Journalist Composes Color at Home

San Francisco-based lifestyle journalist Julia Walsh turned to many of her own featured subjects to create the design of her apartment's writing lounge and living room.
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Lifetsyle Journalist's Article Inspired Apartment

Photo by: Brian Patrick Flynn

Brian Patrick Flynn

For the past four years, Julia Walsh has been writing and editing lifestyle-based stories for national and local online editorial outlets. Her research made her eager to put some of the tips, tricks and products she covers to good use in her own home. "There's a symbiotic relationship between my decorating and the things I cover as a writer — be it San Francisco events or emerging art world talents," Julie says. "I've culled artwork from past interviewees, filled shelves with books I've reviewed and picked up linens on travel-writing trips to Europe. It was important to me that my apartment become a visual resume for what I do."

After finding a 900-square-foot apartment on San Francisco's iconic Lombard Street, Julia realized its potential to become a designer-caliber space. She looked forward to surrounding herself with some of the fantastic finds from her editorial work. The writer/editor explains, "Overall, I wanted to make my home primarily a place to unwind, work when I need to and socialize from time to time. Just add wine."

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Red street art above the sofa was given to Julia as a gift from Hugh Leeman, a local artist she interviewed while serving as Editor at PopSugar San Francisco.

Photo by: Brian Patrick Flynn

Brian Patrick Flynn

Red street art above the sofa was given to Julia as a gift from Hugh Leeman, a local artist she interviewed while serving as Editor at PopSugar San Francisco.

To create a home packed with references to her career in lifestyle journalism, Julia relied heavily on the same keen editing skills she puts to use in her articles. When asked about the living room in its original, unedited state, Julia says, "Everything was so cluttered and poorly arranged that it just felt uncomfortable, physically and visually. Not to mention that the gorgeous bay windows were covered up."

Julia envisioned taking a curator's approach to her apartment, including only meticulously chosen pieces which, when put together, would tell a story as clear and colorful as many of her shelter-based stories. From classic furniture pieces and fine-art photography to silk-screen prints and do-it-yourself projects, Julia's collection gave her a rich palette with which to work.

First up on her to-do list was to incorporate color. "Adding paint and fabric is the surest way to make a drab rental feel personal and vibrant," the journalist explains. "Even though I'm not paying a mortgage, I want my place to feel like I'm here to stay." In addition to surrounding herself with many of the subjects she's covered in articles, Julia was determined to turn the previously underutilized living room into a personal writing lounge. There she could work from her laptop and indulge in reading new books, many of which she reviews for work.

While turquoise dominates the walls of her writer's lounge, honeysuckle-orange was used solely as accents in Julia's entryway and in her master bedroom. Julia also opted to bring in touches of violet to accent the turquoise. A pair of upholstered chairs and matching throw pillows feature shades of violet. Of the chairs bestowed to her from her mother, "I've had my eye on my mother's amazing chairs since I was a kid, and she finally gave in and shipped them to me," says Julia. "I was never a purple person, but something about them just called to me. Now I'm a purple convert. I even wrote an article about decorating with different shades like eggplant, lilac, etc."

Although she's pleased with her apartment's new cheery, upbeat palette, there's one thing she may have done differently. "I love the blue walls in my lounge, but the color is so color-forward and high-energy, it's more conducive to socializing than chilling out with a book," notes Julia. Another thing she learned about using color is the impact that saturated tones have in small spaces. The citrus tone of her bathroom is the perfect color to start each day with; it instantly puts Julia in a cheerful mood. Julia advises using bold colors in smaller, briefly used spaces such as bathrooms or hallways.

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Upon entering her apartment, Julia is greeted by her favorite color, featured on a faux bamboo dresser picked up at a thrift store for $60.

Photo by: Brian Patrick Flynn

Brian Patrick Flynn

Upon entering her apartment, Julia is greeted by her favorite color, featured on a faux bamboo dresser picked up at a thrift store for $60.

With her color choices complete, Julia decided to address one of the apartment's main issues: a lack of storage in her bedroom. The editor explains, "The biggest turnoff for me when I first moved in was that my closets are actually in the hallway, not the bedroom. But after finding a large faux bamboo dresser at a local thrift store and refinishing it with coral paint, the hallway instantly made sense. The dresser stores all of my jewelry, accessories and even art supplies, but it moonlights as a foyer console."

Happy with the well-curated approach she took in designing her writer's lounge, the design-savvy journalist turned her attention to the rest of her apartment. "I'd curated a collection of timeless pieces and a few investments, like artwork from a photographer friend, an antique Venetian mirror and an industrial side table made from antique milk crate, but I needed to find a home for them," Julia says.

