Almost everything in Tavi Gevinson's one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment has a story. "That's really special," the 21-year-old repeats often as I point something out or pick it up. I ask, for instance, about the fleece blanket splayed across her bed. Here's how its story goes: she printed a customizable blanket from Walmart. You know, the kind that often veers into cheesy photo gift territory. This design, however, was drawn by her friend, artist and photographer Petra Collins, whose collaborations have included Gucci and Fenty. Casual.
Gevinson has a knack for inventively mixing high and low, and for finding inspiration in the space around her. She launched the blog Style Rookie 10 years ago last month, becoming one of the Internet's early fashion bloggers—as a seventh grader. She posted regular updates out of her parents' home in Oak Park, Illinois. One early dispatch included a rap tribute to an H&M collaboration with Rei Kawakubo of Comme de Garcons, grabbing international attention from fashion insiders. She quickly catapulted to celebrity status—securing front-row status at Fashion Week, interest from the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, and a reputation for her signature, quirky style (remember that bow?).
Few know the unparalleled, often underestimated power of the teenager like Tavi Gevinson does: She founded Rookie magazine in 2011, which she continues to helm today, as an outlet for writing, photography, and artwork, mostly from teens. But she's also expanded her career beyond magazine writer and editor to include actress (both on screen and stage) and, lately, the Internet's trendiest frontier: influencer. She leverages her 500,000 Instagram followers to regularly post on behalf of her Fort Greene apartment building, 300 Ashland—which offsets her rent and helps them to draw attention to the newly established 35-story tower.
When approaching the decor, she says she worked to keep the rest of the space as plain as possible—a backdrop to showcase what matters most. The walls are neutral and the shelves basic. The key, she says, is "trying to just stay all white and simple and then have all of my taste in the things that I love come through in everything else."
Those well-loved things are everywhere—from a vintage Disney View-Master she sourced on Etsy, to a burgeoning crystal collection building on the windowsill (which she says she hopes to get into later—for now her focus is on Tarot cards), to a proudly displayed record collection (organized like this: David Bowie on the right, current listening on the left, and everyone else alphabetized in the middle).
As full as her apartment is, it still feels very much in transition: She stops mid-sentence several times to note a picture that needs to be adjusted or something she'd like to rearrange. A truly giant bulletin board—which she ordered while out of town without measuring the space, is a centerpiece of the main living area, making it impossible to fit a table. So she eats on the couch instead. The board currently houses inspiration for upcoming projects—postcards she's picked up while traveling and scribbled-out quotes. Handwritten notes are framed along the walls among her art. One standout: when she was starring in the Broadway revival of "This Is Our Youth," in 2014, her character, Jessica, was repeatedly cut off by the other characters while speaking. The playwright, Kenneth Lonergan, wrote out what Jessica would have said if her voice hadn't been interrupted. "It can be important to memorialize some of those things," she says.
A Nor'easter is looming over New York City, making her Fort Greene neighborhood preternaturally quiet, and the light through her windows particularly bright. Gevinson pours a cup of coffee into a library-card printed mug, toasts a bagel, and stands at her kitchen counter to answer questions about her design style, inspiration, and the early Style Rookie days.
AT: How did you approach designing your space?
Tavi Gevinson: It came together a little piecemeal. I already had my couch I'm very attached to, because it's really comfy and it's from Crate and Barrel. Then I wanted all the shelves to be white and my desk, because I love how open and bright the space is, and I wanted to lean into that. I have so much stuff, obviously, and I have a lot of supplies and books and art. I wanted all of those things to feel cozy but not cluttered. I tried to keep everything else fairly simple. The desk also was from a collaboration that we did with West Elm—it has changed my life, just because I had my desk from my old apartment there and it didn't really give me the same space. Now I can have my monitor, which is so much better for looking at things.
If you had to choose one favorite thing, what would it be?
One favorite thing.
Oh my God.
If you could only save one thing…
That's so hard. I'm very attached to the "Merrily We Roll Along" poster from the original production of that musical on Broadway. There are so many things to love about that show, and I grew up with it. But also, there's a documentary about the making of it called The Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened. It's about the original cast: these teenagers, and all of them were huge Sondheim fans. They were all so excited, and then the show was a flop and closed in a week. Years and years later, one of the kids who was in it made this documentary about that experience. It just captures what it's like to really give yourself over to something—which everyone kind of does—but I think because the cast was so young, they do especially. Failure was not an option to them. That's weirdly also what the musical itself is about. Having that in my work space...well, it's mixed. I've actually had arguments with people about this, because some people I talk to are like, "That documentary is totally depressing." I feel like it's really beautiful, because it's about how you have to believe in something that much, whether you think it will be successful or not.
I also realized I have the really brightly colored and patterned file cabinet. That's also a favorite and the one thing that breaks from trying to keep everything else relatively simple and comfy.
What's the story behind that?
I just knew I needed something like that for organizing, and I was looking on Etsy, and they had that one. Everything else was cute or maybe pastelly. I bought it immediately.
