A 550-Square-Foot Rental Is ‘French-Victorian With a Romantic Academia Flair’
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Name: Tessa Cooper and Chandler Cooper
Location: Springfield, Missouri
Size: 550 square feet
Type of Home: Apartment
Years lived in: 5 years, renting
This apartment is the first home my husband, Chandler, and I made together. It was a lucky find after hours spent scrolling through apartment listings when I really should have been working. Tucked away in a five-unit apartment building constructed in 1912, the original features stood out to us the most. We love the ornate cast iron vent covers and sturdy wood doors with craftsman trim and brass doorknobs. We were also drawn to how tastefully the kitchen and bathroom have been updated. The two rooms show off ceramic tile floors and the kitchen features well-maintained antique cabinetry and the bathroom houses an elegant pedestal sink.
We saw the blank white walls as clean slates with so much potential, and the recently refinished hardwood floors made us super eager to sign the lease. The rent here is incredibly affordable and it is within walking distance to all our favorite restaurants and coffee shops, so it was the perfect place to live while we saved up for a house. We are currently renovating an 1886 Victorian home nearby, but we will miss this place that has been so good to us. I really hope we can convince a friend to move into this unit so we can visit often.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: French-Victorian with a romantic academia flair
Inspiration: My mom really fostered a love for beautiful surroundings while I grew up. She filled our home’s shelves with interior design books that I would look at for hours, and I have vivid memories of the beautiful antique stores we’d visit. I also watched Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” film at an impressionable age, and I always return to it when I am struggling to make an interior design choice.
Lately, I’ve been really inspired by the book “Maison: Parisian Chic” by Ines de la Fressange and Marin Montagut. It features Parisian apartments that possess an effortless, but updated elegance and rooms that feel less staged and more lived-in. It gives you actionable steps and ideas of what items to look for in flea markets to emulate the look.
Chandler and I also find inspiration from our European travels, particularly to France and Italy. We’ve brought back fragile mementos that miraculously survived travel in our carryons, like pressed flower art by Paris-based Herbarium, a holy water holder from Vatican City, a velvet pillow made by a German seamstress, and a 1700s lithograph of ancient Roman architecture.
Favorite Element: The mantel in our bedroom was an extra special find. In summer 2021, Chandler and I were sad to find out a beautiful historic home a few blocks away was getting torn down. One of my friends used to live in an apartment there, and she posted a picture of the inside. I saw a beautiful mantel that I couldn’t get out of my mind and wondered what happened to it after the building got demolished. Another friend of mine, interior designer Sharon Taylor-Gullett of Pickwick House, saw the cast-iron mantel on Craigslist. She showed it to me, and after talking to the seller, we found out it indeed came from the house.
We are building a fireplace box surround for the mantel in the house we are renovating. We plan on putting the mantel there and our oversized gilded mirror on top. The home the mantel came from was built around the time as our home. We are so happy we can help that house live on in a small way. Sharon also managed to salvage some of the crown moldings from the house, which we’ve displayed in our part-book-shelf, part cabinet of curiosities.
Biggest Challenge: Our landlord uses high-quality, durable white paint, so he prefers that tenants don’t paint over the walls. As much as I love all-white walls, they can feel sterile —not to mention many people argue the all-white look is past its heyday. To make it feel cozier, we opted for patinaed wood pieces and aged marble materials. Over the years, it’s gone from feeling like two minimalist newlyweds live here to looking more like a couple of maximalist collectors reside inside.
Proudest DIY: In middle school, I found a mini, bare chandelier at a flea market. I took some strands of seed beads from another hanging fixture my mom was getting rid of and used them to create a hanger for the chandelier. I used it as a necklace hanger and still do to this day.
I want to mention one other DIY, too. Chandler and I can’t take too much credit for this one, but we do feel a sense of second-hand pride. We use a curio cabinet in our living room to house our books and knick-knacks. I wanted a wood cabinet with a glass front mainly because I abhor dusting (it’s the same reason I display my perfume under glass cloches from the craft store). I found this cabinet at a home a friend was restoring. It was left by the previous homeowner, but it was missing a curved glass piece. She offered it to me at a steal, but I didn’t realize curved glass had to be custom ordered at an astronomical cost and that no local glass company offered the repair service.