While curating a mix of diverse subjects for the front page of CasaSugar is part of her daily routine, creating a well-rounded collection for her own home was uncharted territory. "Although editing stories and curating pieces in a home seem like two different arts, they're quite similar," Julia notes. "Just like it's important to use the right words in a sentence to convey a story, you should curate accessories or furniture that you absolutely love for your home to tell the narrative of who you are."

Julia also believes that, as far as curating is concerned, it's best to mix in custom designs, antiques and original, limited-edition artwork with your simpler or trendier furniture pieces.

Bold, Colorful Apartment Makeover

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Before: Hodgepodge College Pad

In its existing state, San Francisco-based lifestyle journalist Julia Walsh's writing lounge had the look and feel of a college dorm room. A desk and an old sofa had been shoved into the bay window area and completely detracted from the beautiful bay windows. The plain walls offered Julia a great backdrop to experiment with many of the colors she has written about for trend-forecasting articles.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Floor Plan Remix

To use the room to the best of its ability, Julia created a space plan which allowed ample seating for herself and guests thanks to a long sofa, a wingback chair, and a small dining area in the bay window nook including two armchairs. In order to incorporate a TV without distracting from her well-curated collection, a niche was cut into the wall to house it. Julia's landlord added a built-in bookshelf tucked into the corner of the room which is nestled behind her wingback chair

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Inviting Entryway

Upon entering her apartment, Julia is greeted by her favorite color, featured on a faux bamboo dresser picked up at a thrift store for $60. "Persimmon is my favorite color," Julia comments. "On any given day, my ensemble usually incorporates some element of the coral cousin. It's no coincidence that when I decided to update my vintage dresser, I went straight for the favorite."

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Natural Lighting

Bold colors read well throughout Julia's entire home, thanks to a skylight just off the entryway in the center of her apartment.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Creative Pass

After graduating from Tulane University with a degree in media arts, Julia moved west to San Francisco to launch CasaSugar, a shelter-based website that has become a staple online destination for design bloggers. Since first setting foot in the city, she's channeled her daily commute on San Francisco's MUNI bus system into art. She taped her monthly bus passes side by side on card stock, then framed them to create an original art piece.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Colorful Memento

After writing a story on FLIPP Home, a hip boutique in the Russian Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, Julia paid a visit as a patron. She picked up a pair of framed serigraphs, a medium of graphic art similar to a screen print, made by Sister Corita Kent, a contemporary of Andy Warhol. Something to keep in mind when hanging pairs of art is the amount of wall space between pieces: Too much space can create a disconnect, and too little space may seem cluttered. A range between 2.5 and 4 inches seems to work best.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Pop of Bright Pink

Julia covered a story on ArtCrank SF, a traveling poster show focused on bike-themed works by local graphic artists. While checking out the event in person, Julia fell in love with a hot-pink and black piece that worked well with the high-energy hues intended for her apartment's decor. "What I find interesting about screen prints is how they're made," she says. "Applying the ink through a super-fine screen, you can create a picture or a pattern that’s clean and precise like a painting, yet can be printed again."

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Bringing Back the Wingback

After writing stories on great home-related stuff for guys, Julia fell in love with the line and shape of classic wingback chairs. A local San Francisco boutique called Past Perfect was her source for a worn-in black leather wingback chair adorned with dulled brass nail-head detail. "I love the black leather," says Julia. "I had so much fun reconditioning the chair. I wrote an article on how to restore leather and wood pieces like it. To repair the leather, I used Lexol Leather Conditioner, which you apply with a clean white rag and buff off after 20 minutes. To conceal scuffmarks on wood, you can use Old English Scratch Cover, which you dab on with a rag."

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

In Living Color

Julia's lounge is made up of pieces both new and old in a combination of different price points. The rolled-arm sofa was bought as part of a pair for $175 on Craigslist. Since Julia only needed one, she sold the second at a profit, then used the money to tackle other elements of her apartment's design. Red street art above the sofa was given to Julia as a gift from Hugh Leeman, a local artist she interviewed while serving as editor at PopSugar San Francisco. To dress up the basic sofa, Julia splurged on custom violet throw pillows made from a pricey Manuel Canovas fabric. The clear glass and chrome coffee table is from CB2 and cost less than $200.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

By the Bay Window

In its previous state, an old sofa and a student desk blocked Julia's bay window. To give the area purpose, and to take advantage of the view of Lombard Street just outside, she created a small dining area from high-end chairs bestowed to her from her mother. The space is ideal for reading up on new trends, books and decorating ideas over breakfast.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Art Reinvented

Julia picked up an iron piece from the Alameda Flea Market that became a work of art, despite its origin as a purely functional object. "The sheet of metal is what industrial signage or house letters are cut from," Julia explains. "I think the negative space is really interesting, and since I installed it sideways, most people can't tell what it is at first glance."

