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I live in a rental – that’s how I turned our 350 square meter room into the apartment of our dreams

The luxury linen brand Bed Threads takes us to the homes of top designers and creatives around the world. Next, discover little decorating ideas for apartments from Sacha Strebe’s European-inspired rental property in Los Angeles.

How do you feel when you are handed a blank canvas? Does it ignite your creative soul or does it create a knot-like feeling of fear in the pit of your stomach? Well I feel both equally. But here’s why I learned to take it. When I first dipped my toes into the design world, it was with great fear and self-sabotaging thoughts – I’m not a designer, who do I think? – but after about six years as a design editor and decorating my own apartment twice now (this was my first attempt) I’ve sharpened my eye and developed confidence in what I like and just as importantly what I don’t. I am very instinctive now – I know immediately when I see something whether it is working in a room or not. And back to my previous question: I really loved both the excitement and fear of starting a new project because it’s this tension between the two that really drives me to create something special. Of course, that confidence in my design decisions didn’t come overnight (and I’m still learning), but today I’m going to share some of the tips and ideas for decorating small apartments that I learned from my last makeover to help you with yours.

First, let me give you a brief background. Our small family – my husband Troy, 12-year-old son Neon, and 2-year-old Frenchie Cosmo and I – moved from Australia to the hip Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles about six years ago, and we’ve been in ours ever since small apartment. As soon as we saw modern rental, we knew it should be. It was the perfect stage to unfold my emerging designer skills – white walls, concrete floors, and lots of natural light. The living / dining area merges into an open space, with the kitchen having a size of around 350 square meters. Yes the small space was definitely a challenge, but I love working within constraints – it makes you think outside the box!

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Much like millions of other Americans, I’ve been working from home since the quarantine began, which means I’ve been at my dining table all day. With this recent redesign, I really put a lot of thought into how I use this area and what I can do to create an inspiring space that really fuels my creative process. My husband and I met backpacking about 20 years ago in Nice, France, so the memory linked to the travel ban caused by Covid led me to European influences. This culminated in the form of sculptures, gilded framed works of art, vintage vessels with worn patina and handcrafted items like our dining table with its unique knotted base and the porcelain pendant lamp from Crosland Emmonsand custom birch bed frames.

So read on to learn more about the design process and some ideas for decorating small apartments that you can use to create the home of your dreams too.

Pictures by Jenna Peffley for bed threads. Styled by Brady Tolbert.

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Set a budget

First we had to set a budget. Of course, this is never the fun part of a project, but it’s crucial to indicate the maximum amount of dollars you are willing to spend on decorating the room. Thankfully, we already had most of the lots of our first makeover – dining table and chairs, sofa, rug, accent chairs, coffee tables – and this time we were looking for decorative objects, artwork, vintage vessels and vases, and sculptures that would add warmth, Add depth and texture while taking advantage of the old world European style we were hoping for.

Our largest budget allocation went to our master bedroom. This room had remained untouched since we moved in and urgently needed renovation. We knew we wanted a custom bed with luxury linens (thank you, Bed Threads) and ended up choosing a custom bookcase too after we couldn’t find one we liked – more on that later! The custom items ultimately pushed us way beyond our budget, but we knew these capital goods would last forever. While the initial effort stings, its value will continue to increase over time. 3 of 8Living Room Design Ideas - Sacha Strebe

Create a design dialog

One of the many lessons I learned from EyeSwoon’s incredible Athena Calderone is how to create a design dialogue in your home. What does that mean exactly? Well, you want every piece in your home to have a voice so that when they are all styled together they sing – or at least have an interesting conversation with one another. As an editor, I am busy bringing stories to life – storytelling is really at the heart of everything I do, be it literally putting words on a page or physically telling stories through design. So it makes sense that I want to Every piece in this room to weave a narrative about our lives and who we are as people and as a family in the moment.

On one of our many procurement trips, we came across an antique shop replete with good and bad jewelry, and my husband and I were instantly drawn to this incredible painting. It had peeling paint from age, a tiny hole, and the gilded ornate frame had seen better days with cracks and chips, but we both took a look around and agreed it had to come home with us (it’s rare for both of us agree to something like that!). When we hung it in the dining room, it changed everything about the room. It was really transformative. I felt like it was the missing piece that really kept everyone else together – the room was singing!

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Do it personally

As I mentioned earlier, my husband and I are travelers at heart and after meeting in the romantic city of Nice, France and later falling in love with Venice, Italy, we really wanted to bring that European feel to the room. But who doesn’t want to feel like they are in Italy while working from home in Los Angeles? #amirite? My husband is also very keen to bring in pieces that have meaning or add context to the space based on travel or emotional connections. Essentially, they need to have a reason to be there and get married with the existing decor. So that meant spending our weekends searching local antique stores or dipping into Etsy and eBay keyword holes for hours – more on that in my next tip!

You want to design a space that feels instinctual to you so that someone who walks in the room immediately gets a sense of who you are, what you love, and what you stand for. Of course, if you love as many styles, eras and designers as I do, narrowing down and editing your space can be a challenge. I like creating mood boards on Pinterest along with saved folders on Instagram and collecting as many images as possible. This helped me get my direction clear as I could see patterns Textures, tones, epochs and moods.

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Scour Resale Sites

A big part of personalization is finding pieces that tell your story. That’s why I love vintage so much. From furniture to decor to clothing, all I love is nothing more than diving down the rabbit hole of resale locations to find these one-of-a-kind pieces. In fact, the Facebook marketplace has become one of my favorite places to look for unique finds as my beloved flea markets closed during the Covid. It can’t be seen in these photos because I found it later, but I got the most incredible vintage teak ball there for $ 100 and a Greek-inspired plaster base for $ 30. You just have to be willing to look around and use multiple keyword variations to find the treasure.

After reading Athena Calderone’s tips on keywords, I’ve developed a slight obsession with sourcing clay, ceramic, and terracotta vessels. In fact, both vintage vases on our table and next to our sofa are $ 25 off eBay. There’s nothing like the thrill of finding the perfect piece at a bargain price.

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Consider Custom

Since we’re renting out, I couldn’t make any major changes, although I would have loved to do nothing more than coring the strut kitchen and bathrooms. Instead, we focused on the decorative aspects and worked with local manufacturers to create personal and unique touches. When I saw this wooden bed, it became the inspiration for the design of our master bedroom. So we hired our friend Omar (he follows @nymphobrainiac on Instagram) to make a beautiful bedroom suite out of birch wood with a bed frame and bookcase. It was definitely an investment, but we’re so glad we did

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Take it easy

Good design takes time. It’s an old saying, but when it comes to decorating your home it sounds right. So resist the urge to hurry, create your mood board, sit down by the pictures and pieces you’ve collected, and really think about what (and what doesn’t) move you emotionally. This is especially important before making large investments. Every day we are bombarded with inspirational images on social media that can overwhelm our senses and create confusion about what you love and what is just a fad or trend that feels right now – but ask yourself a few questions beforehand, how I’ll still do it. Will you love this in five or 10 years? Does this beautiful piece also serve my practical needs? When you become really clear about these things, you can move forward with confidence and create a space that is truly your own.

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to take risks

Don’t be afraid to dive into the unknown and explore the unknown. Those moments when you feel uncomfortable are really pushing you to discover something new. It’s not always easy, but you will inevitably use the magic and come across something unexpected. I love these moments, even if it is a painful process of pushing and pulling to get there. Everything happens in this creative divide. A well-designed space should be effortless and comfortable, with a touch of tension and contrast to keep things interesting. Most of all, have fun!

What are the small apartment decorating ideas that you learned along the way? Let us know below!


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