Design

Cozy Corner Apartment

Cozy Brooklyn Apartment Tour

J. Crew creative team member and freelance photojournalist Taylor Swaim lives in a sunny corner apartment in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Her home proves that with a little creativity (and a lot of love) you can turn a first apartment into something amazing. Here’s a peek inside…

BEDROOM:
Cozy Brooklyn Apartment

On NYC apartment hunting: I’ve been living here just shy of three years. I moved from Indiana to New York City for work, and spent weeks looking for a place. Finally, I saw a listing for an apartment in this building. It was the Fourth of July and I thought, “Well at least no one else will be looking!” But when I got there, the guy said it had rented while I was en route. I think he saw the look of despair on my face, so he said, “We have another unit that was just vacated yesterday. If you’re willing to put your blinders on, I’ll show it to you.”

The place was horrible. Things were broken; everything was covered in a layer of dirt and grime. At first I was like, “No. No way.” But then a couple came in to see it, and they were hemming and hawing, pointing out the possibilities. I didn’t want to lose another apartment, so I said if I could do some renovations I’d take it. The lease didn’t start until August, but they let me spend July working on it. I’d come here every day after work and on weekends to scrub and paint.

Bedding: Ralph Lauren via T.J. Maxx. Comforter: Anthropologie. Owl prints: vintage book pages in IKEA frames. Dresser: vintage. Desk: vintage. Papier mache deer head: West Elm.

Cozy Brooklyn Apartment Tour

On creative storage: There’s only one closet in the entire place, so storage is a lot of smoke and mirrors. Things are stashed everywhere — in the armoire, behind doors, under the couch. Some people don’t necessarily think to keep glassware or beauty products on display, but when you don’t have storage, it really helps if you’re not afraid to keep things out in the open.

Armoire: vintage.

Cozy Brooklyn Apartment Tour

On how to make your bedroom smell amazing: I’m obsessed with everything from Cold Spring Apothecary. Their Amber Fig diffuser is in my bedroom, and I’ll get whiffs of it when I’m lying in bed. Their candles are also some of my very favorites. I also splurge on Aesop hand lotion, which I keep on my dresser. It feels like a luxury, but smells so good and lasts forever.

Cozy Brooklyn Apartment Tour

On setting up a workspace: The desk is actually an outdoor patio table, with a wood top instead of the original glass one. It was a yard sale find. I got a desktop computer last year, and it has changed the way I work. When I had a laptop, I would try to work in bed or on the couch, but now I’m forced to sit at a desk, which I kind of love. (If I’m being honest, though, my computer doubles as a Netflix machine! I’ll rotate the screen to watch movies in bed.)

Desk: repurposed patio table. Similar mirrored lamp.

Cozy Brooklyn Apartment Tour

On landing a dream job: I work at J. Crew, where I’m the Brand Creative Stills Coordinator. That basically means I’m in charge of making sure all the pieces get photographed for the website. Before this, I worked at a small music label in Indiana. A friend of a friend came to visit, and said, “I like your style, I think you would be a great fit at my company.” I sent her my resumé, but I didn’t even know where she worked! A couple weeks later, J. Crew started recruiting me. If you had told me a few years ago that I would be working for J. Crew — or even living in New York — I wouldn’t have believed you!

Cozy Brooklyn Apartment Tour

On the importance of lighting: Originally, I put the globe lights up one Christmas, but it was so nice having them on at night that I now keep them up year-round. They create a really nice glow in the bedroom, and in the morning I don’t have to turn on harsh lamps. I also replaced most of the light fixtures in the apartment. They had been those typical overhead dome lights and I changed them to a hanging bulb light and chandelier. I’m a big believer in the power of good lighting and what it can do for you.

On a lucky find: I once saw a white ceramic antler chandelier in a store here, but it was over $3000, which wasn’t going to happen. Then I went home to Indiana and saw this silver one for sale at an antique shop. I offered them $50, and they took it! I originally planned on spray painting it white, but surprisingly, it looked really good as is. It’s actually made of plastic!

