This New Yorker Brought Her Vision to Life With Clever and Affordable DIYs

published Dec 13, 2022

This New Yorker Brought Her Vision to Life With Clever and Affordable DIYs

published Dec 13, 2022
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Bedrooms
Square feet
750
Sq ft
750
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Name: Meher Goel (@mehermakes on TikTok)
Location: East Village/Gramercy — New York, New York
Size: 750 square feet
Type of Home: Apartment 
Years Lived In: 1 year, 2 months, renting

“I’ve been in New York for 10 years, and this is my first time living alone — a milestone that I wouldn’t have believed had you told me about it 10 years ago as an immigrant in America,” begins product designer Meher Goel, who also tackles and shares home DIYs on her Instagram and TikTok. “The inspiration and courage to live alone after years of shared apartments was born out of the healing process after a few rough years. From forcefully leaving the country and moving then living in an unknown country for almost a year, the biggest heartbreak of my adult life, to a really bad injury that led to two months in a wheelchair, my core priority and need had quickly become wanting a safe place at the end of each day, somewhere that felt like my home. Building my capacity to want to live alone was both liberating and scary. Ahead of my apartment search, I created a vision board of what I wanted it to feel like, look like, stand for, and leave behind. It needed to feel like a fortress of well being, it needed to look like an extension of my creativity, and lastly, stand for a space to nurture community.”

Credit: Erin Derby

Meher continues explaining her journey to living in this 750-square-foot New York City apartment. “When I started apartment hunting, I was determined to experience a new neighborhood and find something with character and charm. This meant leaving the East Village/Gramercy — a neighborhood I’ve spent six out of my 10 years in New York in. Throughout my search, no apartment felt right, although there were a few around Fort Greene and UES that I flirted with. A few weeks in, on a whim (read: exhaustion) I decided to tour apartments in the neighborhood I was already living in — a place where I already had community, a sense of stability, and also a place where all the floorplans looked the same. A few tours and a lot of courage later, I decided to sign the lease two blocks from my previous shared apartment, with the exact same floor plan sans one dividing wall. I was set to move into my first solo big-girl New York apartment a few days before my birthday — it felt like renewal!”

Credit: Erin Derby

“Well aware of what my vision board encompassed and what this apartment actually was, I went back to what I wanted this to feel, look, and stand for — could this space really give me all that? ‘I wanted arched windows, crown molding, and anything but parquet tiles!’ I thought to myself. So, I took it upon myself to align my vision and this space and make the most of the floorplan. Over the pandemic, as part of my ever-evolving healing process, I had gone back to making things with my hands and taken a special interest in sustainable interior design and refurbishing furniture. As a result, the majority of the big items in this space have been refurbished to have a second life or built from scratch. I planned almost every DIY project in this space with the intention of iterating on it when I got bored of it, further giving it another purpose. Over the next few months (read: weeks), I checked off elements from my vision board one by one with many creative risks along the way and turned this apartment into an extension of my creativity — a reflection of all the cultures I’ve picked up along the way as an immigrant and third culture kid, the joy of community, and an ode to nature that keeps me grounded.” 

Credit: Erin Derby

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Inspiration & My Style: I’ve lived across six countries, which has allowed me to borrow inspiration from all the cultures I’ve been lucky enough to carry with me. The landscape and history those countries offer — from the vibrant colors in Guatemala, lush tropics of Goa, deep blue tones of Dubai oceans, to the intricacy of Mughal architecture in North India — inform my design decisions. Bringing the outdoors indoors and hand making things act as a catalyst to healing and help me manage my anxiety while instilling a deeper sense of gratitude for life. I would describe my style as modern-eclectic, transitional, and Parisian, with a splash of maximalist. 

Favorite Element: My favorite thing about my home is the stories of my DIY projects and how they have nurtured the community. Many of my decor items and refurbished pieces have been a collective effort between friends, acting as a meditative process for all of our individual healing. 

