I Let Our 2 Million Instagram Followers Decorate My Studio Apartment—And Here’s What Happened

published Oct 29, 2019
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This feels like a safe space, so I’m just going to say it: until about a month ago, I couldn’t describe my ideal decor aesthetic. I know what I like, of course—I have Pinterest boards, saved Instagrams, and (obviously) bookmarked Apartment Therapy articles, all of which are filled with pictures of homes that make me go, “OK yeah, I like the look of that.” But I could never find a common thread among them. Some were boho, some were rustic, some were what I can only describe as “hipster Millennial fever dream that took a last-minute detour through a mid-century garage sale”.

All of this is to say that because I’ve never been able to pinpoint a decor scheme, I’ve never really decorated my apartment (this is my secret shame as an Apartment Therapy employee). I’ve lived in the same studio for seven years—when I moved in, my sister was living there, and when she moved out a year later, she left behind most of her furniture and accessories. Given what I thought was the choice between going all in on a “ME” decor style, or living in a place filled with nice things that (mostly) weren’t mine, and a big, stupid wall with literally nothing on it, I opted for the former. My apartment’s overall look could only be described as “remnants of Sarah.”

Credit: Hippo Wong
My apartment before, replete with my sister's couch, rug, coffee table, lamp, and assorted other decor items. It was lovely, but relatively untouched, design-wise, for years. And it didn't really feel like me. Aside from the duck lamp. And that nest of cords over there. That's all me.

But this summer, I bought one (1) new item: a lamp with a brass base that looks like a duck. It’s quirky, cute, and with a little bit of vintage flair. After the (embarrassingly painstaking) process of deciding on it, I knew it was time to finally give my apartment a refresh. When I realized that Apartment Therapy’s theme for October was risk, I decided to take the ultimate risk: I’d let our Instagram vote on how my apartment would look. I’d rise from my complacency and design rut and make Instagram do the work for me!

Y’all, I’m an Aries, and uh… I don’t like relinquishing control. And control of my home? The only slice of space in New York City I can call my own? WHEW. I knew I’d be white-knuckling my way through this, but I also knew I needed something or someone (or, as it turned out, millions of someones) to give me the kick in the butt I needed to 1) settle on a decor scheme, and 2) finally go from “remnants of Sarah” to “totally Terri”… whatever that meant.

Credit: Emma Glubiak
Can you see the panic in my eyes??? That's the look of someone who just let Apartment Therapy's 2.2 million (!) Instagram followers tell her how to live her life.

You know how you don’t learn what you really want until something is no longer an option? That’s kind of how this went for me. Our Instagram audience first voted on whether my apartment should be minimalist vs. maximalist. I suddenly started dreaming in brightly patterned rugs and curiosity cabinets (yay, stuff!)—but despite my best efforts (and many frantic group texts), Instagram overwhelmingly chose minimalist.

Next, the choice was mid-century modern vs. “Scandi vintage“. I was pretty sure I liked mid-centch—and, of course, Scandi won. My already perpetually-sweaty palms broke out into full-on sprinkler mode.

After the decor scheme was set, Instagram picked between two dining tables, two coffee tables, two big plants, two rugs, a chair vs. an accent pouf, accent pillows vs. a throw blanket, and a wall art vs. a statement art piece. I watched votes skew one way and another, and began to really worry (as if I wasn’t already). What if nothing goes well together? What if I hate all of this neutral-toned nonsense that Scandi decor is all about? What if I look around my apartment and feel like it’s not “me”? What if I kill this monstera?

Credit: Apartment Therapy
The moment I realized y'all had forsaken me.

I’ll spare you the details of my logistical nightmares about my apartment makeover takeover and struggles building tables (if Instagram voted on the coffee table, couldn’t they also please build it?) and skip ahead to the good stuff: it turns out, letting thousands of strangers on social media vote on my decor is a good ??? idea???

As I watched the gallery wall full of pretty Minted art pieces go up on the big stupid empty wall, I realized that, huh! Instagram was right to choose this over the statement piece! Rolling up the old black rug and replacing it with a pale blue-and-white Serena & Lily one literally made my eyes light up. The Target chair, Urban Outfitters throw pillows, and monstera from The Sill, plus little extra touches like a lamp and side table, started to make everything feel cozy and just… right. My big, giant risk was working—not just for my apartment, but on a personal level, as well.

I, like a lot of people, had gotten caught in decision paralysis. There are so many choices for how you can design your home. There are so many sources of inspiration, so many stores, so many options for things that are supposed to all look different but similar enough so as to lend to a cohesive sense of… something… that it’s incredibly easy to just give up and not do anything.

Credit: Hippo Wong
Show me a person who actually acts natural when they're told to act natural, and I'll show you a liar!! I won't let you see the entire new look (you have to watch the video for that!), but let me just say, this cozy reading corner may have single-handedly made me a Scandi design stan.

And that’s what I’d done. I’d backed away from any decisions, and subsequently stopped noticing my apartment. I hadn’t really thought about the blah dining table or the lack of anything on that big stupid wall. I’d allowed my home to be “a place with stuff,” versus “someplace that gives me a certain warm and fuzzy feeling because I decided to do something about it.” It’s a privilege to get to make your place feel like home, to make your home feel like “you”. It’s a privilege to have four walls around me and a roof over my head, let alone something resembling that warm and fuzzy feeling. As I looked around at the finished product, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude.

Things don’t look exactly the way I would’ve chosen, but I also don’t really want to change anything. The Scandi pieces add a real warmth and, dare I say, hygge, that my home was missing. Maybe I’d been a little Scandi all along! Turns out, you don’t have to make a firm decision on your favorite decor style and then go all in on it. You can take a risk, go with the flow, see how it all comes together, and go from there.

I still don’t know what my decor style is, and my apartment doesn’t look like the “me, but make it apartment” that I thought it might, and that’s OK. My apartment now reflects the “me, but relinquishes control and puts faith in other people” that I think I should try to put out there a little more often. And that, my friends, is a very good apartment—and state of mind—to be in.