LIVING/DINING ROOM:
Cozy Brooklyn Apartment Tour

On investing in key pieces: I always plan out a space before I move in. I’m one of those people who needs to feel settled almost immediately. When I moved to New York, I already owned my dining table and some vintage furniture. As soon as I knew the layout of the apartment, I invested in the couch and the coffee table from West Elm. Even when you’re young and on a budget, I think it’s good to have something in your home that feels nice and durable. Then I made one very long trip to IKEA for all of the shelving.

Couch: West Elm. Coffee table: West Elm. Rug: Pottery Barn. Curtains: Target. Side tables: Target. Lamps: Martha Stewart for Kmart. Pillows: T.J.Maxx.

Cozy Brooklyn Apartment Tour

On the joys of a well-stocked bar cart: I inherited the table from my great-grandmother. The height adjusts and the leaves fold out, and I’ll serve appetizers or cheese when people come over. It’s nice to have a designated area. I try my best to limit it to when friends come by, and not as a personal bar! My cocktail-making ability is not outstanding, but I like Whiskey Gingers — that’s my go-to drink when entertaining.

Bar table: antique. Glassware: West Elm. Curtains: Target.

Dining table and chairs: vintage. Shelving: IKEA.

Cozy Brooklyn Apartment Tour

How to decorate on a budget: When you’re on a budget, you have to find things that work and not worry about the name or brand. My lamps are from Kmart. My end tables are from Target, almost ten years ago. My curtains are a few inches shy of the floor — I know the cardinal rule of curtains is that they should touch the floor, but these were what I could afford, and they’re fine for now.

KITCHEN:
Cozy Brooklyn Apartment Tour

On making playlists: After working at a music label in Indiana, I amassed a pretty big collection of songs. I still listen to a lot of the bands I used to work with, and love making playlists for when I’m hanging out or when people come over. Here is one of my favorite Spotify mixes for doing things around the house.

Cozy Brooklyn Apartment Tour

On DIY kitchen renovations: In the kitchen, I updated everything except the floors. I painted the cabinets gray and added the vintage-inspired backsplash. (I didn’t want to have to explain the former rainbow tile backsplash every time somebody came over!) You can buy inexpensive plastic sheets that are made to look like old tin ceilings. You just cut them to size and affix them with very adhesive tape. I was nervous they might pop off the wall, but I’ve never had a problem.

Vintage-inspired backsplash: The Home Depot.

ENTRYWAY:
Cozy Brooklyn Apartment Tour

On keeping magazines: I’m guilty of keeping years worth of magazines, which I keep in a big basket next to the couch. I absolutely love The Gentlewoman. It has the most gorgeous portraits of women, in both the written and photographic sense. I’m also into Martha Stewart Living, and these days I like House & Home. If my home caught on fire, my old issues of Domino would definitely be one of the things I’d run back for. One of my favorite things to do on weekends is to sip a cup of coffee and flip through a magazine.

Cozy Brooklyn Apartment Tour

On creating storage: I’m definitely not a minimalist. I have a lot of books and a lot of tchotchkes! Most of them were found inexpensively at roadside antique shops in the Midwest. Sometimes I’ll look back at photos from when I first moved into the space and it looks so sparse, in a good way. I keep thinking maybe it’s time to get rid of some things.

Bookshelves: IKEA.

Cozy Brooklyn Apartment Tour

On loving what’s right outside the door: Crown Heights is very diverse, and everyone in the neighborhood is friendly. I see the same people on my walk to the subway every morning — there’s a woman on the corner who’s always watering her flowers, and a guy who sits outside and says good morning. I have a few favorite spots — Little Zelda for coffee, Barboncino for dinner and dates, and Elsie’s for amazing donuts and ice cream. It’s very comforting to feel like I’m part of a community rather than a big city.

Thank you so much, Taylor! Your home is lovely and inspiring.

P.S. More home tours, including a rainbow bookshelf and a teeny-tiny space.

(Photos by Alpha Smoot for Cup of Jo. Styling by Beth Flatley. Interview by Caroline Donofrio.)

