Design

7 Decorating Tips From the Hovey Sisters

7 Decorating Tips from the Hovey Sisters

Sisters Hollister and Porter Hovey run an apartment staging and interior design company together. One of their jobs was to decorate a one-bedroom apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “We had a $5500 budget to kit out this adorable apartment, including all the major pieces — sofa, table, chairs, rug, lamps, bed and mattress,” says Hollister. They went for clean, bright basics that felt welcoming. Take a tour around, and hear their seven design tips…

7 Decorating Tips from the Hovey Sisters

Rattan chair: Ikea. Sofa: CB2. Coffee table: Urban Outfitters, sold out. Side tables: Urban Outfitters, similar. Small lamp, left: Ikea. Floor lamp, right: Urban Outfitters. Mirror: Umbra. Frame: Ikea. Carafe: similar. Rug: World Market.

Start with big pieces. We love CB2’s armless sofas. They’re so chic and easy. The sofa helped determine the overall color palette. For this apartment, we stuck with neutrals — black, white and tan. It’s a thousand times easier to shop on a budget if you’re doing neutrals, versus prints and patterns.

Consider rattan. Compared to upholstered furniture, you can get incredibly beautiful rattan pieces for pennies on the dollar. World Market has great rattan. You can also paint them, if you want brighter colors. We once visited a fancy, fancy $1000-night beach resort that had painted their Ikea rattan chairs hot pink. I loved seeing that!

Mirrors are foolproof wall decor. When in doubt, decorate with mirrors. We use the Umbra Hub wall mirror in every apartment we decorate. At 37″ and $150, they’re the biggest cheapest mirrors we can find. They work well for rentals because you only need one nail.

7 Decorating Tips from the Hovey Sisters

Rattan chair: Ikea. Side table: Ikea.

You really can make your own art. I did this art with a Sharpie! You can just scribble, the messier the better. You can also draw geometric shapes or do abstract paper cutouts. Don’t be too precious, just start chopping and glueing! Do a zig zag with a blob at the end. Little kids’ art is also great to hang. Give your kid one color to work with if you’re going monochrome; then put it in a nice Ikea frame.

7 Decorating Tips from the Hovey Sisters

Dining table: Target, similar. Dining chairs: Urban Outfitters. Frame: Ikea. Vase: West Elm.

Try Target, Urban and Ikea. Target has awesome, awesome stuff, especially accent tables; and their outdoor furniture and pillows can work well indoors. I always thought of Urban Outfitters as junkier stuff, but it can be really sophisticated. Big retailers like Ikea and World Market can be overwhelming, so take a deep breath, go in with a list, and just get what you need. And we are big believers in stealing from your parents’ house, if they have anything extra!

Give vintage chairs new life. Our big tip is to seek out busted-looking chairs that have a cool shape and good structure. Don’t be afraid of stains on the seat because you can switch out the fabric. Anyone can do it, you just need fabric and a staple gun. Also, if you’re searching on eBay, try Boolean search terms, which are so boring to talk about, but really work! For example, you might search ‘Italian (197*, 196*)’ and then you’d get cool Italian stuff from the 60s and 70s.

7 Decorating Tips from the Hovey Sisters

Headboard: Ikea, similar. (“We used two twin-sized headboards, which worked perfectly for a queen.”) Mattress and bed frame: Ikea. Quilt: Parachute. Table lamps: Urban Outfitters. Bedside tables: Ikea.

Add personality with small things. Start with simple furniture that never goes out of style. That way, it can move with you from home to home, year after year. Then you can decorate with travel souvenirs and family photos. Personal touches make a space feel homey and wonderful. Instead of spending your money on 1,000 little adorable candles, buy a rattan chair and put family photos on your walls. Big pieces create the framework of the space, and small pieces tell the story. The couch doesn’t need to tell the story.

A few Hovey sisters’ picks:

Thank you so much, Hollister and Porter!

