As if moving isn’t overwhelming enough, going from an apartment to a house for the first time creates all new issues, the biggest being more rooms! Many choose to make the most of this opportunity to start from scratch, shedding things from earlier apartment lives like hand-me-downs and futons. But with more space to fill, getting rid of furniture should make things even more overwhelming—but does it?
We’d like to make the case that starting from scratch can be exciting and manageable, and beauty and fashion writer Nia Schindle is proof. The social media maven and brains behind a soon-to-launch hair care startup, recently moved from New York City’s Chinatown to a 680-square-foot house in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with her boyfriend. And she left almost all her furniture and decor behind, save for a treasured desk and bar cart. With a flair and passion for decorating, Schindle has been turning the rooms of her new house into an Instagrammable dream that’s still cozy and welcoming—and she’s been doing it without losing her mind or her savings. We toured the work-in-progress home to get some tips and inspiration.
What was the very first thing you did when it came to decorating or even thinking about decorating your new home?
Our house is small, so it was important that we maximized light to make the space feel bigger. We replaced all of our light bulbs with bright LED bulbs (energy-efficient and a great long-term investment!), and we painted the walls white. Pro tip: Paint before you move in. Painting an empty home is significantly easier than navigating a sea of furniture and moving boxes. We also hired a professional to refinish the original hardwood floors. Our home instantly felt refreshed and like a space we could make our own.
How did you organize ideas and inspiration, and how did you apply that to your actual plans?
Pinterest is a huge source of inspiration—and a super convenient way to organize all the ideas that are jumbling around in my head! I have a pinboard for each room in my house, and it’s a super handy resource that I can turn to on my desktop or phone.
What room was most important to you to get started with?
The high-traffic areas like the kitchen and living room were our starting points, since we like to entertain and those are the spaces where we spend the majority of our time. Our bathroom is tiny, but it was also important that it felt like a sanctuary for us—we spruced it up with original artwork, candles, and special mementos like matchboxes, antique vanity trays, and seashells I collected in Cape Cod.
What were some of the very first things you bought and why did you prioritize them?
I studied textile sciences in university, so I always gravitate to fabrics first. One of my first purchases for the home was an amazing Azilal rug from Salah at HandiraBlankets on Etsy. Salah travels by motorcycle to remote villages in the Atlas Mountains to find the most unique blankets and rugs—I knew this piece was going to be special! The rug is the anchor piece in our living room. It adds color, character, and is a total conversation starter. I’ll never part with it.
Have you stumbled upon any innovative or surprising tips in this process, like any furniture you could style in a different way or repurpose?
I bought a beautifully restored nine-drawer dresser/credenza from a local vendor (@thewhiitehouse) that doubles as clothing storage and an entertainment unit where I can sneakily conceal cords, remotes, and my boyfriend’s Xbox. Our house only has one closet, so we had to create our own using IKEA PAX wardrobes. Most of our furniture and decor is functional, recycled, or multi-use: an ottoman that opens to reveal hidden storage, empty candle vessels that double as a holder for makeup brushes, seagrass baskets used to store anything and everything, etc.
What were some DIY methods you used to personalize the space?
It’s no secret that IKEA is your bff when you’re decorating on a budget, and DIYing most of their pieces is a breeze. Instead of buying an expensive coffee table for our living room, I opted for a VITTSJO nesting table hack (a Pinterest favorite!). I lightly sanded the frame, primed it, and spray painted it gold. The whole thing took less than 20 minutes to complete, and two hours to dry.
A lot of home décor blogs will tell you to invest in a sofa first, but we didn’t have it in our budget to buy our dream couch. Instead, we purchased a KARLSTAD sofa from IKEA and draped it with mudcloth, blankets, and colorful shibori pillows to add personality. I would like to get custom legs made for it eventually, and I’ve been hoarding some incredible royal-blue upholstery velvet that I plan to turn into a custom cover for the couch one day (when I manage to make the time…).
For wall art, I DIY-ed a series of prints from the WAR IS OVER! campaign that has been through four apartments and now our home. I printed the prints off of Yoko Ono’s website (each language represents a different family member or friend) and framed them with inexpensive black frames I purchased for $2 each at a dollar store in Chinatown. It cost next to nothing, but makes a big statement.
How do you get inspired?
Social media is always my go-to. I go down an Instagram scrolling rabbit hole at least once a day! Follow accounts that inspire you, or explore hashtags like #beautifulspaces and #jungalowstyle for interiors inspiration.
How do you stay on budget?
Of course, IKEA is great for low-cost furniture and décor. If you’re like me and enjoy the thrill of the find, scour local thrift stores, Craigslist listings, auctions, and estate sales. Patience can pay off! I scored a pair of stunning emerald velvet chairs off Kijiji (the Canadian equivalent of Craigslist). They are one of the current highlights of our home. Also, don’t be afraid to haggle! It can be a bit uncomfortable, but most sellers are willing to negotiate.
Also, if you live in a city, don’t be shy to take a freebie if you stumble across one (as long as you’re sure it’s bedbug-free!). I found a super cool vintage record holder left for free on the street while I was living in Toronto, so I scooped it up and it now houses my collection. One person’s trash…
Plants are your friend! Greenery can instantly liven up any space. I buy succulents from local greenhouses—they’re low maintenance and budget-friendly. I also love keeping fresh flowers in my kitchen and living room, and I’ll often treat myself to an arrangement. I used to make my own bouquets from Manhattan deli flowers, but now I’m lucky enough to have boyfriend’s sister who is a talented floral designer (@cassiemaedesigns) to create the most beautiful arrangements for me.
Save up for items you’re coveting! I had been eyeing a Smeg toaster for months and put a little aside from each paycheck to purchase it. I was so excited when it was finally mine!
This is a process that evolves over time and not right away, so how can people stay patient, sane, and productive?
Furnishing and decorating your first home can feel extremely daunting and overwhelming at times. Social media can leave us with unrealistic expectations of what our house should look like. I barely have any artwork on my walls yet, and there’s a lot of work to be done, but I like focusing on completing little corners or “vignettes”, rather than feel obligated to complete an entire room all at once. I’ve created a little bar cart vignette in my office/dressing room, and I love the wall of open shelving in our kitchen. Everything on the open shelving is used daily, and the open concept makes it really convenient to serve meals in a pinch. Our bedroom has been completely neglected in the process, and we are undergoing a basement renovation, but we will get to those spaces when the time (and budget) is right.
All photos by Kassandra Donaldson