  1. Beautiful! so yay xD

  2. This is my favourite home feature ever on CoJ! Lots of elbow grease turned this apartment into something spectacular!

  3. absolutely in love with her space! I moved to nyc in late august for college and while I love my cute little dorm in the village, I can’t wait to be able to get an apartment of my own to decorate and curate and have some freedom! I think this might be my dream apartment, it’s cozy but still has enough space to breathe, live, and host. I would also love to work for/with J.Crew one day, Taylor can I just have your life? hah

  4. I love that her target and kmart pieces look luxurious. Just goes to show you don’t need a bergdorf’s budget to make a place look classy! As soon as I land a place with hardwood floors, I’m going wild with the decor.

    http://www.theactivespirit.com

  5. Lucy says...

    BEAUTIFUL. I am saving this page, I LOVE the backsplash in the kitchen and all the shelving decor… I’m so jealous, I want my flat to look like this!! Thanks so much for the inspiration.
    Lucy xoxo

    http://lucyannblog.blogspot.co.uk

  6. Karli says...

    I loved this post. What gorgeous, original style. She has done such a great job of maximising the beauty of the place!

  7. Anna says...

    It’s sad to think of a gorgeous apartment like this being covered in dirt and grime with everything broken. Hard to believe someone would spend money renting it in NYC and take it for granted. THIS — the way Taylor has it — is how it SHOULD be. So beautiful! Really inspiring. Thanks for the post! Also, I’ll just say that J.Crew is the best.

  8. Beth Barone says...

    Just bookmarked! Married mom of 2 boys (4 and 6.5) and this post reminds me of my time living in Brooklyn and Hoboken!
    Love your cozy style.

  9. Great example of when style meets creative talent to produce such an appealing space.

  10. Kaitlin says...

    This is so cute! Love the space and the style.

  11. Haylie says...

    This is so random, BUT: I just noticed that you have a 7/17 playlist on Spotify, Taylor. Do we have the same birthday? <3

  12. Neva says...

    LOVE this home tour. She has such wonderful style and that chandelier is to die for! Favorite house tour for sure. Keep ones like this coming!

  13. Morgan says...

    I love this one! Especially her emphasis on using what you can afford and not worrying about decorating rules. I loved how she thrifted and repurposed things as well!

  14. Lottie says...

    Love the apartment, and love that it is a home tour of someone on a budget. That said, it tricked my bf who said ‘Oh maybe we can have a house like that in 10 years…!’ He was shocked that Taylor is young and on a budget!

  15. Totally loved this! We have a budget and our home is not even as nice as hers! hahahhaha! Bookmarking this to give my husband a guilt trip lol! :P

  16. Julia says...

    I also have a stack of Domino back issues! I lug them around with me every time I move – I still get sad when I think about how short-lived that magazine was. I’ve never found a real replacement for it.

  17. What a great apartment! I love the quirky decor items, especially the wiener dog letter holder. It really makes it feel warm and lived in. And storage is noted as a problem but it sure doesn’t look that way, everything looks organized but in no way sparse.

  18. Storage is sooo important and I’m seriously amazed by your effort in making your space work for you. I won’t know what to do!

  19. Loved this tour! Definitely one of my favorites!

  20. Nicky says...

    Wish I could move in. Love the globe in the second last pic. I’m going to assume it’s vintage.

  21. Liz says...

    I live in Crown Heights too and can’t believe a dreamy apartment like this exists. Great post!

  22. Caz says...

    Such a gorgeous apartment! I love it, along with the comment about the curtains.

    One thing I am, as an Australian, slightly confused by though – I’ve seen this before online and every time it confuses me so finally I’m asking, in case a lovely Cup of Jo reader could explain. I keep seeing house tours etc online where the place is rented but the tenant did all the renovations and seemingly paid for it all as well. Did Taylor pay for the renovations or the owner? In Australia I think it would be unheard of for a tenant to pay to renovate a property owned by someone else.

    • Jill Palumbo says...

      This must be a New York thing, because I live in California and can’t make any changes to my apartment.

    • Libby says...

