When I first saw photos of the furnished apartment where my husband and I would be living in Sydney, I felt a mixture of emotions. There was excitement for this new, remarkable place where I would call home, equipped with the million-dollar view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Elizabeth Bay. However, there was also an inkling of anxiety knowing that there were various design hurdles which I would have to overcome. Especially after living solo in a darling studio apartment in Georgetown (where I had everything decorated to my specifications, from the artwork to the custom pillows) I knew this would be a big change. Not only did I want this apartment to be more aesthetically pleasing, I wanted it to feel like home.
These design obstacles took form in an oversized Mona Lisa-gone-wrong modern print, a glass dining table with patterned-inlay of butterflies (can’t make this up), an octagonal ottoman of which the color could only be described as acid green, metal folding “dining” chairs, and a bright red loveseat (by now you know I am not a red person).
Let me go back to the pros, as my dear husband found this diamond in the rough before I arrived in Sydney, by himself, knowing very little about the city. It is as if he “pinned the tail on the donkey” in one effortless try, blindfolded, with his hands tied behind his back. The apartment is situated in a posh neighborhood where gourmet restaurants, bars, transportation, parks, and shopping are at your fingertips. There is a quaint bookstore on one end of the street and a farmer’s market on the other. I dash across the street for the city’s best coffee in the morning and could enjoy a “Savvy B” (Sauvignon Blanc) outside at any café of my liking in the evening. As if this isn’t enough, there is an updated kitchen, in-unit laundry, AC, secured entrance, and tons of natural light. In other words, he struck real estate gold in the heart of Sydney.
You must be asking what there is to complain about after reviewing the above, but I beg you to not misinterpret this post as a list of grievances but rather a review of challenges I had to overcome. It is my hope that if you find yourself in a furnished apartment one day, you too can see the light.
The challenges of this space presented themselves in a few ways, but mainly lack of proportion and absence of color coordination. We did not have the option of getting rid of this furniture nor did we have anywhere to store it, so I had to get creative. The first big decision was to keep the red loveseat. There were no slipcovers to be found that would fit, and a custom one was not in the budget. Always yearning for fresh palettes of blue and white, this was a tough defeat, but I was determined to keep hope alive. The next step was to replace the dining chairs and somehow cover the butterfly motif on the dining table.
Luckily, I had packed a beautiful Ikat beach blanket that we had received as a wedding gift. While I thought I’d be using it to sunbathe at Bondi, it ended up being the perfect disguise for the eye sore. It fit like a glove, hanging over the dining table edges just enough…interior design fate. With the red sofa here to stay and this navy blue and white tablecloth, a splash of Americana started to take form, and I didn’t hate it.
Next stop: IKEA for dining chair and ottoman replacements. I came across diners that I am pretty sure had a golden light shining on them from the heavens above. They were displayed in a blue and white ticking that I knew would be the perfect scale next to the Ikat tablecloth. Another score. Off I went with the chairs, slipcovers, and a new sense of pride.
The ottoman was equally easy to find; I discovered a larger white one, not postage-stamp sized as the “acid green” one came to be known. No longer would Brian and I spend hours playing leg-war over who would get to prop their feet up after a long day! In addition, the storage aspect provided a hideaway for all of the disjointed, random colored pillows that came with the apartment. A few inexpensive replacements in the same fabric as the dining chairs offered an immense improvement. Repetition of pattern in a small space creates a sense of harmony, and this was no exception.
Mona was more of a challenge. The only good thing about this “artwork” was that it was the perfect scale for an otherwise lonely, large wall. The proportion was right to fill the space. Luckily my mom had mailed us a vintage Australian flag that happened to be huge. Aha. Navy, white, red- it fit with the color scheme. It made sense. It would work. During what felt like months for the flag to arrive, I brainstormed ideas for Mona’s new home. Under the bed was too jammed, and it was too big to hide anywhere else. I decided that I would “wrap” her in the Aussie flag, use the canvas of Mona to give it body, and leave her mounted on the wall as is. It worked! I will say there are a few wrinkles in the ol’ flag, but it covers Mona, and that is all that matters. Now we have a focal point for that wall that doesn’t give me nightmares, yet reminds us of our new home.
A few lessons we can all learn from this experience:
- Get creative with new uses for everyday items; a beach blanket can become a tablecloth, a flag can become art.
- In small spaces, decide on a color scheme of two to three colors and stick to it. This creates a sense of cohesion and balance.
- Proportion is equally important in small and large spaces. Many small pieces of furniture can clutter a space more than a few larger, thoughtfully placed items.
- IKEA is there to help. Especially for those on a budget, it can be a lifesaver. Think of it as a Target tee with designer jeans. You do not have to splurge on every piece for the overall look to sing.
- Add personal touches. I brought monogrammed linens and a few favorite pieces of art from the States to make it feel like home.
- Add greenery to avoid a stale environment. I love fiddle leaf fig trees and potted orchids. Planted herbs in a kitchen window are also a nice touch.
- Compromise is key. I am not a red person but use navy and white (a favorite combination) in abundance o balance this strong color.
I know a big beautiful house is waiting for me out there one day. But for now, I am embracing this “compact-chic” city lifestyle, one set of IKEA assembly instructions at a time!