room in my house and documenting the process here, as well as on my blog (HERE).  

That said room is my home office. Well at the moment, it’s more of a catch-all room with a small makeshift desk shoved in a nook, which I begrudgingly call my “office”. Fancy, eh? 

I honestly can’t believe I work in these conditions. Someone call OSHA! And would you believe me if I told you this isn’t the only room in our rental that looks this bad? Well here’s some before pics to prove it.

from top left clockwise: dining room, bath 1, bath 2, master bedroom

Shameful, I know.

But why on earth would anyone rent a house this dated? Oh, I’m glad you asked!

I briefly mentioned this in my intro post, but I’ll elaborate a bit more here. You see, I love old homes, and I’ve always dreamed of buying and renovating a fixer upper and documenting the process on my blog, as design bloggers do. But like 42 million Americans, I’m a victim of student loan debt. And the thought of adding a home mortgage to that debt gives me anxiety and literally makes me feel sick just writing about it. Oof! 

So what’s a design-enthused, old home lovin, aspiring blogger to do? Wait eons until my student loans are paid off and then pursue my renovation and blogging dreams? ::scoffs::  Nay! 

Instead, I had the (questionably) brilliant idea to rent what I call a “fixer-upper rental”. Similar to how people buy and makeover an old home, I would rent and makeover a dated rental and document the whole process on my blog. I must say that writing that out and reading it back to myself makes me question my intelligence.

At the time, it seemed like the perfect solution for me to be able to pursue my passion for design and blogging, sans going into debt. Plus, I’ve always felt like renters were a forgotten population when it came to design content, and I was eager to fill that void. 

So when it came time for my husband and I to find a rental, similar to Jess’ rental search, I had a pretty detailed list of wants. Not so similar to Jess, my wishlist was comprised of things people typically don’t wish for (with the exception of #5). 

1. Older home 
2. Dated/needs work (and a landlord willing to pay for updates)
3. Ugly kitchen
4. Gross bathrooms
5. Great neighborhood 

And can you believe I found a rental that checked every box! Apparently, dated rentals with ugly kitchens and gross bathrooms aren’t in high demand. ::shrugs::  

design and photo by keyanna bowen (me!)

And here we are! 2.5 years into this (not so) brilliant fixer-upper rental idea, and the only room completed thus far is my kitchen. Originally, I thought every room would be finished by now. But whether it’s because of lack of time, lack of money, or sheer procrastination, there seems to be a huge discrepancy between the timeframe I initially set in my mind, and the timeframe it actually takes me in reality to accomplish a home project. And I’m not just talking about large projects, like updating the bathrooms. I’m mostly referring to those smaller tasks, like organizing the junk drawer in my kitchen, which has been on my to-do list since last January. Please tell me I’m not the only one with this human flaw. Everyone has home projects they keep pushing off… right? Everyone (except maybe Marie Kondo) has a junk drawer that needs organizing….RIGHT?!

Needless to say, I have plenty of ugly spaces that I want to make beautiful and document the whole process. Just like the legit (read: wealthy) homeowner design bloggers do…. except I’m a renter, and kinda broke. So this should be an interesting journey!

But I digress. Back to the makeover…

First things first, the blue walls and yellow trim has got to go! Unfortunately, that’s a little easier said than done because all of the trim, windows, doors, even the freakin’ door hinges are painted with oil-based paint, which means there’s some additional prep work (ie. sanding, special primer, etc.) that has to be done before I can slap a fresh coat of latex paint on. Needless to say, the paint job is going to be laborious and a HUGE part of the transformation. That’s why I’m so excited to announce that I’ll be partnering with KILZ for this makeover. 

I’ve used this KILZ Adhesion Primer in other areas of my home and quite frankly, it’s the only primer brand I trust now. If I tried to paint directly onto my trim and walls as they are now, it would come off in big sheets. I’m sure you can tell that changing the walls in this room is going to make a HUGE difference…but it literally wouldn’t be possible without first priming with KILZ, so I am so grateful to have them as partners for this project. 

Once we get the new, fresh, clean base up on the walls, I’m planning to go a little bit brighter and airier in here. Trying to go straight from this saturated blue to a lighter choice would have been a nightmare, so again…primer to the rescue:) As a bonus, KILZ also has their own line of paint products, so once I have a blank canvas, you know I’m going to be back here asking your opinions on which wall or trim color I should pick!

Spatially speaking, the goal is to transform this room into a multifunctional space, serving as an office, lounge area (read: girl cave) and guest bedroom if/when we can ever safely have guests over again. I also would like to leave some floor space for me to exercise (getting fit is another one of those “projects” I keep pushing off). Sounds like a lot, but the room is fairly spacious. It’s about 12×20. However, because the house is a cape cod style, there are awkward bump-outs from the dormers that eat up some of that space. But, it creates great nooks and crannies that will allow me to divide the room into a designated work zone, and a lounge zone. 

