Get a Sneak Peek at This Year’s Real Simple Home
We asked pro designers to solve some major design challenges—check out what they did.
For our third annual Real Simple Home, we’re working with designers and pro organizers to make over a two-story penthouse apartment in Manhattan. This time around, each interior designer has been paired with a Real Simple editor—aka, their “client”—who presents them with a design challenge. Maybe it’s an open layout living room that doubles as a dining room and triples as a homework station for the kids. Or maybe it’s an owner’s suite that has to be stylish, but also durable enough to withstand two toddlers. Don’t worry, the design pros have practical solutions to these common challenges and more. Check out some of their ideas below, then don’t miss the big Real Simple Home reveal in the October 2020 issue—you’ll feel inspired to work their brilliant design solutions into your own space.
Challenge #1: Design an Oblong, Open-Space Living Room
When you do your connecting, relaxing, and dining in one area, the space needs to really perform. Designer Max Humphrey shows how to pull it off—this is his collaboration with editor Leslie Corona.
Max aims to “turn this blank white box into a space with some architectural detail—without breaking the bank” and to make it livable all day long, 365 days a year.
We often want rooms to do double duty. With an open floor plan, though, it can be tough to define areas meant for different purposes.
Max’s Action Plan
- Go with multiple light sources. The navy shade offers a sleek twist on an industrial silhouette.
- High-back chairs create a visual distinction between zones.
- Wallpaper can be pricey. Choose a pattern that works with your paint and use it in small doses, like on a column.
The Zoned Approach
Use rugs to define areas.
The largest rug can anchor the living room setup; another rug, like a durable hide, can distinguish the dining space.
Select furniture that’s flexible.
If you don’t use your dining room daily, select versatile pieces that make it functional in other ways (think: a homework station). Try a small sofa on one side of the table for comfortable, bench-style seating.
Add wow factor to the walls.
Humphrey likes to affordably fake the appearance of wainscoting by using paint. When picking his shades, he often looks to brands’ color-of-the-year winners: “There are so many paints to choose from, and it can get overwhelming. The color-of-the-year options help narrow down the field and make things feel modern.”
Max has designed everything from beach mansions to log cabins to an Airstream trailer. For the Real Simple Home, he brings his “cowboy high style” to the long, sunny living space. Follow him on Instagram at @maxwhumphrey.
Real Simple’s Senior Associate Home Editor
A native New Yorker, Leslie is passionate about throw pillows (“I constantly change mine up!”) and wants a space that balances her light and airy style with her husband’s preference for darker hues and chunky furniture.
Challenge #2: Design an Owner’s Suite with Wiggle Room
Flexibility is key for the moms who sleep in the bedroom—and the toddlers who act like they run the place. Our team shows how to strike a balance between calming and kid friendly—here’s what resulted from the collaboration among designers Rebecca Atwood and Kate Hamilton Gray and creative director Emily Kehe.
Emily and her wife want their space to feel relaxing, have the cool factor they crave—and stand up to the shenanigans of their active twins.
Hitting the right combo of soft, sweet, and edgy—while making the space toddlerproof—can seem nearly impossible.
Rebecca and Kate’s Action Plan
- Incorporate graphic patterns that feel sophisticated and help disguise wear and tear.
- Soften the look of an angular nightstand by placing it next to a curvy, upholstered headboard.
- The sconce pictured above is minimalist and chic (suiting the moms’ designer taste) but has a nice warmth for storytime.
The Balanced Approach
Find the yin to your yang.
When planning your bedroom, pick the bed first. If you opt for a wooden headboard, that should influence the surrounding elements: Go with softer options, like an upholstered chair or whimsical wallpaper, to balance out the hard edges.
The newest indoor/outdoor fabrics are so elegant, you’d never know they’re also durable. Try the fabric on pillows, your headboard, and elsewhere to add coziness—or use it on your reading chair right by the window to avoid fear of fading.
Accommodate the whole family.
Scatter pretty storage baskets to keep stuffed animals and dinosaur figurines accessible…but out of sight.
Designer and Artist
Rebecca has an uncanny ability to mix her wall coverings and fabric designs in refreshing ways. Learn how to do it yourself with her books Living With Pattern ($23, amazon.com ; $32, bookshop.org ) and Living With Color ($22, amazon.com ; $32, bookshop.org ).
Kate Hamilton Gray
With a background in furniture design, Kate has an eye for details. She brings her signature touches—vintage furniture, unique wall treatments—to the owner’s suite of the Real Simple Home.
Real Simple’s Creative Director
Both Emily and her wife work in a creative field and appreciate beautiful things. But as parents of two young boys, they also need those things to be functional and resilient.
Challenge #3: Design a Hardworking Woman Cave
Creating a space for reading, writing, thinking, and occasional book club hosting can seem like a tall order. Dayna Isom Johnson shows our editor-in-chief how to maximize—and customize—every corner of the room.
Dayna hopes to spark Liz’s creativity by bringing in cozy spots to relax, clutter-clearing systems, and an infusion of saturated colors.
The terrace is accessed via this space, so there needs to be a path for passing through, but the room should also offer Liz the calm escape that she craves.
Dayna’s Action Plan
Limited shelf space (like the one pictured above) will help Liz be extra discerning about which books are keepers—and which are destined for her Little Free Library.
The Personalized Approach
Pick a palette.
Start pulling your mood board together by selecting a core group of colors. This will help streamline your ideas. From there, besure each element has a functional purpose.
Make it individual.
“I’m looking for pieces that will make Liz smile and bring delight and inspira- tion every time she walks into the room,” Dayna says. “We’ll incorporate her pets, reminders of travel with family, and her love of trees into the design.”
Ask for alterations.
Though it often requires more time to deliver, customized pieces—like slipcovers or built-to-fit benches—can make you happier with the finished space over the long term.
Dayna Isom Johnson
Etsy’s Trend Expert
Between her role at Etsy and her job as a judge on NBC’s craft competition, Making It, Dayna has her finger on the pulse of the latest trends—and an eye for products with tons of character. Find some of her faves on Instagram at @daynaisomjohnson.
Real Simple’s Editor-in-Chief
Liz draws inspiration from her surroundings, and she wants her home office to be a place that’s practical and peaceful (but still comfy enough for her twin teenage daughters to hang out in). Follow her on Instagram at @lizvaccariello.