Samara’s Sentiment-Filled Cambridge Apartment

published Nov 8, 2015
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(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Name: Samara Vise
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Size: 1,000 square feet
Years lived in: 2 years; Rented

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Hello, my name is Samara Vise and I’m a recent contributor to Apartment Therapy. After sharing a few homes in the Boston area with you, I decided I would open up my own apartment to a House Tour. My home speaks a lot to who I am, where I’m from, and the people and places that have been in my life. It’s filled with fixed-up finds, basics built from scratch, and pieces purchased by my grandparents in the 1950s and 1960s. I also have a personal connection to the apartment itself; my dad gutted and renovated the building when he was 23 years old. Sometimes I think about what I was doing at 23—mostly getting sunburned on film sets in L.A.—and I start to question the trajectory of my life!

(Image credit: Samara Vise)

When my dad bought the building in the late 1970s, the house was in rough shape. Using plans drafted by my grandfather, an architect, my dad gutted the entire inside, reconfiguring the layout and creating the apartment’s most unique feature: a one-and-a-half story living and kitchen space with a small loft running above.

A lot of my furniture has been sourced and rehabbed from Craigslist or the thrift store. I love finding a piece with good bones and imagining what it might look like with a little wood touch-up, new legs, or a different fabric. My Gran taught me to sew, and I was using the sewing machine by the time I was eight. I don’t do anything fancy, but you’d be surprised what you can sew for your home with a steady hand, the right needle/foot, and a decent sewing machine. Add a $10 dollar staple gun and the possibilities are endless. I also worked as a photographer in a home décor studio, so I was able to see and feel up-close how pieces were put together and what textiles were used. There’s a great discount fabric store called Sewfisticated in East Cambridge where I picked up the upholstery fabric for my sofa for $6 a yard. It was a remnant with only 15 yards to the roll so I mapped out all the cuts ahead of time on a sheet of paper. My Gran was born during the Depression and never wasted anything, so she would have been proud!

My grandparents met in Cambridge in the 1950s; my grandmother was studying Architectural Sciences at Radcliffe and met my grandfather in a class at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. (She was one of three women in the class!) Though my grandparents were divorced by the time I was born, their furniture comes from the home they made together. Pieces built by my grandfather joined purchases from Design Research in Harvard Square. As a kid, I saw brightly colored casserole pots, funny-shaped wooden dining chairs, and stone grey lunch plates, but as an adult I learned they were Dansk, Eames, and Heath Ceramics. That’s when I started collecting similar styles on my own from the thrift store, eBay, and IKEA.

Though her hosting heyday had passed by the time I was alive, my grandmother knew how to throw a party. Now that she’s gone, I find myself thinking about those days a lot, especially if I’m hosting friends and using something of hers. When I close my eyes, I can see it. There are cheese plates, plenty of punch, and raucous laughter ringing throughout. Gran’s wearing Marimekko, and my grandfather is there. My dad and uncle are asleep upstairs.

(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Personal and Modern

Inspiration: My grandparents and the Southwest

Favorite Element: The loft office. I do a lot of work at home and having a separate space is key. Having two desks is also very useful for working on archival projects and scanning. I probably do more editing in my kitchen, but knowing I can go to a separate space and work is a real luxury.

Biggest Challenge: The house is old and half of the floors are original, so leveling furniture can be difficult! Like, 3 inches in some places. I use everything from shingles to quarters wrapped in black gaffers tape.

What Friends Say: Can I live here too?

Biggest Embarrassment: Too many housewares. I have a weakness for stoneware. And chairs. I once had a friend remark “Your stuff is very…eclectic,” and I was like “That is NOT a compliment!”

Proudest DIY: When I first moved in I had the Sater sofa from IKEA. One day I asked myself why I wasn’t spending more time in my living room, and I realized it was because the sofa wasn’t comfortable. I started looking for a new sofa on Craigslist, but I quickly stressed out realizing I could spend anywhere between $200 and $800 and still end up disappointed. So, on a whim, I decided to reupholster my late grandmother’s sofa, all 90″ of which my Dad and I had lugged down seven flights of stairs just a year before. It took about a week (I worked on it off-and-on) and cost about $300 in materials. It didn’t turn out perfectly, but it looks good enough and it feels exactly like I remember. Growing up, it was the most comfortable sofa I had ever sat on, and now I sit in my living room all the time!

