Your First “Glown Up” Space is an Apartment Milestone Worth Celebrating

published Aug 25, 2020
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I have zero chill about my living room sofa—a buttery caramel leather looker that I contemplated buying for more than two years. Prior to its arrival, I lived with a well-past-its-prime, navy blue velvet couch with a broken spring in its seat cushion. It didn’t look good, sitting on it was even worse, and yet, I kept putting off its replacement. It’s just that decent sofas cost a lot. Finally, back in April, it got to the point where I just wanted more for myself—and for my home. So I finally purchased my sofa and its matching ottoman, together the most expensive pieces of furniture I’ve ever owned by far.

I haven’t regretted it for a second, even though my bank account took a blow, and clicking “buy” made my stomach a little queasy at the time. Sure, I’m a little leery of eating at the coffee table these days, and yes, I almost always cover the seat with a blanket when I’m sitting or laying on the sofa (I told you—zero chill, and I’m a little worried about what the word patina means in the context of leather).

Slowly, over the years, I had been decorating, replacing things that were less than enthusiastically inherited or bought out of necessity, when I didn’t have the bandwidth really to find something even close to a forever solution. This sofa’s arrival seemed like the apex in my decorating journey; with this last piece of the puzzle in place, my space finally sang.

Introducing: The Glown Up Apartment

That transformation, when your home finally reflects your personal style, and you start to feel somewhat proud of your stuff and how you’ve pulled everything together, is what I like to call a “glown-up apartment.” In contrast to a “grown-up apartment,” the glown-up has evolved for the better—it’s purposefully laid-out with well-considered as opposed to well-appointed decor, photogenic at times but not a total subscriber to any aesthetic except its own, even if parts of that have been co-opted from Instagram. Sure, some commonalities exist between one glown-up home and the next: the statement sofa, a smile-inducing splurge, tailored window treatments, framed artwork (as opposed to tacked-up posters), and a vignette or two that puts prized objects on display. Plants and purposeful storage solutions abound, and there’s probably a vintage find or two mixed in for a little bit of character and charm. 

Of course, houses, RVs, a single room, or even just a sliver of a space can also glow-up, and this kind of transformation happens upon peoples’ homes in different stages of their lives and for various reasons. For Abby Campbell, owner of homewares shop Abigail Bell Vintage, the catalyst for her glown-up apartment came when her roommate moved out earlier this summer. Even though they got along well, Campbell had been looking forward to a space that could be fully hers, at least aesthetically—so much so, that she had squirreled away a pair of vintage plywood chairs and a chunky fiberglass floor lamp last year in preparation for this transition. “Those became the anchor pieces for my living room redesign,” she says.

To offset those neutral but sculptural furnishings, Campbell saved up for and splurged on a true pièce de résistance, designer Ettore Sotsass’ wavy, light-up Memphis design mirror, which never fails to make her smile. “It’s no secret that my newest piece—an original 1970’s Ultrafragola—is the gift (to myself) that keeps on giving,” she says. “It feels like I have a piece of design history in my space, and that’s something truly special.”

As a purveyor of vintage and home goods, Campbell has noticed many of her customers getting after a glown-up space, too. “It really feels like young millennials [in particular] are at the point in their lives that it’s time to start investing in their homes and upgrading those hand-me-downs—not to be confused with purposefully-purchased secondhand pieces,” she says. “Being stuck at home these last five months has only heightened the need to make your space inspiring.”

A Timely Trend

As it turns out, COVID-19 may have played a role in many a glown-up home, albeit somewhat indirectly, for those of us lucky enough to have both a home and a steady income right now. In this weird pandemic world, some people are really prioritizing joy and tweaking their spaces for themselves because, frankly, the home has become the backdrop for everything. Time is also somewhat less of an issue these days, at least for some who’ve put off projects or purchases. Finally, a home is, at its best, a haven. What you choose to fill yours with can often be some means of counteracting the negativity of what’s going outside your door. 

Designer Carmen René Smith, owner of Oakland-based Aquilo Interiors, helps create dream spaces for her clients day in and day out, and yet, it took spending a lot of time at home—and really surveying its rooms—for her and her wife to realize they, too, wanted a decorating do-over. “When we first moved in, we were in such a rush to get furniture that we made quick decisions during limited time off between work and other priorities,” says Smith. “While it was cute and had elements we loved (a whimsical panther coffee table, for one), we always felt there was something missing. We are keeping some of the fun furnishings in our home, but this time we are really being intentional down to the very last accessory.” 

Since they won’t be traveling anytime soon, the couple decided to focus on having “vacation moments” throughout their home. “We are creating some bedroom magic with a custom wall-to-wall striped headboard and a mural that looks just like Fantasia from the ‘Never Ending Story,’” says Smith. “We are completely redoing the living room to have a more swanky, cozy punk rock vibe.” She’s also remodeling her office with fun wallpaper and paint colors and giving her backyard a little love, too, anchored by the glow-up to end all glow-ups: a classic clawfoot soaker turned outdoor hot tub. “I think everyone is ready for something EXTRA,” says Smith. “The drama! The opulence! The fun! Especially during a pandemic that is giving us so many limits, who wants more limits in their design?”

Finding Control in an Uncontrollable Time

The pandemic was also somewhat of an impetus for Lauren Edelstein, a style director working in fashion. “I’m a huge procrastinator when it comes to apartment decorating—I’ll leave a piece of art sitting on the floor for two years and pretend it’s the vibe I’m going for,” she says. “When COVID happened and my apartment also became an office/gym/movie theatre/restaurant, something really snapped, and I needed everything in my apartment to be different… immediately. It felt like one of the few things I could control in such an uncontrollable time.”

A statement sofa really like none other kicked off Edelstein’s own redecorating process. “I was scrolling Instagram one day and saw Adaptations post this ridiculous vintage cow-print sofa and basically ran to the store,” she says. “It seemed completely impractical in the best way, and I loved that I would be able to call it my COWCH! The cowch really invigorated me and from there came a pair of pink vintage lamps and new prints for my wall.” 

Now Edelstein’s in the market for a new coffee table and floor lamp and hopes that when people walk into her space again one day, they’ll feel her personality. If you don’t get her sense of humor and playful approach to design when you first spy her cowch, the almost life-sized ceramic leopard she scored on Craigslist should do the trick. Edelstein’s best glown-up apartment advice, other than surrounding yourself with things that make you happy? “You should always have a minimum of three chic friends with great interior taste on immediate texting standby for all purchasing decisions,” she says. 

Sometimes decorating takes a village, and the home is always a work in progress to some degree. A design glow-up can be temporary or more permanent until another change seems imminent for whatever reason. Maybe you never quite get there or simply can’t or don’t want to, and no judgement because your home is just that: your home. You make the rules. That said, it can be worth investing in your space periodically when you can—not to chase trends, as Smith points out, but to keep up with how you feel and what you want out of your home.

A glown-up apartment is not about an unlimited budget or purging every last IKEA piece either—it’s about intentionally shaping your surroundings in the best way you can. Perhaps Smith herself sums it up best. “Transforming your space and interior design as a whole is supposed to be fun,” says Smith. “Everything you choose should be something you absolutely love.” When that’s the case, you’ll be good to glow.