Name: Elizabeth Sutton and her kids Miro and Nora
Location: Upper East Side — New York, NY
Size: 1,370 square feet
Years lived in: 6 months, renting
For New York-based artist Elizabeth Sutton, leaving the first home she ever owned was the most difficult part of her divorce. "My ex and I purchased it together a year after we got married and we lived there for five years. It was the first home to both my children. I was also the one responsible for making it a home – back then, in my old life, I was the ultimate housewife. I single-handedly took care of that home and made sure it functioned for my family. I built many memories there – I was constantly entertaining, throwing elaborate dinner parties for which I'd cook delicious food, set beautiful tablescapes, and enjoy my friends and family."
Home – as many of us know – is more than just where we sleep at night or pay the rent. It's an intimate place where we make memories and express our personalities. Design isn't just about the superficial; it's about crafting environments that allow us to feel inspired, enlivened, and safe. Without a home you love and that feeds your soul, other aspects of your life can suffer. That's why when a huge life change happens, many of us look to our homes to support us. We look to decor not to decorate, but to invigorate.
Elizabeth's home story is the first in a new series here at Apartment Therapy: Starting Over. We'll explore how different people use design to start new chapters of their lives. From heartbreak to job loss, Starting Over will aim to show that home can – and should – heal. But now, back to Elizabeth:
Elizabeth's pre-divorce digs
Featured in Architectural Digest and the NY Post, the home Elizabeth shared with her ex was, in a word, luxurious. "From a design perspective, my old apartment was much fancier. It was a multi-million dollar home that had just been re-decorated with top of the line sources like Italian marble in the foyer, custom silk, glass doors, and Phillip Jeffries wallpaper."
But while Elizabeth says it was a beautiful space, because they bought it turnkey, she didn't get to make a lot of the design decisions; with the opportunity to renovate, she would have designed it differently. Still, there are things she really misses. "Our home was the ultimate entertainment home – we had 1,600 square feet of exterior space with a BBQ, outdoor TV, fire pit... It was the terrace I knew I'd miss the most, as that was my zen space. I'd lie on the couch and look up at the cloudy (or polluted lol) NYC skies and I'd contemplate my life."
New apartment, fresh vibes
Divorce is difficult, but for a creative person, getting to start over in a new home is as exciting as it is daunting. "When I left, I was no longer in love. It was not an easy decision to make — to ask for a divorce when I had a three-week-old baby. I had been through a LOT the few years prior and I was ready to start over. I needed new, fresh, happier energy that was all MINE."
The new apartment, located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, has a big open kitchen, essential for entertaining. It also has two small balconies with beautiful views and fresh air. However, the new place she shares with her two young children, Miro and Nora, is 600 square feet smaller than the old one, so she had to get creative so it wouldn't feel squished.
Redecorating would be another challenge. Not only was the new apartment "heinous" in her opinion (the two bedrooms were "bubble gum pink and baby blue"), she also didn't want to take a lot of furniture from the old apartment. "I took only a buffet, two accent chairs, and a dresser out of an entire three-bedroom apartment, even though I knew I wouldn't be able to afford to rebuy the type of furniture I had. It was very important for me that I get all new things – even if they were cheap(er)."
She also wanted to make her kids' post-divorce life a smooth transition; the home came together in just three months. Today, her home is, in a word, stunning. Glam gold metal modern furniture pairs with potent patterns covering everything from rugs to chairs. In fact one of the only pattern tools she doesn't use is wallpaper, and only because she's renting. Instead, she "wallpapered" her walls with all of her colorful, vibrant art.
"There is literally art on every wall. My kids' room is basically one big rainbow and almost everything in there was made or designed by their mommy, including the rugs, table, and artwork, which they love (well, which Miro loves, but I'm sure once Nora is big enough to understand she'll love it too). It is impossible for a room to have better vibes. Imagine living in a rainbow?"
What's really important
It's the things that she put her own "sweat and tears" into that add the most meaning to the home. The dining table, the custom-built and painted desk in the kids' room. Even the neon above the bed that she commissioned. It's an undeniably lovely space to look at, but most importantly, it feels good for Elizabeth and her family.
"And of course, from an energy perspective, I put my 'Good Vibes Only' artwork as the first artwork you see upon entrance. Having the home be a beautiful, warm, inviting space for my kids was one of the most important things for me in the transition. I'm never going to be able to compete with my old apartment from a luxe perspective, but trust me, kids don't care about that, or at least not the kids I will be raising. They just need to be getting love, affection, and attention, which is obviously my number one priority."
Her advice to others starting over
Don't keep photos of your ex. The divorce with her ex is amicable (they FaceTime with the kids every day), but she didn't want old energy in her new space. "There is NO reason to have photos of your ex in your apartment, or anything belonging to them for that matter. If you insist, put them in a memory box and hide it in the corner of an unimportant closet."
Choose colors that make you happy. For Elizabeth, freedom, happiness, and good vibes were her aims. "Choice of color is VERY important – I love color. For me, color is happiness. But for others, grays might be happiness."
Make it about you. "Incorporate as much of 'you' into the space as possible: photos, memorabilia, coffee table books you love, artwork, flowers, whatever it is that screams 'you'. When going through such a change, it is important to rediscover yourself and how you create and design your new home is definitely going to be reflective of that journey."
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We're looking for anyone who has experienced a big life change and used design and their home to get a fresh start. Share your story to inspire someone else starting a new chapter of their life.