P.S. The Hovey sisters share their own apartment tour, and a woodsy cottage in New Hampshire.

(Apartment photos by Hovey Design.)

  1. My tip is to always check if there’s a market for furniture at your workplace (mine has one), and to use craigslist, Goodwill and other thrift stores (especially in transient and young cities like NYC etc.) You will get FAR more bang for your buck if you use thrift than trying to get everything new, plus it’s much more eco-friendly. Honestly am very disappointed they didn’t seem to try to do that here, which is why imo this house’s decor is very dull and barren (and dare I say cheap plus uncomfortable…)

  2. Kristian Olson says...

    This was such a nice and helpful post! And while I think a post about second hand furniture could be a great idea, I really, really apperciate this post for what it is. All the items being from affordable places like Target and Urban Outfits? Fantastic (and also shows that you really listen to what your readers ask for as I’ve seen people ask for house decor ideas at this price point). Thank you!

    Also- I love the rattan. Its something I grew up with, but also something that was trendy in the 70s AND found in a lot of Iowa farmhouses in the 30s and even before, based on our family photos.

  3. Emmie says...

    The house looks nice, and these are fun tips, but I cannot help but imagine how uncomfortable all that furniture is. An armless couch! Rattan chairs with thin cushions! I believe you can have both comfort and style.

    • Blandine says...

      I am with you on the armless couch! I would not know what to do with it!

  4. Elizabeth R says...

    I love the Hovey sisters; and this place is fine. I think some better tips for quality furniture are estate sales/yard sales/boot sales/thrift stores. I try to get my soft pieces new aka couches and mattresses; but wooden furniture like TV stands, desk, coffee tables, china cabinets, etc can all be scored cheap. A lot of the generation passing away has children who don’t want all their old furniture so there is a big excess of furniture. Better for the environment, too. I personally bought this amazing secretary desk for just 50 bucks at a yard sale. Anyways, just a thought!

    • Maria says...

      I second this. The search is so fun, too.

    • SB says...

      I agree on all counts, Elizabeth R.! I’ve found some amazing things secondhand, for my house *and* for me – so much better made than what I could get from World Market in most cases. Often all they need is a bit of elbow grease and some baking soda or wood cleaner to really shine!

    • Robin says...

      Yes! 100% agree. Cooler, better for the environment, cheaper, better quality.

  5. My favorite tour so far. So simple, clean and calming. You could leave it like this or use it as a canvas for your own touches. Plus the affordability of it all! Thanks for putting together this post Joanna and team!

  6. Kristin says...

    Damn! They killed it for $5,500. Love the art they created as well.

  7. Genevieve says...

    I think if you’re decorating on any sort of budget then buying second hand is the only thing that makes sense! It helps that we live in a city so there’s loads of stuff available on Gumtree (UK’s Craigslist) and Facebook. The quality you can get is infinitely better than buying new cheap furniture for the same price! And much better for the environment to reuse rather than buy new which has made me feel good :)
    Of course you have to be more free with the design (get big pieces first then find smaller stuff that fits the vibe) and willing to wait a while to get things. We moved 3 weeks ago and are still waiting for the right dining table to come up but eating on the sofa for a few weeks is fine!

  8. Libby says...

    I LOVE everything about this!

  9. Mandy says...

    This is by far my favorite house tour. I’m all for color, just not in my own space. Neutrals help calm me after a chaotic day. Thank you for giving us neutral lovers a home to admire and tips to try. I am also thankful to see these more affordable brands. Thank you!

    • Same! My favorite tour so far. So simple, clean and calming. Plus the affordability of it all!

  10. Gemma Burgess says...

    Oh man I LOVE you guys and I LOVE your style!!
    Xxxxx

  11. Suzanne says...

    So interesting to see what you can buy on a very specific budget, and I think they did a great job. I especially like the two twin rattan headboards for a queen bed. I would totally copy that!

