Design

This Maryland Home Explodes With Color and Joy

Sarah Kate Smigiel's house tour in Chestertown Maryland

“We both like to be overstimulated in our home in the best way possible,” says Sarah Kate Smigiel, who lives with her fiancée Hannah (and their three dogs) in Chestertown, Maryland. Their house is full of color, art and Sarah Kate’s famous breakfast hash. Here, she gives us a peek inside and tells us about her recent top surgery…

LIVING ROOM
Sarah Kate Smigiel's house tour in Chestertown Maryland

On a fresh start: We moved from Pittsburgh to Chestertown last April. Chestertown is where my grandparents live and 30 minutes from where I grew up. It was a place for us to start fresh but still be close to family. We moved right at the beginning of the pandemic. Creating this house in Chestertown, being able to decorate and have all that time together, was cathartic.

On a cool town: We wanted a small town feel. Being queer, we also wanted to feel safe. Chestertown is this little gem. It has that cozy vibe but we feel so welcomed and accepted here.

Sarah Kate Smigiel's house tour in Chestertown Maryland

On a playful routine: We work opposite schedules, but when we have days off together we hang out in our living room. We play video games on a vintage Nintendo, which is very nostalgic for us. We’re into reality TV, too, like RuPaul’s Drag Race.

On repurposed curtains: Our curtains are from Mexicali Blues, which recycles silk saris. They take the panels from sections that aren’t damaged or worn out and patch them together to make curtains.

DINING ROOM
Sarah Kate Smigiel's house tour in Chestertown Maryland

On an heirloom table: This table was in my childhood home; I did arts and crafts on it, every single family dinner I had growing up was here. It has nicks and scratches. Our parents wanted us to have it for our own family. My mom comes over once a week for dinner and she sits here, and it’s just really cool. Even though it’s just wood, it’s important wood.

KITCHEN
Sarah Kate Smigiel's house tour in Chestertown Maryland

On go-to meals: We’re getting closer to perfecting some of our favorite meals — charcuterie boards, taco nights, red curry, breakfast hash. I like to try different parts of the world’s foods and cuisines. But I can’t bake AT ALL. I cannot make boxed brownies. I leave that up to Hannah.

Sarah Kate Smigiel's house tour in Chestertown Maryland

On decorating the dishwasher: We found this dishwasher sticker on Etsy — the best place for quirky decor!

BEDROOM
Sarah Kate Smigiel's house tour in Chestertown Maryland

On a vintage look: Our room is very ’70s. A lot of people, when they see it online, say it reminds me of their teenage daughter’s dream room, which is funny.

On thrifting tips: The floral piece above our bed was $2 or $3 at Goodwill. I heard this quote once — a room should feel collected, not decorated. And I just love that. Everything we have here is from thrift stores or travels. I tell people, if you buy the things you love, you can make it work in a room. During the pandemic, we’ve switched to thrifting online at Facebook Marketplace and Goodwill. Goodwill online is a thing now, which a lot of people don’t know about. You can shop Goodwill anywhere in the country and it ships to your house.

Sarah Kate Smigiel's house tour in Chestertown Maryland

On three dogs: We have two Boston terriors named Louie and Clark, as well as a rescue. He was named after Maui from Moana because we knew he was going to be big and strong. They’re all really funny together. I can sit and watch them all day.

On celebrating color: There’s so much grey and beige and white in interior design right now. In a little act of rebellion, we’ve tried to add as much color as possible. It’s a representation of the rainbow, too, which I find to be pretty cool.

Sarah Kate Smigiel's house tour in Chestertown Maryland

Hannah (left) and Sarah Kate (right)

On a life-changing surgery: I identify as non-binary, and I use she/her and they/them pronouns. It was a recent discovery, about four years ago, when I started to understand that that was even an option. I was raised in a very strict gender binary. I was also raised as a dancer — ballet, tap, jazz, modern, hip hop — and that world is very gendered. But once I graduated from college, although I identified as a lesbian, I didn’t feel that was the end of who I was and how I wanted to express myself. So, I started looking into an online community of non-binary folks, and that felt exactly right.

I began considering top surgery. At first, I thought that top surgery was simply for people who were transitioning to be the opposite gender — I was born a female, I want to be a male — but top surgery is for anyone who is uncomfortable with having a chest.

My surgery took place last summer. Now I’m truly the happiest I’ve ever been my whole life. It was an outpatient surgery — recovery was a breeze — it’s what I had to do to be who I am and to be happy and I have no regrets, it was the best decision I ever made.

(My parents now are very accepting, which I’m very grateful for.)

Everything felt like a first after top surgery. I remember trying on a T-shirt without having to wear a sports bra, and it was the coolest thing in the world. Shopping for swimwear. The way clothes feel. The way things fit me now. I had no idea I could feel so good and confident in my body.