Here’s a 2D floorplan so you can get a better idea of the layout. And if you really want to see the room in all its glory, I made a before tour video on my IGTV that you can check out here

Now let’s talk design.

design by leanne ford | photo by amy neunsinger | via house beautiful

This is the part that makes me nervous for a few reasons:

  1. I’m finding that the older I get the more my design style is evolving. Like, day by day, minute by minute, insta scroll by insta scroll evolving, which is making it hard for me to nail down a design direction for this space. I’ve done some calculations (based on recent purchases that I no longer like) and I basically have a three-month turnover rate when it comes to changing up my style. So from now on, I’m only purchasing items that have a 90-day return policy because who knows when my current love of California casual will be overruled by my fascination with the “Eccentric English Grandma” aesthetic that this blog so graciously introduced us to last year (here).

    2. Prior to being the EHD mentee, my mom was pretty much the only person who read my blog (and what mom doesn’t think everything their kid does is great…even when it’s not). So this is the first time I will be showcasing my design and home to millions of eyeballs. And as kind and supportive the EHD community is (I love you guys so much), y’all can be VERY opinionated. It’s actually what I cherish most about this community, but it’s also a bit nerve-wracking to know that my design will either be loved or hated by the masses.

    3. I’m an enneagram 3. So there’s that. #PerfectionistProblems 

Public scrutiny aside, “Organic Coastal Cottage” is how I (currently) describe my aesthetic and this is the initial inspiration board. It has a mix of modern and vintage decor. It’s light and airy with earthy tones and textures woven in, and a subtle coastal vibe. But let me not pontificate as if I’ve created some new design style. It mostly resembles the effortless and minimal California casual aesthetic that we all know and love, but I want to incorporate more of a cozy and collected feel (like a cottage). So California casual meets cozy cottage is the vibe I’m going for.

design by amber lewis  | photo by tessa neustadt

There are also a few DIY’s I want to tackle in this space. One is building some type of partition wall to create some privacy between the lounge area and office area. I love this DIY rope wall idea. Second, I’m a firm believer that every dormer deserves a window seat! So I plan on building one. It will be the perfect spot to curl up with a good book!

design by studio mcgee

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…. I told you guys my design style has been in a state of constant evolution. Well, over these last few weeks I’m slowly finding myself being drawn to spaces that are layered with color and pattern, which as a self-proclaimed neutral loving minimalist makes me feel like I’m having an identity crisis. I’m not sure if I should stick to my tried and true “organic coastal cottage” roots, or lean into this more cheery and dare I say maximalist aesthetic. Since this is supposed to be my “creative” space, if there was a room to step outside my comfort zone and take more design risks, it would be this one. 

So I made a second inspiration board that I’m calling, “Understated Maximalist”. And the more I look at it, the more I’m falling in love with the vibe. But I would love to get your vote on which mood board you think I should implement. Remember a few years ago when Emily did the “I Design, You Decide” series? It’ll be kind of like that! Except there will be no fancy voting system. And you don’t get to stay here when it’s done. And I may or may not actually go with the design board you choose 😉 Okay so it’s nothing like the I Design, You Decide series, but it will be so helpful to get your thoughts and opinions along the way! So head over to my blog here and take a look at the alternate mood board option and weigh in!

Opening Photo Credits: Design by Amber Lewis  | Photo by Tessa Neustadt

Fin Mark


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Hi Key! Do you prefer Keyanna or Key, in the comments? I’m first thanks to being in London so let us know! 🙂 Either way, welcome to your EHD big debut, with pics and projects and all. You’re totally right that we ARE an opinionated bunch, and I think I’m guilty of one of the worst offenses in EHD when it comes to that. (Years ago I shared really candid feedback, which had been solicited, but I definitely wasn’t loving and gentle enough about it or frankly good enough at just keeping some parts to myself, and I still feel really bad about it years later.) So for what it’s worth, I at least will make a serious effort to be vocally supportive when you post your vulnerable stuff here! Not just bc I’m atoning, but you know, attempted growth and reflection and all that. Hopefully I somehow reflect the general trend and you’ll be treated here in a way that makes you want to share more and not less, you know? But good job taking the plunge bc I know it’s scary. So! I’m also kind of broke and a renter. Which is a funny place to find myself… Read more »

Hi!! Key is fine! That’s what all my friends call me, and I consider all of you my friends 🙂 Don’t worry, I think we’ve all been taught a lesson or two from the comment section at one point or another The good thing is that you learned and grew from that mistake and still sharing! Some people just get super defensive and never leave a comment again. We are all learning and growing together <3 And from one "broke" renter to another, I totally feel your sentiments concerning how expensive some housing markets are. I used to be so ashamed to still be renting in my 30's (when a lot of my peers own a home), but now I'm realizing that it doesn't matter if I rent or own, I can create a life I love no matter where I live! All your tips and advice was SO HELPFUL! THANK YOU so much!!