  12. Shannon says...

    I LOVE that they mentioned Boolean searching on eBay. I’m working towards my MLIS degree right now, and the future librarian in me definitely perked up when she read that!

  13. Marcy says...

    If I remember correctly, there was a house tour for these sisters a while back that was just gorgeous and full of bright colors and happiness. I know this definitely fits the “having style without spending a lot of money” niche but it’s so boring especially if you remember the space that they actually live in.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i think it’s so beautiful! it’s a design for someone to move into, and then you’d add your family photos and little touches. :)

    • Lizzie says...

      Ouch, Marcy!

    • Mandy says...

      I find this space to be absolutely lovely. Everyone has their own style.

    • Elena says...

      @Marcy, it’s not their personal space. It’s for a client! I can appreciate a professional stylist (either interiors or fashion) who does things for other people that is not their own aesthetic. It’s part of their job, and though not every piece is my taste and I prefer a more layered look, they killed it! Those sisters have style in spades!

  14. Meghan says...

    In addition to painting wicker, you can also stain it. I have an old Ikea wicker chair from when I was in elementary school. It used to be the typical blonde wicker, but I inherited a bunch of mid century cherry wood furniture so I stained the wicker darker to match the other wood tones. It was almost easier than painting because you rub off the stain, so you could apply it really haphazardly.

  15. Lily says...

    This look is nice for photos but I tried to imagine myself living in it and just can’t. It takes the neutral palette to an extreme and doesn’t look homey at all. Would be great for something like an AirBNB or short term rental.

    • Rashmi says...

      +1. It just feels so…. magazine-ish? I usually love rattan and wicker but somehow they dont look that cheerful in this layout. Would have loved to see the chairs in hot pink!

    • Christine says...

      Yes! First thought was nice photos for an AirBNB.

    • Blandine says...

      I agree with you but I must add that as a frequent Airbnb user, I getting tired of the cute-cutter look that is clean and white and minimalist that is seen everywhere from Warsaw to Tokyo to Paris (three places I stayed at in the past two years that looked extremely similar). It now feels so impersonal.

  16. Annie says...

    Oh this is lovely for photos, but it looks cold! An armless sofa? How do you lounge on an armless sofa? But it does look beautiful.

    • Eliza says...

      I imagine an armless sofa being great in a small space where you have lots of people visiting regularly, or kids – so they can sort of hang/sit off the ends for an extra seat! Or for a single person who likes to lay down on the couch (with a beautiful colourful pillow!) when they’re binge-watching. In real life (not beautifully curated blogs/websites/magazines) I see tons of people with furniture that is WAY too big for their space and it just eats it up and makes it look smaller and cramped and I wish they’d consider comfortable but appropriately sized furniture – this *could* fit that bill!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you, bobby! going to check out right now. so, so glad there’s growing awareness and research, makes me so happy! xoxo

    • Maria says...

      Weaning soon and really hope my hormones don’t betray me just as everything is getting settled. Thanks for sharing this Bobby!

  17. hali says...

    Pretty validating to see rugs and furniture I already own all over this article! Texted this it to my mom for a project we’re working on and have been shooting notes back and fourth to each other all morning about it. More of the “I’m broke but have great taste” posts, please!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      so fun that you and your mom are working on a project together!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, so different! they’re great at working with other people’s budgets and aesthetics, which is such a gift as a designer!

  18. sarah morabito says...

    wowowow I just love it ALL!!!

  19. Sarah Norel says...

    That coffee table! I’ve been looking for something just like that (and ironically have been planning to purchase the side tables picked below and have similar black sconces, so this is RIGHT up my alley). Do the Hovey sisters have any recommendations/links to anything similar?

    • GeorgeS says...

      I’m wondering about that cushion on the ikea rattan chair – we wanted to buy one but ikea doesn’t seem to offer a companion cushion. We tried a throw pillow but that didn’t really work. Was this cushion custom made?

