Decor, Design and De-Cluttering for the Budget-Conscious Renter
Most people want to create a home environment that really feels homey, and in busy, career-conscious DC, having a home that's a true haven can be a valuable form of self-care. However, in my experience, looking at design magazines can sometimes be more of a bummer than an inspiration: they often seem to assume vast budgets, amounts of space and time, and levels of DIY skill--or just that their audience is made up of homeowners who can knock out walls, buy shiny new kitchen ranges, or get rid of outdated bathroom tile.
I'm far from a home decorating expert, but here are a few books that have helped me out as I've made various DC group houses home.
Apartment Therapy: The Eight Step Home Cure by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan
Before co-creating the popular small-space design website Apartment Therapy, Gillingham-Ryan was a Waldolf school teacher, and it shows in his method of getting to know your home, in which emotion and intuition meets analysis. Some of the exercises in this book might seem a little wacky, like sitting in neglected corners of your home to analyze the mood and energy of the space, but I have used many of these techniques and found them really helpful. For added inspiration, there's the Apartment Therapy Complete Home Book.
How to Decorate by Shannon Fricke
Australian designer and decorator Shannon Fricke regularly facilitates decorating classes in her own home studio, and this book is a distillation of her method, with 10 layers of "decorating"—from creating concepts and mood boards, to dealing with color, lighting and furniture and even the finishing touches of styling and knickknacks. And because her take on decorating involves accepting the physical space as it is, rather than making major changes, a lot of her design thinking process is useful to renters. This level of detail isn't for everyone, but even a casual dip into this book practically guarantees that you'll learn something.
The Indestructible Houseplant by Tovah Martin
The title of this books makes a claim that is a tall order, but nonetheless irresistible to me, since I am a serial plant killer who yearns to believe that I can surmount my black thumb and surround myself with greenery—without magically becoming less busy or forgetful. Martin combines many years of botanical experience with an accessible, unfussy process for testing plant reliability, and detailed notes on each species that passed. "No prima donnas allowed" is Martin's plant credo; I haven't tested her recommendations in detail, but I was inspired enough to buy a tiny air plant this past weekend. We'll see if I manage to keep it alive.
The New Bohemians by Justina Blakeney
Everyone who loves design and decor needs at least one book that's unabashedly aspirational—the details might be out of reach right now, but the aesthetic sparks something in you. For me, that book is The New Bohemians by Justina Blakeney, a designer, textile artist and blogger whose explores the roots of Bohemian style going back to 19th century artists' movements while keeping it fresh for the present day. Her aesthetic is inspired by both her multiethnic upbringing in California's Bay Area and her adult travels, including seven years in Italy. I may never own a geodesic dome in Joshua Tree, Calif., or a renovated Airstream trailer, but I find something to inspire me in each home showcased here. (The book's not perfect: Though Blakeney has Native American ancestry, I found her casual use of "spirit animal," which many tribal nations feel trivializes their spiritual traditions, to be rather grating.)
Spark Joy by Marie Kondo
This follow-up title by Kondo, the phenomenally popular Japanese organizer, is for anyone who felt drawn to the personal, emotion-based process outlined in Kondo's first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but who also found that book a little...lacking in specifics. This book is full of specifics—there are even diagrams. The literal rock stars among us (and painters and poets and actors and other creative types) might also want to check out New Order by Fay Wolf. Wolf is an actor and singer-songwriter who developed a second career as a professional organizer; as a result, her book is both beautifully designed and full of information specific to the creative/freelance life.