Hi Key! Congrats on your first big blog post! So excited for your journey. I just wanted to jump in with a little bit of unsolicited advice re: renting vs. owning. I totally get where you are coming from with the student debt and not wanting to take on more debt. BUT housing and real estate is one of the most powerful ways to build wealth (I know I sound like I am about to direct you to some marketing scheme but I promise I’m not, I’m just another regular gal like you trying to get ahead lol). I just wanted to share some ideas for getting into owning your own home: 1.) Buy a duplex or a house with a rentable garage/basement apartment to cover costs 2). Buy said duplex with a first-time homeowner’s loan. You can go as low as 3% with your downpayment. For a $200,000 house that is a 6k downpayment. Closing costs do add up, but sometimes there is assistance for that too for a first-time buyer (especially if you are minority in some cities?). 3). If your market is too expensive, consider buying an investment property in a smaller, more affordable market nearby. Also,… Read more »

Hi!! Thanks so much for sharing such great tips and advice! And 100% agree. I actually used to be a realtor, so I’m well versed on my options. But personally, not something my husband and I are ready to do right now.


You should check out Medina @grillodesigns on IG. She’s a renter based in England; she’s released a book “Home Sweet Rented Home” as well as a home tour series called “How I Rent”

Oh cool! Thanks for sharing!

Omg I will too, amazing!!


I’m so glad I followed the link to your blog and although I love the look of understated maximalist (your pinterest board) I couldn’t live with it every day…it’s just not quiet enough for me! I did notice however that the desk picture (the main image in organic coastal) was the only image to feature on both your inspiration boards…so maybe you could use it as the main image in understated maximalist too and try to build around it? Then if in future your aesthetic moves back towards organic coastal you might just need to change up textiles etc. rather than things that cost time and (more) money i.e furniture items, paint etc.

Hi! Thank you so much for following along! That is my exact concern, that understated maximalist will be too “loud”. But you’re right– I can probably mix and match different elements from each board to find a happy medium. Thanks so much for your advice!


Hey Key, let me reassure you that I’m not here for the high end, affluent designer who can throw a ton of money at a space and make it look like, okay almost literally, a million bucks. No offense to the wealthy, but it’s relatively easy to create great design when your pockets are deep. I’m much more interested in designers like you (and me) who have to live within some realistic budget constraints. In order to get the look we want, we have to be creative, clever, and open to unexpected solutions. In my opinion, that’s what makes design fun, and I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with for your home.

Hi!! OMG, I so feel you! And you’re right, constraint births the best creativity! I definitely have to make sure I don’t get too stressed and remember to have fun with it!


I can see other people have managed to view the moodboards, but when I click on the link at the foot of the article it says page not found…
(and is it just me or is it odd to be directed away from EHD to view the design element? I could understand if it were for extra content/background info, but that seems to be the main focus of the piece?)
It looks like your plan to build a window seat is a lovely way to use that space and would be such a great addition to a room!


Yes! The link was broken for me too – I had to click on her header to go to her home page, then found the blog post.
Agree – I understand the idea of us eventually becoming readers of Key’s blog, but it feels a bit soon to be directing us there. We need to get to know Key a lot better. (My whole comment here is not personal, but from the perspective of “user experience” – hope that makes sense!)


I disagree! I really enjoy finding new design content, so I love that I’m directed elsewhere, especially since the post on her blog covers a different angle and new design content than this post. More content makes me happy.
Also, from a business perspective, it makes tons of sense to redirect readers there. The goal is to help her grow her blog. I’m following East+Lane now, and loving it! Seems like the goal, no? There’s a difference between being a designer who works for someone (design content would belong on EHD blog), and getting advice about her own business (content lives on East+Lane). These designs and projects are her own content. Not really sure why it would benefit readers to get to know her deeply before clicking a link (not trying to throw shade, it just… genuinely doesn’t bother me), but it certainly wouldn’t benefit her blog. Seems like good mentorship. And I really appreciate the work that went into two unique posts!


Meredith, you said this 10000X nicer than me, thank you for saying what I was thinking, but better. You’re an angel and a saint. Plus, it’s not like they’re asking us to hand her our social security number, firstborn child and become Sister Wives. It’s a link click, ya know?


Oh my god you guys, it’s a simple link click, and the whole point of this mentorship is to help Key build up her blog. I don’t see anyone complaining when they do a link roundup, or direct us to Orlando or Arlyn’s blog. Maybe cut her and the team some slack?


Can’t you get to know Key best from her blog? I don’t see it any differently than affiliate links. 9 times out of 10, I don’t know where I’m being redirected (the links often don’t have company names). Do I find it annoying? Yes. I don’t like giving clicks to companies that have practices that I don’t support (like Urban or Anthro). So, you know what I do? I don’t click them if it looks like one of their products. You don’t have to click the link to Key’s blog either.

all updated, thanks for the heads up!! here’s the direct link for anyone else who was looking, though 🙂

Hey Key! So excited to see your moodboards on your own space but the link is currently broken (7am EST on Monday 🙂 ) Love to hear your voice and v curious where you’ll go with this space! xo

Hi!!! Oh no, so sorry about that! Hoping to get that resolved asap. But in the meantime, here’s the link:


I love Key’s writing style and also the dilemma of wanting to nail down your style and liking all the things 😀 😀
I LOVE the second moodboard with colorful elements and a more modern look. That’s my vote right there!