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

TV Niche

Since flat-panel TVs and media components can easily eat up valuable space, not to mention stick out like eyesores, Julia's landlord created a custom niche in one wall of her writing lounge. In order to do this, the drywall was cut, the framework was reconfigured and an electrical outlet was installed just below the niche.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Built-In Bookshelf

For a slight built-in effect, a 5-inch-deep shelf was added to the wall just behind Julia's wingback chair. "I have more coffee table books than my chrome table can hold, so I love that the small shelf allows to me to display extras at arm's reach from the sofa," Julia notes. "Since the shelf is so shallow, I place the books cover-side forward, which keeps the shelf from looking too cluttered."

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Bold Hues

Eager to experiment with colors she covered in trend-forecasting articles, Julia decided to paint her bathroom with a citrus tone similar to Mimosa, Pantone's 2009 Color of the Year. She opted for a hue slightly more green called Wales Green by Benjamin Moore. "Bold colors can definitely be risky," she says. "I've found that rich jewel tones are the perfect remedy for run-of-the-mill renter's walls. Nothing infuses personality more than a chorus of striking hues."

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Bedroom Retreat

As a writer and an avid reader, Julia's books can be found almost everywhere in her apartment. To keep them contained in her bedroom, she found an old industrial metal chest on casters, made from an antique milk crate, which keeps the less decorative books concealed inside. Her favorite color, persimmon, is the main accent color found in pillows and artwork.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

DIY Headboard

Having worked on many do-it-yourself articles, Julia decided to put her own skills to the test by creating a custom headboard from scratch. In order to do this, she had a piece of plywood cut to size, then stapled foam and batting to it, wrapped it with velvet, then stapled the fabric to the back, and adorned the edges with brass nail heads attached with a rubber mallet.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Black and White, Just Right

A New York-based artist named Samantha West was once a subject of an article written by Julia. Soon after writing about her work, Julia decided to buy a piece herself. "Adding different mediums of art to each room is important to a well-curated space," Julia says. "I think it's important to have a balance of fine-art photography with abstract, pop and traditional oil paintings. This combination creates a juxtaposition that's timeless and classic." Black-and-white photography is often considered a better investment since it can work with virtually any color scheme, whereas color photography may limit the number of color schemes for the room in which it’s on display.

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

While the apartment's bathroom, entryway and bedroom were relatively easy to create design plans for, the living room presented a few challenges. "I really didn't want the TV taking up a lot of space, decoratively or functionally," says Julia. Her landlord outfitted the living room wall with a recessed niche. To create the niche, he cut drywall with a reciprocating saw and reconfigured 2x4 framing studs into a 48-inch wide by 42-inch tall by 16-inch deep rectangle meant to house a flat-screen TV. "A lot of people would go for a big 50" flat screen in that built-in space, but I saw it as a blank canvas for books, artwork, candles, and other odds and ends that show more personality," she says.

Julia's landlord supplied her with an integrated shelf tucked in the corner of her living room. The 4x2x5-foot shelf was placed in the wall that separates Julia's bedroom from her writing lounge. This augmented the book storage in her bedroom and gave Julia a designated place in her writing lounge to keep books on display, particularly handy for keeping review article subjects close by. Better still, the space was installed just a few inches away from the sofa and within reach of Julia's black leather wingback chair.

With the design of her colorful apartment complete, Julia is armed with a new understanding of interior design and decorating. She's got a designated room in which to focus on both reading and writing, and an entire home packed with bold hues and one-of-a-kind pieces by the same local artists she often writes about. "The biggest lesson I learned from the whole experience is that you don't have to be finished," notes the avid reader and writer. "Just continue to edit and move things around until it finally feels right. One day, when you fall in love with a large-scale painting that throws the whole thing off, just rearrange and fine-tune until you find balance again."

Above all, her favorite place in the apartment is her writing lounge. There she's reading and writing more efficiently than ever, thanks to her collection of inspiring design elements and meticulously chosen furniture. "Having such a cozy, functional and inspiring place to spend time has made me a homebody." she says. "Whether I'm working, lounging or hosting friends, I just love to be here." With a place as colorful, well-curated and packed with stories as Julia's, it's likely that the writer herself is soon to become a highly publicized subject.

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