Ashley & Bryan’s Northern Comfort

updated Feb 20, 2019
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(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Name: Ashley & Bryan Norwood
Location: Cambridgeport; Cambridge, MA
Size: 440 square feet
Years lived in: 6 years; Rented

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Filled with bright personality and space-conscious items, Ashley and Bryan’s apartment in the Cambridgeport neighborhood of Cambridge, MA, feels full but not cluttered. An intrinsic balance exists here—his and hers, style and function—and everything feels well-used and loved. Upon entering, I immediately feel settled and assured of one thing: this apartment is unmistakably a home.

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Ashley and Bryan love entertaining and having people over. They even made strawberry shortcake for our photo shoot! (Image credit: Samara Vise)
(Image credit: Samara Vise)

I’m not surprised when I learn Ashley and Bryan are about to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. Natives of Mississippi, they met in the high school marching band- an anecdote I assure Ashley is more charming than mortifying- and have since shared ten years and three homes together. They joke that each subsequent apartment has been half the size and double the rent, so it’s no wonder their current space has been whittled down to the most useful, most unique, and most personal of possessions: the best of the best.

Ashley and Bryan have done more than amass an interesting homespace- they’ve had a very real hand in creating it. A good relationship with their landlord has allowed them to modify (and improve) the apartment, taking out a blocky closet to open up the living room, constructing built-in shelving units to maximize storage, and painting walls and radiators in complementing hues. Textiles are mostly Ashley’s own creations, and she reupholstered the sofa and club chairs (curbside rescues and thrift store finds) herself.

Ashley’s textile skills hail from her time working in her college’s upholstery department, where lessons of mending and repair were not only learning tools but also budget necessities for the Mississippi school. Ashley fondly recalls how her instructor, a 76-year-old man named Mr. Gillis with “the patience of a saint,” taught her to sew and reupholster furniture, even build it from scratch. A mentor and a friend, Mr. Gillis shared with Ashley some advice she’s never forgotten. “You know,” he told her one afternoon, “couples who drink together, stay together.”

(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Indeed, enjoying libations and entertaining friends are important additions to busy work and school schedules. (Ashley works in property development and Bryan is getting his PhD in the History and Theory of Architecture.) The main space of the apartment can be reconfigured to host dinner parties and social soirees for 30+ guests, and the tiny kitchen has prepped multiple Thanksgiving dinners. Ashley and Bryan try and cook together as much as possible, frequently trying new recipes. Bryan is also a talented bartender, and he even makes his own bitters.

While the oft-ascribed notion of “Southern hospitality” can seem trite, with Ashley and Bryan, the desire to entertain feels truly genuine. Before departing, I’m treated to a freshly baked strawberry shortcake and a masterful cocktail, The Sherwood Avenue, an original recipe from Cure in New Orleans. “I never want people to leave hungry,” Ashley says. “I’m Southern. I can’t help that.”

(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Our style is very thrift-store-fixer-upper. There are very few pieces in our home that we haven’t reupholstered, repainted, or refinished to make them exactly what we want them to be.

Inspiration: Ashley: Kelly Wearstler- I love her bold style and her use of amazing patterns with dramatic color.
Bryan: The Eames- they created spaces that were comfortable to be in, and that’s definitely how we like our home to feel.

Favorite Element: Our front room is so bright and cheerful early in the day (even in the middle of a Boston winter it still seems bright), so that’s a really nice thing to wake up to. We also absolutely adore our neighborhood. All of our favorite restaurants are within walking distance, and it seems like there’s always something fun going on in the area.

Biggest Challenge: The size of our space. I think having so little square footage has forced us to find creative storage solutions and to purge the things we don’t absolutely love or need.

What Friends Say: My dear friend Brandy said she thinks I have an eye for detail and for making things stylish yet functional. Our friends also say they feel welcome and comfortable when invited in. That definitely goes back to a deeply-ingrained Southern hospitality!

Biggest Embarrassment: Having to ask guests to walk through our closet to get to the bathroom…

Proudest DIY: I absolutely love how the two club chairs in our living room turned out. When I got them, they were beat-up blue pleather. I knew they had really good bones and think they cleaned up beautifully! The most time-consuming/difficult project was our sofa. I was driving by a restaurant in our little Mississippi college town when I spotted two twin sofas on the curb. I swerved into the parking lot (as I tend to rescue downtrodden furniture the same way some people rescue stray animals) and for $30 and a phone call to a friend with a truck, I had two amazing sofas! We had to get rid of one of them when we moved to Boston.

Biggest Indulgence: We love to travel. Home-wise, it’s kitchenware. We find ourselves spending money on quality ingredients and nice equipment that we can cook with. We love to cook together, and even though our space is very small it hasn’t limited us much.

Best Advice: Surround yourself with things you love!

Dream Sources: Ashley: I love Ligne Roset and would love to have a piece or two from their beautiful collection one day. We are also suckers for classic furniture. We have our eye on a couple pieces from Design Within Reach…


(Image credit: Samara Vise)


  • Gray: Sherwin Williams Repose Gray SW7015
  • White: Sherwin Williams’ stock white
  • Seafoam (on radiators): Sherwin Williams Mint Condition SW6743
(Image credit: Samara Vise)


  • Sofa: curbside rescue in Starkville, MS, reupholstered by Ashley
  • Coffee table: Bryan’s great-grandfather
  • Two club chairs: The Palmer Home Thrift Store in Columbus, MS, reupholstered by Ashley with fabric from IKEA
  • Chandelier: Bryan’s parent’s house
  • Watercolor painting (above mantle): Ashley’s friend Brandon Washington
  • Hope chest: heirloom from Ashley’s family
  • Vine plant on the hope chest: someone gifted my mom a piece of this plant when she and my dad got married. She planted a section of it for me when Bryan and I got married. It’s the only plant I haven’t killed. It even drove across the country with us buckled into the back seat!
  • Cut paper map: Famille Somerbelle
  • Terrarium: Psychic Ceremonies on Etsy
(Image credit: Samara Vise)


  • Horse painting: Nashville thrift store
  • Table and chairs: gift from Ashley’s dad
(Image credit: Samara Vise)


  • Metal shelving units: IKEA
  • Mixer: KitchenAid
  • Dutch oven: Le Creuset
  • Pink Champagne coupes: BHLDN
(Image credit: Samara Vise)


  • Chair: from Ashley’s step-grandmother
  • Yellow bedside table: The Palmer Home Thrift Store in Starkville, MS
  • Quilt: made by Ashley’s great-grandmother
  • Bedside lamps: Memphis Flea Market
  • Bookshelf behind bed: state sale in Newton, MA
  • Large bookshelf: Bryan built this bookshelf. Clearly we needed it! All but a handful of those books belong to Bryan.
  • Globe: Brimfield Flea Market, painted by Ashley with chalkboard paint
  • Painting between the windows: Gabriel Godard reproduction
  • Chest of drawers: Craigslist- my next project is refinishing this piece.
  • USA map puzzle (on chest): Brimfield Flea Market
(Image credit: Samara Vise)

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Thanks, Ashley & Bryan!