Thank you so much!! The second mood board seems to be everybody’s fav, which really surprised me! We shall see 🙂


Hi Key! I’m super excited about this project. Love that it’s so relatable and the space is so charming already with the architecture!
Both mood boards are lovely. I think you can safely implement the second one (which is clearly the one you’re most excited for and I’m with you there!) because the “maximalist” parts seem non-permanent. So later if you change your mind you can swap a few things and get a whole new vibe.
Idea: get a big vintage colourful rug (like in your mood board) and if your style changes later you can sell it (they keep their value).
Looking to following along!

Such a great point! Thanks for sharing!


Embrace the pattern and color! I do think a romantic cabin vibe can bridge the gap. It doesn’t look like the most light flooded space and IMHO the whole white and cream minimalist thing doesn’t work unless you have tons of light. (Your kitchen looks super light filled though!) Now that I am FINALLY truly embracing color and pattern my Victorian row house (read: dark) is starting to come together.

“Romantic Cabin” vibe– love that! The kitchen is actually the darkest room in the house, its north facing and there is a screen porch attached to it, which blocks a lot of sunlight, but of course with photo editing I’m able to make it appear much brighter. But I agree that the all white look works best in light-filled spaces. Defintitely going to lean in to more color and pattern!


I admit I didn’t scrutinize both boards in great detail, but at a first look, they seem fairly similar to me — both are grounded by a wooden desk and pale/white/wood elements. One has a more colorful rug and pillows, the other blue-tone/neutral rug and pillows. I think you’re perfectly safe with going ahead and letting the design evolve while you do the major work & purchases: painting, building that window seat, buying a couch/sleeper, etc. It’s when you get to the “fun part” (the pillows, curtains, rug, accessories) that the minimal/maximal distinction starts to show up.

If I had any advice, it would be to do a couple of mood boards with exactly the same big elements (sofa, chair, desk, wall color) and then alter it to be more minimal or maximal. If you find a base of wall color/big purchases that can be swayed into different looks by changing out rugs/pillows/curtains, then you have lots of freedom to let your style evolve.

They definitely have similar elements, Kinda hard to reflect all the differentiation on the moodboard, but in my mind Understated Max would incorporate much more color/pattern/styling. Thanks so much for the advice!


Oh! I realize I have a tip as to how I made the transition. I started using ONE color as a neutral. Varying shades of blue applied against the typical neutral minimalist backdrop of white, cream, and light gray. So, marine blue, royal blue, aqua, farrow and ball hugue type blue…over time I gained confidence and it told a story from room to room! Then I could add in pops of other colors (which used to terrify me) with confidence. Do you have a favorite color?!


This sounds like a great process!😊

Currently, my favorite color is white lol. But I am drawn to blush tones as well. Such a great tip! Thanks for sharing!

I really like both mood boards. it’s funny, i’m like you in reverse. i’ve always been into super maximalist style (my inspiration when i was younger was moulin rouge and romeo + juliet – leo and claire version) but now as i’m getting older, i’m also drawn to neutrals and minimalism (well, minimalism lite). so, as far as your mood boards go, i say do the understated maximalism. it’s not too crazy, it’s just the right amount of crazy. can’t wait to see what you do!


just wanted to say A+ on your old movie references. i was obsessed with both of these as well! putting them on my rewatch short list since stay at home is never ending.

thanks 🙂 those were IMO epic movies.

That’s exactly what I want –just a little bit of crazy, but not too much! lol Thanks so much for your advice!

I can’t wait to see where you end up- it’s going to be gorgeous!!

Thank you!!


Count me in for the in-depth painting-over-oil tutorial! The previous homeowners committed the egregious error of painting latex directly over oil paint. So our doors and trim have slowly flaked and shed paint on my beautiful hardwood floors for the past six years. Huge bummer. I’m very ready to fix it but don’t want to do it wrong! Excited to see your process 🙂

I totally know how you feel! Experienced the same thing! I’ll definitely make a tutorial!

I am very here for this, Key! And now, for my opinions 🙂 Actually, I only have one at the moment (shocking): no need to be so self-deprecating about your house in its current state! I think your before photos are so charming, and surely part of you must too as a lover of old houses. I know your design and improvements are going to make the “afters” exponentially better, but embrace what you’ve got, be proud of where you are (ain’t no shame in renting!), all while looking ahead to more financially secure, less-blue trim, brighter days! 🙂 Your lil pup seems perfectly content doing yoga in a blue room, and isn’t that all that matters…that you’re providing a safe cozy place for him and his sock monkey to do their stretches?


Molly … Yes!!!! 👍



Key, I love these ideas and I love your writing! I’m wondering about your ideas for partially closing off/partitioning the office away from the lounge area. I had a similar dilemma and I found that too much enclosure was making it feel really claustrophobic in the office. My answer was a chic antique folding screen. It can be moved very easily, hides the office from the lounge when I don’t want people looking in there, provides some privacy/a sound barrier in the office when I need it, and can also be moved around used to screen off stuff like exercise equipment in a corner. Hope this helps 🙂


Great idea! Screens are so versatile.

Hi! I totally feel ya. The partition I’m thinking of DIY’ing is made from rope, and it just hangs on hooks so I can take it down when needed. But if it doesn’t work out then a folding screen is my backup plan!


