Chrissy & Her Home
While meandering through the light-filled rooms in the Sausalito, California, home of lifestyle blogger and designer, Chrissy McDonald, we couldn’t help but think that she makes homemaking look effortless. Yet, in speaking with the young up-and-coming creative, we learned that designing an intentional and picture-perfect home isn’t all that simple—or, for that matter, quick. “I think realizing not everything can be done at once is huge,” Chrissy explained. “When you move into a new space, it is understandable that you want friends and family to come over as soon as possible, but designing a home is such a process and it’s nearly impossible to get everything done at once.”
By taking her time and prioritizing compromise in the process of selecting details for the home she shares with her longtime boyfriend, Daniel, Chrissy has been able to design a space she can be proud to add to her growing portfolio. Without further ado, you’re invited to step inside Chrissy’s pretty and pristine apartment below!
What was your first impression upon stepping foot inside your current home? Was it love at first sight?
I wish I could say it was love at first sight, but the truth is, I instantly realized that moving into this space would be a lot of work. My boyfriend Daniel and I really wanted to live in Sausalito, but there weren’t a lot of rental options in our price range, so we knew whatever we found would need some TLC.
The apartment was built in 1941 and originally housed local ship builders during the war. What it lacks in size it makes up for in character—like dreamy built-ins in the living room and kitchen! We both realized the potential of the space with hardwood floors, a huge bay window, detailed ceilings and a large living room. That, combined with the location, was too good to pass up!
Tell us about a few of the small-space solutions you’ve had to employ in your 500-square-foot home to make it both comfortable and stylish.
Throughout college, I lived in some pretty tiny spaces, so I got good at utilizing every inch of a room without making it look cluttered. What it really comes down to is choosing smaller-scale furniture and selecting a fairly neutral color palette to work with.
One of the biggest tasks upon moving in was painting all of the walls, ceilings, built-ins and trim. To make the space look really fresh and bright, we chose Dunn-Edwards Droplets for the walls and Dunn-Edwards White for the trim. Painting every room one bright color really makes the space seem bigger and cohesive.
For furniture, we have a queen-size bed, so we had to get tiny nightstands and a fairly small dresser. We chose the IKEA Hemnes nightstands and updated them with a fun brass knob and the dresser is a great inexpensive piece from Target. Daniel is tall, so he really wanted a sectional sofa. I knew this would take up a lot of space in the living room, so we found the Shelter Sofa from West Elm. This is a chaise sectional and has really clean lines so it doesn’t look too bulky. We also only have one side table and left the other side open to give the appearance of more space.
What inspired you to start your blog, Harlowe James?
When I graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design, I had a really hard time finding a job and had to move back in with my parents. For someone who worked extremely hard all throughout college, I couldn’t understand why it was taking so long to get into the working world. It was frustrating and made me want to leave design altogether.
Once I finally got a job (about five months after graduation), it wasn’t really what I expected. I didn’t feel like my creativity was being put to use and I felt myself longing for the days of design school when I created something new in some capacity every day.
I have always had so many interests outside of interior design and toyed with the idea of having a blog for a long time, but always pushed it to the side. It wasn’t until I quit my job after just one year that I realized I needed some sort of creative outlet and started putting the gears in motion. I wanted a space to share everything I have learned—from recipes to dealing with societal pressures—and a lifestyle blog seemed like the perfect opportunity to do that.
I felt so insanely proud of the outcome, and it was in that moment I realized all of the late nights and stress are worth it. It can be overwhelming at times, but it’s so important to take a step back to look at what you created.
Favorite toast-worthy moment of your career so far?
I feel so fortunate to have had a lot of great things happen in a short amount of time, but I think pulling off my first big entertaining photo shoot with Torrey Fox (the photographer who photographed our apartment) and having it published was really rewarding. I felt so insanely proud of the outcome, and it was in that moment I realized all of the late nights and stress are worth it. It can be overwhelming at times, but it’s so important to take a step back to look at what you created.
The apartment was built in 1941 and originally housed local ship builders during the war. What it lacks in size it makes up for in character—like dreamy built-ins in the living room and kitchen!
How does your style differ from your boyfriend’s style?
Daniel is very much a minimalist and he doesn’t have an overbearing aesthetic. He is pretty open to what I suggest, but overall likes a more neutral palette. My style has evolved a lot since we moved in together, and although I still love some pops of pink here and there, I have adopted his more neutral outlook. I prefer textures over loud colors and always want our space to feel warm and inviting. It was important that nothing be too precious and that everything was durable and comfortable.
Got any tips for combining feminine and masculine aesthetics at home?
I think it is important to keep the big pieces very gender neutral. Daniel said there was absolutely no way we could get a white couch, and looking back that really would have made our living room much more feminine. Investing in a blue-gray sofa and pairing it with mudcloth pillows made him happy, and I add pink peonies or fun books on the coffee table to make me happy.
