Everything about Cara Irwin—from her blog Goldalamode to her Instagram to her home—is fun, relatable, friendly, and definitely #SOdomino. Irwin first started blogging in 2014, which was around the same time that she and fiancé Mike purchased their home in Brick, New Jersey. The rest is history.
The house, located about 20 minutes from Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore, is now home to the soon-to-be-married couple, their three dogs Zoey, Mya, and Roux, countless plant babies, and inspiring design. Keep reading to learn Irwin’s favorite design resources, discover why she’s such a DIY-er, and see more pretty photos of her expertly curated home, of course.
What inspired the name of your blog, Goldalamode?
Cara Irwin: I went through a stage of spraying everything gold. Picture frames, mirrors, light fixtures, handles... everything! I started posting pictures of it all, and I was shocked when people started following me. I was so excited when I had 100 followers. I thought a la mode was a fun way to say in style, or in fashion, and I loved gold. So I named it Goldalamode.
What made you want to blog in the home and design sphere?
CI: We moved into our house in October 2013, and I instantly started decorating and fixing the house up. Although my style and photos were terrible at the time people still said to me "You're so good at this" and "This is your calling." I just loved doing it, so I started a separate Instagram to post my photos.
I didn't even tell my closest friends or family because I thought it was silly and just for fun. When I started getting followers and people started showing interest in what I was doing I thought to myself "Okay, maybe people are right." I knew I had found what I love to do.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
CI: Bright and minimal. If I had to pick a style, I'd say I definitely lean towards midcentury modern with some boho flare. I love to keep everything bright and fresh. I also love using plants as decor.
Where did you start when designing your house?
CI: I started everywhere. I literally just went at it. Paint here, dresser there, rug here, sink there. I don't even know. I'd have to say I started with white walls (after I realized eggplant purple isn't the best) and then started adding all my funky thrift finds. I design completely different now. I've learned to tackle one room at a time.
What’s your favorite place to shop for decor?
CI: When it comes to my favorite place to shop for decor, Home Goods and thrift or used furniture stores tie for the win. Home Goods is convenient and it almost has that hunt appeal. I like hunting for finds at thrift stores and such so Home Goods kind of gives me the same feel.
You never know what you'll find there. Could be an awesome tassel pillow or it could just be the driftwood and rope sign that says beach but that's the fun in it. It makes finding that really cool piece that much more fun. On the other hand I absolutely LOVE thrift stores, flea markets, and used furniture stores. That’s where you find the real gems. Gems that you won't see all over Instagram.
You have a lot of white walls, but also a few accent walls, including wallpaper. How did you decide on those specific walls and colors?
CI: When I first started painting the walls, I thought every room had to be a different color or it would be boring. I started growing into my style and realized I love white walls so that I could play with furniture, patterns, and colors. I also love a good black accent wall. I think black can be treated like a neutral, just like white.
Most of the furniture and colors are bright in the guest room where the black wall is, so it actually just helps the lighter colors pop off it and stand out even better. As for wallpaper, I think I'm still venturing out into that world. I absolutely love the wallpaper we have in the office. It makes that little space so exciting since I'm really limited on space. I may have plans to make another fun wall downstairs.
Your home has so many plants—and so much artwork, too. Where are your favorite resources for both?
CI: I definitely inherited the crazy plant lady and artsy gene from my mom. She's an artist and always had plants when I was growing up. I actually have some funny stories about finding plants. You can find some pretty cool mature plants at estate sales, on Craigslist, and other selling apps.
I find most of my plants in distressed condition and bring them back to life. I found a 7-foot cactus at an estate sale for $2! However local garden centers are great for plants. Not only are they well taken care of, but if they're family owned you can usually find a passionate plant person to ask questions.
For art, I either find them at thrifts and antique stores or I buy from local artists or artists I find on Instagram. I think it’s super important to support makers and save art from the thrift.
What room of your home do you spend the most time in?