LOVING your whole rental project (your kitchen is gorgeous and warm and bright!), and your honesty about budget and time. It’s such a huge piece of the puzzle and I think it often feels to readers like all we would need is more discipline or inspiration and we, too, could have Leanne Ford’s house. It’s nice to be reminded that we would also need lots and LOTS of dedicated time and money. Just a little grace for those of us on the snail-timeline. Can’t wait to see this take shape, here and on your own blog! The designs are beautiful, and your voice is a pleasure to read.

Thank you so much!! And yes, SOOOO much time and money! Thanks so much for following along!!


Love seeing the direction this is going. Just wondering why ‘put’ the office area in that smaller part of the room while it’s the function you want to use the most in that space? Why not put your work area in the area you now have as a lounge area and move the lounge area-daybed to the (very) small area you want to put (cramp) you desk in?


I was wondering that too! I would looove to have an office space that big so maybe its just jealously but I was curious about that also 😉

Hi Ellen! I actually considered that layout! But I’ve had my desk in that nook since we’ve moved in and actually really love it. There’s something so quaint and cozy about being tucked away in that corner. It doesn’t feel cramped. But personally, I prefer small cozy spaces over larger spaces, so idk, may just be preference. Hopefully, once the pandemic is over, I will be able to utilize it as a guest room a lot more –so in that sense, I would want my guest to feel like they are walking into an guestroom with a desk in the corner, versus an officer with a bed in the corner. But maybe when all the furniture arrives I’ll play around with the layout.


Ouuuuh loving both your moodboards!! And your house looks so charming! 🙂 I also like the layout of the room in and off itself but I was wondering if maybe you’re not giving yourself enough room? Obviously that depends on how you really want to use it but if this is to primarily be your office why not use the space and give yourself a super luxurious office with lots of cute storage, inspiring prints or whatever you want? Right now it looks like a really cute room which happens to have a desk in the corner. You know how you work best – I for example actually prefer to work sitting on the sofa (terrible for my back I know I know….) and only use my desk for zoom calls so your setup would be actually be kinda perfect for me and maybe you’re similar! But I guess I just wanted to say if you were wanting a bigger office don’t feel constraint by the fact that it could be a cute hangout room instead – you’re allowed to have a big (cute) office too!! 🙂

Hi!! I actually work a lot from a sofa as well (just one of the many reasons I have bad posture). I want the space to feel more like a lounge (with a office space ) versus and office (with a lounge space). I also love how quaint and cozy I feel when my desk is in the nook area. Hopefully, once the pandemic is over, I will be able to utilize it as a guest room a lot more –so in that sense, I would want my guest to feel like they are walking into an guestroom with a desk in the corner, versus an office with a bed in the corner. But maybe when all the furniture arrives I’ll play around with the layout.


Hi Key!

I think you project is very relatable – most of us who are lucky enough to have an extra bedroom for an “office” also have to make it multifunctional guest room / gym room. Good luck! One tip re gym equipment from my own experience – make sure it is easy to access and put away. Otherwise it is either a constant mess or you never work out to avoid the mess.

Such good advice! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

Roberta Davis

This will certainly be a learning journey for you! (thinking about Rusty’s comments) As far as the design, if it were me, I would ask myself what makes me feel the best when I step into the space. Maximalism would drive me insane, but I know people who do it very well and it truly reflects who they are. I personally don’t like to dust under a thousand objects, so I lean more minimal if for no other reason, and I also like my spaces to be calming. Also, as a rental that you’ve already been in for over 2 years (which seems like the average time duration for rentals, to me), I wouldn’t put in anything that is too wild/permanent and will need to be removed or will be useless when you move. Don’t spend your precious money on someone else’s property that you will not be able to be benefit from. If you owned the space, you might be able to convince yourself that the changes you make will bring more value when you sell it. But when you move out of your rental, your landlord owns everything you did that was permanently installed. You won’t benefit if… Read more »

Hi!! If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, it’s that no matter how hard you try, there will always be someone, somewhere, who may have an issue with what you say. But what my peers, colleagues, and readers have taught me so far, is not to focus on the small handful that scrutinize your words, but instead embrace the HUNDREDS that love and enjoy your voice–because the people who love your voice and resonate with your words is who ends up being your community/your audience/your tribe. Not everyone is my audience. Not everyone will like the way I use my words to express my TRUTHS about my body(be it fertile or childless), my home (be it beautiful or ugly) or my life (be it rich or poor) etc. But that doesn’t mean I need to change the way I express my truth or that I have “a lot to learn”. It just means that those people are not my audience. And that’s A-OK! But so grateful for those who are <3 As far as the improvements I make to the rental, I actually partner with my landlord on the updates I make so I do not come out of… Read more »

Roberta Davis



Key, I absolutely love this response and couldn’t agree more. I, and many other readers, love your voice and authenticity. We are your people! Can’t wait to follow along with this makeover!

Aw thank you! Thank you so much for following along!! XOXO


What about the people who instantly found out they were not Keyanna’s tribe when they read her statements?