Biggest Indulgence: I wouldn’t necessarily call it an indulgence because I didn’t buy them, but the Eames DCW chairs. They were from Design Research in Harvard Square and were purchased by my grandparents in the 1950s. There are six in total, and I replaced the back shock mounts on several of them. In addition, two of the chair backs had been drilled through during a shoddy ’90s repair, so I decided to cover them with cowhide. It was a really nerve-racking DIY, but I’m very happy with how they turned out.

Best Advice: If you have the time and patience to go on Craigslist or drive to your local Salvation Army, you can find quality older items. Add a little imagination, skill, and internet research, and you can transform them into something that suits your home. DIY > China.

Also, if you have a new apartment, don’t feel the need to furnish everything right away. Start with what you absolutely need (a mattress, cookware, dishes) and give yourself a little time to find the rest. If you actually live in your new space first you’ll have a better idea of what you want. If you rush out and furnish the whole thing in a day you’re going to have regrets.

Dream Sources: I was raised to be a bargain-hunter, make-doer, and do-it-yourselfer. Yes, my Gran had nice furniture, but she also had the same stuff for 50+ years. I think it would be great one day to walk into Room & Board and spend $2,000 on a dresser. But it goes against my grain. (Ha, wood joke.) Still, part of me realizes that the craftsmanship of my 1960s couch, when it was new, was probably equivalent to a $4,000 couch today. But in the modern era of cheap furniture that doesn’t make stomaching an expensive sofa any easier!

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Welcome to my apartment! I’m very lucky to reside in a unique space that was renovated by my dad and grandfather over thirty years ago. (Image credit: Samara Vise)



  • The walls in the apartment are Benjamin Moore Pink Damask 890. It was a color my grandfather selected in the ’70s, and my dad has been using it ever since. It has a warm feeling to it, and only a few folks notice that it’s pink!

    • Sofa: Design Research in the 1960s, reupholstered
    • Pillows: Marimekko fabric, IKEA, Wayfair
    • Rug: Surya from AllModern
    • Coffee table: thrift Store, DIY
    • Bookshelf:
    • Arc lamp: AllModern
    • Credenza: Broyhill Brasilia from Ramble Market
    • Dining table: made by my grandfather
    • Dining chairs: vintage Eames DCW from Design Research
    • Cowhide chair: vintage Eames DCW, hide added by me
    • Wood chair: thrift store, reupholstered
    • Framed prints: Elliott Erwitt, Ansel Adams
    • Architectural rendering over sofa: my grandfather
    • Vintage deer head: Ramble Market
    • Cacti/succulents: Home Depot
    • Planters: thrifted


  • Table: DIY with help from Dad!
  • Counter stools: Target Threshold Windsor
  • Metal bar stools: Wayfair
  • White shelving unit: IKEA Kallax
  • Hairpin leg side table: DIY
  • Pacific Coast Highway sign: film set
  • Vintage telescope lamp: DIY, electrical components from Home Depot
  • Bar (under stairs): thrift store, DIY
  • Various decanters with tags: thrift store, DIY

    • Bed: two hollow-core doors (A.K.A. help from dad)
    • Duvet: IKEA Stockholm
    • Nightstand: thrift store, crate from HomeGoods
    • Rug: IKEA Basnås
    • Lamp: thrift store
    • Small dresser: built by my grandfather
    • Large dresser: Craigslist
    • DVD rack: DIY
    • Painting: my great-grandfather


  • Bed: DIY
  • Bookshelf: my maternal grandfather!
  • Lounge chair: thrift store, faux-sheepskin from HomeGoods
  • Green side table: Target
  • Bertoia child’s chair: Design Research
  • Three-head lamp: Craigslist
  • Sunburst mirror: Wayfair

  • Luxo task lamp: found in the trash
  • Generic task lamp: thrifted
  • Yellow shelves: IKEA
  • Cowhide remnant: Etsy
  • Striped rug: HomeGoods
  • Metal shelving unit: IKEA Omar
  • Thonet chair: vintage sample from my grandparents
  • Alvar Aalto stool: vintage from my grandparents
  • Work table: Harvard University Recycling

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