Susan’s Colorful Cabinet of Curiosities

published Nov 10, 2014
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(Image credit: Tamara Gavin)

Name: Susan Harlan, English professor at Wake Forest University, + dog Millie
Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Size: 2,000 square feet
Years lived in: 1 year, 4 months; owned

While sitting on a beach in Santa Barbara, Susan recalled the rooms of the house she had just decided to buy in North Carolina. She had with her some paint decks, and it was there under the California sun that she selected the paint colors for her new home, site unseen. Swatches affixed to a sheet of paper created a quilt of deep grays, pinks, mint greens, corals, and royal blues: a chart for her painter to follow in order to create Susan’s colorful utopia. Being a long-time New York resident she had always rented and never had been able to paint, so when she finally had the chance she went all in.

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Susan always wanted a peacock colored front door. (Image credit: Tamara Gavin)
(Image credit: Tamara Gavin)

Setting up her bar cabinet—a glamorous Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams piece that she treated herself to right away—was one of the first things Susan did when she moved in. It displays all of her pretty vintage barware: tumblers with pink flamingos, a penguin cocktail shaker, swizzle sticks, and marbled straws, olive skewers, glasses with ferry boats, and a glass with a little PanAm icon. As an English professor she frequently works at home and enjoys marking the end of the workday with a cocktail. She also likes to host and says, “A bar is quintessentially social: a way of assuring that your house is not a closed-off space but a welcoming one.”

Like her bar, she describes her house as a cabinet of curiosities; a home to her collections of art, books, and vintage objects, many of which she writes about. Each piece she owns tells a story, and she has a tendency to name them, like Patsy and Edina (the flamingos in the yard), Denys Finch Hatton (the elephant table on the porch), and Baudelaire (the garden gnome sitting on the mantel). Susan named the house too—Maud—because she’s an old broad built in the 1920’s.

Collections of Day of the Dead objects, doorknockers, magnets, paint by number art, afghans, and vintage Paris paintings are all things that Susan loves. Every wall surface is covered with art; the back wall of the laundry closet is no exception. And then there are piles of books everywhere. Susan decorates around them and likes that when she walks through the front door she can be reminded of the books she wants to read.

She likes to be surrounded of remnants of the past and you can often find her watching old movies like Some Like It Hot and His Girl Friday in the living room at night. She bought a projector off of eBay and projects the films onto a sheet she hangs at the French doors. During the day you can find her in the upstairs sunroom, her favorite room in the house. There she writes at a tulip-style table and keeps her books organized with shelves she found at CB2. She says when it’s snowing, it feels like you are outside. The lovely space can be described like one of Susan’s objects, a snow globe dreamland of art, books, and mid-century modern furniture.

Every room in Susan’s home features her different collections, from jewelry and vases in her bedroom to hats and luggage in the walk-in closet—a room she turned into her dressing room, now ruled by Nefertiti, a bust found at a flea market in Washington D.C. When asked what three items she would grab if there was a fire, she responded with: a book, naturally, the painting over the couch in the living room because it was done by her college roommate, and of course, Baudelaire, the gnome.

(Image credit: Tamara Gavin)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Mid-century modern meets kitschy collector

Inspiration: Cabinets of curiosity; museums—thus hanging things “gallery style” on the walls; mid-century flair; collectors; LIBRARIES and old bookstores, some granny elements—I love afghans (I have about a million of them) and samplers, and souvenirs.

Favorite Element: My books, my collections (vintage barware in particular), my Day of the Dead stuff—and I LOVE the sunroom upstairs.

Biggest Challenge: I need to convert the kitchen upstairs into a fourth bedroom. I’m hoping to do that soon.

What Friends Say: That the home is comfortable, relaxed, quirky, and filled with stuff. Everyone always notices the new things I have acquired.

Biggest Embarrassment: That I must cover every surface with objects!

Proudest DIY: Arranging all my collections. It took forever. And the walk-in closet/dressing room.

Biggest Indulgence: My Collins Bar in the living room. The ceiling fan in the upstairs sunroom, Both investments, but both beautiful.

Best Advice: Don’t worry about things matching perfectly. Create a home that is comfortable and creative.

