Carolyn Purnell

Historian and Writer

Los Angeles, CA

Carolyn is a lover of all things colorful and quirky. She grew up in Texas and settled in L.A. by way of Chicago, England and Paris. She is the author of The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses.
37 Genius Awkward Corner Ideas
We’ve all got them — you know, those awkward empty spaces that are a little too small for an accent chair but way too big for a lonely side table. If blank spaces are making you uncomfortable, the good news is that you’ve got plenty of options for filling them without cluttering up your home.
Dec 19, 2023
5 Easy Ways to Add Energy to Your Home
Monique & Stu’s Bright Happy Family Home in Melbourne Even if you love your place and your stuff, there are times when your home can feel stagnant. It all too easily becomes a place of routine, or it just feels like there’s something that’s not functioning quite right. If your home needs a burst of energy, here are five easy things that you can do to give it some zest. The Pineapple Housewife’s Happy Home Use scents.
Oct 14, 2022
Oldies But Goodies: Early Apartment Therapy House Tours, 2005 Edition
When I started reading Apartment Therapy years ago, the hook for me was the house tours. Seeing “real” spaces that felt creative, personal, and above all, attainable taught me that a beautiful home means much more than high-end furniture. As a way of revisiting those roots, here are ten house tours from the AT vaults. 2005, coming right up!
Oct 13, 2022
How To Clean Bathtub Jets with Basic Household Ingredients
There’s nothing quite like sitting down for a relaxing bath only to find water with floating black flecks, hair, and who-knows-what-else. Unfortunately, if you’re the owner of a jetted bathtub, this lament may seem all-too-common given that the crevices of the jets tend to collect gunk that is hard to clean by hand. But there are some simple ways to keep those jets clean using basic household ingredients. Fill the tub until the jets are covered by 2-3 inches of hot water.
Sep 22, 2022
Getting Rid of the Fugitive Filth I Was Harboring in my Kitchen
Kate’s West Village Charm This weekend, in a search of a lost item, I ventured into the no-man’s land of one particular area of my kitchen and was aghast at what I found there. Even though it’s a little-seen area, that doesn’t make it any better in terms of the dust accumulation and the total ick-factor I experienced when I realized what kind of filth I had been harboring. So where was all the grossness hiding?
Jul 17, 2020
Before & After: Nancy’s $5 Wall Treatment
Nancy was recently faced with the challenge of completing a quick and affordable bedroom makeover for a couple who is adopting three siblings. She transformed a guest room into a bright and airy girl’s room in only five days, and while there are plenty of lovely touches in the space, it’s her simple and cheap solution for a wall treatment that really stopped me in my tracks.
Jul 17, 2020
4 Sources for Architectural Salvage in Chicago
Architectural salvage shops are increasingly popular destinations for designers, collectors, and remodelers, and for the home decorator looking for unique furnishings, there’s no better place to start a search. In part, salvage stores hold such wide appeal because the items there carry the forgotten tales of the past, and invite collectors to imagine creative reuse ideas.
Jul 17, 2020
The Psychology & Science of Decorating: Understanding the 5 Ways We Experience a Room
As anyone reading this site knows, design is about a lot more than just having a pretty room. There are many different elements that go into the experience of a space, and they can all have a significant impact on the way that we relate to our surroundings. In Environmental Interiors, authors Mary Jo Weale, James W. Croake, and W. Bruce Weale argue that human beings experience their environments in five ways: Through the senses—sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell.
Jul 17, 2020
10 Tips for Making Winter Wake-Ups Easier
Now that winter’s here, my reluctance to get out of bed in the morning has mounted exponentially. It’s much easier to snuggle deep into the covers when my alarm goes off, and I’m constantly oversleeping when I know that I should get up. In an attempt to curb this bad habit, I’ve compiled some tips for making waking up a bit more manageable. Drinking water as soon as you wake up will help stimulate the body and help you stay awake.