Well, Marie, I would question why one would feel the need to point that out. That seems quite unnecessary and unkind. I think her point, which I happen to fully agree with, is that there will always be people who won’t “vibe” with certain bloggers and that’s OKAY! If Key tried to analyze everything she wrote from the viewpoint of every potential reader, that would be utterly impossible. She is using her authentic voice and accepting that some people may not “click” with her because of that.


Key, I actually love and enjoy your ‘voice’ too!

I merely pointed out some pitfalls of the written word (having been an English teacher and freelance writer) since I thought your current journey here was about learning all the facets to become the best you can be?

My comments were absolutely not made to offend you and no offense was taken by your refute.

It’s vital to open mindedly embrace the difference between finding one’s “tribe” in a PUBLIC forum, versus being rigidly or defensively “tribal” in your expressions; whereby you inherently exclude others from the open, public, discussion.


Hi! I would love a post about how to find/ approach a landlord about partnering on updates like this. Like, how do you nail down cost sharing, sign-off on major changes, and how to negotiate your desires for the space v. what is going to work long-term for the landlord. I think Orlando tried this in his rental and got burned, so it would be great to know what to look out for in negotiating this.


Oh, and if you’re taking an unofficial poll, I’d vote understated maxi. It feels a little fresher, and more original. Either would be pretty, though.


Yes, I am very confused by this. As a renter you will get 0 ROI for this work, except possibly with some agreement for a rent-break from the landlord? And the day-to-day joy of living in a nicer space. But is the landlord paying for materials and you are throwing in your labor for free? How does this work?

Hi! I did a Q&A video on my YouTube that shares a bit more about how I went everything with my landlord. I used to be a realtor so I knew how to set up contracts/agreements to make sure I was protected. Here’s a link to the vid if you’re interested 🙂

Hi! I did a Q&A video on my YouTube that shares a bit more about how I went about everything with my landlord. I used to be a realtor so I knew how to set up contracts/agreements to make sure I was protected. Here’s a link to the vid if you’re interested 🙂

Thanks a lot for the vid! I was basically about to ask the same questions. I guess I will need someone to help with the contracts or I will definitely mess it up.

You’re welcome!


Welcome Key,
I’m glad that you’re here. I can’t wait to learn more about your style and I hope you learn some valuable things here too. I’ve said on more than one occasion on here that this is an opinionated crowd, you only need to look at Ajai Guyot’s post to get a taste. But as Virginia Roberts intimated, when you know better, do better. Good luck.

Hi! Thank you so much! I’m glad to be here! And yes, I’m quickly learning the highs and lows of the comment section lol. Thanks so much for following along!


Go for it! The inspiration board you created for understated maximalist is beautiful. I love how you describe it as if Leanne Ford and Justina Blakeney had a baby–what an inspired combination! The room will still complement and flow with your other rooms–and you’ve got to give yourself room to grow and explore. It will be gorgeous. CAN’T WAIT to see it!

Thank you! I mean how awesome would it be to have Leanne and Justina for parents! lol Thanks so much for your helpful advice!

Michelle RAiner

Great post, Key!

We also rented a fixer-upper and are still working away at it slowly 7.5 years later. Finding the balance between making our place look and feel “ours” with the reality that we’re spending time and money on a place we don’t own and will have to leave someday is an ongoing challenge. I am so glad this very common reality is reflected on EH and will now be following your blog, as well.

I’ve learned that going slowly is the key, so don’t be hard on yourself! With each passing year we do a bit more, spend a bit more and things look a bit better. The time and money seems worth it when balanced with what we save on rent (we got this place cheap due to all the work that needed to be done), so year by year it balances out.

Hi! OMG so glad to meet someone doing the same! Our landlord is actually paying for the updates, so we don’t have to come out of pocket. But it also means sometimes the budget I have to work with is tinyyyyy. But overall it’s been a mutually beneficial relationship. And I love your advice about going slow. I totally agree! Personally, I wish I had more time for this makeover, but gotta get that content out to you guys lol. Excited to share soon! Thanks so much for following along!


Key! I love your writing style and that you have a more approachable take on design for renters and those on a budget. So relatable and useful! Can’t wait for this project 🙂

Thank you so much!! xoxo

Love your visions and way of sharing them, Key! Thank you! I prefer organic coastal but adored both of your mood boards.

And thank you for naming your feelings about the comment gallery. I love how supportive many are here…and I cringe at the snarky-ness of certain others. However “well intentioned,” such comments are hurtful. Here’s to leading with kindness and grace, always.

Thank you!! So glad I finally got a vote for Organic Coastal! And yes, I’m quickly learning the highs and lows of the comment section lol. But thank you for your kindness xoxo


Hi! I love this dilemma – I feel the struggle between multiple styles often too. I love so many photos I see on Instagram and Pinterest and sometimes it is hard to decide which way to go in a room or my whole apartment! I’m excited to follow along and see the creative solutions you implement.

And as the daughter of a painter, I’ll share the first lesson I learned when working summers for my dad’s business: never skip the sanding step when painting! It might take a little less time initially, but your work won’t last nearly as long (I spent months just sanding and scraping before I was allowed to hold a paint brush, not to mention a roller). The prep work is annoying but so worth it for the end result.