I finally found a company that would let you mail a template of the broken piece to get a quote for special order fabrication. I enlisted the help of my friend Robbie Ashurst, who has experience working on and designing theatre sets, to create the template. When he got there, he suggested we just repair it with sturdy, but flexible plexiglass like the kind they use on sets. I was skeptical and thought it would look cheap, but just two hours and $50 later, he repaired it, and no visitor is none the wiser that it isn’t glass.
Biggest Indulgence: Our large gilded mirror from the 1920s in our bedroom was a splurge. During the uncertain summer of 2020, one of the only outings I would make would be to my favorite antique store that was never crowded on a weekday. I saw the mirror that was hidden in a corner, covered with other items in front of it. It was out of my price range, but I always kept my eye on it every visit as the vendor marked it down slowly. By 2021, it was the right price for me, so I snagged it. I’ve learned to always ask the origin of an item because I like to collect information on antiques just as much as I love to collect the actual items. Although the mirror inside is new, the frame is more than 100 years old and came out of a church in a neighboring town.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? One of our favorite parts of living here is the community porch upstairs outfitted with a porch swing and patio furniture. We’ve chatted over countless bowls of popcorn, glasses of limoncello, and negronis with our neighbors and friends many times up there. Since one of our best friends lives in the unit upstairs, we recently hosted a progressive dinner party that started with a cocktail hour in our unit and ended with a meal in his unit.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? I recently discovered Santa Maria Novella products, which come from an apothecary that has been operating from the same spot in Florence, Italy since 1360. I luckily discovered their products only one week before I visited Florence when I went to a Sundance store. I saw these beautiful rose-scented wax tablets to freshen closets in the store, and the sales associate told me all about the beautiful perfumery in Florence that looks as ornate as a church built in the Renaissance. I of course made the pilgrimage there when I visited. I think it is one of my favorite places on earth now, and I’ve dubbed it Perfume Heaven. They carry home scents, perfume, and lotion that hold historical significance. For example, you can purchase the same cologne that Caterina de’ Medici commissioned for the king of France in 1533.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: If you lack storage, figure out how to maximize surface space without making it look cluttered and a headache to dust. Beautiful storage containers like vintage hatboxes and glass cloches make dusting a breeze and are easy on the eyes.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Using contrasting materials and textures in your home creates a balanced look. In pretty much every room, I aim to mix cast iron, mirrors, glass, marble, wood, and linen. Also, don’t sleep on the craft store. I’ve picked up beautiful accessories for our home at Michael’s, like apothecary jars to house bath salts, large white feathers, taper candles, pillar candles with pressed dried flowers, and glass cloches. Also, you can bring an antique frame, and Michael’s will install your art with matting and new glass.
PAINT & COLORS
- N/A (our landlord uses durable paint that they actually use in school hallways. Not much to say, other than it is super easy to clean!)
- Uttermost Henzler Mirrored Glass Coffee Table — Amazon
- Live Calamondin Tree — FastGrowingTrees.com
- Dried Flower Art — Herbarium
- Domed Flower Incense Holder — Saint Claude Social Club
- Marble Bistro Accent Table — World Market
- Classical Head, Grecian Statue White Charcoal Drawing — Sarah Meyers Art
- Large Oval Heirloom Laundry Basket — Homesong Market
- Rosen French Bistro Arm Chairs — Safavieh
- Copper Glass Tea Storage Box — World Market
- Adeline 16-Ounce Emboss Glass Tumblers — Pioneer Woman
- Copper and Brass salt and pepper grinders — Sunday Shop
- Smeg Cream Drop Coffee Maker — Crate&Barrel
- Tintype Portraits — Ozarks Tintype
- Hat Boxes — Amazon
- Botanical Flower Embedded Scented Pillar Candle by Ashland — Michael’s
- Overdyed Persian Area Rug by Threshold— Target
- Roman Candle Bust — Anthropologie
- Rose Scented Wax Tablets — Santa Maria Novella
- Vestige Lipstick Holder — Anthropologie
- Clipped Texture Quilt — Target
- Anke Drechsel pillow — Chez Dede
- Rosa Gardenia Bath Gel — Santa Maria Novella
- Rosa Gardenia Body Milk — Santa Maria Novella
- Amelia Bathroom Storage Shelf — Urban Outfitters
This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.
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