      I’ve wondered this often too :) Maybe their leases are a lot longer? But still, you’re improving the value of someone else’s property.

    • Andrea says...

      I agree, a lovely space!

      In the US, “renovating” an apartment might mean cleaning, painting, swapping in light fixtures, doing lighter, non-permanent updates. And many tenants would get away with this with or without express permission. I’ve lived in my apartment for 15 years and change stuff as I like. If pushed, I could paint it all white at the end, but I’m living here and it makes me happier to be in a space that looks nice and is to my taste even if that means some money. Living in a space I like–priceless.

      Plus, when does the landlord ever come in? He’s been in my place maybe twice in 15 years. My neighbor hated the flooring and had wood installed and negotiated with the landlord to take some of the cost off her rent for a month.

    • Lottie says...

      Yes it would be unheard of in England too. You would never get permission to renovate, but the thinking is also why would you spend your own cash doing up someone else’s property investment? You might (maybe) get to paint and that’s if you are lucky. Where I live, apartments (flats) are almost always let furnished too so you have to work at finding stuff you can live with, disguising or adapting to whatever furniture is in the building.

    • Wynne Kontos says...

      Changes to a NYC apartment vary widely by lease.
      Some leases will expressly state no changes to the apartment can be made at all, or if you paint it must be covered in white before the tenant vacates. However, as stated above, many landlords never enter an apartment or see when changes have been made. And if you’ve improved the apartment through your renovations, the landlord will likely refund your deposit in full or not find you in violation of your lease because they know it makes their lives easier to rent the apartment to the next person. I think it’s a clause the management company uses to protect themselves in case a tenant damages a unit during a renovation or wants to install something crazy.
      A lot of management companies in the city also do major renovation overalls every few years at the end of a leasing period, but that almost ALWAYS means your rent goes up significantly and you are required to pay the increased cost, move out or remain in your apartment at the lower price but not receive the renovations. Any renovations a tenant makes to their apartment on their own, like Taylor did, do so at their own expense. In fact, every landlord I’ve ever had works this way, even outside of NY. In my experience, it would be unheard of for a management company to incur the costs of a remodel the tenant wanted to do themselves.

      ANYWAYS–congrats to Taylor on this amazing feature! I’m lucky to call her a friend and spend time in this amazing home. Taylor is a great cook as well, and lovely to our Scottish terrier who LOVES to visit and has started responding when we ask him, “Ready to go to Aunt Taylor’s?”

    • Caz says...

      Thanks for the helpful replies guys! :)

  23. Meggles says...

    I really enjoyed this tour, and how personal it was. We’ve never had a giant furnishings budget, and I am really proud of the fact that most of our furniture is hand-me-down antique/vintage, yardsale, or free finds from the side of the road (I live in MA, and New England is the best for rescuing other people’s trash and turning it into treasure–seriously. I have found so many things in just my neighborhood, and whenever we want to get rid of an old desk or chair, we just put it in front of our house and it’s gone in two days!). Like another commenter said, this was a much more relatable house tour. I love that her lamps are from Kmart. :)

  24. Aidel.K says...

    I’m listening to the playlist right now & it’s great! Thank you; I love me a good playlist. Also the apartment is so well done. Your hard work really shows.

  25. Linda says...

    Wow! I love what Taylor did to this space. It is darling!

  26. What a gorgeous, light-filled apartment and love what she’s done with it!

    I’m intrigued though, is it normal in the States to spend so much time and effort (and cash?) on renovating and tidying up a rental place before moving in? Or is this a thing particular to New York?

    You could rent an absolute dump in Auckland (NZ) and have to negotiate with the landlord about putting things up on the wall!

  27. Claire says...

    While all the other homes featured here have been gorgeous, Taylor’s house tour spoke to me because it felt so doable. I’m still in college and wonder what my life will be like post graduation: where I’ll live, what I’ll do, etc., and this apartment reassures me that you can make a beautiful and meaningful home on a budget. I love all of Taylor’s stories about renovating herself (how cool!) how she expertly mixed and matched antiques with more current furniture. And. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Claire says...