Jul 16, 2020
A Little Mess: Making Peace With Our Stuff
The crusade against clutter is one of the most frequently waged battles in the modern household. It’s true that nothing feels quite like a good clutter-purge, and somehow it seems that no matter how little I buy or how often I prune my belongings, there are always plenty of items that I could part ways with. But is this constant crusade actually a healthier way of approaching one’s home? And to what extent is it okay to make peace with a little bit of mess?
Jul 16, 2020
2 Rooms, 2 Kids: Share a Bedroom & Gain a Playroom?
It seems that, increasingly, it’s becoming the norm for kids to have their own bedrooms, especially if there’s adequate space for it. But what if you have two rooms, two kids, and no playroom? Is it a better use of the space to have the kids share a bedroom? In my experience, young children don’t feel much of a need for a private bedroom. They would rather have ample space to play.
Mar 12, 2020
Color, Chromophobia, and Colonialism: Some Historical Thoughts
Piet Mondrian used reds, yellows, blues, and blacks. Donald Judd’s palette has included green, pink, and orange. Carl Andre relied on the colors of specific materials like wood and metals. And yet somehow, the term “minimalism” today calls to mind an image of a pure, clean, and orderly space with white as the dominant color. Why, despite seeing color everywhere, do we still tend to associate the minimal and the modern with whiteness?
Mar 11, 2020
Into the Woods: 10 Stylish and Rustic Cabins from Our Tours
When you hear the word “cabin,” what does it conjure? Wood, trees, taxidermy, leather? Going through our tour archives, I noticed that we’ve featured many a cabin here on Apartment Therapy, and while some of them adhere to the usual expectations for a cabin, many of them offer unexpected takes on rustic decor. TOP ROW: 1. Nancy, Ethan, Ohle’s 1903 Cabin in the Country 2. David Bethany’s Abode in the Woods 3. Keith Rebecca’s Cabin of Worldly Delights 4.
Mar 11, 2020
Small Spaces with Wonderful Wallpaper
When it comes to design, sometimes you just have to go bold, and small spaces are perfect for giving your imagination free rein. Constraint breeds creativity, and corners, ceilings, closets, nooks, and crannies can all be converted easily into luxurious, dream-like spaces with a bit of verve and paper. Top Row: 1. Patterned hallway in Anna Spiro paper from Adore Home Blog. 2. Wallpapered ceiling in reading area from Caldwell Flake via House of Turquoise. 3.
Mar 11, 2020
Small Space Lessons: Floorplan & Solutions from Joann’s Truly Happy Home
Coming in at only 400 square feet, Joann’s teeny-tiny entry from the 2012 Small Cool Contest is filled with clever ideas for storage, furniture layouts, and small-space organization–not to mention that it’s also cute and colorful! In the living room, Joann figured out how to maximize seating so that she can host a number of friends, but no one feels cramped or closed in by an overabundance of furniture.
Mar 11, 2020
Make It Organized: 10 DIY Wall Shelving & Storage Ideas
One of the best ways to maximize storage in a small space is to go vertical with your storage. And what better way to accomplish that than with some stylish, handmade shelving? From gold and glam to rustic and industrial, here are ten stylish options to add some storage space to your home. TOP ROW: 1. Minty Gold Shelf Inspiration 2. Under $50: DIY Threaded Rope Shelves 3. How to Make a Modern Pegboard Shelving System 4. DIY Honeycomb Shelves from Reclaimed Wood 5.
Mar 11, 2020
Packing Checklist for a Perfect Road Trip
Road trips tend to be love ’em or leave ’em affairs, and personally, I fall into the “love” category. While I’ve enjoyed most of my excursions, I’ll be the first to admit that there has been a serious trial-and-error process with my packing lists. Inevitably, the trips for which I was better prepared were much more pleasurable than others, but it hasn’t always been easy to anticipate just what items I’ll need.
Mar 11, 2020
Al Fresco How To: Ingredients for a Wonderful Impromptu Outdoor Meal
It’s the time of year when one wants to throw open the doors and bask in the fresh, warm air. Neighborhood restaurants and cafés have set out their patio gear, and they’re consistently filled with people enjoying the weather. This sidewalk experience is great, but I also love dining al fresco at home, with simple food and good friends.