Thanks so much for following along! And YES YES YES TO SANDING! I had a painter tell me one time that he didn’t need to sand because he was using a special primer, and then months later the paint was peeling! From then on, I never trusted painting without sanding first. Thanks so much for the helpful advice!


I headed on over and weighed in. Wonderful blog. Glad you are here and there too:).

Thanks so much!! xoxo


What a great space to work with, Key! Can’t wait to see the results.

Thanks so much! xoxo


Love your writing voice, Key, and I think your place already has a lot of charm! Best of luck – it will be exciting to see what you do with it as your plans progress 🙂 To your question, I love the tones of your ‘understated maximalist’ Pinterest board, and while both are pretty, I prefer your UM mood board. It’s in my opinion more dynamic and more fresh than the Organic Coastal Cottage, and as it’s also relatively muted it could give you more space to continue to punch up with more colour or pattern in future if that’s where your style evolves.

Thank you!!! And I totally agree with you –UM feels more interesting. Thanks so much for weighing in! xoxo


Your work is beautiful but maybe I missed something. Is your landlord contributing to all these changes or giving you a rent break? If you are laden with student debt why would you put money into a home that will give you no equity? Not being snarky and I’m sure you want to have a good quality of life while you rent but, as they say, you can’t take it with you!

Hi Patti! Yup! Probably should have stated it more clearly, but my landlord pays for the updates!


Hi Key! I’m loving your voice and approach to designing this space! I’m recently a born again Understated Maximalist myself. I was going purely neutral and minimalist for a long time…but then everything turned out so boring and it didn’t make me *feel* anything. So now I’ve been focusing on bringing in new colors and patterns bit by bit so things don’t get too busy looking. Living in a city-sized house means I don’t have any space to waste and turns me off from going full Maximalist. So far I’m loving bringing in some patterns and colors involving pink, blues, and sagey greens. Can’t wait to see what you do with this space!

Hi Laura! Looks like I’m about to be a convert! Pinks, blues, and sagey greens sounds sooo lovely! Thanks so much for the helpful advice!

sharon harris

Hi Key,
Just a quick comment. Why not turn your desk and chair towards the window and use your bookcase as a partition between your office and lounge area? You avoid having to DIY a partition and have the bonus of extra light in the daytime.

Hi Sharon! Great idea! I actually tried using my bookcase as a partition, but it doesn’t sit flush against the wall because of how the baseboard heaters sticks out, and the gap between the wall and the bookcase looked weird. The Partition I’m thinking of DIY’ing is made from rope, so it will still allow some light to pass through. And it can be hung from the ceiling with hooks, so I can take it down if/when I want to. Think it may be a fun diy to try. we shall see…


Maybe it’s my Midwestern mentality and being practical, but why would you spend you hard earned money to improve the property for your landlord. He will benefit from a huge increase in what the remodeled property will be worth, and you will have zero and still be a renter. The only way to build wealth long term is to improve what you actually own. I’m trying not to be snarky or a know-it-all, but I’d love to hear your reasons.

Hi Susan! I probably should have stated more clearly, but the landlord actually pays for the updates so I am not coming out of pocket. It’s a win-win!


WOW the kitchen already shows this will be great fun and inspirational to follow. I’m here for the organic coastal cottage. Thanks for including us!

Thank you so much!! xoxo


Love your writing style and glad you are repping renters !

Thank you so much!! xoxo


The comments on here talking about not wanting to invest in your current space and just buying a total house instead are kind of wild to me. We’re talking the difference of a few cans of paint and some free time, sure, but compared to a literal down payment and ongoing mortgage? Not to mention the stress of home ownership. It’s not like you’re talking about replacing all of the windows and buying a new roof for your landlord! Key, I think it’s great that you’re making your space what you want it. I consider home stuff to be a hobby that I enjoy. Yes, it’s work. Are there other hobbies that people would also consider work? Sewing clothing or knitting? Gardening? Fixing up cars or bikes? Even physical time volunteering? I would say all of those things take up free time and money, and yet people do them because they get enjoyment out of them!! If YOU want to spend the money on a space YOU love, then who cares about the $ ROI. Not everything comes down to dollars, and honestly, at the end of the day, if your furnace goes out, it’s not. your. problem. …and as… Read more »

Hi Alison! I totally agree! Also, I probably should have stated a little more clearly that the landlord actually pays for all the updates so I am not coming out of pocket. And I totally feel ya, there is a lot more financial responsibility that comes with homeownership. Our landlord just paid a pretty penny to fix a leak in the roof. So glad it wasn’t my problem! xoxo

Michelle R.

Ha! No kidding. We put $500 into our rental kitchen and our friends were like, “Why would you do that?” I pointed out that if we owned the house we would have spent 20K on the kitchen and they shut up real fast.

haha! Exactly!


