Diary of a New Space

Today I am so proud to introduce our guest, Sarah Tran. Sarah is a very old friend of mine (we go back 10 years!). We have stayed close since our days at VCU together.  She has a very active social calendar and keeps me updated on all of the goings on with our group of friends up in DC. I miss going out for happy hours with her and hanging out any, old night of the week. Among other things, Sarah has an incredible eye for color and fashion and since she has been decorating her apartment room by room I thought we should get a glimpse into the beginning stages of her project. Sarah works for the Washington Post and lives on a gorgeous street in Dupont Circle.

My apartment in Dupont Circle, Washington DC is really old but has a lot of “character”. The building was built in the 1920s and only a few of the apartments have been renovated. I’ve lived in the space for about three years now and despite the fact that my bathroom is sporting a (once beautiful) old claw foot tub that rocks from side to side when you shower and my door handle sometimes decides it’s going to lock me in my own home, I love it and am dragging out the years I can live here.

Recently, I’ve had to refurnish the place from top to bottom. Except for my twin bed (which thankfully I have finally replaced – yes I am an adult) and the small flat screen and antique TV stand, I left everything I owned in my hometown when I moved.

The process started a few months ago and I was instantly overwhelmed with questions. What is my style? How much is this going to cost me? Since moving away from college apartments and group houses I’ve acquired a mishmash of furniture and decor, mainly consisting of band posters and Ansel Adams prints. I haven’t been forced to really think about what I would want my home to look like.

I decided that I should figure out what my style is. I think it’s hard to describe. Growing up, my parents’ house was filled with antique furniture that they bought from shops all around where I lived. I remember thinking our house was ugly with all the wooden pieces made from old trees, I didn’t understand the beauty my parents were investing in. I didn’t understand why my Mom would go to yard sales every single Saturday. Why would she want to buy old stuff? Well, now I know! I love the mix of modern, vintage and re-purposed pieces; pulling styles from everywhere, combining my love of these different elements and creating a space that is cozy but also chic, somewhat modern but also a little bohemian.

My living room

For my apartment, I needed inspiration. I started thinking big: couches, book shelves. For a while I was uninspired. Then I happened on a rug from West Elm. The simple diamond design with a semi tribal feel was different than I had imagined for my floors – I figured I’d just go solid. But as I thought about the rug more and more I knew I had to have it and from there ideas started flowing. I decided I wanted to incorporate as much wood as I could get my hands on (and afford) with elements of smaller modern design pieces, bohemian chic patterns and splashes of bright color. I’ve started with the base pieces; couches, tables, and added in the other touches as I found them and fell in love.

My new dresser

My next find was this beautiful reclaimed solid wood 6 drawer dresser. It is also from West Elm (who knew?!) The dresser is constructed of saal wood, taken from old railway trestles in India. The frame is made from solid mango and acacia wood. I saw this piece in the store and stared at it for a good ten minutes, willing myself to happen upon a load of cash to contribute to my apartment project. I looked around for other pieces and could not find anything that I liked because everything looked cheap and fake. Finally I decided to bite the bullet and get it. It’s lovely, smooth and is, surprisingly, a bottomless pit for storage. A classic piece I will treasure always (yes I am talking about a dresser).

The bedspread

Needing something pretty and feminine, I decided to focus on a new bedspread. I perused around online, trying to decide what I liked. It came down to a decision between bright and bohemian vs classic ivory textured. I LOVE bohemian flower prints, but knew that if I wanted to keep this forever I should go with classic. This was not the wrong choice as the rose-like squares give a textured feel that allows my bed to be pretty, even when it’s not made. Which, let’s be honest, who really makes their bed every day? If you do, you obviously do not push the snooze button as much as I do.

The latest piece of furniture I have bought was my living room coffee table. I’d seen some glass, metal, and pressed plywood tables and again decided on a solid wood piece. This one is from CB2 which just opened in Georgetown a few weeks ago. This table is also made from reclaimed unfinished wood taken from old rail tiles. It’s supported by raw metal legs that peek out on the top. When I brought it home to put together, the wood top was a lighter color that I had anticipated (every piece is different). I did a little research and plan to finish the wood with beeswax, which will act not only as a protectant, but will darken the wood and hopefully give it a more vibrant color.

A few of the smaller things I’ve happened on have come from thrift stores and yard sales; vintage flower patterned bowls, a wooden drafting table I’m using for my desk (that I bought for 5 dollars!) and some new dish towels and pillows.

I also love Ikat and thanks to my big West Elm purchase, I was able to get a few things from there for free: I love the different textures of both – the renewable jute rug, which is described as a long soft shiny vegetable fiber that is spun into course, strong threads vs. the silk and cotton Ikat pillow cover.


I still have a ways to go with lamps, small tables, an old vintage coat rack and objets d′art. But this process has been such a wonderful experience for me, I know it sounds trite, but it really has been a time to discover more about who I am and an outlet to be creative. It’s actually inspired me to think about a new career in…who knows what, but life is too short to not do something you enjoy.

First Image, Second Image, Third Image, All other photos by West Elm and Sarah Tran

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About Stephanie

Stephanie is an internationally recognized calligrapher. She employs a wide variety of calligraphic tools, papers, textiles, inks and found objects to articulate both words and portraits.
This entry was posted in Culture, Fashion, Home, Our Top Picks, Retail, Thrifting and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Diary of a New Space

  1. Margaret says:

    Wow! This is so great, and I am excited to see more of the finished look, Tran. I love the coffee table!

    LOPES!

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