CI: I would probably say the dining room. Only because I've adopted that as my work space. I unfortunately don't use my office as much as I should because A) it get's pretty hot up there and B) I like when my dogs keep me company downstairs. The living room would have to be second most used room.
Where do you find inspiration?
CI: I find inspiration in weird places. Sometimes I see something at the beach, whether it be a vintage umbrella pattern or certain colors together. I usually see something and mentally pair it with a piece of furniture I have or a project I'm doing. Sometimes I see a piece of furniture at Home Goods or the thrift store, and I picture it with a certain piece of art above it or against a fun wall. I actually have some decor books from the 1960s to 1980s, and the inspiration in those books is endless!
What’s your favorite thing about blogging?
CI: Honestly, the best part about blogging is the relationships and community that I've found. I have met so many other creatives and built relationships with amazing companies. I also love building relationships with my readers and followers. If I can help make one person's home more enjoyable for them and their family, that's worth it for me.
I hear your fiancé is very handy and helps with a lot of the more involved DIYs. How has that impacted the way you design your home?
CI: I'm pretty lucky to have my fiancé Mike as handy as he is. Anything I want to do around the house, he can do it. He loves to build, and I love to design so it works out pretty great for us. I'm a "yes" kind of person so I always assume everything is possible even if it isn't. Not only does Mike make it possible, but it's usually instant satisfaction, so I'd say I'm pretty spoiled with that.
Although I have to say, there have been a ton of times where he didn't know how to do it but went for it anyway. It took almost two weeks for him to tile the the shower and reglaze the tub. YouTube is our best friend. That's why we urge my readers to try to DIY because it's amazing to see ideas and hard work come to fruition.
What’s been your favorite DIY project so far?
CI: My favorite DIY project has definitely been putting a window in our dining room. I'm sure if you ask Mike he'll have a different opinion. It's such a big DIY project and a scary one at that, but it was so worth it. When I initially told Mike I wanted a window in the dining room, he asked me if I was crazy. Now we have amazing light in there, and I was able to add a bunch of plants near the window.
What’s your favorite memory you have in your home?
CI: When Mike proposed in our backyard. I actually laugh thinking back to it almost three years ago because we had no grass put down. It literally looked like a desert. Not a cool Palm Springs desert. Just a dirty ugly desert. Picturing my dogs running around in the dirt yard ripping the bow ties off of each other while he proposed will make my heart happy forever.
We have to talk about your blush pink front door. What inspired that color choice?
CI: Our front door just looked cheap. It wasn't wood. It was a really bad brown color, and you could see the glue squeezing out of the seams. Now it's pink on both sides. It's right smack in the middle of the living room so I have to stare at it all day long.
I was laying in bed trying to think of a fun color, and my mind kept going to pink. I initially said to myself "Pink?! What if it doesn't look good?" but then I thought ".. but what if it does?" I was scared to do it, but I think that's more of a reason TO do it. If a design idea scares you, I feel like it's going to either be amazing or really, really bad. If it's really, really bad you can just change it again so why not? So I rolled over at 1 a.m. and told Mike I was painting the door pink. He knew I was serious when he came home to a pink door...
And all your tassels and fringe in your entryway/living room! It’s incredible.
CI: Thank you! I feel like there is something so fun about tassels. They also add a ton of texture to the space. I really don't think you can have too many tassels, but if anyone is going to find out it will definitely be me.
A lot of your decor finds are super affordable. What would you say to people who are intimidated by design because of the cost?
CI: My top tips for decorating on a budget is shop second hand and fix it up yourself. Shop on selling apps like Craigslist, Letgo, and Facebook market, and fix up the items you find. Items definitely don't have to be expensive in order to look good. I have found my favorite midcentury furniture pieces for free on curbs, and they sell for over $1,000 online.
Not only can you find one of a kind pieces, but you're also saving amazing furniture and giving it a new life. Also shop at stores like Home Goods and Target. They have awesome home stuff and it's totally affordable, especially on clearance. I think the secret is just keep searching until you find it in your price range, because it's definitely there.