Kevin & Emily's East Bay Sanctuary

Kevin & Emily's East Bay Sanctuary

Esteban Cortez
Aug 20, 2014
(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Name: Kevin and Emily
Location: Adam's Point; Oakland, California
Size: 650 square feet
Years lived in: 2.5 years; rented

If Kevin and Emily had to describe their apartment in one word, they'd say it’s “thoughtful.” As soon as you step into their 650 square foot apartment—located just two blocks from Oakland's beautiful Lake Merritt—you can see their careful cultivation of a unique decorative style. From the vibrant art and figurines gifted to them by friends from all over the world, to the tiki mugs they’ve acquired from their favorite bars across the country, nearly every object has a special story.

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Living in a small apartment with limited wall space makes it difficult to choose which art pieces will be displayed, but Kevin and Emily make sure that every piece is personal. “It can be heartbreaking to choose what gets put up and what stays in storage,” says Emily. Most of the paintings in the apartment were gifted to the couple by Emily's dad and a close childhood friend, but many pieces from her collection are stored at her family's home in Illinois.

“We are grateful to live in such a nice apartment in such a beautiful city,” they say. They've lived and traveled all over the world, but are happy to call sunny Oakland their home. As educators—Kevin is a middle school principal and Emily is a high school teacher—they always look forward to relaxing in their bright and airy apartment at the end of a long day. “The apartment is really comfortable and gets tons of light and fresh air,” they say. “It’s where we eat, work, relax and listen to records together.”

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Colorful, functional, fun, cozy, organized, artistic, eclectic and modern.

Inspiration: Early Frank Lloyd Wright houses, Julius Shulman photography, Charles and Ray Eames, the South Pacific, Scandinavian design, friends and family.

Favorite Element: Our television cart that can flip from the bedroom to the living room. Also, the walls of windows.

Biggest Challenge: The walls of windows. We have a lot of beautiful artwork we’ve collected over the years but not enough wall space to properly display all of our favorites. It can be heartbreaking to choose what gets put up and what stays in storage.

What Friends Say: That our apartment is very “grown up.”

Biggest Embarrassment: The linoleum in the kitchen and bathroom, and the dated kitchen cabinets.

Proudest DIY: Reimagining the kitchen to work with the rest of the house and all of the painting (and repainting) of the walls.

Biggest Indulgence: Our Tahiti poster. We bought the antique poster at the Forbidden Island Parking Lot Sale for a not-insubstantial sum of money. As we walked to our car after the sale, wind gusts tore the poster from its particleboard backing and ripped it to shreds, which began blowing into the busy street. We gathered the shreds and took them to the talented Kuhl Frames + Art in downtown Oakland. They patched up the poster and framed it beautifully. Now, you have to look really close to see any significant damage.

Best Advice: Buy original artwork. Most of the items we have in our home come from places we love, friends we love, or family we love and have stories attached to them. Also, don’t take your décor too seriously.

Dream Sources: Alameda Flea Market, Knoll

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Resources of Note:


  • Art: Nick Kashian, Steve Keene, Herb Eaton
  • Record shelves: Colorado Record Crates
  • Bookshelf: Design Within Reach
  • Paint color is Tumeric by Benjamin Moore


  • Apartment exterior painting: Joan Lemay
  • Couch and side tables: Room & Board
  • Pillows: Royal Hawaiian
  • Credenza and record cabinet: Craigslist finds
  • Fruit bowl: Gift from Turkey
  • Dining table: Craigslist Ikea
  • Shelf: West Elm (figurines from Salvation Army, wooden horse from Sweden, Photograph from Ken Kashian, boxes from Mexico, flamingo salt and pepper shakers from Forbidden Island Parking Lot Sale, Illinois plate from Illinois thrift store and little picture from Herb Eaton)
  • Rug: Cost Plus World Market
  • Chairs: flea market in Chelsea (New York City) and Craigslist
  • Tiki masks: Forbidden Island Parking Lot Sale
  • Artwork: Nick Kashian, Herb Eaton, and Ken Kashian
  • Tahiti Poster: Forbidden Island Parking Lot Sale and Kuhl Frames
  • Paint color: Sparrow by Benjamin Moore


  • Wooden carts: Ikea
  • Tiki mugs: Various tiki bars across the country
  • Red bowl and spoon: Gift from family in Moscow
  • Japanese mask: Gift from friend from Japan
  • Porcelain figurines and Thrift stores in the Midwest and California
  • Antique coffee sets and tea tins: Gifts from family
  • “Claudee Monet” paintings: Herb Eaton
  • Shelf and spice racks: Ikea
  • Antique Swedish camping stove: Gift from family
  • Paint color is Amazon Green by Benjamin Moore


  • Bed: Design Within Reach
  • Bed Linens, Pillows, and Rug: Ikea
  • Lamps: Ikea
  • TV cart: Alameda Flea Market
  • Eames Time Life chair and Mies Brno chair: Gifts from family and friends
  • Blanket: From Mexico City
  • Dressers and side table: Craigslist
  • Art: Nick Kashian, Adrienne Eaton, found objects, Herb Eaton, Lincoln drawing by Rick Harney
  • Table: Craigslist
  • Rolling book cart: Library/school supply store
  • Paint color: Old Navy by Benjamin Moore
(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Thanks, Kevin and Emily!

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