I get asked the same questions over and over, so I documented my recovery on Instagram and started a YouTube channel. Being comfortable in my body now, I’ve opened up my vulnerability online and am able to be totally honest with people.

I’ve found that through sharing my interiors online, too, I’ve had a lot of people come to my social media who would otherwise never follow a transgender person. It’s really cool that sharing something I love about design and sharing who I am as a person has melded these two worlds together. It allows me to reach people I normally wouldn’t be able to. That’s been really rewarding. I hear that more than anything else, ‘I came for your interiors and I’m staying for the queer education.’

Thank you so much, Sarah Kate!

P.S. More house tours, including two sisters sharing a Williamsburg apartment and a colorful home in Portland, Oregon.

  1. Allyson says...

    I’m a hetero, married, mom. I want top surgery. Reading this and checking out her instagram feels kind of like permission? I at least have a new option to consider to feel more comfortable in my own skin. Thanks.

  2. Kari T. says...

    I loved everything about this home tour!! Thanks so much for sharing your space and your heart. The colours are spectacular.

  3. Audrey says...

    Their home makes me happy. Thanks for introducing us to them!

  4. RG says...

    Sarah Kate, I just started following you. I come for the JOY and stay for the queer education. You seem so full of love and happiness. You teach with such a kind hand and understanding heart. Keep up the hard work. I’ve already learned so much from you.

  5. K says...

    Also noticed that in the section about top surgery, It says coming out as non-binary, then at the end says transgender, and also queer throughout. How do these terms differ for you that identify with them?

    • Morgan says...

      hi! I am only one person, but here is my perspective: to me, these are a series of nesting umbrella terms. Queer is a big beautiful identity with the capacity for more specific identifiers within it, which can be really handy for those of us who have multiple gender/sexuality things going on simultaneously. It’s also handy when you don’t want to disclose the specifics of your identity in a conversation with someone who doesn’t need those specifics, like a random coworker. Under the umbrella term queer, you find terms like gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, transgender, two-spirit, etc. These get a bit more specific about who you are. Drilling down a bit further, nonbinary is one way to be transgender. For me, it means being neither a man nor a woman in the way that society expects me to be, but somewhere free-floating between those points. Hope that helps! Thanks for asking respectfully, and I encourage you to find others’ perspectives as well!

  6. Julie says...

    I know we all have our decor preferences, but color and warmth are what make me feel at home and able to relax. What a joyous space.

  7. anni says...

    sweet!

  8. Catherine says...

    I love this so much, especially the warm colors. And dishwasher covers, omg!

  9. Lyn says...

    Thank you so much for featuring this beautiful couple and their home. There is so much I love here: celebration of non-binary people, a home decorated in bold and vibrant colors, a happy child-free family. We have always decorated our home with lots of color, painting our walls in a variety of bright colors. It’s fun to see friends smile when they walk through the house and see different colors on the walls in each room.

  10. Cate says...

    From a mom of a non-binary kid- thanks for sharing these beautiful humans and their beautiful home! Would love to see more people of trans and non-binary experiences here!

  11. Samantha says...

    This might be my favourite house tour yet! I’d actually picture myself living in a house like that. Love everything about it!

  12. Gretchen says...

    I am so happy you did this home tour. I was introduced to SK’s instagram account when a fellow COJ reader suggested their home as a potential future tour. :)
    SK, I admire how much you work to lovingly guide people to dismantling the gender binary. The patience you show is truly remarkable. I so appreciate how you have shared your story and little glimpses into the life you are creating for yourself.

  13. A says...

    SK, I just watched one of your videos here at work (the one on coming out to your partner and top surgery), and yes, yes, yes. So well done and so compassionate (both for yourself and others). I am also non-binary and it took me a long time to have the vocabulary to come out to myself and to others. I still struggle with the discussions with those I love the most. It’s hard. But I am looking forward to learning more through your resources! Thank you.

  14. C says...

    Can you tell us where the spices are from? I like the uniformity of the jars.

  15. Cindy Fagan says...

    I love the heirloom table! I have one too, a farm style table with a bench. It used to belong to my grandmother and it was the one thing of hers that I coveted from my childhood into my adult years. For my entire life, whenever I sat at that table, my spot was on the bench. When she was planning on moving into a retirement community, she called me and asked if I would like to have the dining table, bench and chairs, along with the accompanying hutch. I jumped at the chance to have those pieces. I have had them now for more than 30 years, and my spot is still on the bench, lol. I hope one of my children will want them someday.