      Taylor, I’m wondering: where did you find that great globe on your bookshelf?

  28. Alyssa says...

    Where are the bison on the bookshelf from?

  29. Sara says...

    This apartment is so beautiful, but I kept wondering how she affords it! Looking at blogs, it would seem that most young professional women in major cities live on their own, but I actually know very few women my age (28) who are financially able to live without a roommate. I would love to see future posts about roommate situations, or–honestly–it would be so refreshing to hear young women talk about how much of their money goes to rent, how they budget, etc.!

    • Christi says...

      I second the budgeting post idea!

    • Jessica says...

      Agree, Sara! I’m 33 and still have a roommate. When you don’t have a live-in partner, it’s often the only affordable option in many cities where housing is so expensive. I’m actually debating applying to a job in NYC for this very reason–I’m worried I’d never be able to afford it on my own.

    • Taylor says...

      Hi Everyone!

      Taylor here! I just want to say that I actually do have a roommate (her bedroom just isn’t photographed.) I’m in total agreement with you all, it can be daunting trying to figure out budgets for housing in a big city. We got very lucky with our place… our rent is lower than normal for the neighborhood (again, because we were willing to take a risk on a place that needed a lot of work!) A large portion of my income does go to rent, but unfortunatley that’s pretty standard for NYC living.

      Good luck to all of you!!

    • Ali says...

      This is a GREAT idea. So refreshing to hear from someone who is actually in a budget! I love places like DWR but it’s not…within reach.

    • Kim B. says...

      I think knowing that Taylor has a roommate is a big help here. Still, it makes it perhaps even more amazing that TWO people live in this space!

      I agree with all the comments that Taylor has done an amazing job with this space, and it looks cool and chic AND comfortable. Bravo.

  30. Christi says...

    A long-time reader, & definitely one of my favorite posts to date! It’s a joy to read your writing, Caroline. My head is already spinning with inspiration!

  31. This girl is talented! What a find! I once lived in Crown Heights with a horder for a roommate. But what a great example of finding a diamond in the rough and working on that diamond until it sparkles.

  32. Your space is so beautiful. And I love the story behind it, so special the amount of work you’ve put into it! I also love how you got hired – gives me a little hope that I’ll find a cool job like yours!

    http://www.kelseymarie.co

  33. christina says...

    Also a Crown Heights dweller – it’s a fabulous neighborhood. Lovely to see what neighbors are doing with their spaces. Also, Taylor – try Ogliostro – much better pizza than Barboncino!

  34. Love the budget-friendly decor. Your home is beautiful, Taylor!

  35. As usual, love the home tours. What a great place! And cheers to coffee and magazines.

  36. Lauri H. says...

    Such a cute place, I love it. And I totally agree, in case of fire or any natural disaster, I’m grabbing my stack of Domino magazines! Without a doubt!

  37. Such a nice space and well thought out! I love that neighborhood too, Barboncino is delish!

  38. Emma says...

    Love love love. So cute!

  39. Love! Beautiful style. The perfect brooklyn apartment.

  40. Emily says...

    Beautiful home with low cost items. I’m amazed at how high end it looks!

  41. Jamie says...

    I have that backsplash in my kitchen too… I always liked it but now appreciate it more! :D

  42. tara says...

    My favourite tour too. It looks so stylish but comfortable, just what a home should be. Aesthetically awesome but not staged.

  43. I love that her home was done on what I would consider to be a normal budget and things are good enough for now!
    That being said it looks like a million bucks!

  44. mmsmith says...

    I love your apartment. You’ve done a terrific job!

    I’d like to comment on one thing: the lighted candle on your low table. A friend’s shirt caught fire on candle that I had placed on a low table. She ended up in the hospital with bad burns. The experience was terrifying for both of us.

    Now I always tell people to keep handles in the center of the dining room table!! Stay safe.

  45. Anitra says...

    My favorite house tour!! Probably because if I was living in New York this is how I imagine my life would be.

    • Anna says...

