A Small Sunny Condo Shows How to Create an Airy Respite from the Real World

We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
House tour cover

Can't-Miss House Tours Straight to Your Inbox

Keep up with our latest house tours each weekday with our House Tour of the Day newsletter

Post Image
Credit: Aivi Nguyen
Our one wallpapered bedroom wall. The dresser is from IKEA, the vintage mirror and bergere chair both from Craigslist, and "Autumn Sprout" wallpaper from Lottas Trad. Peeking in the corner is the massive fiddle leaf fig.

Name: Aivi (like the plant), Muggle husband (Jeremy), and Queen of Everything (Luna, our giant floppy-eared Yorkie)
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Type of home: Condo apartment
Size: 904 square feet
Years lived in: 6 years, owned

Credit: Aivi Nguyen
Our entryway and living room with our repainted brick mantel. Most of our decor comes from our travels, and we make it a point to buy from local artists wherever we go. One of my favorite paintings is the Hue Vietnamese woman on the mantel. A close second is Duchess Luna's pet portrait.

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: We are two pathologists (non-timelord doctors who study disease and death) with an affinity for everything vibrant, vivacious, and a touch whimsical. Because work can get a bit grim, we wanted our home to be an airy, sunlit respite from the real world, if you will. We purchased this home at the start of our residency training, and we repainted it from a jarring pink and brown to the alabaster white that it is now. The choice was intentional: we wanted the house to feel more open and amplify the natural light. The light’s also been really useful in allowing us to cultivate a number of plants and trees that, alas, are not included in my photo entry, given the photo limit. My husband is an avid hobbyist gardener, so we have the standard orchids, succulents, and cacti liberally scattered around our place, but he’s also currently growing grapefruit, bell peppers, a massive fiddle-leaf fig tree, an olive tree, and not one but two Meyer lemon trees—now with lemons (!!).

Credit: Aivi Nguyen
Another view of our living room. Both the antique brass mirror and Turkish rug were Craigslist finds. The bench was designed by my husband and custom built as a Christmas gift. The pillows are from a local Vietnamese artist depicting the different regional styles of dress. The Pablo Picasso print was from an estate sale we randomly stumbled across one time when jogging. (Yes, we bought it and jogged with it home.)

Moreover, re-painting our house gave it a more curated, museum-like feel: Every piece of furniture, every plant, every piece of decor is on display like in a museum, but not the stuffy kind—more the fun, “please touch” kind. Like magpies, we’ve collected a number of tchotchkes, artwork, and even furniture through our traveling, hiking trips, attending auctions, or simply looking in the Philly trash. Given our space constraints, we often rotate through our decor to keep it current. We are also intentional with what we keep and display; everything in our home from the Russian nesting doll collection to the massive cast iron bed frame has a story or a fond memory attached to it.

Credit: Aivi Nguyen
The view down the main hallway. Our bookshelves are mostly filled with sci-fi/fantasy (my side) and medical texts or historical accounts (his side). The rug was another Craigslist find, and the hanging napkins doubling as wall decor are from the soufflé restaurant RISE.

Lastly, we are both bookish-types. We like big books, and we cannot lie. Incorporating book storage into our home design was imperative. Besides built-in bookshelves, we really loved the look of floating bookshelves so we utilized that to frame our bed, which also doubles as a nightstand. Speaking of books, there is a particular book series which-must-not-be-named of which I am a massive fan—my muggle husband not so much. (In fact, you’re looking at an HP trivia champion.) I’ve actually accumulated a good number of magically related household items and have made it my mission to infuse a bit of covert magic into every room.

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Sunlit, cultivated, colorfully curated, bookish, and wizardly (my husband wants to limit the “HP” lingo)

Credit: Aivi Nguyen
Massive oil painting haggled over and purchased at a Philly flea market. The throw pillows are by New Hampshire-based artist Michelle Morin, and the cast iron bed frame is from Craigslist. Liberal amounts of book and magic.

What is your favorite room and why? Our bedroom. It used to be our least favorite room because, while collected and quirky, it didn’t feet cohesive. At this point, we had an oil painting, which I had haggled for at an outdoor flea market, an IKEA dresser from my medical school dorm days, a vintage mirror, and a gem of a craigslist find—our antique French-style bergere reading chair. It wasn’t until we boldly—and quite naively—decided to wallpaper one of our bedroom walls did the space start coming together. We fell in love with a floral patterned wallpaper made by Lottas Trad that reminded me, a neuropathologist, of branching dendrites in neurons. Somehow, we managed to not only keep our marriage intact after wallpapering it ourselves but also tie the space all together.

Credit: Aivi Nguyen
A peek into our bedroom from our office. In the corner is Luna's "Diva Couch" and next to it is a print from a Vietnamese artist. Mirror is from West Elm, and I think it helps make the space look larger. The IKEA cart was transformed into a flower cart by my husband so he can push it around when the light changes. The hanging painting is a print of Henri Rousseau's "The Merry Jesters" from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? My husband recently found a mid-century style mirror in the trash, so we cleaned it and used it in our entryway to create an illusion of larger space.

Credit: Aivi Nguyen
Our office AKA quarantine corner. The gallery prints are actually bits of hand-marbled paper from Florence in IKEA frames. A few magical references interspersed.

Any advice for creating a home you love? Include items that you love, meaningful pieces that you’ve collected, whether through traveling, Craigslist, or dumpster diving. I think it can feel a bit piece-meal but in totality it’s what creates a home. It’s a reflection of your personality, in a way. Also, give it time. Sometimes a space takes time to build and layer.

This submission’s responses were edited for length and clarity.