On a break from work earlier this year, I sat in my apartment looking around at how nothing seemed to make sense in my design choices. I’d worked from home for years at that point — even before the pandemic started — and was increasingly annoyed at the space around me. It didn’t feel conducive to working from home; it wasn’t something I liked looking at. And it’s not just me: More and more, people are dissatisfied with their home design as we shift to permanent or hybrid work-from-home scenarios. Though it seems superficial, our atmosphere affects our well-being.
I spoke with Caroline Winkler, an interior designer, to get her tips and tricks for anyone who struggles with creating the perfect space, especially in a rental. Winkler started out as an actor specializing in improv and comedy, and after working with a designer in Ohio she started building her own design portfolio. With her combination of acting, comedy and design, it’s no surprise a few YouTube videos later she passed 200,000 viewers. And now, back in D.C. she’s decorating her new space and giving us all the decorating tips, too.
District Fray: What should people consider before starting a new design?
Caroline Winkler: The first thing to decide in any room is how much money you’re willing to spend on things you’ll take with you. Then decide how much you’re willing to spend on sunk costs, like paint or DIY builds. That will be different for everyone.
Let’s go through the apartment room by room. What tips do you have for decorating and designing the bathroom?
In general, for a bathroom, hardware is an easy change — you can’t imagine how big of a difference it makes. New knobs, new shower curtain rings — instant upgrade. Getting a cute, functional bathmat helps add texture to the space. I’ve actually done a wool runner that absorbs water and dries really easily. Invest in double shower curtains for some nice symmetry and in some nice containers for countertops.
What about the kitchen?
This is a revolution I want to start: having a chair, especially if you have a kitchen where you can’t see into the living room so someone can come hang out and sit with you while you’re cooking. Bringing in artwork and a cute kitchen mat makes the space feel homey.
In a rental, you’re not able to change the countertops and cabinets most of the time, so I like to invest in countertop accessories like a beautiful cutting board. Whether you use it a lot or not, it can really warm up a space just propped against the wall. Design with what you use: a beautiful bowl of fruit, cute cereal containers, nice flatware and antique glasses.
And the living room?
Try to create zones in your space. A conversational area, a walkway, a reading nook — even if it’s one space, breaking it up will make a difference. Unless you’re in college and have no money, start investing in pieces that feel beautiful to you. You don’t need to wait until you own a house or apartment.
You’ll take the pieces with you later and investing in pieces you love now will really elevate the space. You can get quality couches and tables on Facebook marketplace or Craigslist. IKEA is great, but not for every item. In general, a good mix of quality furniture with cheaper furniture makes the cheaper furniture look more expensive. Same with the art: One beautiful, expensive piece elevates the others around it. You need lamps, too. Overhead lighting is gross. Lamps only after 6 p.m.
And the bedroom?
First thing to consider is how you want the space to feel. Is it a boho escape? Clean and crisp like a hotel room? Figuring this out at the beginning will help guide your decisions. Design with functionality in mind and add accent furniture accordingly. If you’re afraid of boxing yourself into one design choice, get neutral bedding and add personality with colorful pillows, textured throws, plug-in wall sconces, beautiful curtains and wall decor. Get rid of rental blinds, if possible. It’ll change your life.
What is some rental-friendly hacks we should know about?
Stick-on tile for kitchen or bathroom backsplashes, stick-on vinyl flooring and stick-on wallpaper. In my experience, these are easy to install and easy to remove. For wallpaper, try RoomMates Decor. It’s the highest quality peel-and-stick wallpaper I’ve tried. As for floor tiles, my favorite brand comes from Etsy, a seller called Quadrostyle. Also, you can’t imagine how a fresh coat of white paint changes the whole space. If you can paint, do it.
Why is it important to have a beautiful space?
Your environment affects your mood, behavior and mindset. We all know the feeling of walking into a well-designed restaurant or club and you take note of it because it fills you with joy; if you can make that your homebase, what an elevated way to start and end your day. I feel very averse to the idea of thinking I’ll enjoy my space later, in a few years. I’m living now. There’s no reason to delay having a space that feels like a home. It’s not a small thing.
Any other tips?
I love to make an anti-inspo Pinterest board where I find a design I like, but something in it is not quite working.
I try to find the missing piece. It’s helpful to make myself articulate what’s going on and what could be better. Also, lean into quirks instead of covering them up. There’s always weird nooks and crannies in historical D.C. apartments but try to see that as an opportunity: use it for a piece of artwork, a pedestal, a plant. Revealing an answer or opportunity in a temporary space is very rewarding.
For more design tips and DIY ideas (plus some great comedy bits), follow along as Winkler redecorates her new D.C. apartment and takes on new clients. Check her out on YouTube at Caroline Winkler and follow on Instagram @thegoodsitter.
Enjoy this piece? Consider becoming a member for access to our premium digital content. Support local journalism and start your membership today.