  16. Rusty says...

    This home truly glows, as do the people and furkids that live there.
    The story, the photos, the people, the scruffy dawgs, ALL uplifted me and made my day loads better!
    Thank you!
    Rusty 😊

  17. Amanda H says...

    I love everything about this home! I am also a fan of Goodwill auction online and love the idea of collecting slowly! A dear friend had tops surgery and now rocks both T-shirts and dresses comfortably! Thank you for sharing your story and home. ❤️

  18. Sam says...

    Cup of Jo nails it again. It starts out with a house tour, and ends with me spending two hours educating myself on nonbinary experiences. Thanks for sharing this great couple!

    • Krystal says...

      Yes yes yes normalize people of all genders doing all the things! Thanks CoJ, Hannah and Sarah Kate for this Mkay excellent and colorful post.

  19. SusieG says...

    What a beautiful and joyful home! And so happy that they’ve found a comfortable place to nest and build a life together. Thanks for sharing :)

  20. E says...

    I also have my childhood kitchen table. My mom gave it to my dad as a wedding gift. It was an antique when she bought it and it’s been used daily for 40 years so it definitely needs to be refurbished (my roommate has said that it looks a little shabby), but I adore it just as it is. I know it’s just wood, but it’s definitely important wood.

    Beautiful house, beautiful couple! And I love those recycled sari curtains.

  21. Jenica says...

    Stunning home, thank you for letting us in. This REALLY resonated with me: “if you buy the things you love, you can make it work”. I have always felt self-conscious because I don’t have a “good eye” for decor – and so have reverted to just buying things that I love. When a friend asked me what the ‘theme’ of our home was, I replied, “things we love”!! I’m starting to embrace it more now – so appreciated seeing how your space encompasses this!

    • Kari T. says...

      Yes to “things we love” as a theme. When I was pregnant with my first people were always asking what the theme of the nursery would be, I always answered the theme is “baby!”.

  22. kat says...

    “A room should feel collected, not decorated”. Yes! And that’s absolutely the aesthetic of my 6 year old…collections galore :-). This place is gorgeous. I love the story about the table!
    On the thrifting front, just this week I was blown away by an online estate sale. A friend shared the link – so much went for $20 or less! Sure the mid-century items were mostly snatched up, and some glassware, but stunning side tables, wall frames, wow. Easy access from your couch (but pick-up was required).

  23. Liz says...

    Loved this home tour, and all the color incorporated into their home!

  24. K says...

    What a joyful home! You’ve got me craving some breakfast hash!

  25. Caitlin says...

    I loved everything about this! This couple and the home just radiant light and joy. I found so much inspiration in this. All of the artwork is amazing as well!

  26. Karen T. says...

    Gorgeous all around! And I love SK’s instagram account–so much inspiration and courage. Love from Chicago.

  27. michelle says...

    Best house tour yet! I love all of the colors and the dining room table!

  28. Kat O says...

    That online Goodwill is like an auction site though, and PRICEY. I mean, I get it, it doesn’t make sense to ship a bunch of $4 shirts or whatever, but man…”thrifting” has gotten really expensive!

  29. Janey says...

    What a gorgeous, cosy, welcoming home! And I love how the dog is trying to get involved in the hug in the bottom pic! My dog does the exact same

  30. JG says...

    This home and interview made me just GRIN from ear to ear. ‘It’s just wood- but important wood’, and ‘a room should feel collected, not decorated’ spoke to me instantly- and those sari curtains are straight out of a fairytale.

    All the happiness in the world to this gorgeous two (and their adorable brood of four-leggeds), and thanks to CoJ for always inspiring and educating through such joyful posts!

  31. Lainey says...

    The colors! The warmth! The Boston terriers! This is my kind of home.

  32. Alex says...

    I’m a hetero lady with one breast due to cancer; just wanted to thank Sarah Kate for that instgram that is going so far for all of us with non-normative situations under the hood. You look amazing and made me feel like I look amazing too.

  33. Teri Offield says...

    You two are just the cutest. I also want that hash recipe!

  34. Abbey says...

    I love everything about this. The pictures are lovely, but honestly this story would have had me ooh-ing and aah-ing without photos. These two are gems. Love love love.

  35. K says...

    Oh my goodness! This is beautiful. The colors and the warm light make me so happy. Loved everything here and “it’s what I had to do to be who I am” = YES! Love hearing about the happiness of being ourselves.

  36. E says...

    I love grays and creams and dark blues and greens AND I love seeing a joyous house with so much color! Just like others have said, it’s refreshing.
    I also love how CoJ continues to incorporate people with more diverse backgrounds and stories in these series. It’s great to hear stories about gender identity and it’s great to see a house tour, beauty uniform, or week of outfits from a WOC, non-binary person, queer person. I love seeing those parts of their lives too!

