Name: Sara and Mads
Location: Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany
Size: 75 square meters/807 square feet
Years lived in: Two years; rented
When they moved into their current ground floor apartment in Berlin's busy Kreuzberg district after six long months of furnished, temporary rentals, Sara and her husband Mads were eager to put down their roots and make the apartment their own. They initially arrived with a truck of their belongings at 4 a.m. to find their new place dingy, echoing with the sounds of the bar next door, and (obviously) dark. But in the two years since, they have transported their space from the clamor of Berlin's nightlife-famous neighborhood and transformed it into a clean, warmly-lit, and serene world of their own design.
Of their own design, indeed! The list of resources for Sara and Mads' place is heavy on flea market discoveries, DIY projects, and very talented friends. Nearly all the lamps are hand-made assemblages of found or flea market parts, and even the installation of the lamps feels thoughtful: a low-hanging glass lamp lends a warm cast to a farmhouse-style dining table, and another casts a glittering composition of shadow and light onto the wall next to the couch. The bed frame, desk, and kitchen installation were other projects Sara and Mads took on themselves, and the paint colors on the walls and ceiling were also a DIY effort: they mixed the colors themselves at a nearby Malerladen (paint shop), returning several times to get the exact hues they envisioned.
When I first arrived in the apartment, the coloring seemed muted and subtle, but after a few hours in the changing winter light, I began to appreciate the genius of their paint choices. As Berlin's short January daylight shifted through the apartment, the colors seemed to speak up with their personalities, all suited exactly to their spaces: a kitchen wall becomes a glowing ember of yellow, the living room cools into a soft gray-white, echoing the color of the buildings in the outside courtyard, and the bedroom darkens dramatically to the dusky interior of a clay pot.
The thoughtfulness at work in the home is evident everywhere, but it's the collected and composed vignettes that best display Sara's creative eye. They reflect years of travel (Sara has lived in Portland, Hungary, and Berlin, and travels regularly to the UK and Denmark), international friendships, artistic collaborations, and, perhaps above all, her seemingly indefatigable energy for scouring flea markets and second-hand shops all over the world.
Spending a few hours in this warm, personable space, I was impressed by the organic development and intention behind the decorating, by the visible, careful attention to all the details of the home. From the walls to the furniture to the tiny things that accumulate through a creative life of travel and friendships — it all translates into a home that is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
Our Style: Comfortable, collected, calm, and de-cluttered.
Inspiration: I'm inspired by simple, muted colors, browns and greens; we've also decorated around the few things I brought over from the States, such as the two prints hanging above the couch. I'm inspired by Danish design, but my husband is Danish and likes it less so!
Favorite Element: The high ceilings.
Biggest Challenge: The amount of light we get — the apartment is on the ground floor and looks into a courtyard, so it's especially dark in the Fall and Winter.
What Friends Say: "It's my favorite apartment in all of Berlin."
Biggest Embarrassment: I'm not sure anyone will notice, but even though painting was one of the first tasks we did, we're still finishing trim! Another painting-related issue, and maybe one of our biggest regrets about the apartment, is not removing all the wallpaper from the walls before we began painting — you can see that classic Berlin wall texture paper peeking through the paint, and I wish we'd had the time and energy to remove it first.
Proudest DIY: Our apartment was really dingy when we first moved in, so our first major DIY project was cleaning the entire place top to bottom and then painting every single wall and the ceiling, mixing our own paint colors at a Malerladen on Pücklerstraße in Berlin. Other DIY projects since then have included installing the kitchen entirely ourselves (note: most German rentals come without appliances or even cabinets in the kitchen!), and building our bed frame by criss-crossing massive wooden beams. We've also assembled or built many of the lights from parts we've found at flea markets, or from things given to us by our parents, and have installed all the lighting ourselves.
Biggest Indulgence: Maybe my biggest indulgence for the house was buying a ficus tree for the living room — unfortunately it's just too dark down here for anything to grow properly! The rug in the living room was a special purchase we waited for a long time to make, and when we built the kitchen I went for a big, real refrigerator — not a tiny under-the-counter one. I like a clean, uncluttered fridge!
Best Advice: Invest in a few good, key pieces (don't rush to buy everything from IKEA just to be finished decorating) and check out flea markets!
Dream Sources: Design shops in Brussels, old Apothecaries.
Resources of Note:
PAINT & COLORS
• All paints were mixed by Sara and Mads at Malerladen Frauenkollektiv in Berlin
• Bench: a shop in Friedrichshain, Berlin that specializes in refinished Hungarian furniture
• Bird prints: flea market
• Globe: Treptower Park flea market, Berlin
• Trunk: Ponyhüttchen furniture shop in Kreuzberg, Berlin
• Unframed art above trunk: Hvass + Hannibal
• Framed art above trunk: Kelly Tivnan
• Photos of the Hebrides: friends Stuart Bailes and Jenny Ekholm
• Dining table: shop in Friedrichshain Berlin that specializes in refinished Hungarian furniture (same as bench in entry)
• Chairs: Arne Jacobsen
• Print hanging above books: Museum of Naïve Arts, Nice, France
• Stereo cabinet: Stil Spiel in Kreuzberg, Berlin
• Rug: flea market in Charlottenburg, from a vendor who specializes in vintage Turkish rugs
• Couch: IKEA Karlstadt (Sara stained the legs herself)
• Prints above the couch: Portland antique market
• Lamp beside couch: Kelly Tivnan
• Standing lamp: Stil Spiel Kreuzberg, Berlin
• Black chair and side table: flea market
• Stacked bowls: collected from travels to Morocco and Istanbul
• "Soda" and "Saebe" containers: Danish, Madam Blue enamelware
• Maps: Danish flea market
• Spoon (hanging on wall): Mads' great grandfather's spoon
• Lion print: Bergmannstrasse (Berlin) flea market
• Print above daybed: Hvass + Hannibal
• Russian doll collection: all over!
• Desk: DIY project, made with IKEA filing cabinets
• Bed frame: DIY project
• Lamps: Kelly Tivnan
(Images: Lydia Brotherton)