Feminine accessories can help dress up a space without making it look too “girly,” and adding in dark accents like a wood coffee table, black picture frames or plants help balance everything out. It really is about finding key pieces that you both like and throwing in smaller pieces that the other one might not love as much. Most of our artwork is black-and-white photos or landscape prints and our bedding is all white. Tribal prints, geometric patterns and stripes in muted colors all work much better than florals for bedding or pillows if you are trying to keep the space gender neutral.
What are your top three tips for saving money while designing a home?
- Set a budget and stick to it: It is so easy to get lost in the world of inexpensive furniture. You tend to think you aren’t spending that much, until your credit card bill comes and you’re like, “What the hell did I do?” Daniel and I sat down at the beginning of this process and set a realistic budget for the big items like a sofa, coffee table and dresser and decided who would buy what.
- Don’t shop impulsively: This is in line with setting a budget. I am definitely guilty of going to HomeGoods and coming home with a handful of new items, but I see a lot of people’s houses and they are just filled with duplicates of accessories and it ends up looking cluttered and messy. Invest in quality pieces that you will have for years to come. Spending more money upfront will save you money in the long run.
- Find the biggest issue and start with that: I think realizing not everything can be done at once is huge. When you move into a new space, it is understandable that you want friends and family to come over as soon as possible, but designing a home is such a process and it’s nearly impossible to get everything at once. Our apartment is so layered with items that were all purchased at different times. We invested in our couch, so that meant I couldn’t have a desk, a media console and new bedding for a few months. It is also nice to really get to know your space. This may seem a little weird, but I always find that my opinion changes the more time I spend in a space. This helps you avoid going out and spending money on something and then changing your mind a few months later.
The city or place you most want to visit?
I have been incessantly Pinning pictures of Norway lately. Although I have travel fever every day of the week and my list keeps getting longer and longer, the Bergen and the Fjord region of Norway looks like a dream.
What was the most surprising thing about moving in with your boyfriend for the first time? Did any quirks come to light?
Daniel and I spent just about every day together for two years before we moved in together, so it was a fairly smooth transition. I’m really Type A, so I knew there would be some minor issues (i.e. dishes in the sink and dirty laundry on the floor), but for the most part I feel really lucky to live with my best friend.
I wanted a space to share everything I have learned—from recipes to dealing with societal pressures—and a lifestyle blog seemed like the perfect opportunity to do that.
As a working designer, what is your process for helping clients plan their home makeovers? Is it different when working on a personal project in your own space?
Working with clients and designing something for myself is night and day. With work, you are spending other people’s money and having to get into their head a bit and sometimes convince them of why something will work. It can be a bit overwhelming. For me, it is so fun to work on my own space because it is always evolving. When we scored a vintage Turkish rug at the Alameda flea market and layered it over our jute rug in the living room it instantly changed the look of the apartment and we went with it. That’s a little harder to do with a client because once you’re done with a project, you’re done.
Top stressor right this minute?
I constantly feel like there are not enough hours in the day. I’m always working on time management and have to accept the fact that sometimes stuff doesn’t get done and that is not the end of the world. It is important to work really hard, but it is equally as important to recognize your hard work and “treat yo self!”
What are your favorite spots to visit around Sausalito, California,
when you just need to get out of the house?
We are so lucky that we live within walking distance to everything, so we spend a lot of time downtown. Bar Bocce and Barrel House Tavern are two of my favorite places to eat on a sunny day. You can sit outside with a cocktail and delicious food and watch the sailboats come and go. I also love going on a run to Cavallo Point—the grounds are so beautiful and they have one of my favorite views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
What’s one interior design trend you wish would just die already?
This is a tricky one because I see a lot and I am probably guilty of whatever I say, but I am not a huge fan of quote artwork. I equate it to the “Live Laugh Love” décor that was everywhere 10 years ago (totally guilty of being on that bandwagon!). I have seen some updated versions that have funny sayings (i.e. “I’m feeling tipsy and fresh”), which I like, but overall they’re just a little overdone.
Favorite way to spend a Friday night: go!
If I got asked this question a few years ago, it would have been a much different answer, but at the end of a long week I really look forward to a night at home with a good glass of wine, making dinner with Daniel and watching a movie or “Game of Thrones” (being an adult is tiring!).
Pretend you are a law maker for the day—what’s the first law you would pass?
There are so many laws I wish I could pass, but I think overall America really needs to adapt a more European lifestyle. Free college for everyone would be huge. I know so many talented, smart people that didn’t go to college simply because they couldn’t afford it and didn’t want to spend the rest of their lives paying off student loans. That makes me really sad because I think education is extremely powerful and everyone should have the right to a free education.
“I would gladly drop a pretty penny on _________!”
A beautiful candle. Scent is so powerful and can instantly transport you to a time and place. I bought a candle in Paris years ago and I continue to buy it because every time I light it I think of that trip and where I was in my life at that time. Any time I am at home or have people over, I have a candle lit, so I like well-made products that last. I like that when you walk into our apartment, it smells nice and homey.