As someone who doesn’t know anything about design, I have to say the mood boards don’t look that different to me? Except coastal cottage has blue tones and understated maximalist has pink tones? Which makes me think that instead of choosing between two styles, there has to be a way to combine them to get both vibes without compromising on design. Or maybe you can start designing using common elements and at some point one of two styles will feel more natural? Again, just a person on the internet who doesn’t know anything about design except what I read on this blog 🙂

Hi Nina! I think you know more design savvy than you think, because you are right! The boards definitely are somewhat similar. It’ kinda of hard to show the differentiation in just a few images on the moodboard , but in my mind, Understated Max would have a lot more color, pattern, and styling than Organic Coastal. But I do agree, I think there is a way to pick different elements for the perfect balance! XOXO

Hi Key! Your blog is amazing. Every post give me an idea and in my house you can see your blog in everywhere…

Thank you so much!!


Just weighed in on your blog. Understated maximalist all the way! Also wanted to say I am SO happy you are here. I love your voice and perspective and the idea to make over a rental is a GREAT idea. If the homeowner wasn’t willing to pay for the updates that would be a different story, but I think you found the perfect way to do it and to reach a huge group of people (renters) that definitely get ignored. Way to go! Hopefully our enthusiasm will help propel you along because let me tell you, I am excited for this house makeover! DIY and on a budget is my jam :).

Hi!!! Thank you so much for taking the time to weigh in on my blog and here! And thank you for your kind words <3 Yes I agree, I think some people may have overlooked the part where I mentioned that the landlord pays for the updates, which makes it a very mutually beneficial relationship. So excited that you're excited! Thanks for following along <3


I love that understated maximalist is clearly an oxymoron and that just makes it better.

Secondly, I too struggle with the decisions and the wanting to stick to one before I get sick of it. What I’m trying right now is less of a coherent style or individual pieces I love and more of a…how do I want the over all space to feel. How do I feel when I’m in it. And letting that guide my styling choices. If that makes sense.

Such great advice! Thanks for sharing!!


Hi everyone! This is so weird to me. I live in Australia and you are simply not allowed to alter anything about your rental. If you make a stain in the carpet or chip the paint on the skirting boards you will essentially lose your deposit, so the concept of purposefully updating a property you’re renting is completely foreign. Would anyone like to explain to me how it works in the states?

Also, how do you feel about investing your time and money into fixing up someone else’s property? All of these updates will beautify the space you live in, for sure, but it’s also adding value to something you don’t own. If anyone can comment I’m very curious 🙂

Hi! Every landlord is different and not all of them allow you to make updates. But I was lucky to find one who did. The landlord pays for the updates I make, so I do not come out of pocket, but again, every landlord is different. I did a Q&A video on my Youtube channel where I share more about how I went about doing it. Hope that helps!


Caitlin, when I was a landlord, if the tenants wanted to paint, and asked, I let them as long as it wasn’t a colour that’d be difficult to paint over if necessary.
A tennant asked for curtains where there was a blind and I paid, because she was a good tenant. Same with replacing dated light fittings, I paid.

I think the difference is that in the US, leases often go waaaaay longer ghan the standard Aussie 6 to 12 month lease periods. Those guys get a lease for years sometimes!!

Honestly can’t wait to hear what you do with your dryer because mine is vintage minty green and sticks out like a sore thumb.


You can spray paint metal appliances! (Especially if you own it).


Maximalism all the way! There’s just so much more life when there’s pattern and color and a house should celebrate life, especially when it’s the home of someone creative. Those are the homes I’m always the most jealous of when I put images side-by-side. Neutrals are safe and all, but are rarely the thing that excitement is made of. Too much white always feels draining to me, although I know I’m often in the minority there. I don’t need bright colors necessarily, it’s just that richness of texture and tone and all of that is both soothing and energizing for me. It’s nice to have inspiration around me when my mind needs a jump start or something interesting to focus on/distract myself with when I get too many thoughts going at once.


P.S. — If you’re able to work remotely and you love old houses… old houses in Kansas are crazy cheap and you can get 20%-40% back on money spent on restoration due to state preservation initiatives. We just bought a good sized 1896 Queen Anne on a large corner lot for $5k. Even if you don’t want to go that rural, Kansas City is a truly fun city and it’s still a fraction of the cost of other major cities (although probably not for long…). We’re planning to do our restoration without taking out any loans, just paying for it as we go, because I also have a ton of student debt that I’m paying down.

So interesting! Definitely something to think about… Thanks for sharing!!

So true! I can look at an image of a maximalist space for hours because its so interesting. But I just don’t know if I could work in a maximalist space for hours lol. I want to find a nice balance between the two. Thanks so much for sharing!

Ohh, Man! Really need this. I was looking for a designer to design my office. But then I found your blogs. Man, your blogs helped me a lot. Thank you soo much for sharing such amazing content. May God blessed You with lots of happiness.
Have a Nice Day!

So glad to hear!! Thank you so much!!


Girl, I feel your pain! I feel like I like too many styles and the things I like are constantly changing that making a decision on ANYTHING is nearly impossible. I’m in the middle of a huge renovation, having to pick finishes and I just don’t know what to do. I love all the super trendy things but will I hate it soon so I should stick with timeless (sometimes boring) things.

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