With the explosion of home bloggers and Instagrammers, interior design has become one more venue for self-expression—and that means our spaces can reflect ourselves, just like our wardrobes. That was the topic of discusion at “Furniture is the New Fashion,” a South by Southwest 2016 Interactive panel in Austin TX, featuring Jenny Morrill, co-Founder of the interiors marketplace Move Loot, and Natalie Holbrook, author and lifestyle blogger at Hey Natalie Jean. Holbrook, who recently relocated from Brooklyn to Idaho with her family, talked to Real Simple after the panel about the best home pieces to splurge on, how to decorate with the seasons, and why she can’t get excited about framed prints on a wall.
At the panel you talked about how people are moving more than ever. How can moving help you develop a sense of home style?
It’s a wonderful opportunity to cull through things, like an IRS audit of your stuff. You realize how much you love something when you contemplate the effort it takes to ship it and unpack it. It’s like the KonMari method, that life-changing moment where you realize what brings you joy and what is just a weight to have to carry around.
I liked what you said about how it can also empower you to make a big purchase.
Totally. There’s a certain kind of thing where I would drive it all over the country [to move it]. And you know that is the item you should buy no matter how much it costs or how weird it looks. Just do it.
You made a comparison between sites like Etsy for home and fast fashion for clothing. Can you explain?
I consider Etsy the opposite of fast fashion because that’s where you go and find vintage pieces, or things that have been curated or handmade for you. My coffee table is from Etsy and it is from a reclaimed barn somewhere near Hood River. That kind of item—it probably cost way too much—but the memories I have of picking it out are so special.
What are some of your favorite Etsy shops for home finds?
And beyond the obvious chains, what are some of your favorite places to shop for your home?
I love antiquing. I am a total thrift store junkie. I’ll go to a Goodwill or the Salavation Army. That to me is the most fun—chairs that have a little bit of a wiggle to them. I also go to the more curated boutiquey places. Otherwise, I’ve had really good luck with Restoration Hardware.
You mentioned that someday people might have seasonal home décor the way they have seasonal wardrobes. What will that look like?
Take throw blankets, for example. In the winter we bring out our big Pendleton wools and in the summer we replace them with something more lightweight. You can switch out pillows, table centerpieces—I like having a pitcher of flowers and depending on the time of year, I want them in stainless steel or earthenware. Even things like drapes can be easily switched out. We have these lace panels up right now and just the other day I was thinking I want to take those down and just have a bare wall for a while. [You can] move rugs around and layer them. The trick is, having the space to store it—or a sister or a friend who will share custody!
Yes, what about the storage issue if you don’t have a big house?
I have not always had storage. When we were living in New York, we had 800 square feet and everything I had was meticulously thought over. But then we moved to Idaho and I had a basement and an attic and so it very quickly got out of hand. If you don’t have a storage unit, I think it comes down to, if it’s not going to be a forever piece, but it’s something you’re really excited about, you have to find a network of friends who you can pass things on to, or else learn how to sell it on Craigslist. Sometimes if you make a good purchase you can even make more off of it than what you paid for. That’s kind of part of the fun too.
In your opinion, what pieces are worth splurging on?
I say sofas and chairs are worth splurging on—chairs that you sit on at dinner, as well as armchairs. Those are the things that get beat up. My kid is 5. He just got to that phase where he walks along the back of the couch. I’m so glad that the couches I have are not going to break down the middle. Mattresses are worth spending money on too.
You spoke about three things every room needs—a place for your bum, feet, and hands. I love that! But once you have those basics covered, what’s your best advice for injecting personality into your room while still keeping it cohesive?
My best advice is to make whatever you find pull double duty. It has to say something about the style you like, but it should also provide some important function. I’m not much of a fan of photos in frames or posters on walls because you just look at it and that’s all you can do. Beautiful pitchers are one of my favorite things to collect at thrift stores because you can put floral arrangements in them, you can use them at dinner, sometimes I use them to water the plants just because they’re pretty to look at. I also think serving pieces are great—like a cake plate or some kind of platter that you can pull out for special occasions. Things that remind you of something you love and that also do some hard work for you.
The idea of this panel was that home décor is the new fashion—do you think it is?
I really think it is. Especially with Instagram and the availability of all these different kinds of home furnishings that feel distinct and have a personality. We’re becoming more confident sharing our homes with strangers on the Internet or with friends. I think that the food movement has helped also. It’s just one more way to express yourself and to find out who you feel like you are in your life at one time or another. There’s something so wonderful about that, especially as a generation that moves around a lot and lives our entire lives online. You still need a home base and it’s more important than ever that you have a spot that’s yours, that feels comfortable and that has that smell—you know how a home smells like it’s your home?
Have you bought or been inspired by anything in Austin?
I love the mix in Austin of the crumbling architecture next to the giant skyscrapers. I love when you can take two things that appear diametrically opposed and smash it into one. That always makes it feel exciting.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length