Before & After: A Tiny Brooklyn Apartment Gets a Scandinavian Holiday Makeover

published Dec 9, 2016
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(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

When the Apartment Therapy team decided to give designer Akhira Ismail’s 288-square-foot Brooklyn apartment (see her previous house tour here) a holiday makeover, we knew we had a charming space to start with. So to transform the already well-designed home into a Scandi-style winter oasis, we focused on subtle, minimalist changes that would add up to one super-cozy retreat. Grab some pinecones and a strand of twinkle lights, because these ideas are too easy not to try in your home.

Natural elements and neutral colors set a warm and cozy scene. Get the details on all the decorations below.

Lower Bookshelves

As soon as we saw Akhira’s apartment, we knew her bookshelves were a prime spot for some holiday primping. Shelves are a perfect stage for styling holiday vignettes, so we decorated ours with a mix of natural materials and subtle colors to create a modern Scandinavian aesthetic. Wooden tree figures (constructed out of wooden cones and dowels), a glass box of pinecones and fairy lights, and sprigs of freshly foraged pine dot the shelves. The easiest tabletop tree ever hangs out on the bottom shelf.

Upper Shelves

On all the bookshelves, we simplified the color palette by covering just a handful of Akhira’s books in green and white gift wrap. Finally, we adorned the rarely-reached-for top shelf with a faux greenery garland interspersed with real pinecones.

Sitting Area

To bring serious hygge vibes to the seating area, we focused on making every surface more comfortable. Swapping in chunky textiles is a sure-fire way to cozy up a space, so we added a knit throw and a velvet lumbar pillow to the leather safari chair. We also topped off the breakfast bar’s wooden stools with inexpensive cushion covers. DIY candle holders crafted out of glass bottles, along with a simple wreath, add a handmade touch to the counter. A temporary fabric wall hanging sets a forest scene for the season—and can be rolled away for next year.


It’s the first area you see when you come home, and its the last spot you glimpse on your way out, so the entryway is a prime candidate for some holiday magic. To prove that you can display ornaments almost anywhere—even if you don’t have a tree—we suspended painted pinecone and acorn ornaments under the entryway shelf. A cheap roll of paper (we got ours at IKEA for $5), hung on the door with a wooden dowel and some twine, serves as a blank slate for hand-scribbled holiday messages.

Thanks, Akhira, for welcoming us into your lovely home! If you’re inspired by her space, check out her other design projects here.

Propping by the talented Sarah Vasil.