Dream Sources: Room + Board, Thrive, Design Within Reach—love all of these. But overall, I’m not all that attracted to very expensive pieces. If I had a very fancy sofa, I think I would just worry about staining it.

(Image credit: Tamara Gavin)

Resources of Note:


All Sherwin-Williams (I had the entire house painted, inside and out)

Foyer: Cyberspace

Front downstair sitting room: Turkish Tile

Downstairs bedroom: Optimistic Yellow

Downstairs bathroom: Ardent Coral

Hallways and Sunroom: Rock Candy

Living room: Upward

Dining room: Gibraltar

Kitchen: Green Jewel

Susan’s bedroom: Verbena

Walk-in closet: Naval


  • Fake Tiffany ceiling pendant, Portfolio by Home Depot
  • Antique radio from the Lost In Time Antique Mall, Winston-Salem
  • Black and white vases, Missoni for Target
  • Coat rack, Herman Miller
  • Wall art, Etsy artists and vintage
  • Rug, vintage
  • Whale piece, Jonathan Alder


  • Curtains, Threshold for Target
  • Eames plywood chair, Design Within Reach
  • Collins Bar, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
  • Lamp, Big Dipper Arc Floor Lamp by CB2
  • IKEA Expedit bookcase and IKEA Boja table lamp
  • All textiles and rug, vintage; all wall art, vintage Paint-by-Number, etc.


  • Curtains, West Elm
  • Silver stool, Spin Bar Stool by Crate and Barrel
  • Chandelier, IKEA
  • Mirror on wall, Threshold for Target; all other art is vintage or photography by friends, family, or myself
  • Dining set, vintage
  • White vase, Jonathan Alder for JC Penney
  • Contents of china cabinets, vintage


  • Rag rugs, Threshold for Target
  • Yellow Stools, Target Carlisle Metal Stool, set of 2
  • Le Creuset, mostly seconds from Home Goods
  • Most dishes, vintage


  • Bed, Crate and Barrel iron bed (discontinued)
  • Folded quilt on vintage desk, Urban Outfitters
  • Bookends (elephants), Jonathan Alder
  • Curtains, World Market
  • Lamp, Target Threshold Acrylic Stacked Ball Lamp


  • Shower curtain, Urban Outfitters
  • Towels and Rug, Threshold for Target
  • Wall hooks, Anthropologie


  • Floor pouf, Pier One Imports
  • Floor lamp, IKEA “Alang”
  • Black leather chair, Pierre Leather Chair by Room and Board
  • Daybed (fake Barcelona), eBay
  • Throw pillows, covered with African fabrics
  • All other furniture and art, vintage
  • Curtains, Cost Plus World Market


  • Fake Tulip table and chairs, Lexington Modern
  • Credenza, CB2 Peekaboo Clear Console Table (and C-Table)
  • Patterned ottoman, Threshold for Target
  • Plant stands; yellow stool, CB2 (discontinued), white tulip-style stools, Crate and Barrel
  • End tables (white), IKEA Lack
  • Rug, Mad Mats
  • Soldier Poster, CB2
  • Bookcases, CB2 Array silver bookcases (2)
  • Stool with black and white cushion, CB2 Varanas
  • Sofa, Younger Furniture
  • Plycraft lounge chair, eBay)
  • Ceiling fan, Artemis by Minka Air, maple finish


  • Bed, CB2 Dondra queen bed
  • Dresser, vintage Lane (with mirror)
  • Bookshelf, CB2 Helix Taupe (wall-mounted)
  • Duvet cover, West Elm
  • Table lamp, Patch for Target
  • Pink fabric panel on wall, Marimekko
  • Moroccan style rug, Boboshaggy,
  • Curtains, Threshold for Target (white)


  • Closet system, Rubbermaid configurations (four sets) and white Rubbermaid bins
  • Small bench, TJ Maxx
  • Rug, Mad Mats
  • White storage bins, ITSO, Target
  • Curtains, Threshold for Target
  • End table, CB2 (discontinued)
  • Starburst mirror, Threshold for Target
(Image credit: Tamara Gavin)

Thanks, Susan!

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