      Haha my thoughts exactly! If only…

  46. i love the sconces that frame her bed. it’s a nice touch of light without having to use the lights on her side tables! i’m definitely going to have those when i have my own place

    hammyta.wordpress.com

  47. Thanks for sharing Taylor!! Your apartment is stylish, and looks like anyone would be comfortable there. The minimalist look is great for photos & Pinterest, but I definitely prefer a home like yours! And thanks for the tips & that backsplash idea is brilliant!

    Lendy
    http://www.twoplusluna.com

  48. We just purchased our first home and this is so inspiring! I can’t wait to try out some of these ideas.

  49. I agree–this was a refreshing home tour! So nice to see what she did on a budget while also mixing in nice pieces and heirlooms. I also like that there is color, not just white and pale tones. Looks inviting, cozy, and lived in.

  50. Lauren E. says...

    I’m not sure I could be more in love with this apartment. And it all feels so attainable! That is… if you have an impeccable sense of style. Just gorgeous.

  51. Elizabeth R says...

    Great place! Random questions: What liquor do you recomend? And what coffee table books?

  52. hannah says...

    Ahh how beautiful! Makes me want to move out so bad! Love sunny and bright rooms!

    Hannah | Oh January

  53. robyn says...

    I wish I was this creative!!

  54. I get stressed just thinking about apartment hunting o_O What a lucky break for her!

    I think of LA as godawful when it comes to the desperation of the housing search…but I can imagine NYC is a whole different ballgame.

    http://oprahismyreligion.wordpress.com

  55. adore the lights above the bedroom doorway and the collage on the back of the door! apartment goals.

    -kim
    midnight snark

  56. Catherine Spencer says...

    Great style, I love what you do with a small space! Where did you find that kilim rug next to your bed? I’ve been obsessively on the hunt for those lately after seeing them in so many people’s homes!

  57. Love the globe lights, and I love the mix of high and low end items.

  58. Marcy says...

    So lovely. Makes me want my old apartment back but 5 people in a one bedroom? Nope. Also makes me want to live in the city.

  59. Ashleigh says...

    This is definitely my favorite home tour feature you’ve posted! Love this quaint little space!

  60. Laura says...

    Beautiful! It seems huge for a NY apartment. Love it.

  61. Cynthia says...

    I absolutely love this apartment! It just shows that you can decorate well with what you own and what you can afford. Our home is decorated the same way. Lampshades from Target and K-Mart, dishes from the dollar store, family heirlooms, etc. It’s what makes it cozy and homey. I don’t have long curtains because of our cast iron radiators that are just below the window sills, so I made valances because our windows are an odd length because our house is 76 years old.

  62. jill c says...

    oh i love this! just having told my husband how awful our house feels (it’s small and needs work and we’ve been living in it waaay too long) this inspired me which is what i needed. I think i may start to try and love my home again and work on it before and after the new year – thank you!

  63. I love seeing a more budget friendly home tour (not that the others aren’t #housegoals). I especially love the whole “can’t afford long enough curtains” part. We’ve been renting in different places/states for years now and just can’t justify nice window treatments when we don’t know if they’ll even work in our next home! I think that’ll be a huge treat whenever we one day buy our own place.
    During our year in NY, we also lucked out with touring an apartment that was turning people off because it hadn’t been cleaned yet. Great price, great apartment, and we had a full view of Inwood Hill Park from every window. Sometimes it really pays to use a little imagination!

  64. Lexie says...

    I love this home! It’s beautiful and a bit more “lived in” than your usual features.

  65. Megan says...

    I LOVE THIS! As someone around the same age, this place feels so accessible, and I love that she includes pieces from Target and K-Mart and TJ Max. Great to show what you can do on a budget!

  66. Thank you so much for showing this to us! I have recently gotten more and more into interior design (although I have no natural eye for it) and I am always inspired by seeing other beautiful homes! Such a wonderful way to decorate a smaller space, without making it feel overwhelming and cluttered! Beautiful!

    xoxo http://www.touchofcurl.com

  67. Julia says...

    So beautiful! I love that her home is edgy but still cozy. Great tour, Caroline!