Designer Caitlin Wilson’s Fun, Curated, and Funky First Apartment in Philly

published Apr 18, 2019
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(Image credit: Andrea Elizabeth Photography)

Welcome back to My First Apartment! Whether it’s your first studio, a four-bedroom deep in the city shared with a handful of roommates, or even an entire house (lucky you!), there’s something special about moving into the first place that’s truly your own. In this series, we’ll showcase actors, artists, entrepreneurs, and beyond—asking them to revisit that oh-so-sweet nostalgia of newly-found freedom.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Here at My First Apartment, I’m pretty liberal about what I will consider a first apartment. Many times, it can take many moves to finally feel like a space is finally, finally yours. You know, when you have all your own furniture, your name on the lease, and—most importantly—no one to veto your decorating power.

For Caitlin Wilson, the powerhouse interior designer who just launched a new pastel-forward collection of rugs and pillows this spring, that “first apartment” feeling came in 2014. She was married with one kid and another on the way. The family had returned to the U.S. from a stint abroad so her husband could attend business school.

The couple picked an old unit in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square neighborhood complete with period details like a banana yellow and black-tiled bathroom, built-ins galore, and closets with french doors. Wilson loved the character of the place, but above all—she was excited to finally be able to decorate the space in the way she wanted.

That said, since her husband was in grad school and her business was still taking off, she did have a limited budget.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

“It was makeshift: IKEA and painting old furniture of my parents, but it came out to be a fun, curated, funky place,” she says.

Interested in learning more? Read on as Wilson looks back at her first Philadelphia apartment:

My First Apartment: Caitlin Wilson

City: Philadelphia

Neighborhood: Rittenhouse Square

Size: About 1,500 square feet. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms

Rent: $3,000

(Image credit: Ana Hard Design)

How you paid your rent: I was supporting my husband through business school. He was a student and I launched my textile line while we were living there.

Why you decided to live there: A lot of the students would live in these places that felt like hotels. I wanted to feel like we were in Philly—get the real experience of the city. So we found this old apartment building with old carpet and rodent problems. We had a corner unit on the top floor with high ceilings and great light. I think at one point it had been fancy back in the day.

What you did on the first night: I just dreamed! It was so exciting to have a bigger space and be back in the U.S. It was the first place I could paint the walls and make my own. We were renting, but since it was an older building, I had the freedom to do what I wanted.

Set the scene in three words: Charming, funky, and old.

Three things on your wall: My first oil painting I did in college—it was a really simple study of three pears. A pair of curly antlers. And a glicée print of a woman I got in Dubai.

(Image credit: Kath Nash)

Uninvited strangers/pests?: The building had rodent problems. It was disgusting when we first discovered them, but then we realized that when you live in places like New York and Philly, you gotta get used to that stuff. So we named the little mouse that would visit our apartment Stuart (like Stuart Little).

The worst idea you ever had in that apartment: I put some IKEA bookshelves in the family room. I really, really regretted it because I wish I had found a really cool antique instead! Philly has really great antiques.

Best memory: Bringing my son home from the hospital!

Neighborhood haunt: We would go to this restaurant Parc. It was right on Rittenhouse Park, about two blocks away. It was a delicious French-style brasserie. You could eat outside facing the park, so it felt like Paris. It was so magical.

Thing you hated most about living there: I don’t like to sleep with noise, so the sound of the big, loud A/C unit in the window at night annoyed me.

Thing you loved most about living there: I loved looking out of our third bedroom—my office—at night. You could see the sun setting on the city’s skyline. It was so pretty.

One feature you’d never live with again: It had a terrible stove. Just terrible. It was just old, inconsistent. Circa 1990 or something. They have to replace those more often!

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

One feature you’d never live without: High ceilings—they just make such a difference.

Song that will always take you back: My daughter’s bedtime music, which was just a sweet children’s lullaby CD.

Smell that will always remind you of it: Old places always kind of smell funky, so I had those Bath and Body Works wallflowers in an amber smell.

(Image credit: Kath Nash)

Favorite piece of furniture: I splurged on one thing: A coral linen sofa. It wasn’t super nice or anything, but it was custom-made and shipped from California. My husband and I were anxiously awaiting for it to arrive!

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

What you had too much of: Junk. I thought I had to fill the space because it was big, so I had a lot of little tchotchkes. I’m not ever minimal but overall, it didn’t look very collected.

What you had too little of: Paper towels. It was hard to store paper towels in our long galley kitchen and we were always running out. My husband told me his dream was to have an unlimited supply of paper towels.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Thing you wish you knew back then: I think I always knew that I was going to miss it because I did enjoy it. I wish I would’ve known how memorable it was going to be, when your kids are that young and like you’re in this new phase of life. I wish I would have taken more pictures or video recorded it every day. I would love to relive that time. It was so fun.

First space to feel weirdly small: My office. There was not enough room, so we stored my fabric in our dining room. There were 15 100-yard bolts of fabric lining the perimeter. I would put this big white piece of wood with cutting lines on it on the dining room table. I needed more space for my business for sure, but I wasn’t ready for an office outside my home because my kids were still so young. They also were starting to bother each other sleeping in the room—they’d wake each other up!

What you did on the last night: I think I cried. It was the end of an era. I was excited for something new. My husband had gotten a new job. We were being moved by professional movers, but I was sad. It was such a great time of life.

Did you get the security deposit back?: Yes…. Actually, now that I think about it, I might have gotten a little dinged for wallpapering the office.

One item you still have today: I have this beautiful floral tea set I remember was always on display. I still have these paintings “on loan” from my dad. And a painting of Santa Barbara I still have in my dining room.

My First Apartment: