7 Things 2 Years at Apartment Therapy Taught Me About My Own Home

published Dec 2, 2019
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This, for the record, is not my home—but it's one of my favorite house tours during my time here (and it inspired me to buy a rattan dining chair).

This week will mark my second anniversary working at Apartment Therapy—Dec. 4, to be exact. Last year around this time, I published a list of eight things that one year at Apartment Therapy taught me about my own space. A year later, I thought it would be fun to dedicate my December editor letter to the same exercise. So here, in no particular order, are seven things two years at Apartment Therapy have taught me about my own home.

A mini makeover can be just as rewarding as a big one. I spent 2018 really working to refresh my living room. I’ve loved every weekend and night in I’ve spent in it throughout 2019—but it also meant I didn’t have a big home project to get excited about. Instead, I’ve worked on little refreshes throughout my space this year. For starters, over the winter I re-thought my entryway organization. I added three hooks so I wouldn’t have to hang my winter coats over door handles, bought two big baskets for by-the-door floor storage (an idea I borrowed from a house tour), and invested in a new mail sorter by the entry. I also begrudgingly moved my  paper shredder to the entry—it’s sort of an eyesore, but it means I don’t let mail pile up because I’m too lazy to take it into the other room and pull the shredder out. As our lifestyle director Taryn Williford often says: don’t change your habit, change your habitat. What it all means is that I feel a little happier and a little more on top of things at least twice a day: when I leave in the morning and when I come home at night.

Grief deserves a place in your home. One piece that really stayed with me this year was Brittany Anas’s exploration of how grief can and often should have a place in your home. I’ve lost several family members over the last few years, and have taken her advice to keep their things present in my space, even if they don’t naturally fit with the decor. “These out-of-place heirlooms in our homes have a higher purpose: They serve as kinds of altars,” Anas wrote. “Yes, sometimes they break conventional design rules or don’t necessarily conform with our style aesthetics, but according to Phillip Thomas, a New York City-based interior designer, it’s actually better this way. When a special item contrasts with the interior, it draws more attention to it and elevates it to a work of art rather than a random accessory.” I love looking at my grandma’s well-used shabbat candlesticks next to my rainbow bookshelf, or my grandparents’ wedding photo on my modern blue West Elm shelf—in the exact same frame that sat in their living room my whole life (and long before). Or the last gift my father-in-law gave me before he passed away: an oil lamp he found in an archaeological dig in Israel that I take out with my seasonal decor every year. Dotting my space with their heirlooms and happy memories roots me in my family history and reminds me how they helped me to get to this place I live today.

And on a lighter note, some corners just aren’t meant for plants. In June, we published a comprehensive FAQ about what to expect when you’re becoming a plant parent. After editing this and dozens more plant care articles over the past two years, I invested in my first *big* plant, a dracaena. I stuck it in a corner by my nightstand where I’ve watched it die a slow death over the past three months. After consulting with the plant experts at Apartment Therapy, I tried more water and less water followed by more light and less light. Nothing worked—it’s currently sitting in front of my bedroom window on its last legs. After I compost it, I think I’m going to invest in a fake plant instead. Plants might look cute in dark corners, but they don’t thrive in them.

Don’t let your hosting hangups keep you from having people over. I used to host a lot in my one-bedroom. But over the last few years, I’ve felt too busy to really offer people the kind of experience I wanted to create: inventive recipes, signature cocktails, and a totally sparkling clean space for starters. Plus, I worried guests would feel uncomfortable crammed into a fairly small space. In November, we coined the term “Untertaining,” in which we helped you to identify your hosting hangups (mine: small space and too busy) and then overcome them. Since we came up with the idea, I’ve been working on letting go of perfection in favor of saying yes to hosting more. As cheesy as it sounds, when I reflect back on the board game nights, celebrations, and hangouts in my home, what I remember is the fun times we had together, not whether or not I had time to dust the baseboards before the first doorbell ring. I’m going to try to take that untertaining energy into 2020—starting with a January board game night.