  37. CS says...

    This house is joy. The colours, the patterns, the interesting art. Such a fantastic home!!

  38. Ashley says...

    Hi Sarah Kate, you don’t have to be so positive and upbeat and inspirational for just being yourself, but thank you for the gift of choosing to put so much positive and genuine energy out there anyway, and for sharing it with us. xoxoxxoxoxxoxo <3

  39. Emma says...

    This is the best house i have ever seen, it’s like a kaleidoscope to the eye! I love it and them!

  40. Sarah says...

    I want the details on Sarah Kate’s breakfast hash!

  41. Lori Frushon says...

    This house is truly a home with such colorful uplifting energy. One can also feel it radiating from the love of this delightful, beautiful couple! Best wishes and thank you for sharing part of your world with us.

  42. Marissa Biddle says...

    You guys so sweet! Brought tears to my eyes. Love your house. Love your love story. I’m very Brazilian so I love all those colors. You guys look so happy and I’m happy for you guys :)

  43. Kristin says...

    The kitchen table!! I also have my parents table from growing up and will never get rid of it, despite it looking a little worse for wear. I think it is so cool for my son to grow up eating where we had family meals every night.

    • Erin says...

      Oh I echo this! I have my childhood table in our house too – my parents loved the table and I so enjoy having it in our house now too!

  44. Rebecca K Ringquist says...

    What a house! I love it so much. Kudos to CofJ for featuring such a diverse range of folks in this series- I’m so grateful. I’m wondering if you could find out where the couple bought that boobs print that’s hanging in their living room. I love it so much.

    • Sarah Kate says...

      Hi! Sarah Kate here. It’s from urban outfitters!

  45. Cara says...

    Thanks for letting us into your home and your lives! What a happy explosion of colors. Love the sari-remnant curtains. From a fellow queer xoxo

  46. Eloise says...

    Both the house and the last photo, with the dog looking up adoringly, made me swoon!

  47. Ryan says...

    Chestertown! My grandma lived there until she passed away. It’s SUCH a cute little town, and I’m so glad to hear that it is an accepting community. Love your place! Now go eat a crab cake for me (IMO nothing compares to Maryland crab cakes) :)

  48. L says...

    So pretty! I love color and believe it has such therapeutic powers and I feel like I can see the joy in your place. Congrats on your surgery and finally feeling right in your body – that is so beautiful! As is your lovely approach to educating people xo

  49. AngieB says...

    Such a fun house! And thank you, CoJ, for all the diversity in people and
    lifestyles you share on the site. Makes me happy to see it!

  50. Charity says...

    I love all the color in the house. It looks so joyful! I also have my childhood table. it’s very comforting.

  51. Lizzie says...

    Joanna this nearly made me cry. I’m a recently out queer person who got into my first ‘gay’ relationship, and soon after my wonderful partner came out to me as trans. While there are loads of public examples of queer gals dating trans men or non-binary people, I have found so little representation of the queer gal being with someone pre- and mid- and post- transition (whatever that looks like for them), and it made me so emotional to so unexpectedly come across a situation which even partially reflects mine – and is so joyous and hopeful! Thank you thank you.

    • Antonia says...

      Hi Lizzie! Your comment made me remember an interview with a couple in which the husband came out as trans: https://www.yesandyes.org/2017/02/trans-husband.html

      Maybe this will be of interest to you! I’m so happy you found your person; best of luck to both of you as you navigate this transition.

  52. CL says...

    GOODWILL ONLINE WHAAA. life changed. thank you.

  53. Kate says...

    “a room should feel collected, not decorated” wow, I really love that! Great style, Hannah and Sarah Kate. The whole ethos behind this home is just thrilling!

  54. Katie says...

    The dishwasher decal is soooo cool! Never would have thought to look for something like that. Love! <3

  55. Amy says...

    Ooh love the curtains and the dishwasher sticker. I’m so tired of cleaning the front of mine. I have a totally opposite aesthetic from them but I really love the home — it’s just so happy. Great share!!

  56. Kirstin says...

    Plus- those dishwasher decals – I am going to the Etsy site right now!

  57. Kirstin says...

    I just love that you’re so happy.

  58. Justine says...

    I love this house tour- it looks lived in by people who love each other and their life; the kind of home where you’d instantly feel comfortable and welcome. Thank you for sharing!

  59. Kate says...

    My dad was a printer and we have tons of printers trays. I don’t know what to do with them aside from putting cute tiny things in them, but seeing that one on the wall with the painted boxes is a game-changer!! I adore this house!

  60. anne says...

    This seems like a wonderful loving, beautiful, and happy home! Thanks for letting us into your home!

  61. Agnès says...

    You are one strong person Sarah kate ! Love your colorful house and your determination. Love from Paris