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The great thing about a boring brown-and-beige box of an apartment? It’s essentially a blank canvas, meaning your imagination can run wild when it comes to renovating. That’s part of what attracted me and my BFF and business partner, Mike, to this 202-square-foot studio apartment inside a Victorian-era-house-turned-apartment-building in Louisville, Kentucky.
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With a background as an Airbnb superhost, I had switched to renting my furnished spaces monthly to digital nomads and traveling health care professionals during the pandemic, but never had enough availability. Mike and I were already in business together “flipping” a decrepit Victorian, and this building — a five-minute walk between our two homes, was perfect for the medium-term rental niche (a few weeks to a few months). The well-maintained apartments just needed some cosmetic upgrades to appeal to those who would be staying in the spaces for longer than a couple of days.
To reimagine this studio, which began as a blah brown space, I thought back to some of my own travels. This first-floor apartment was blessed with nine-foot ceilings and tall windows, so it felt like it had enough breathing room to incorporate some of my favorite elements of Paris’s gorgeous “cabinet of curiosities” shop, Deyrolle.
Mike was not exactly thrilled when I pitched him on a two-centuries-old taxidermy-shop-meets-museum as the design inspo, but Deyrolle is so enchanting that it’s become a cult favorite among design lovers — a cocktail party scene was even filmed at the shop for “Midnight in Paris.” Once Mike understood I wouldn’t actually be importing stuffed ostriches or wall-mounted moose, we were off and running.
With a space so small, I wanted to buck conventional wisdom and go with loud patterns and oversized art. To set the stage for that, we did a monochromatic color scheme, painting the walls, builder-grade oak cabinets, and trim all the same color. I opted for a color match of what looked closest to what’s inside Deyrolle: Farrow & Ball’s Card Room Green. I employed one of my favorite tricks and used a higher sheen on the woodwork to help it pop while still maintaining the monochrome look. And when I say monochrome, I mean it — the kitchen cabinets, trim, door, and most of the walls are all this soothing gray-green.
We found a wonderful surprise when the blah blue carpet came up: the original hardwoods were hiding! “Stop!” we cried to the team preparing to install new flooring. Instead of covering up that lovely wood, we switched gears to refinish it instead.
While thrifting at my favorite vintage flea market, I found a huge canvas print of a zebra that inspired me to pick out fun zebra-print removable wallpaper for a feature wall. I added it between the two tall windows (which we dressed with heavy velvet curtains for a touch of glamour). I also added peel-and-stick zebra stripes behind the range for a super easy and inexpensive backsplash.
The rest came together almost on its own as I scrounged around for whimsical accents inspired by nature — a butterfly school chart here, bright blue peacock pillow there, and of course a book featuring the history and collections of the cabinet of curiosities itself.
When the first guest came to take a peek in person before moving in, her excitement told me I was right to persuade my friend we had to channel this offbeat inspo. So if you’re finding yourself drawn to weird spaces — museums, hotels, shops, and more — this is your sign to let that guide your design. You’ll end up with something totally unique and full of personality.