As an editor at Design Milk, I’ve been writing about design for 7+ years. You would think that after all that time – learning about design, meeting designers from all over the world, interviewing with heads of design – that I would have some semblance of experience when it came to designing my own living room. Nope. If anything, this experience has humbled me and taught me that being exposed to such a high bar of design is both a blessing and a curse. Over the course of my career, I had been acquiring the proverbial champagne taste but as a millennial, first-time homebuyer, I was on that beer budget – and it wasn’t even the cool craft beer kind.
A series of fortunate events led my husband and I to buy our first family home in May 2020, during the early months of the pandemic and in a circumstance that’s hard to replicate in the market now. We competed with just one other buyer with a below asking price (that was not all cash) and all contingencies still in place. Ours is a unicorn story and I feel for all my fellow millennials (and any first-time homebuyer) still looking to buy a home now. We were very lucky and privileged to be able to find this home and have a space to weather through all the lockdowns and mandates during the past two years.
Because we bought during a very uncertain period of the pandemic, we moved in quickly with very little thought to decor or design. Our first priority was survival. Shelter-in-place orders meant we needed functional play space for our then 1.5-year-old daughter and soon-to-arrive son. Moving into our home quickly after we purchased it deprived us of the chance to assess, organize, and store our belongings properly. Our living room became a hot mess, despite what my Instagram photos might have conveyed.
After more than two years, I’m embarrassed to say our living room didn’t get much better; in fact, it got much worst. Not only was it near impossible for me to design a functional space while two toddlers lived in it, I also realized that I just don’t have the skills, talent, or eye required for interior design, despite being exposed to it on a daily basis. After our kids would go to bed, I would retreat into my bedroom instead of relaxing in our living room because it didn’t feel relaxing to be in. It felt cluttered, dysfunctional, and kid-dominated. I knew I needed help, so in March 2022, almost two years after we got the keys to our home, I hired a design-loving influencer to give our living room the refresh it so desperately needed.
To be fair, labeling Alex Yeske as just an influencer would be severely undermining her talents. Alex started her career designing graphics and branding for Madewell and Loeffler Randall, moving on later to art direct for Lou & Grey. All the while, she maintained and grew her following through Dreams + Jeans, a lifestyle blog that covers travel, beauty, fashion, and home. Sometime while all this was going on, I started following Alex on Instagram and she followed me back – the hallmarks of a 21st century friendship. Fast forward to 2021: to my total luck, Alex, who had been making moves behind the scenes to shift from graphic design to interior design, moved from the east coast to the west and started her own eponymous studio, Alex Yeske Interiors. It was a serendipitous turn of events that led me to hire Alex onto this project.
Let’s jump to 2022. Here are the “before” photos Alex took that I can’t believe I’m putting on the internet for all eternity, but this is real life:
While the design industry has made strides in democratizing home design with services like Yardzen and The Expert, it’s still a luxury service, but one that I wish I had invested in earlier. It would have saved me thousands of dollars in poor purchases and ill-made design choices. Ultimately, it’s one of those journeys homeowners often go through – where you don’t know know until you know – which is why I am now such a proponent of investing in a personal interior designer if your budget allows it. It’s not just about making your home look pretty!
“A lot of what you’re paying for is the expertise and experience,” Alex shares. “You have someone to hold your hand through the entire process and turn to if something goes wrong.” This includes dealing with contractors, sourcing products, ensuring those items you love are to the right scale for your home, looking at your space from a different perspective to ensure both functionality and aesthetics go together cohesively. It’s a very overwhelming job that needs a lot of attention to details, and one I completely underestimated as I attempted to “design” my home.
Because Alex and I had been following each other on Instagram for more than a decade, she was able to draft up schemes and floor plan options without me needing to provide an inspiration board, which isn’t the typical process but one I was fine with skipping. I merely had to tell her my dissatisfactions, which included lack of storage, lack of division between kid and adult spaces, and a cohesive design feel. I think that’s a testament to our internet friendship but also Alex’s talent as a designer to hone in what I needed functionally and wanted aesthetically.
Here are the main options Alex presented during round 1:
When it came to sourcing the right furnishings for the space, both Alex and I found pieces from a wide range of sources. Alex referenced her preferred roster of brands and shops while I did my own share of research and sourcing. What we didn’t realize until we came together and share notes was that many of our picks were brands that are powered by Shopify, a platform that supports thousands of independent interior businesses and can be easily shopped via the Shop app. As someone who doesn’t have a lot of time on her hands but can’t help but do some of my own product sourcing, it was so handy to have a tool that made it easy to shop, discover new brands, as well as track my orders.
Alex and I preferred to support independent, small businesses like Sixpenny, Cedar & Moss, and Everhem when possible, but we didn’t shy away from popular retailers like Room & Board either. Shops that carried unique, high quality home furnishings, like Goodee, Foundry, and Jayson Home or designed them themselves, like Sundays, were preferential but we made sure to add in touches of vintage and antiques using Etsy or hopping to our local flea market. One of the best parts about hiring a personal interior designer is that you have someone that’s able to create a very curated design scheme that’s representative of your style, instead of one that’s been generalized to current trends and limited to a certain portfolio of big box brands.
Due to Covid delays, out-of-stock notifications, long lead times for available contractors, and about a million other setbacks, Alex and I were finally able to complete the project this month, seven months after our initial consultation. I told you this was real life! Nevertheless, I’m excited to share with you the reveal of our living room refresh. Check back this Thursday when we reveal the juicy details of our final design scheme, the glorious “after” photos, a complete source list, where I splurged (and how much $$$) versus where I saved, and more invaluable tips and insights from Alex on furnishing a space as a new homeowner. Stay tuned!
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