Credit: Erin Derby

It started with one of my first DIY’s, the rattan armchair that was inspired by the Anthropologie Nadia accent chair. Being one of my first big-scale DIYs, I ran the concept and idea through a few of my design and architecture friends. Very quickly, they became invested in the success of this furniture flip and would text me for updates, come over to help, and problem solve with me when I ran into hurdles. A $20 chair with a chewed off arm brought together a few of my friends from different parts of life and nurtured our creativity. After the successful building of the chair, many other group-DIYs followed. 

The live-edge wood shelves and mirror in my bedroom were the first two projects my dad and I worked on together. My entryway was a bonding activity between two friends and lot of late night laughter, the 1000 piece puzzle in my hallway was the collective effort of eight different friends that used it as a stress and anxiety buster for two weeks straight, my gallery wall was put together one evening over dinner and lot of shuffling around with my best friend, and my bone inlay dresser was started on a day where a close friend needed to keep herself busy as she nursed a broken heart. 

Credit: Erin Derby

Biggest Challenge: So far, I think my biggest challenge has been filtering through all the ways I want to utilize this space and all the things I know it could be. As a designer who leans into my eclectic and maximalist tendencies, I have to constantly remind myself that my heart and mind craves for peaceful spaces in the midst of New York’s hustle bustle peaceful places, which requires being able to take a pause and enjoy what I’ve built. 

To overcome this, I’ve built a practice of sketching out and noting down all the ideas and DIY projects I come up with after hours so that I can get them out of my mind. I let them stay there and brew for a very long time before coming back to them. The ones that continue to resonate end up as discussions in group-chats and walk n’ talks with friends, if I decide to go through with them, I try my best to ensure cohesiveness across the space. For example, I’ve been thinking about DIYing wooden beams into my living room ceiling for six months now; one of these days, I’ll probably end up making them.

Credit: Erin Derby

Proudest DIY: My rattan arm chair is a DIY project I’m proudest of; it was one of my first big-scale refurbishing projects. I knew it was a big undertaking and I didn’t have the experience, so I thought about it for weeks before committing to a budget of $120. I told myself that even if the plan didn’t work, $120 was a good investment in learning something new and getting to work on something with my hands. 

With most of my DIYs, I work my way backwards: I think about what I want the final product to look like and then work backwards on what steps can get me there. In this case, I used the Anthropologie Nadia Cane Chair as my reference point and mapped out what I would need to recreate it. I found a $20 chair on Marketplace which had a chewed off arm but mimicked the bones of my inspo chair. Then I drew up a plan on how I would turn this $20 chair into something similar to the $895 Anthropologie chair. I accounted for anything that I thought could go wrong, ran it by friends, and in the end, after a few hours and meticulous planning — it was a success! 

Credit: Erin Derby

Budget: $3120 for the first year and $3250 for the upcoming year. Before moving into my apartment, I had decided and made peace with purchasing these three expensive items: my couch, my mattress, and the Samsung frame TV. For the majority of my DIYs, I budget a set amount and think of it as a learning exercise, a lot of the materials are reused from previous projects or reclaimed from Facebook Marketplace and the stoops of New York. I try to repurpose materials as much as I can and audit things every few months to give them new homes.

Generally, I can be spontaneous but with my DIY projects, I make sketches weeks (sometimes, months) in advance. I prefer to sit with the idea for a while to see if I like it for long enough and then mentally solve any challenges that might come up in the crafting process. This allows me to avoid sunken costs and lengthier processes. 

Credit: Erin Derby

Things I’ve found: 

  • The 1947 mirror in my entryway on the curb near my old apartment, which I upcycled into a West Elm dupe.
  • Shelves above my coffee bar are made from wood I found in my recycling room.
  • The Moroccan planter stand near my coffee bar was sitting on the corner of 53rd and 2nd Ave in bad condition, so my dad picked it up (it was his first stoop!) and we upcycled it to be a stand for my giant Monstera. 
  • The Parisian mirror in between my living room and dining room was an ordinary busted up framed mirror lying on a curb last summer and I knew what I wanted to turn it into the moment I saw it.
Credit: Erin Derby

Things I’ve bought for cheap and refurbished:

  • My coffee bar was $20 on Facebook Marketplace and I upcycled it with burlap and new door handles. 
  • My bedroom dresser was $80 and I had a vision to upcycle it into an Anthropologie dupe bone-inlay dresser — I searched for the exact stencil on Etsy for a few days and finally found a seller in Rajasthan selling it for $80.
  • The walnut and cane armchair in my living room was in horrible condition for $20 on Marketplace. I invested another $110 into its materials and refurbished it. 
  • The cane I’ve used on the sconce shades, Casa Azul lamps, and entryway stool was bought off a stranger for $10 as part of a headboard.
  • I bought the large canvas painting above my couch for $20 and then painted over it, fixed its chipped frame, and sealed it with varnish to feel more luxurious.
Credit: Erin Derby

Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? My living and dining area doubles as my workspace/creative studio; I configured the entire floor plan to be adaptable. Before I moved into this apartment, I was running my own Etsy shop of handmade home decor items (coasters, candle holders, trays, etc.) and didn’t have enough space to do it in a healthy or sustainable way. So, when I moved into this space, I knew I wanted the furniture and floor plan to be adaptable in some way to create more floor space that could be used for creative projects and hosting more people over. To make this really manageable, I actively sourced furniture that is easier to move around for my dining area and the end of my living room. For example, my dining table is one of the cheapest wooden dining tables at IKEA, it is also light because of its materials, at the time I didn’t have another dining table that I particularly loved so I opted for something I knew I could upcycle and move around easily. 

The area that is meant to be the “dining room” (based on the staged apartments in this area) acts as my home office, whereas, my current dining room and living room transform into a more creative friendly-space and allow for more people to fit in this space. I’ve hosted everything from guided group meditation sessions to intimate dinner parties with friends in this re-configured space. The adaptability allows me to host and create without interrupting the flow of my daily life — especially since creative projects take time and I leave things open and around often. 

Credit: Erin Derby

Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: SO many! My three most used and favorites ones —

  • Consistency in storage solutions: When looking for storage solutions, people often get overwhelmed by the options and end up using many different storage solutions. Instead, find one to two things that work for you and stick to that. For example, I know that square baskets don’t work for my items but instead wider, longer, deeper baskets are better for my things. I keep a few of these baskets in that size and color available to me, which allows me to hide clutter in visible and hidden places.
  • Dual purpose when less is more: In smaller spaces, having a few larger things that have dual purpose instead of many little things is more visually appealing and budget friendly. Many small things can look like clutter, whereas larger pieces can add character and statement to your space. So for example, instead of getting two to three storage benches, opt for a storage trunk that can double as a coffee table and a seating space or a stool that configures to a chair too. 
  • Move away from the wall: There is a misconception that furniture can only go against a wall, however, forcing all your furniture to stack against walls only makes your small space look smaller and the furniture pieces can start to blend into one chunk. Instead, opting to use big pieces of furniture and rugs to carve out different spaces in your apartment will improve the flow of your floorplan. 
Credit: Erin Derby

Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? A few interior design and crafting rules that I swear by are: the rule of 3’s, dressing windows, and measuring twice and cutting once. Adding consistency in 3’s — shapes, colors, size and adding curtains can elevate your space so easily. Lastly, invest in layouts and pieces that feel authentic and scalable for you and your lifestyle. People tend to go for what’s trendy but oftentimes that leaves you with getting bored of your space sooner rather than later. Whereas, finding pieces that can be repurposed and decor that feels personal is where the magic of your space truly comes together. 

Resources

Credit: Erin Derby

PAINT & COLORS

Credit: Erin Derby

ENTRY

Credit: Erin Derby

LIVING ROOM

Credit: Erin Derby

Artwork:

Coffee bar:

Credit: Erin Derby

DINING AREA

Credit: Erin Derby

DESK AREA

  • Kolbjorn Cabinet — IKEA
  • Standing Desk Legs — Autonomous
  • Desk table top — IKEA
  • Moss Panel photo frame (DIY) — IKEA
Credit: Erin Derby

BEDROOM

Credit: Erin Derby

BATHROOM

Thanks Meher!

This tour’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.
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Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly said six continents. It’s actually six countries. We’ve updated it to be more accurate.