    • McKenzie Cunningham says...

      I’m also here for similar recs! Or maybe the name of the Urban coffee table, in case we could find a used one for sale?

  20. Lillie says...

    I feel like “don’t get trendy furniture, but go for quality that lasts!” & “buy rattan” are contradictory,

    • Kay says...

      Exactly — I grew up around a lot of rattan furniture and the stuff just doesn’t age well and is high maintenance to boot, particularly the woven parts (requiring lots of wiping down, etc). And it attracts dust and creepy crawly bugs as it gets older and starts to warp! Personally I avoid rattan now.

    • SB says...

      I have some rattan + wood items handed down from my mom; they are beloved to me so I’m biased but it’s holding up okay. It’s definitely harder to hide dings in rattan v. wood though!

    • Katie says...

      SAME!!! Thank you!

  21. Kirsten says...

    Always, always here for the Hovey content.

  22. Kelly Drummond says...

    I love when you feature the Hovey sisters! I devour anything they write about their staging company, It’s amazing/inspiring and makes me want to start my own one day:)

  23. Erin G. says...

    Hi CoJ team – this post made me wonder if you have ever done (or are willing to do) posts on home renovations (what to expect, how does the process go, should you or shouldn’t you, what I wish I knew before I did it, would I do it over again…). I would just love to hear from folks that did it and lived to tell the tale.
    Thanks for the great content, as always. xo – Erin

    • Megan says...

      Oooh. I love this idea!

    • emilee says...

      i’d also love to hear about home reno experiences! it’s such an intimidating process if you’ve never done it before. i don’t even know where to start (or how much i need to save…)

    • Maria says...

      Jenny Komenda is such a good resource! She is so transparent about the process, and is just a lovely and talented designer.

  24. a says...

    Would love to know what they think of the quality of urban outfitters furniture.. I’ve eyed a few pieces but they never have them in stores and it’s hard to tell online, plus they’re still not cheap (ie still ~west elm prices or higher) so I’m not sure what exactly I’m getting. I love the look of them though, anyone have any experience with it?

    • Elizabeth says...

      Years ago I bought a side table from UO and to this day it is still one that I adore and continue to pack and move with me. It has a solid marble top (read: heavy AF) and this beautiful brass base with just a bit of style to it. Simple and timeless.

      When I bought it I was just coming out of a very long relationship and was moving in to a space that I could call my own. After living with a significant other for so long, I was finally ready to buy quality pieces (i.e. no longer in college just buying whatever works on a shoe string budget, and not taking anyone else’s aesthetic in to consideration). It was originally like $350 and I got it on sale for $200. I was hesitant to spend so much money on something from UO, also thinking that they were cheap, but I must say I have been pleasantly surprised with the quality!

      This is a very long way of saying that yes, I would recommend UO for furniture!

  25. Really like the general aesthetic of the apartment, and a lot of the furniture.
    But as someone who used to work for a furniture designer, I’d like to see people buying real stuff- furniture that is actually made from wood, that can be repaired if broken and reupholstered properly, etc.
    I’m not even talking expensive furniture, just stuff that was built to last.
    Maybe a post about how to find real furniture on the cheap? I’m thinking ebay, etsy, goodwill (etc.), Nextdoor…

    • Cat says...

      My thoughts exactly. I’d rather pay a little more for something well-built that will last, even if it means that I have to be patient and purchase it over time as I save.

    • Rebecca says...

      Same thought over here too. I’m so sick of cheap particle board furniture and cheap poly-whatever rugs that are bad for the environment, bad for our health, and don’t last. There are easy ways to affordably furnish an apartment with quality furniture.

    • Hilary says...

      For parents (or non-parents!), I’m obsessed with Sprout Kids. It’s Montessori-style furniture, but it’s made from Baltic birch (so gorgeous!) and eco friendly as well. It’s not crazy expensive, but I love investing in furniture that will look good in my house no matter what and grows with my kids- no “baby furniture” in sight!

