8 Designers Reveal the Secrets to a Grown-Up Space

published Jun 16, 2019
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As a concept, “adulthood” has become so meaningless that it’s basically a myth. But reaching the point in your life where you can control your own space—whether that’s a whole house or even just a bedroom—is a milestone worth celebrating, and redecorating is a great way to do just that.

So much advice about “how to adult” involves following in the previous generation’s footsteps. But if these eight designers have anything to say about it, the best way to age up your apartment is to embrace your personal style.

“If you want your space to feel elevated, turn it into exactly what you like. Don’t be afraid to break rules, put pattern on pattern, hang too much art on the wall, go all white—whatever speaks to you,” says designer Sarah Cousins. “A grown-up apartment is one that reflects the person or people that live there and is unique to their taste and sensibility.”

Want to adult-ify your space? Here are the moments when these eight designers knew their environments had leveled up.

Sleep in style—not old, tousled sheets

Jenny Gericke, owner/interior designer at Gather

A huge transition for me in adultifying my space came when I invested in a queen bed, brand-new sheets, and comforter for my bedroom. My first two apartments I still had my twin bed and comforter from when I was sixteen!

Buying a new bed really helped me transition mentally from thinking that my parents will always provide for me to realizing that I was independent now and able to provide for myself. Although my apartment still had lots of hand-me-down pieces, investing in one or two large pieces—like a bed and sofa—really helped me to feel like I was creating my own home.

After that, it was easy to recognize that the multi-colored floor lamp and the childish knick-knacks I was holding onto needed to be replaced by something more adult and stylish.

Don’t play it safe with your color palette

Sarah Cousins, Sarah Cousins Design

I’m actually currently in the middle of this as I’m looking at new apartments with my boyfriend. I’ve been putting together some mood boards for each room and the common theme seems to be that we are really going more bold and graphic. We’re gravitating towards wallpaper, modern couches, and really just having fun with the place.

When I was younger and living with friends, it was always about neutrals, playing it safe, and getting things that were white, beige, and grey (because they’d always work and wouldn’t be too offensive). There’s nothing wrong with that color scheme if that’s your jam, it’s just not ours right now.

In the bedroom, I’m planning to go all-out blue—indigo ceramic drum side tables, a soft blue bedspread, and blue NYC-inspired toile wallpaper on the ceiling. We’re also mixing in some darker woods than we’ve purchased in the past, which feels a bit more grown-up.

Adding serious storage creates serious people

Luke Caldwell of HGTV’s “Boise Boys” and co-owner of Timber + Love

Before I moved into adulthood, the last thing on my mind was storage! No kids, little responsibility, eating out all the time. Wow.

A wife and six kids later, I NEED MORE STORAGE! Having a pantry, large garage and plenty of huge closets never felt so good.

Credit: Alexis Buryk

Just like your grown-up salads, your windows need dressing

Stacy Garcia, Stacy Garcia Inc.

It’s fun to look back at each of the homes I’ve lived in as an “adult” and how they reflected the different chapters of my life. It was finally removing that big white sheet from my window that marked my transition into a “grown up” interior.

Although my windows were never bare, I wouldn’t say I had the most sophisticated or stylish window treatments. Take that next step to elevate your space by putting up window treatments that are tailored to the window for a clean, refined Iook. I recommend blackout curtains to keep out light and the heat and cold. Even add a second curtain rod for a sheer curtain to create a luxurious, layered appeal!

Take on some responsibility… however minimal

Luke Caldwell of HGTV’s “Boise Boys” and co-owner of Timber + Love

One thing I never thought about or really cared about early on was plants inside my house. As I grew older and spent more time at home, I found there is nothing like enjoying your space at home.

Lots and lots of indoor plants and trees are a must for me. And I’m finally mature enough to keep them alive! Yay!

Choose a style (or your favorite hodgepodge of styles) and stick to it

Shaun Gotterbarn, architect at Alisberg Parker Architects

For me, it all came down to finally tying everything together. Starting in college, I had accumulated furniture and art that varied in style and quality, either from family or buying myself with my limited budget.

After I was married and bought a house, it was nice to start fresh and begin buying pieces that worked together. Deciding on a design scheme with my wife, we picked a few of our existing pieces that we wanted to keep and then began acquiring furniture and art that held true to it. A few years later, it all works so well together and it’s great to have our home reflect our developed taste.

Express yourself

I didn’t become a designer until I was well into adulthood. At 46, I left an unhealthy marriage and moved into a rental house with my boys. Literally, the first night I slept there, I began dreaming in color.

Immediately, I went and bought every design book and magazine I could get my hands on. In two weeks, I turned this run-down “frat” house into a home. I recovered a bench in leopard fabric and trimmed it with black and gold fringe. I painted the entryway in a color called Reflecting Pool by Sherwin-Williams. I painted the dining room coral and slipcovered my dining chairs in a sky-blue fabric scattered with gold polka dots. Finally, I was able to express myself in a way I had never been able to before.

A year later, I bought a home and transformed it into a showplace. A year after that, I started my own design company. This is what growing into adulthood has looked like for me… learning more and more about who I am, what I like and feeling free to express this in my surroundings.

Now, as a single woman, the design choices I make in my home don’t have to please anyone else. I get to experiment and have fun! That’s what good design is all about. Design is a success when you create a space that reflects the person (or people) who live there.

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Think hard about form and function

Sarabeth Asaff, interior designer at Fixr

I began working in the home design industry when I was still in college. Then, I had shared a space with someone for a few years, so by the time I finally had my own place—and the means to furnish it—I had been working on designing for other people’s homes for more than a decade.

During all of that time, I had pretty much been planning and keeping a checklist in the back of my head about what I would do when I finally had my own place. When the time came, I was able to slowly implement it.

My first thought was about function. I’m a big believer in form following function, so since my space was small, everything had to do double duty. I invested in tables that had tops that opened up for storage, a futon with a really nice frame and cover that could double as a bed or a couch, and bookcases that reached the ceilings.

The number one “adult” thing for me was coordination. I had coordinating wood stains and a color palette that I deliberately chose from. There was a lot of red in there, with some gold and turquoise for accents, but because everything was chosen to coordinate, it really worked well and created a functional, stylish space, despite being a small apartment in a major city.

Buy that artwork you’re salivating over

Marty Basher, home design and organization expert with Modular Closets

A true sign of maturity when it came to my home was when the walls became filled with real artwork. When badly framed photos and posters are no longer your wall’s focal point and you’re ready to transition to more thoughtful walls, adulthood beckons.

Adding real art to your walls doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Spruce up your entryway, hallways, or any nook that doesn’t contain a great deal of furniture but could benefit from having a piece of art that makes a meaningful statement.

When I decided to make my walls a decorating priority, I first scoured consignment shops, local markets and student art shows. You’ll be shocked by the quality artwork you can find for terrific prices. You can even buy artwork online and have it framed with a simple, attractive frame. Another option is to upload and order high-quality prints online in a scale that will feel grand—think 40 to 60 percent of the width and height of your wall. Do a search for “gallery wall arrangements” and you’ll get plenty of inspiration for creating the perfectly curated wall.