Welcome to Make Yourself at Home, a collection of home tours as told through the items within them. In this installment, Harling walks us through her apartment in New York.
When I started searching for a new apartment on Streeteasy last spring, I had no idea it would become more addictive than any form of social media I was otherwise active on, triggering a goose bump-inducing thrill every time an email landed in my inbox with new listings that conformed to my “saved search” of criteria. Austin and I kissed a few frogs (a.k.a. toured some really awful apartments) before finding what looked like a potential prince. We submitted an application 10 minutes after saying goodbye to the broker. More than a month of paperwork and hand-wringing later, we were approved to move in (we later found out that we were in competition with another couple who we’re friends with, which is my nightmare, especially because this particular duo is very charismatic and have “ideal tenant” written all over them. Happy to report they ended up finding another great apartment nearby).
As exciting as it was to hunt for the apartment, the decorating process has been even more so, though with its own share of hand-wringing, and even some paperwork–I had to sign a document to confirm that a bureau I bought from the U.K. was over 100 years old so it could be released from FedEx (apparently antiques are exempt from certain customs duties)! There was definitely a learning curve since I was buying mostly vintage pieces, which I wrote some advice about here, but also a lot of satisfaction to be gleaned from the requisite scouring and bargaining that resulted in many of my favorite finds.
In addition to discovering furniture, I discovered that my mother’s home decor proclivities had seeped into my own. Having grown up in spaces marked by her distinctly maximalist perspective, I thought I would rebel with a penchant for minimalism. But my Instagram bookmarks folder—riddled with floral-papered bedroom ceilings, brightly patterned armchairs, and jewel-tone lacquered bookcases—told a different story. There’s only so much you can do in a rental, though, and I actually think that parameter was a helpful guardrail in determining how my aesthetic choices manifested. I was conscious of choosing things that would be adaptable to future spaces.
It was hard to choose only a handful of things to zoom in on for the purposes of this story, because I could bore you with tales of Etsy wormhole and missing andirons, but below is a rundown of five (okay, six) things that tickle my joy bone to a notable extent every time I look at them.
1. My room divider that functions as a headboard
Before I moved in with Austin, I lived with roommates for three and a half years and had the same bed and headboard the whole time. By the end of those three years, I hated my headboard so much I was almost embarrassed to have it in the background of my mirror selfies (an equally embarrassing qualm in its own right?) Everything about it, from the overly girly shape to the gray ikat print, felt like a relic of an old self, which really drove home the reality that large pieces of furniture are automatically embedded with longevity–unlike, say, a pair of pants or a going-out top.
Anyway, I say all of this as context for what happened when I had the opportunity to wipe the slate clean with my new apartment: a headboard is the first thing I started obsessively looking for. I had an idea for what I wanted based on a photo I’d seen on Instagram, in which someone had unfolded an antique room divider flat against their wall and pushed a bed up against it. Voilà! Headboard.
After weeks of stalking my saved searches on Chairish, Etsy, and eBay, I eventually found THE PERFECT ONE (it was actually listed by the same seller on all three platforms). It was beautifully designed, vintage but in great condition, and wide enough to accommodate a king-size bed. The only problem was its price–about $1,000 more than I originally envisioned paying for this particular acquisition–and that didn’t even include the cost of shipping it from California where it was located. I tried bartering multiple times to no avail. Meanwhile I was starting to panic because I had yet to find anything else that even came close to being as good, and I was worried someone else would snap this one up. In a last-ditch effort of desperate hope, I told the seller if they could knock $200 off the price I would commit to buying it. They acquiesced, and although it still cost more than I would have liked, I gulped and pressed “buy.”
It was harder than I thought it would be to lay flat against the wall (it’s really heavy so I ended up bolting it with screws), but now that it’s all set up, I have zero regrets. In my mind it’s the perfect example of how I tried to approach decorating my apartment in general–only investing in things I picture myself owning and loving for decades in different spaces. For now this particular thing happens to be my headboard, but I like that it could easily moonlight in other rooms and in other forms down the road.
2. My orange (gasp) nightstands
If you told me a year ago that I would have orange nightstands in my bedroom, I probably would have sent you the emoji that looks like it’s about to throw up. Orange, in theory, is a color I would consider objectively tough, particularly in a semi-permanent home setting. It can easily skew garish, or Halloween-ish, or traffic cone-ish. But here I am, the owner of two orange nightstands, and if you can believe it I love them as much as I love my own toe knuckles.
