Find your style

For Havenly senior designer Vivian Torres, the practical considerations of first-time homeownership led her to a 700-square-foot condo in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood that she shares with her husband. 

“We looked at a ton of properties, including some larger homes, but ultimately our decision came down to location and affordability,” she says. “We wanted a place with a mortgage that one of us could afford in the event of financial hardship, and this little space fit the bill.” 

But opting for a smaller space didn’t stifle her interior design instincts. In fact, the building itself helped illuminate her overall design scheme. 

“Our condo is located inside a 100-year-old-building with a beautiful navy and cream floral wallpaper in the shared staircase, so I drew inspiration for the color palette from that,” says Vivian, who ultimately created a library-style space with plenty of built-ins that showcases her American-Eclectic style. Below, Vivian shares her Design Story, studded with practical tips for first-time homeowners.

Take your time

Vivian knew she wanted to change her space pretty drastically, so she and her husband took about four years—“until we could realistically start budgeting for renovations,” she says—to save up.

Try DIY

Once they were ready to begin their renovation, Vivian and her husband handled demo and junk removal themselves to help cut down on costs—quite a feat considering they live in a third-floor walkup! They knocked out the existing kitchen cabinets and patched up any walls that were damaged during demo. They also painted the home themselves, settling on the warm, neutral shade “Whipped” by Clare Paint.

“If you plan on doing electrical wiring or hiding any cable cords, plan that out before painting,” Vivian says. “The last thing you want is to have to break into the wall after the fact.”

Vivian and her husband also handled the kitchen cabinetry themselves: customization through DIY, if you will. “We used IKEA cabinets, trim from Home Depot, and hardware from Wayfair,” Vivian says. “If I had to do it again, this is what I would do—but it’s not for the faint of heart, and it involves many trips to IKEA.”

Don't Forget the Experts

Even as a professional interior designer, Vivian says she knew when to call in for backup. “We hired a hardwood flooring expert to refinish and lighten the floors,” she says, “which gave the space a lighter, more modern foundation.” She also had help extending the cabinetry along the entire wall of the kitchen and living space to create a workspace and bookshelves. As for her own expertise, Vivian chose a pair of cozy chaise lounges and a quality rug to give the space an elegant, high-design feel.

Mistakes Can Be Magic

No renovation is complete without a hiccup or two, Vivian says, recalling her kitchen tile with dark gray grout that looked “super wonky” after installation. Instead of removing the tile, which would’ve been cost-prohibitive, Vivian chose to cover it with paint. “It created an interesting, almost shimmery textured element to the space that I hadn’t anticipated,” she says. “You never know which mistakes will end up making a little magic!”

Find Your Style

Although Vivian appreciates many different design style, she wanted her space to exhibit the same character and coziness as a classic library found in large estates. The built-ins helped tremendously, but ornate accents, modern furniture and fresh yet classic patterns brought the effect to life, she says. 

“My parents moved to this country after fleeing Cuba and fell in love with all things representative of timeless American culture,” she says. “I grew up around a mix of Cuban decor, like cane chairs, and preppy, Ralph Lauren-inspired decor. For better or worse, this rubbed off on me,” she says. With her chic, American-Eclectic renovation on display, we’d certainly say it’s for the better.

Find out what your unique interior design style is by taking our fun style quiz.

Words by Sara Watson