Mar 11, 2020
Beautifully Organized: Home Libraries of All Sizes
Whether grand or small, full or empty, bursting with books or outfitted with objects, I’d wager that all of us have bookshelves of some sort in our home. Having a dedicated library room is not a luxury that all of us can have, but no matter how small your library, there are still some tips for making it as beautifully organized as possible. TOP ROW: Keeping carefully grouped books visible, the hidden storage in Suzanne’s Color in Harmony Room makes the shelves multifunctional.
Mar 11, 2020
Plants in the Bathroom: Inspiration from Our House Tours
If you’re participating in the January Cure, one of your weekly assignments is to treat yourself to a plant or some flowers. Usually, I place mine in the living room, dining room, or bedroom, but after looking through some past house tours, it dawned on me that I might want to try adding a bit of freshness to another locale….
Mar 11, 2020
Standout “Small Cool” Homes
Kyle’s Teeny-Tiny City Home Every year, the Small Cool Contest gets cooler and cooler, and this year, we saw some really stellar entries. The competition was steep, and the judges had their work cut out for them, but in the end, it’s like Highlander—there can be only one. (Well, technically, two, since we have an international division as well.
Feb 21, 2020
Beautifully Organized: Family Rooms
A family room is the workhorse of the home: television, playtime, conversation, games, relaxing. It’s the room that has to handle it all. Here are some examples of rooms that manage not only to accommodate all those activities, but also to do it beautifully. TOP ROW: 1. Chris Colleen’s Small, Hip Family Home: Here, instruments on the wall are ready-at-hand and decorative.
Feb 3, 2020
Pamper Yourself: 10 Luxurious Self-Care DIYs Using Things You Already Own
Frazzled. Harried. Hurried. Stressed. Flustered. Vexed. Wind-whipped. Beat. If any of these adjectives apply to you, it’s probably time to take a few moments for some self-care. Here are ten recipes that will help you recharge and unwind, most of which can be created without the hassle of an extra trip to the store. Top Row: 1.
Dec 30, 2019
Jamie’s Wild Blue Yonder
Name: Jamie Bayer Location: Avondale; Chicago, Illinois Size: 1,100 square feet Years lived in: 1 year; rented If there’s one word to describe Jamie’s apartment, it’s fun. Bright colors, vintage glassware, crafts, collections, and quirk — Jamie knows what she loves, and she has no fear in building her home around it. When I saw Jamie’s recent house call, I was practically drooling, and I knew that I had to see her space in person.
Dec 19, 2019
10 Small, Cool Living Rooms (& What Their Stylish Owners Have to Say!)
Living rooms are the workhorses of the home. Most us spend the majority of our time in these spaces, and they often have to fulfill a host of functions: seating, storage, dining, and leisure. In small homes, cramming all this in can be quite the challenge, but here are 10 eensy and efficient living rooms from our recent Small Cool Contests that have done it beautifully. Top row: 1.
Dec 16, 2019
The Volcanos’ Cozy Coach House
Name: Rosie and Kara Volcano Location: Wicker Park, Chicago, IL Size: 1,000 square feet (2 bedroom coach house) Years lived in: 1; rented Volcanos are fiery and dynamic, leaving ribbons of blazing light in their wake. Kara and Rosie Volcano certainly fit this bill. Warm, welcoming, and downright radiant, they are an on-the-go-couple who are just as fearless in their home design as their personal pursuits.
Aug 30, 2019
The Kings’ Quirky Castle
Name: Beth & Mr. King Location: Lincoln Square; Chicago, Illinois Size: 1,500 square feet Years lived in: 7 years (3 as a couple); rented When you live in a place where the foyer looks like it could have been transported directly from a castle, there’s a certain degree of solemnity that might be expected of you. Beth and Mr.
Aug 22, 2019
Stir-Crazy Dogs: Keeping Your Cooped-Up Canines Entertained During Winter
Winter boredom is definitely a problem in my household, and I’ve found that our dogs get just as tired of being cooped up inside as my partner and I do. We take them for regular walks, play in the yard, and do all the normal things that owners do with their dogs, but there are just some days — I’m looking at you, polar vortex — that they don’t get enough exercise. We have two dogs with two very different energy levels.