    • Nic says...

      Yes this!!

    • Dara says...

      Rachel, do you have recommendations for brands that you think have better quality furniture?

    • Dara – the designer I worked for was expensive (since everything was made to order) but I’d say in general, take the time to look and inspect a piece of furniture before you buy it. If you can’t physically inspect it, ask for pictures. Is that table solid wood? How are the pieces joined? Are they joined with glue, nails, or dovetailed together? Same for chairs and other things like bookshelves. I have crawled under couches and tables to check how they look from underneath and I’m the annoying person who asks about the construction and design process.
      If you’re at a store looking at upholstered furniture – do the cushions come up? What are they made of? How is the upholstery attached? Check the legs – again, are they glued on? Nailed? Screwed?
      I don’t know how helpful any of this is but I think about it this way – if I’m investing in a piece of furniture I want to have it for a long time. My IKEA desk is great but if I move it to another room or out of my apartment, it will fall apart. The table I made in high school wood shop with dovetailed legs has been moved three times and is still as solid as ever. My great grandma’s hand-carved loveseat has survived multiple moves including two cross country moves and it has been reupholstered at least twice in its 90+ years.
      An affordable-ish brand I do like is EQ3 – they’re Canadian but have a couple locations in California (maybe elsewhere? not sure). Their casegoods and tables and stuff are solid wood, the couches are made to order and (at least mine) is a keeper.
      I also check out local second hand and antique stores. If you are looking for solid pieces but not necessarily the pricy mid-century stuff, you can find some great deals.

  26. Gill F. says...

    Can we do a I’m too broke for a $1000 couch and need to use thrift stores for my furniture but still want to try and appear adultish post? Or can someone offer ideas?!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      good question! i’ll ask the hoveys for their tips. if you search on ebay for sellers near you (so you can pick it up, versus shipping) and search for west elm sofa, or pottery barn sofa, or cb2 sofa, etc., you might find some good things!

    • laura says...

      My husband and I both like mid-century modern furniture and are pretty broke, so we get a lot of our furniture from allmodern and wayfair. They almost always have some type of sale going on. Our couch was $200 and looks just like a west elm one.

    • floor models! we had a west elm floor model couch for a while that we adored. when we were lucky enough to move into a larger apartment we sold it, but we still lovingly refer to it as “the brown couch.”

    • Meghan says...

      1. Go to a physical furniture store and negotiate. Often times it’s like buying a car. The sticker price isn’t necessarily their bottom line. Also, ask about free delivery or assembly!
      2. Open box discount. You may score a better deal if it’s been previously returned by someone else. They might not like “Perfectly Plum” but all the better for you!
      3. Estate Sales/Auctions. There’s always that one piece of furniture that no one wants and is sold for a song. Snag it!! Paint it, reupholster, add new drawer pulls, clean it up. There may be a gem hiding underneath all of that varnish.
      4. If all else fails, add a pillow. It’s much easier to splurge for a beautiful pillow when you can’t yet afford a luxurious lounger.

    • ANDREA says...

      So many sources:

      1. Ask friends and family.
      2. Look on craigslist, FB Marketplace and apt deco, etc. So many people end up with couches that don’t fit or who are moving. We got a great WE chaise that I had been looking for for 6 months off FB marketplace. It was new and we got it for half price.
      3. Look at estate sales and garage sales in your area. These folks are motivated sellers.

    • hali says...

      World Market has cheap couches! Ours gets tons of compliments. We got it for like $470 in one of their 30% off sales. It’s not like a WOW couch, but it’s definitely more cool than it is lame! Emily Henderson also did a whole post on cheap couches on her blog, I’d search for that!

    • dana says...

      I am always afraid to buy upholstered furniture second hand. How do you make sure that there aren’t bed bugs? Is there something I’m missing…?

    • Alix says...

