Alison Piepmeyer, the managing editor of Oh Happy Day, lives in a one-bedroom apartment with her husband, Zachary. They decorated their Lower Haight home with a tight budget and smart ideas — including a nursery in the closet! Here’s a peek inside…
Sofa: West Elm. Pillows on sofa: Serena & Lily, West Elm, CB2 and Target. White side table: thrifted and painted white, similar. Wooden chair: Craigslist vintage, reupholstered with Britex Fabric, similar. Check pillow: Target, similar. Silver lamp: vintage, similar. Coffee table: thrifted, similar. Rug: Crate & Barrel. Artwork: Etsy.
On budget shopping: When we moved in, we developed a budget for each room (so if we wanted a particular couch, it meant we could only spend this much on all the other things). We would be like, ‘Okay, by March we’ll probably have saved enough money to finish this room, by July we can finish this room…’ For the bigger pieces, I would first go to five vintage stores around the Mission — like Stuff, Community Thrift and De Angelis — to see if there was anything we liked. If not, I’d move on to Craigslist. If that didn’t work, I’d go to West Elm or CB2 and then set up sale alerts so I could buy things when they got marked down.
On using design books: I love the style of my boss Jordan Ferney and have learned a lot from sitting next to her for four years. She introduced me to two books — Domino: The Book of Decorating and The Perfectly Imperfect Home — that I’ve used as my bibles. I probably read them once a month and think, ‘Okay, is this the direction this room is going? Is it on track?’ I also love Emily Henderson’s book. She helped me add the finishing touches.
On lighting: One of the biggest things I’ve learned is the importance of lighting. You should never have the ceiling lamp as your main source of light; you should have five or six sources, so there are little corners where light is coming from. Our living room has at least five lights, and it makes the space feel warm and comfortable.
Wooden side table: Mint green chair: vintage Craigslist, similar. White pillow: CB2. Ottoman: vintage, similar. Lamp: Stuff by Andrew Neyer. Striped basket: IKEA, similar. Curtains: Ikea. Urban Outfitters, similar.
On Craigslist: I got this green chair on Craigslist for $40. Craigslist is a commitment. I went on there for six hours one night looking for a small chair like this — I literally went through all the pages. You have to cast a really wide net to find anything on Craigslist. I just searched for ‘chair’ so nothing got filtered out; then it was hours of scrolling. It has become a hobby for me — I’ll sit down with a trashy movie and scroll through Craigslist.
On plants: Our plants are what people first notice when they come over. We started off with one plant, with the goal of simply keeping it alive. We did that for six months, then we added another and then another, and then we were basically trying to see how many we could keep alive, and the collection kept growing. We love Flora Grubb. The staff is super knowledgeable, so I ask for plants with the least amount of upkeep, and they deliver. Also, a tip: plant pots are super expensive at plant stores but super cheap in thrift stores.
On curtains: I like gauzy curtains that let light through (for my plants!). All our curtains are from Ikea, so they’re super inexpensive, but they still look good. I hung them as high as possible, even above the window frame, so they make the room feel bigger.
On decorating compromises: Growing up, the interior of the house was my mom’s domaine. My dad couldn’t care less — the yard was his thing. So, when we got married, I didn’t realize Zachary would be so involved. But my husband is a very opinionated designer. I remember ordering a print from Etsy, and he was like ‘No, there’s no way we’re putting this on the wall.’ That was like six years ago; it has been a journey trying to blend our two styles, but I think we’ve hit our stride. He likes bold and graphic things; I love nude photographs of women and paintings.
On buying art: Most of our art is from flea markets or thrift stores. There’s an awesome event that happens every year in Oakland called the White Elephant Sale. A bunch of older women put together a ginormous warehouse full of vintage stuff. We got 15 new pieces of art for $100 or something ridiculous!
On dinner parties: We always invite someone over for dinner in the middle of the week because it helps us keep the house clean. It’s ridiculous, but we’ve found that it’s the only way the house stays tidy. We clean on the weekend, but if we don’t have anyone over, the stuff will collect. We also love to cook for friends; we just ask them to bring over something to drink. People get creative with things like homemade margaritas or the gin and tonics they’ve been trying to perfect.
