Olivia’s Elegant Oakland Apartment

updated Dec 19, 2019
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(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Name: Olivia Smartt
Location: Adam’s Point; Oakland, California
Size: 700 square feet
Years lived in: 3 years; Rented

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As a Bay Area photographer, Olivia likes her walls to remain mostly clear so that she can relax in her home after a long day, as her professional life is very busy and visual. Though bare in some areas, it’s clear that she has put much thought into which art, furniture and decor pieces takes up space in her elegant and minimal Oakland apartment.

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Stepping into her bright apartment, located just up the hill from Lake Merritt, guests can see an array of Olivia’s skills: her elegant photographs hang in white frames on the walls, a huge painting from her days as an art student welcomes guests into the living room, and her vinyl records from her time as a DJ sit in a DIY shelf in her bedroom.

Also impressive are her skills with finding furniture and decor on the cheap. Many of the items in her home were purchased from thrift stores or found on neighborhood sidewalks. When friends ask her how much she paid for the gorgeous blue couch in the living room (arguably one of the stars of her space), she brags that she didn’t even pay $200 for it, making it one of her greatest home decor accomplishments.

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Select antique furniture and lighting mixed with white/clean/visually spare pieces. I love the quality, look and environmental friendliness of antiques, and I also need “visual rest” from my work as a photographer, so I have much more white furniture and white wall space than I might otherwise have.

Inspiration: Hmm. I don’t really take inspiration from elsewhere, but I likely take influence from growing up in a late 1800’s Victorian home, and my parents’ mismatched antiques mixed in with my father’s handmade furniture.

Favorite Element: Probably my blue couch. It has a name: Blue Couch. 😉

Biggest Challenge: Bike storage. I’d rather not have bikes, or so many of them, in view in my living space, but after multiple thefts from the not-so-secure garage, most of my bicycles are safely stowed in my home now.

What Friends Say: “Where did you get that couch?!”

Biggest Embarrassment: I don’t actually like most IKEA furniture, yet I have quite a few pieces. I’d much rather have pieces that are well made with lifetimes of use ahead of them.

Proudest DIY: Birch, copper and bike hardware cabinet and drawer pulls. (The bike hardware element was inspired by my friend and bike frame builder, Curtis Inglis, and his use of bike caps as button-like cabinet pulls.

Biggest Indulgence: Custom framing from my favorite frame store: Panorama Framing on Grand Avenue here in Oakland. Patrick and his team are amazing. I can’t imagine my photos without his framing.

Best Advice: 1.) Don’t purchase anything too quickly, unless you feel that it’s absolutely perfect… and you’re not over caffeinated when deciding to purchase; 2.) Even in rental situations, you can easily install your own lighting to vastly improve the look and feel of your home, then take it with you or sell it when you move; 3.) Find out what paint matches your walls, and don’t be afraid to mount bikes, monitors, and artwork. You can always fill, sand and paint those wall holes. It’s so easy; 4.) If you like antiques and older high quality items, your best bets are often charity and thrift stores. I love the American Cancer Society charity shop off of Piedmont Avenue in Oakland.

Dream Sources: Maison d’Etre, mignonnedecor.com, Alameda Island Flea Market

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Resources of Note:


  • Random landlord choice – warm white on all walls and ceilings


  • Spot lighting: Ace Hardware (don’t remember brand)
  • Photos: my own: www.oliviasmartt.com from various weddings and events


  • Blue couch: Craigslist
    • 3 Brown couch pillows: Ikea
  • Brown cow hide rug: Ebay
  • 2 hairpin legged tables: Maison d’Etre
  • Mirror: Ikea
  • Photos: my own: www.oliviasmartt.com from the Ruth Bancroft Gardens in Walnut Creek, CA
  • Two antique swag lamps: Alameda Flea Market
  • White paper star lamp on floor: Ikea
    • Marin Headlands poster: Salvaged from East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse

  • Oak claw foot table: Craigslist
  • White shell chairs with hairpin legs: www.instylemodern.com
  • Framing: Panorama Framing, Oakland, CA
  • Photos: my own: www.oliviasmartt.com from RT Lodge event and wedding venue in Tennessee
  • Antique chrome bar stool: garage sale
    • Plant: Ace Hardware on Grand Avenue, Oakland
    • Plant saucer: Bauer, Los Angeles from Alameda Antique Flea Market
    • Metal file organizers: Various Etsy sellers
    • Antique hanging lamp: Piedmont Lane Gallery Antiques

  • Custom-height bar cart and cutting board: Metro (brand) from Oakland Restaurant Supply
  • Map: University of California, Berkeley map sale
  • Calendar: my own photos www.oliviasmartt.com from RT Lodge event and wedding venue in Tennessee
  • Photo: My own. www.oliviasmartt.com
  • Angel abstract painting: “The eye of downward causation” (2011) by Thomas Christopher Haag

  • Bed: Keetsa
  • Green lamp with hairpin legs: antique store (now closed) near what is now www.mignonnedecor.com
  • White hanging lamp: CB2
  • white bedside cubes: Ikea
    • Metal cannisters: (Can’t remember. Likely thrift store in Austin, Texas)
    • Oak board: sidewalk score former twin bed footboard planed by my friend Juan at Built From Salvage in Berkeley
  • Maps: University of California, Berkeley map sale
    • Frames: Hand-me-downs from my photography friend, Julie Mikos – www.juliemikos.com
    • Blue metal chair: Sidewalk score with help from a friend with a truck
    • Fur in blue chair: Ikea
    • Curtains in window and closet: Ikea (customized/shortened by me)
  • Dark blue striped painting: my own, from my last year in art school (1995)
    • White chest of drawers (photography supply storage): Ikea
  • Desk: Free sidewalk score + desk top: made myself – perfect ergonomics for my wrists and sitting height
  • Blue and white porcelain vase used for pencils/pens: grandmother’s collection
  • Blue and white china platter used for bills/papers: Bolinas beach thrift
    • Wall lighting: Ikea (lamp style no longer made, sadly!)
    • White rolling file cube: Ikea
    • Old antique drawers: I separated an antique vanity, purchased on Craigslist
  • White plexi wall protection: free sidewalk score outside of a commercial photography studio in Berkeley
  • Bike hanging hardware: “Leonardo da Vinci” by Delta from REI
  • (Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

    Thanks, Olivia!

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