Put a Fern on it

A small-space makeover

Photography by Tina Sargeant

While putting together articles for this special edition of The Lakelander, we really wanted to show a range of styles and types of dwellings. Matthew and Sara Kent are members of our creative team. Our readers will know them from their work with us as the dynamic photography duo Penny & Finn who provided images rich in color and depth for both the Shelter and Taste sections in past issues. You’ll see more of their work featured in this issue, in the Deen House and our summer entertaining spread.

Every time we shoot a home together, we joke about coming to their apartment and making it over the same way we do when we prop houses for the Shelter section of the magazine. “Put a fern on it” has become our tagline, for it seems like plants are always key to the vignettes we create. So when it came to the redesign of their own abode, it only seemed natural that plant life be a major part of the theme. Matthew jokingly referenced Jumanji as inspiration. We didn’t quite go that far, but it is pretty green, if I do say so myself.

The Penny & Finn vibe has a decidedly handmade bent. Vintage furniture cozies up to custom pieces by Pine-stock, Matthew’s other creative venture with his dad, a master carpenter and woodworker. The apartment is peppered with pieces crafted by Sara, who uses their home as her studio and test kitchen for DIY projects galore which you can see
featured on her blog, www.pennylovesfinn.com 

In approaching the plan for their space, we had several things to contend with, but the main two concerns were size/space planning and budget (which was originally $150). The goal was to create zones within the small space to give purpose to every available square inch. Their living room is tiny, and it also houses Matthew’s workspace. Originally, the desk and TV unit were packed into one corner of the room, with two couches set perpendicularly against the opposing walls. While there was a decent amount of space in the middle of the room, one had to walk through the middle of the seating area to reach the kitchen, and the middle of the room was unused space. My other beef with most small apartments is that the front door flings you right into the middle of the living room without any transitional space or a spot to throw your bag and keys. Result: instant messiness.

View More: http://pennyandfinn.pass.us/before-apartment

With our budget in hand and plans for this issue of The Lakelander underway, we sat down in Matthew and Sara’s little living room and brainstormed. We took into account all of the ways the space needed to function and all of the ways it was currently a disappointment. The things they liked about the space included its open-plan concept, having the office as part of the main living area, and the mid-century couch that had been given to them by friends. Their dislike list was much longer, but their biggest concerns were the living area’s awkward corners, the way the office area wasn’t really integrated into the room, color schemes — basically a general lack of coziness, and of course a lack of plants, which we mentioned previously.

As we talked, I sketched an idea which totally changed the floor plan of the main living area. We separated the TV-watching zone from the workspace by placing them at opposite ends of room. Matthew and his dad made an easel-style TV unit to hang on the wall and free up more room on the floor, and then we plopped the sofa down right in the middle of the space, using it to chop the two areas in half and create an obvious thoroughfare between zones and into the kitchen. This is counter-intuitive to most people, but it really works, and rather than make a room feel smaller, it feels more spacious because of the intentionality of the plan.

We designed an entryway, using a bookshelf constructed by Matthew, which also functions as a room divider and a place to house their growing plant collection. Now they have a place to throw their keys, and the workspace has its own designated area. The wall which originally housed the TV now functions as a spot to hang proofs from recent photography jobs and some favorite craft projects.

The other big change was color. Sara loves turquoise, and there were originally two different shades of blue on the walls, alternating with neutrals. While the turquoise and robin’s-egg blue were lovely colors, we decided to broaden the palette a little bit. We drew inspiration from Sara’s collection of mid-century objects and kitchenware, and Matthew’s love of the Pacific Northwest and came up with a masculine/feminine mix of robin’s-egg blue; muted coral; and a deep-brown, almost-black color called Sealskin.

So, here we were — with a plan, a purpose, and a task list. And then our little budget took an unexpected dive. Don’t get me wrong: $150 wasn’t a whole lot considering all that we planned to do. But life happened, and we ended up with more of a beg/borrow/steal-type scenario. (Don’t worry, we didn’t actually steal anything.) Undaunted, we decided to use this as an opportunity to practice what we preach and use what we had. Besides, we were on a deadline, and we weren’t giving up.

We used a combination of leftover paint on the walls. We visited thrift stores. We used stock Matthew had in the workshop to build the furniture items needed for the space. Friends Robyn Wilson and Jarrid Masse of the Poor Porker stepped in to lend a hand, a couple of lamps, and some materials. Sara and I made the curtains and dyed them ourselves with leftover dye I had been saving for a rainy day. In the end we spent around $60 on frames and craft materials. Everything else they owned already (we just gave it new purpose) or was given to them by friends. It’s a true testament to Matthew and Sara’s resourcefulness and proof that you don’t have to have a huge budget to have a beautiful, happy home.

 
Plants provided by The Green House Garden Store (www.greenhousegardenstore.com)
Custom coffee table, book shelf and media shelf by Pinestock (www.pine-stock.com)