Ask more questions about how other people live. This year, I launched a new series called The Couch, where I invite designers, celebrities, and friends of the brand to sit down with me to chat on the sofa in the Apartment Therapy office. I’ve learned so much from all of our guests’ insights. One of the things that first drew me to a career in journalism is the idea that you have instant permission to be curious about other people—how they live, why they think the way they do, and more. Jonathan Adler offered this advice, for instance, on incorporating more color into your space: “I think you should do it very slowly. The way I roll is I always do a white base with another neutral and then a pop of color.” Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent shared their thoughts on how to create the “perfect home”: “I think a room should feel assembled and layered over time. It’s important to take your time and really figure out what your actual design style is,” Berkus said. Brent added: “I think the perfect home for me is always the perfect display of the people that live there.” When I meet people, I try to ask as many questions as I (politely) can about the way they live. The answer might just spark the next article you see on Apartment Therapy.

Buy your home flowers. One of the classic tasks in our January Cure jumpstart program (you can sign up on our site for the 2020 version starting next week) is to buy yourself flowers every Friday. I’ve taken that advice seriously in 2019: I’m home today nursing a cold and watching it snow out the window—but I have a bunch of eucalyptus I grabbed from the store last week that’s brightening up the whole space. I buy whatever is seasonal, colorful, and on sale—from sunflowers in my grandmother’s old vase (see number two) to tulips in a pitcher my old coworkers gifted me for my wedding. It’s one small way to make my space feel refreshed and different—and I’ve picked up tons of flower care hacks over the past year to keep them lasting longer and longer.

Design doesn’t have to be superficial. OK, this one is cheating because it’s one of the lessons I included in last year’s list, but I still mean it. I wrote at the time: “Home, if you’re lucky enough to have one (and one that feels safe), is really important. Sometimes I feel a little silly talking about blue couches when there’s so much serious stuff happening in the world right now. But the truth is that a lot goes down at home: it’s where we gather and connect with family and friends, recharge, make room for new ideas—and sometimes stay in all weekend binge watching TV.” This year, so many people have generously opened their doors to Apartment Therapy—something that takes great vulnerability and for which I’m endlessly grateful. Again, over the past 12 months, I’ve learned so much from seeing how real people style and live at home—from poet Morgan Parker’s LA apartment to “Younger” star Molly Bernard’s Brooklyn place and hundreds in between and across the world.

It’s a great privilege to be able to explore what home life means and looks like in 2019 along with the millions of fans we have in our audience. One of my favorite parts about ending each year is taking stock of what happened in the last 12 months, and thinking about my intentions for the next one. A few weeks ago, I put together a collection of some of our best content so far this year—it’s by no means comprehensive, but it’s a nice overview of what really mattered. Take a look and let me know what you liked, and what you’d like to see more of next year. Last year in my letter, one commenter expressed wanting to see more Apartment Therapy editor homes: this year, we brought you Lifestyle Director Taryn Williford’s Atlanta loft, news and culture editor Tara Bellucci’s Boston rental apartment, and house tour editor Adrienne Breaux’s New Orleans space. I’m looking forward to your thoughts and ideas for 2020. We’re listening.

In the meantime, the editors here are spending December looking back on the trends that defined 2019, and projecting what homes will look like in 2020. Of course, this is also the start of a new decade, so we’ll also be reflecting on how design has changed over the past 10 years and this century as a whole. To start it off, tomorrow we’re publishing a timeline that explores how home trends have evolved from 2000 to today (you can spot faux antlers, Edison bulbs, and other fads of the last 20 years). We’ll also look more closely at how we expect trends to evolve from this past year to next year. And we’ll have our version of the 10-year challenge: asking designers to look back on their creations from 2010.

I’m wishing you all a warm, safe, and happy holiday season.

Our letter from the editor series appears the first Monday of every month