How to Make Your Apartment a Home

Photographs by  Emilie Szabo  Interior Stylist,  Meghan Irene

Photographs by Emilie Szabo Interior Stylist, Meghan Irene

A house isn’t a home unless it tells a story. When my husband Alex and I moved into our small two-bedroom apartment in downtown Minneapolis we had been married seven years. During that time we lived in three homes in two countries. We had traveled and lived more places than we ever expected and now we found ourselves moving to a fourth place—a very cold place where we never expected to live with a job that would have us traveling globally. How could we call this place home?

With my home design clients, I use a process that helps them tell their story and think through how their home can be a rebalancing place that captures their core values and cherished memories. Alex and I sat down to walk through this process ourselves. We selected descriptive words that capture what we want our home to say and how we want it to feel. Like wise friends, these words were our guides—joyful, pastoral, sincere, thankful, calming.

We chose joyful and thankful because these are emotions we want to foster in our lives daily. Thanks because we believe that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). Joy because we will need it in the long dark winters of life. We chose pastoral because it bottles the bucolic fields and spiritual guidance that have been so formative for us (my father is a farmer and Alex’s is a pastor). We chose calming because we want our home to be an oasis which helps us connect with each other and refreshes us for our work in the world. Sincere because we hope our home can say all of these things in an approachable way without any pride or posturing.


These words evoke a set of feelings that are linked to two particular memories. The first memory came when we traveled to Athens, Greece in our third year of marriage. This trip opened our eyes to the world. We have been many places since then, but nothing captures the joy of travel and new experiences like a silver-green olive leaf, or a calming roof-top-terrace overlooking shades of marble from grey to pink to brightest white. These things take us away. The second memory is closer to home. Alex and I grew up in central Florida and just before we moved to Minneapolis we went on our favorite canoe run one last time—deep greens, sandy bottoms, cow pastures, oak hammocks, cool water, and ocean breezes. These things bring us back.

With words and memories firmly in place I created a mood board. It was simple. An abstract painting by Paul Klee captured the feel and colors of old Florida in an unostentatious way, and styled olive branches by Ginny Au evoked the textures of Athens. Armed with this mood board reflecting our words and memories we started to make design choices. With each element we asked not “Do I like it?” but “Does this tell the story?” Is it joyful, pastoral, sincere, thankful, calming? It still took trial and error. We knew we wanted potted olive trees, white walls, and a pink kitchen, but others things were harder to choose. At one point, I bought a red rug that I loved when I saw it at a yard sale, but when I put it in our living room it was bold and traditional—not calming—and, for us, not sincere. It took me more attempts than I care to admit to get the right shade of soft, joyful, pink in the kitchen.

The end result is a space that rebalances us because it retells our story in a way that a Pinterest board never could. It isn’t packaged—it’s ours. I love coming home.

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