My friend Yen, an architect, lives with her husband and two kids in a gorgeous apartment in downtown Manhattan. We went to their place for brunch last fall, and our eyes popped when we walked in. (How great is that rainbow bookcase?!) Here’s a peek inside…

On falling in love with the apartment: We needed a three-bedroom apartment close to New Jersey, since my husband works there. Liem, my seven-year-old son, loved the “mysterious hallway” (you have to walk through twists and turns after the elevator to reach our place) and my husband Rich loved the skylights. We fell in love when we first saw it and put in an offer. It feels like an oasis from NYC. I think we’ll live here forever. Our kids will grow up here.

Sofa: The Future Perfect. Coffee table: CB2. Side table/stools: HORNE. Oversize chair: Vintage, upholstered in Romo fabric. Rocking chair: Jason Lewis Furniture.

On creating a relaxed home: Originally I wanted the space to resemble a white Parisian apartment, but then I realized I didn’t really like white! I wanted it to be cozier. Plus, I don’t like worrying about the kids and telling them to be neat all the time. It’s better when you can have an apartment that wears in and ages along with the kids.

On the colorful bookcase: As soon as we started designing, I knew we’d build a bookcase and that it would be a rainbow. I don’t know where that came from! My business partner Michi and I have paint swatches at work, so we spent an afternoon picking out what we thought was nice, and brought them here to see them in the light. It worked! I loved it from the beginning. My husband Rich was a little nervous because the books were the last thing we unpacked, so it was a full-on rainbow for a really long time.

On a farmhouse table: Our dining table from The Future Perfect is called the “Together Table.” It’s long and deliberately narrow so you’re more intimate. The only problem is that if you sit across from my father-in-law, who is really tall, you end up playing footsie with him1

On entertaining: We have friends over a lot. I cook Vietnamese food, and I’m always making kale salad at parties. A couple months ago, I discovered triangle tarts made of puff pastry for dinner parties. You can make the fillings a couple days in advance—ground beef and mushrooms, or potatoes and peas, whatever you’d like. They’re great with the kale salad.

Table: The Future Perfect. Black dining chairs: Jean Prouvé. Upholstered dining chairs: ABC Carpet & Home with Maharam fabric.


On evening rituals: My husband and I usually have dinner after the kids go to bed. We catch up on the day, and then we’ll just putz around. I putz a lot!

On hanging out: We spend a lot of time at the island. The kids sit here while eating their breakfast and snacks, talking to me while I cook and doing their homework.

On feeding kids: I’m reading the book It’s Not About the Broccoli, which is about teaching children healthy eating. My kids don’t have very good eating habits, so we’re working on that. We practice rotation (when you can’t have the same thing twice in a row) and talk about the differences between growing foods, fun foods and junk foods. For example, yesterday we had waffles, so we can’t have waffles again today. When kids get so used to having the same tastes over and over, they get scared to try new tastes. Liem said he tried calamari at school, so I guess it’s working!


On helping kids stay organized: We keep industrial hooks by the front door. The kids have their own hooks. We also have bins for their hats, scarves, mittens and school supplies, so they know where all their stuff is.

On comfy sheets: For our master bedroom, I love white cotton sheets. My favorite thing is freshly laundered sheets. If it weren’t completely decadent, I’d wash my sheets everyday.

Bed: West Elm. Bedside table: West Elm. Bedside lamp: Design Within Reach. Wallpaper: FlavorPaper. Duvet cover: West Elm. Table lamp: Horne. Day bed: Design Within Reach.

On the genius of bins: In our hallway, the kids keep their toys in storage bins. We get bins everywhere—The Container Store, Land of Nod, Anthropologie, P’kolino. We bring a few toys into the living room when they want to play, so they’re never overwhelmed by too many toys at once. And our living room stays relatively clean!

Pendant lamp: Pieces. Wallpaper: Ferm Living. Numbered storage bin: The Land of Nod. Dotted suitcases: The Land of Nod.

On sharing a room: The kids will share a bedroom until five-year-old Ai-Linh wants to sleep alone in the other bedroom. She tried it for one night, but then made Liem sleep with her and never went back. For now, they like sharing this room. They’re happy. Their whole routine is together—they brush their teeth together and then they read a story. They’re still babies together.

On finding kids’ art: I get art from 20×200, which sells prints for $20. It’s easy to create themes. If you want to do all animals or transportation, you can buy different styles and put them all together. We have a lot of baseball prints!

On playing together: On Saturday mornings, they get to watch TV, so we can sleep in! They’ll snuggle under the covers in one bed and watch a show together or one will play a video game and the other will watch. Ai-Linh is also into her stuffies. She plays with a different stuffie every day so none of them feel lonely or left out.

Table and chairs: P’kolino. World Map: The Conran Shop. Rug: The Rug Company. Bunk bed: Costco. Cloud and bird pillows: The Land of Nod. Eames Rocker: Design Within Reach.

On telling secrets: When we were moving in, Liem really wanted a way to talk between the bedrooms, so I told him I’d make him a speaking tubes between the rooms. (A tube actually goes through the hallway wall to the guest room!) When they have friends over, they’re a bit hit.

On making a guest room comfortable: I’ve heard that you should sleep in the guest room yourself before you have guests. I tried sleeping in ours and discovered there’s a draft! So I put an extra blanket in there.

On favorite home stores: I always do a round of CB2, West Elm and Crate and Barrel. The store I really love is The Future Perfect, but they’re really expensive. I like Horne. I love the Rug Company—even though I can’t afford their rugs, their patterns are really inspirational, so it’s fun to go look around.

Side table: The Land of Nod.

On a place for jumping: The kids asked for a climbing wall, so I made a wall ladder in the guest room. They’re jumpers—they jump off everything!

On career advice for budding architects: Trust yourself and your expertise. Be firm in your convictions (don’t let a grumpy old contractor tell you how to build that wall). Find good people to work with, people who will support and believe in you. Find other women who are practicing in the field, and look for role models and mentors who you can talk to about what it’s really like.

Thank you so much, Yen! Your home is wonderful!

P.S. A San Francisco apartment tour, and another NYC apartment tour.

(Photos by Alpha Smoot for Cup of Jo. Styling by Kendra Smoot.)