On burgers: We split the cooking — I usually throw something together, but my husband gets really into it. He cooks solely in cast iron pans. He read some article that said you get the best flavors in those pans and just went on a rampage. His specialty is a smash burger. He tops them with his secret sauce, made with mayo, ketchup, mustard, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper and garlic powder. Last time we were in New York, we went to the place in Harlem where they first made smash burgers to see how they compared. I think my husband’s are better.
On the chalkboard: We used chalkboard paint in the dining room. When people come over, they’ll write on it. Our friend aced a big test in nursing school, so we invited her over, got a few balloons, and wrote ‘Congratulations’ on the chalkboard. It made it special in a simple way. When my husband gets home before me, he likes to start working on dinner. If I have a plan, I’ll write it on the chalkboard, so he knows, ‘Oh, I should start boiling these noodles.”
On nighttime music: My husband is the music curator in our home. Every night around 9:30 he puts on this soothing instrumental music when we should be getting ready for bed. I’m like, ‘Okay, the music is on; I should go brush my teeth.’ It helps my body adjust. Ha, it sounds like we’re 90 years old!
Bed: West Elm. Bedding: Serena & Lily. Pillow shams: Serena & Lily. Pom pom throw blanket: Serena & Lily, similar. Side lamps: Serena & Lily, similar. Side tables: vintage. Alarm clock: CB2. White rug: West Elm.
On dark walls: We wanted our bedroom to feel homey and separate from the rest of the house. So, we put photos of our furniture into Photoshop and made a background to see what color would look best. We landed on dark green. We picked out six or seven different shades at Home Depot and ended up with a water-like blue-y green. When you’re in there, it feels like you’re swimming in the middle of a river. It’s soothing and cozy, especially at night.
On making your bed: I’ve read that your bed should be a place you want to climb into at the end of the day, and I definitely agree. My mom always has a bazillion pillows on her bed, and it makes it so cozy and comfy. We also try to make our bed every morning. It’s hard, but it feels so good when the sheets are crisp and tucked.
Desk: vintage. Desk chair: Blue Dot. Desk lamp: vintage. Yellow chair: Vintage Milo Baughman. Standing lamp: Anthropologie. Woman painting: Vintage. White side table: Modway. Shelves: vintage. Bird table: Urban Outfitters. Rug: from Morocco, similar.
On special books: We usually read on our kindles, but if a book is particularly meaningful, we’ll buy the hardcover. So, most of these books are very special to us. I was so moved by All the Light We Cannot See. I also love everything by Jonathan Franzen. Lately, I’ve been stressed out, so I’m reading Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians. It’s mind-numbing, and that’s what I need in my life right now.
On travel guides: We use the Monocle travel guides to choose our vacation destinations. It sounds ridiculous, but they’re that good. Everything is so well curated — you end up taking the perfect vacation! The first one we used was for Tokyo. It said, ‘Here is the best restaurant in Tokyo,’ and we went and were like ‘Wow, yeah, this might be the best meal we’ve ever had in our life!’ Then it says if you want to go shopping go here, and it was the exact place I’d been looking for. It made our trip so easy.
On finding space for a family: My husband and I used to live in an itty-bitty studio, but we knew we wanted to start a family. We couldn’t afford a two-bedroom, so we chose this one-bedroom because it had a large closet. We figured that eventually we’d turn it into a nursery, which we’re in the process of doing now, since I’m six months pregnant.
On getting pregnant: I’d had enough friends who’d had trouble conceiving to know that it could be a possibility for us, so we decided to try for a year before seeing a specialist. Even though we went into it with our eyes open, I was surprised at how difficult that year was. Every time I got my period, my heart would break. I avoided my friends who got pregnant, and sobbed after every interaction with them. I wanted to punch everyone who told me, “We weren’t even trying!” But, after that year, we started meeting with a specialist, which brought so much relief. I finally felt validated: I wasn’t going crazy, there were actually things in my body that were blocking our potential to conceive. I got pregnant six months later from an IUI.
On the nursery: This closet actually has three doors (weird old San Francisco building) — one leads to our bedroom, and two lead into our entryway. It’s definitely a work in progress. I’ve been collecting trinkets from our travels — the mobile is from Petit Pan in Paris. Mainly, we’ve been looking for tiny inexpensive furniture that can fit in a closet! It feels surreal because we couldn’t get pregnant for so long; it’s a little bit like a fairy tale.
Rug: vintage, similar.
Thank you so much, Alison!