I got them from an Etsy shop called ChurchofMod, and the seller was an absolute stickler about maintaining the listing price. It’s actually the only instance in my experience buying vintage furniture for my apartment in which I wasn’t able to get even a tiny discount. Apparently she had a matching dresser that went with them and was hesitant to be selling them separately in the first place. In the end, I decided the price was reasonable enough to go for it, because after a couple weeks of debating whether I was destined to be an orange nightstand person I concluded I definitely was. I couldn’t resist the charm of their bamboo and chrome accents, their spacious storage, and their ideal height. I was also conscious of trying to give my bedroom a punch of color and quirk since at that point the palette was mostly neutrals.
3. My (or rather, Austin’s) cowhide desk chair
This chair is from a shop called FleurdeLisLLC on Etsy and I get stressed just thinking about how I almost didn’t buy it. That’s how much I love it!!! I was a little nervous about whether Austin would feel the same way when it first arrived though, because I bought it with the intention of making it his desk chair. He works from home a lot so I wanted him to like it but more importantly find it comfortable to sit in. Luckily it’s extremely comfortable and he seems to like it just fine. Maybe not as passionately and enthusiastically as I do (sometimes I wish he would situate himself in it with a little more visible awe), but I’ve heard no complaints beyond the occasional inquiry about whether the cowhide has noticeably shed on his sweater. My favorite thing about it (besides how it looks) is that it can accommodate two people in a pinch and thus serves as a “bench” at the end of my kitchen table whenever I’m having friends over.
4. My waterfall coffee table that used to be my grandmother’s
My coffee table belonged to my paternal grandmother who passed away a few years ago. I remember admiring it every time I visited her apartment–the deep green color, the scrolled shape, the slightly waxy surface–it has a very unique look. Now it technically belongs to my parents, and my mom says she has “dibs” to take it back at some point, but it’s vacationing in my living room for the time being.
I’m not sure where the table is from, but when people ask me where I got it I tell them to search for “waterfall” table since apparently that’s what it’s called. I didn’t know this before but someone told me on Instagram, and I think it’s such a good term. I’ve also started noticing them pop up here and there–how cool is this pink laminate one from the 80s?
Having a coffee table with a reasonable large surface area has cultivated my interest in coffee table books to the extent that I’ve probably (okay, definitely) over-accumulated. I fit as many as I can on the coffee table without it looking insane, and the rest are stacked in various other places around the apartment. I’ve found gems everywhere from Chairish to Barney’s (RIP) to the used books stand at my local farmers market, and I also discovered this company called Maison Plage that helped me source some really unique ones. I try to only buy coffee table books that a) have interesting covers and b) actually contain information I’m interested in reading. Hitting both of these criteria is surprisingly hard.
5. My nude girl crew
I know this story is only supposed to include FIVE THINGS, but I’m sneaking in a sixth since this duo–though situated in different rooms–travel as a thematic unit, the sum of which is that I love accumulating naked women around my apartment. The sculpture is from lacunashop on Etsy. My mom sent me the link and I bought her immediately because the price was right and I was utterly charmed by the idea of putting her on the credenza in my bedroom. It was made by Vincent Glinskh, an American artist from Russia.
The painting I found on Chairish. It’s by an artist named Beth Downey. I kind of bought it on an impulse over the summer after drinking two glasses of Prosecco with peach juice and when it arrived it was smaller than I expected (serves me right for not double checking the dimensions!). I was briefly bummed that I had potentially slightly overpaid for it, but upon closer examination I realized the frame was painted with real gold leaf, so that made the price feel more justified.
My nude gals are two of my favorite accents in the apartment. Now that I’ve gotten all the big/necessary furniture purchases out of the way (I don’t recommend waiting three months to acquire a couch unless it’s the chartreuse sectional of your dreams), I’m not actively hunting on vintage decor websites as much anymore, but I’m excited for what I see as the “next phase” of decorating–acquiring small, serendipitously discovered pieces like these over time, not because I’m purposefully looking but because I just so happen to come across a photograph that would look cool on my bathroom wall, or a vase that picks up the colors of the rug in my living room, or a light fixture that feels like a worthy replacement for the cheap plastic lightbulb cover I bought on Amazon as a temporary fix.
Is it annoying when people say they’ll “never be done” decorating? I’m sorry, but I can’t help myself. I’ll be tweaking until my ceiling falls in or I move out and into this place, whichever comes first.
Photos by Sabrina Santiago.