Aug 8, 2019
Cory and Kristine’s Marriage of Classic and Graphic
Name: Cory and Kristine HankinsLocation: Bucktown — Chicago, IllinoisSize: 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom + denYears lived in: 9 months — rented In a short amount of time, newlyweds Cory and Kristine Hankins have managed to turn their one-bedroom rental into a calm, inviting space. Kristine tends to favor a classic look, where Cory’s style is more modern, but the two have come together to form a cozy, surprising mixture.
Jun 6, 2019
10 Interactive Gifts for Design-Loving Kids
For many of us, the love of architecture, home design, and decor had deep roots in childhood. This season, help spread that passion to the kids in your life with these books, blocks, and crafts. Top row: 1. Draw Me a House: Architectural Ideas, Inspiration, and Colouring In by Thibaud Herem, $17.01 2. LEGO Architecture Fallingwater, $98.95 3. Citiblocs Wooden Building Block Set, $48.21 4. 3-D Home Kit, $31.46 5. Fun with Architecture Rubber Stamp Set, $24.95 Bottom row: 1.
May 4, 2019
Color Confidence: 10 Colors that Work Well with Wood Trim
In this post on easy-to-live-with paint colors, a number of you asked for a post on paint colors that go with wood trim. Ask, and you will receive! Here’s a roundup of some successful colors from our House Tours that allow wood trim to shine. When it comes to wood trim, neutrals are an easy choice, but as some of these rooms from our house tours show, having wood trim doesn’t mean that you have to be a shrinking violet. Bold colors can work just as well! TOP ROW: 1.
May 4, 2019
Decorating with Toddlers: 10 Kid-Proof Coffee Tables
A friend of mine is redecorating her living room, and she mentioned that she had had a hard time coming up with a coffee table suitable for her toddler. Charged with a mission, I’ve come up with 10 options that have rounded corners and resilient and durable surfaces not made of glass, which are relatively easy to clean and are solid enough that they won’t tip over with the weight of a crawler. Top row: 1. Clover Coffee Table, West Elm, $189 2.
May 4, 2019
Before & After: An IKEA Dresser Goes from Elementary to Elegant
Believe it or not, this dresser is not vintage. Nor is it a high-end retail piece. Thanks to the ingenuity of Sarah Sherman Samuel over at Smitten Studio, a basic, no-frills IKEA staple was transformed into a sleek, beautiful, and functional feature. Hard to believe this dresser is not vintage or a high-end retail piece, right? The IKEA Tarva is as basic as it gets.
May 4, 2019
An Act of DIY Genius: Light Fixture Made from a Shoe Rack
What if I were to tell you that this simple wire shoe rack could become an edgy, cool light fixture? It’s probably not the first DIY that would come to mind, and you might have a hard time visualizing it. But Elle and her boyfriend looked at this shelf, saw something beautiful, and figured out how to make it happen. Didn’t I tell you that it was cool? The geometric shape is interesting, but it’s visually light, floating against the white backdrop of the ceiling.
May 4, 2019
No Storage, No Problem: Workarounds for Renters for Every Room
So, you just found that vintage apartment of your dreams: perfect millwork, cute tile, and a nifty fireplace. But the downside is that there’s no storage, just one tiny closet and nowhere to put all the stuff that you’re sure you’ll need. Don’t despair! Here are some renter-friendly solutions to work around that storage shortage. If you don’t have much storage space, you can take some tips from Tamar’s tiny kitchen.
May 4, 2019
Ten Tips: How To Boost Your Productivity Painlessly This Winter
If you’re anything like me, winter means cozying up on the couch, shrouding yourself in blankets, and hitting the snooze button in the cold mornings. But life doesn’t always offer us the opportunity to hibernate, and it’s important to be productive, even when you’d rather lounge. Here are some tips that can be used year-round, but particularly in winter, to keep you feeling efficient. Pick three. Make a to-do list and fill it with all the things in front of you.
May 4, 2019