      Try searching for secondhand furniture online too. There’s Craigslist, of course, but also Chairish, Apt Deco and others that also offer delivery services.

    • cg says...

      Most of our affordable mid century modern furniture were found at flea markets and craig’s list that was out of the city limits. The further out, the cheaper the prices. Our dining set and hutch was from a flea market, an elderly couple didn’t actually have those pieces there b/c they were too much for the couple to handle. They had photographs pinned on a board, as they sold smaller items. Our coffee table also came from a different flea market and still had its official manufacture sticker (we got it for $25!!). We found two awesome chrome based chairs at a flea market in central Washington, at first I thought it read $250 for the pair. Turned out it was only $25 together!!! We drove them all the way back down to the SF Bay Area.

    • A says...

      I furnished my entire 1,500 sq ft. home from mostly 2nd hand pieces. Once people know you like “old stuff” you get all kinds of weird things–both extremely cool and shockingly tacky. I would also love a piece on design that doesn’t break the bank. Like, actual affordable things for single girls who work for a local government office and have to save up for curtains.

  27. lisa says...

    the hovey sisters would be my dream decorating team!!!!! i love the bright look and feel of this space.

  28. Julia says...

    I think it’s beautiful, but are the armchairs, dining chairs, and the couch actually comfortable? The armchairs probably need at least some back cushions, and the low back on the couch looks a bit questionable too. The weaving on the dining chair will also last longer with some cushions on it.

    • Becca says...

      I’m with you! This is a beautiful look for staging an apartment, but wouldn’t be livable for me. I’d have to add some more comfortable things for lounging.

    • deb says...

      exactly. armless sofas are not that comfy-its nice to rest your arm or prop your head with a pillow on an arm to lie down. and that rug will stain in a minute. i love the aesthetic and it makes for nice photos but probably best if you are the type to mostly sit on the floor with cushions with sparse and spare furniture as a bonus alternative. that was OK when I was in my 20’s but now in my 40’s i like comfort. but this furniture really does make for nice photos.

    • L says...

      I had the same thought. Beautiful aesthetic, but a couch without arms for example, seems like it would be hard to lay down on? maybe I’m not thinking creatively but I would need to be able to lie down and chill on my couch.

    • Angela says...

      My first reaction when I saw the armless sofa – oh no. Love the overall look of what they did but I would never buy a sofa without arms, let alone one priced at $1,000+. I just imagine accidentally slipping off the side and busting my butt (or my pillow slipping off when trying to lay down).

    • Stefanie says...

      And jute rugs can be so rough. Doesn’t anyone else sit on the floor sometime to watch tv?

  29. Kristin says...

    Very cute. The dining room table chairs are a great find! However, I can’t imagine a piece of furniture more useless and uncomfortable than an armless sofa. Where does everyone naturally gravitate towards on the couch? The corners where the arms are. :)

  30. Elizabeth says...

    Great tips!! Quick question though- the mirror in the photos is an oval and the one the recommend/link is a circle. Do you know what the ovular mirror brand/style is?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      they said it’s also a umbra!

    • Ingrid says...

      It is probably the 24″x36″ size option on the Amazon page. :)

    • Laura says...

      The link has the oval mirror- you just need to click through the different sizes. The oval one is 24×36. The round one just comes up by default..

  31. Calla says...

    So peaceful looking! I feel like I wouldn’t look twice at that coffee table if I saw it in a store but I love how it looks in the apartment!

    Also I have those Ikea bentwood stools/side tables all over my tiny apartment. So elegant looking and they make great side tables, footstools and spare seating.

    Do people really hire decorators for their first apartments?

  32. What a pretty apartment!

  33. marcella says...

    I love this! I currently live in my first apartment (which is about 400 sq feet) and this gives me a lot of ideas. My current furniture now is basically what I could scrabble together from Goodwill/my couch is from Big Lots (lol) so this gives great inspo.