Eli & Jessica's Comforting Cambridge Condo

House Tour

Name: Eli, Jessica, and Clem the dog
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Size: 770 square feet
Years lived in: 1 — owned

Lately I've been craving to live in a smaller nest of a space with fewer and fewer belongings. And visiting Eli and Jessica's adorable condo did not take the edge off my urge. They've managed to make 770 square feet feel spacious and cozy. I experienced a palpable decompression when I walked through their front door, which empties you directly into their living room, face to face with one of the sweetest green couches I've ever seen.

Seriously, I experienced this strong sense of "letting go" and lightness while in their home. I attribute the durable sensation to a few elements: their pared down collection of belongings — everything in this space matters and there's no visual dilution from too many objects; the soothing choice of wall colors throughout anchored by strong elements of black in every space, which acts as a visual thread from room to room; the beautiful, warm-toned wood floors; and a dreamy bite-sized porch! Perhaps this serene but striking environment is what happens when you pair the creativity of a poet (Jessica) with that of a graphic designer (Eli), and finished off with the spirit of a little Clem (the dog). (Jessica and Eli were entrants in Apartment Therapy's 2010 Small Cool Contest - check out their popular submission Small Cool 2010: Jessica's Dramatic & Beautiful Books !)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: For the most part, we are both drawn to elements that have a certain lightness and transparency. That transparency could be expressed through the use of materials, or the evidence of the hand or mind of the person who made the piece. We like things that are honest about their function, even if that function is only to be beautiful.

Inspiration: We like and read about design of all kinds (graphic, interior, industrial, architecture, fashion), and live with pieces of furniture whose stories are meaningful to us in some way. Right now, what interests us is mid-century American and contemporary European design. At the same time, the design of our apartment is a balance between aspiration and accommodation. Our building was constructed in 1855, so the layout of our apartment is really different from the wide-open context which the furniture we like was designed for. We try to make the design of a room feel as inevitable as possible, but we know that achieving that is a constant process of arrangement and rearrangement.

Favorite Element: In a way, what makes our favorite elements possible is our least favorite element: a small, ugly attic that saves us from having to confront the things we don't want to see every day — laundry, a utility sink, a big table for sewing/arts/electronics projects, and storage for tools and other (mostly paper) detritus. But for a favorite element that we actually enjoy, the porch wins.

Biggest Challenge: Our space is long — five rooms in a row. From the front of the apartment, it's possible to see nearly all the way to the back, which poses a challenge in terms of the way color in different rooms relates. So, we've tried to bring color and patterns back throughout. The green of the living room couch returns in the green of so many plants and the curtains and rug in the bedroom. The kitchen and the library are painted the same spring-green color, while the bedroom and bathroom are painted the same grey-rain color. A tiny lounge, off of the kitchen, is cyan, which contrasts nicely with all the green in the kitchen. In the bedroom, living room and kitchen, black-and-white drawings in simple black frames complement, rather than compete with, the color.

What Friends Say: That our apartment is so uncluttered and clean.

Biggest Embarrassment: The bathroom. Before we moved in, this room had a rotten floor and was very dark — bronze walls, red-brown floor tiles. We just didn't know enough about hiring contractors, about how to ask for what we wanted, or — for that matter — about what we wanted. So, with the exception of the floor, which had to be rebuilt in places, the other changes (painting the walls grey and the tub yellow; installing wainscoting, white hex tiles, new faucets, and the medicine cabinet) were cosmetic. The new bathroom is definitely an improvement, although the guys we hired to do the work were so bad that we're confronted, daily, with their carelessness and half-measures. In the end, we've learned a few things about hiring contractors and acquired a small collection of plumbing wrenches to repair the shoddy work we foolishly approved.

Proudest DIY: We were able to improve the kitchen cabinets (formerly ugly wood and uglier gold hardware) by painting them four coats of black and changing the hardware. We also installed track lighting above the workspace and replaced a huge, old, white fridge with a slimmer, more energy-efficient, counter-depth model.

Biggest Indulgence: We have a few of these: the floor-to-ceiling Rakks shelving system and two couches. We're lucky to have two small rooms (in addition to the main three) that we're able to give their own function. The pass-through between the living room and the bedroom presented an opportunity to get rid of the seven very different-looking bookcases scattered around our old apartment and to consolidate most of our books and our office into a single room, while the tiny, bright room in the back has its own door, which makes it an ideal guest space. Since the apartment isn't huge, though, we wanted to be able to use this room too. The daybed fits perfectly and sees the most use from us, reading or watching movies, and from Clem, napping in the sun.

Best Advice: In a perfect world, you would get to live in a space before you bought stuff for it. But if you can't, as is often the case, then try to make decisions that consider context (will this chair work with the rest of my furniture? how will one paint color look next to other paint colors?) and quality (it's better to buy the best things you can afford now than to waste money on what you don't really want and have to trade up when you start feeling discontent or something breaks). One more piece of advice: Get a nice vacuum. You will be regularly disgusted and thrilled. Disclosure: we have two vacuums — one upright, the other handheld. This might be an indulgence, but it's also a way of having nice furniture and a dog who believes the nice furniture is his.

Dream Sources: Vaguely: an architect/interior designer who could come up with interesting solutions for custom cabinetry and clothes storage, since we don't love all the wasted space of a closet. More specifically: for kitchens, Balthaup & Henrybuilt; for furniture, BDDW, Design within Reach, Piet Hein Eek, Jean Prouve, Vinçon (Barcelona), Vitra

Resources of Note:

PAINT & COLORS

    • Bedroom & Bathroom - Mythic Paint (Zero VOC): Grey Rain
    • Living room - Mythic Paint: Mid-winter for walls and India Ink for cabinets, doors
    • Library & Kitchen - Benjamin Moore: Lemon Twist (We used Mythic and had it matched to BM)
    • Lounge - We didn't paint; it's probably pretty close to pure cyan.

LIVING ROOM

    • 73" Bantam sofa in Maharam Milestone Basil: Design Within Reach
    • Rex lounge chairs by Niko Kralj: Design Within Reach
    • Scan flint lounge chair: CB2
    • Danish entry chest: Reside (Cambridge)
    • Framed drawings: Eli

KITCHEN

    • Refrigerator: Summit FFBF245SS
    • Dishwasher: Frigidaire
    • Gas range: Premier 24 Pro Series
    • Darjeeling dining table, spindle chairs: CB2
    • Artwork (group of four framed prints: Kylie Budge

BEDROOM

    • Bed, duvet: IKEA
    • Framed wrapping paper: Kate's Paperie, NYC

BATHROOM

    • Marimekko shower curtain, recycled wood bath mat: Crate & Barrel
    • Medicine cabinet: West Elm
    • Shower fixtures: Baths from the Past

LIBRARY

    • Shelving: Rakks, The Door Store (Cambridge)
    • Powder blue desk with hairpin legs: Eli
    • Orange chair: Eames with walnut dowel base (yard sale)
    • Posters: Joan Brossa (Barcelona), Jerzy Flisak (Poland)

LOUNGE

    • American Modern daybed: Design Within Reach (floor sample)
    • Valentine poster: Ettore Sottsass

THROUGHOUT

    • Rugs, curtains, lamps: IKEA
    • Throw pillows: Jessica (with fabric from Contemporary Cloth & Modern Fabrics)

    Thanks, Eli and Jessica!

    Images: Kyle Freeman

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