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Name: Tessa, designer, partner Stef, and our sweet pup Lacey
Location: Mount Pleasant neighborhood — Vancouver, Canada
Size: Roughly 800 square feet
Type of Home: Condo apartment
Years lived in: 2 years, renting
I found this home as a rental listing with no photos, at an almost too good to be true price for its central location; it didn’t take long to figure out why! The landlord contacted me, saying I was the top of hundreds of applicants because I have a small interior design business focused on affordability and small space solutions. The last tenant had been there for over a decade, through declining health, and the place had been left in very rough shape. He recognized some work would need to be done, so we set about negotiating a budget and scope of work. Once I saw it, it was clear the place essentially needed a gut job, which I knew I could take on, but the location, price, and the high ceilings were things I wouldn’t be able to create in a different space.
The budget we landed on was $3k, and the deal was I can pay myself out of the budget for a redesign, or, what I went with, allocate the budget to materials and do the labour myself (and my incredible friend Erica!) to end up with a nicer space at a slightly further reduced rent.
I grew up moving around a lot, between rural and urban settings, different coasts, etc. and have many different stylistic influences. All that unpacking and repacking meant many opportunities to sharpened my skills at setting up a space, and pushed me to get creative about making just about anywhere feel like a healthy home — quickly — and on a budget!
I’ve always been drawn to the creative: I write, sing in a choir (shoutout to Gracenote Vancouver!), and have my own small interior design business. I started affordable design work in response to how out of touch the interior design industry can be with what most folks actually need. We are all impacted by our environments, and I really believe we need to prioritize providing solutions for renters, folks in small spaces, and within realistic budgets that don’t leave anyone behind. That’s why I love the great work Apartment Therapy does, too!
My Style: A big mix! I like feeling like I’m in a cabin in the woods in urban settings, and lean towards contemporary architecture and interiors in more remote settings. My home currently is super central, so I focused on bringing the forest to me with warm wood tones, earthy greens, and calming neutrals. I love playing with textures, scale, and layering a multitude of styles. I think homes should reflect their owners, which means there is no “one style fits all,” even within an individual space. If I had to use a few keywords I’d say handmade, rustic, airy, warm, bohemian meets West Coast.
Inspiration: Everything everywhere! When I’m spending time in nature I like photographing all the textures and color combinations I can find, and playing with how to bring those into the home. Also love contrast and dynamic scales we find in cities, and in fine artwork. I’m an insatiably curious person and love seeing different folks’ homes, too. (Thanks again, Apartment Therapy! Love home tours.)
Favorite Element: I think the high ceilings, and my handmade ceramic backsplash tiles probably, take the win. I am in love with my media unit though, which I found on sale at a Winners many years ago and bought without having anywhere to put it! It lived on loan with various other people until I finally had room for it, but I just knew it had to be mine!
Biggest Challenge: $3k is a tiny budget to redo a whole apartment, but that’s my specialty! It meant being really on it, sourcing mostly secondhand materials (win-win environmentally and economically). It meant working twice as hard since a lot of items sourced also needed some refinishing work before being installed, and really getting creative.
Proudest DIY: Honestly bringing this space together, more so than any particular aspect. Finding a layout in an awkward space that ticked all the boxes! That said the fridge handles were a surprisingly cheap and easy swap that made a major difference, if we’re talking about small things.
Biggest Indulgence: After flooring, which was an absolute necessity given the state of the old carpets, the handmade ceramic tiles were my biggest spend, but man I love that rustic touch, and feel like they really finish the space nicely.
The dishwasher feels like an indulgence, but didn’t cost much! When I first moved in here I was single and working three jobs, so putting in a dishwasher made a huge difference to my quality of life. I found it on Craigslist for $100, and the previous owner even delivered it. It’s stainless steel, unlike the other appliances which are retro white, but that seemed worth it. I have since recovered it with paintable peel and stick wallpaper, which I painted to match the cabinets!
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? There is essentially no storage built into this home. There are two micro closets in the bedroom, which don’t even fit full size hangers, at 10” depth, so I’ve tucked narrow shelving in there for clothing. The island shaped the layout, but also provides seating and much needed kitchen appliance storage. We have storage bins under the couch and bed, and storage benches on the deck for things that can hangout outside. The oversized cupboards, which were used as craft cupboards in an old daycare that was closing down, were a great marketplace score! Instead of thousands on custom cabinets, they cost $300, and took advantage of the 9’ ceiling, while being just a big less deep than standard, which helps open up the kitchen. Those hold, on top of all of our dishware and pantry goods, a full bar, all art supplies, some tools, and some camping gear!
What’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Work WITH the space you have, don’t be afraid to try doing things yourself (it’ll open a world of possibilities on a budget), and source second hand! Not only is it more affordable, better for the environment, better for local economy, but it also helps you stumble on unique gems! Also work from the rug up, furnishing wise.
This submission’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.