I think the ritual of putting together an outfit and searching for balance and comfort and something that feels like an expression of who you are—that's a big part of creating your physical space, too. Even the sort of changes I'll make every day or every few days or every few weeks give me that same kind of ritualistic feeling, which I really love. Having this big board could turn out to be a big mistake. It's actually too big to go anywhere but here, but it gives me a huge space to change and cycle through different ideas or points of inspiration that I'm working with, whether it's for Rookie, whether it's for an acting project or a writing project.
My personal style is a lot more simple now. I still love clothes, but day-to-day, I don't want it to take up as much of my time. I think that energy goes into being able to control this little world around me, which I obviously couldn't do when I was younger and more into fashion, because I lived in my parents' house.
I wanted to ask you about that: writing Style Rookie in your childhood home. What do you remember most about that space?
I started it in my dad's office, because that's where the computer in the house was. Eventually I got to take over my sister's room, and she had a computer in there. Then I bought myself a laptop. My dad's office was filled with clutter, stacks and stacks of papers. He's an English teacher and he was head of the English department at my school. I would just go right after school until he came home from work, and then I had to leave. But there was a small TV right above the desk, which faced a corner. There was just a lot of books and papers.
Then my room—I was changing it up all the time. I would cover my walls. Every inch was covered in posters and postcards and photos and pictures from magazines. I would leave that up for a month and then take them all down and do new ones. It's the one thing you have control over, in a way, when you're a minor and living with your parents and going to school. One of your only outlets for control are how you dress, if you're allowed to do that, or your space or whatever creative projects you are able to do on your own. I just remember that it was a way for me to externalize all of the things that were inspiring me as I was ravenously consuming art and fashion and music and books. It was also a little haven away from the fashion world and the industry that I entered at a very young age. I was always happy to be able to come home to my bedroom in the suburbs.
I've read through the years about how you like to be surrounded by your inspiration–you're like the ultimate collager. I see little bits about how that's translated to your adult space. Can you talk a bit about that?
In my nightstand, there are lots of things I've been meaning to put on my walls, then whenever I actually start, I can't bring myself to do it anymore. Some of the things I've collected serve a little more of a function and are less like, I went to a flea market in Albuquerque and I bought 12 old tea sets just because I couldn't stand to leave them behind.
We were remembering how you used your space creatively as you were growing up, from photo shoots in your backyard to videos in your bedroom. Do you still use your space to create and for creation?
I still love an outfit photo—still doing those on Instagram. The desk will often be sprawled with clippings, and that journal is filling with things I've taped in or that I'm meaning to tape in. This board on the other side there—there's a calendar to map out the events in a story I'm writing to make sure everything makes sense and there wouldn't just be months in between events.
How do you decide what to keep and what to leave behind?
It's just a gut feeling where if I really can't stand to leave something behind—if I have a physical reaction to the thought of leaving it behind, that isn't just anxiety, then I know it has to stay with me. It's really easy to hoard information and things, and it can become a way of putting off making anything new. That's why I'm happy to have this space. To a normal person, it seems really cluttered, but to me it's really open.
Can you talk to me about your books?
I have smaller books that can be sustained by a [smaller] shelf, and some plays and poetry books. [I have] my favorite plays: Tennessee Williams and Kenneth Lonergan and Annie Baker. In my bedroom, I have a bookcase with a lot more of everything, but the ones on my desk and shelf are either related to what I'm writing or books to read next, my stack. And then the ones, say, on the coffee table, or around the side table, are more visual and just the ones I like to have out.
Do you cook?
A little bit. I'll make eggs and toast and turkey bacon in the morning. And then at night, I'll cook a couple meals a week. Half pasta and half frozen food–that's not real cooking.
Any favorite budget finds?
Anything you see here that looks basic, like the white shelves were probably $10 on CB2 or something, or on Walmart. I wanted those to be simple. That little side table I think is from Electric Company—I think it was on sale. Then I have this cart I really like in the bathroom that's turquoise that's from World Market. In my room, there's this amazing armoire and then everything else is IKEA. A huge part of me is like, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." I'll wear down an IKEA bookcase or dresser til it's dust. But I let myself go for a bit with that weird file cabinet or the case for my records was some handmade Etsy thing. Or the bar cart I'm really obsessed with—I definitely found the cheapest I could, but it was still a bit of an indulgence.
Do you have a favorite art piece?
I have a Jenny Holzer, which I love. And then there's this by an artist named Calla Mcinness. I got it at Teen Art Salon, which is an art studio for high schoolers in Long Island City. They have had a few art shows over the years. And I went to one that just showcased a bunch of different young artists like Calla. She had three of these. They're blue ballpoint—it's three different types of blue ballpoint pen, and I just think it's amazing and it's so detailed and clearly took a lot of dedication. It just inspires me to have it up.
Do you have any organization tricks to share, as someone who collects a lot of things?
Trays. Big fan of trays. My counter used to be constantly piled with stuff, and then I got these four little trays. And get rid of stuff—don't be like me.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
This post has been updated since publication to further clarify the relationship between Gevinson and her apartment building.