When interior designer Alexandra Hernandez interned as a prop stylist for an editorial shoot in the attic of a 1946 cottage in Decatur, Ga., she had no idea the space would one day become her home. She recently graduated from design school, completed an internship working in set design, and was starting another internship apprenticing for an art director. "This was actually my very first prop styling assignment," Alexandra says. "All I expected to get out of it was a full day of experience. Instead I got experience and a new home."
After a 10-hour day photographing and creating do-it-yourself projects in the modest, uninhabited upstairs space, Alexandra fell in love with its abundance of natural light. She casually mentioned to the homeowner that the 24x10 room was ideal for a studio apartment with tons of potential to provide income for the property. The homeowner agreed, then offered it to the designer for a steal right then and there. "As it turns out, I was actually looking for an apartment that very same week," Alexandra says. "It was the easiest apartment-hunting scenario."
In its existing state, the attic was a blank canvas with light-toned laminate floors, white walls and bare windows. While many designers would consider this an opportunity to totally transform a space with color, Alexandra went a completely different direction. She was inspired by serenity and texture for her personal space. Friends and family members had their doubts about her beige and white color scheme, but the designer assured them it would be neutral but not boring.
Alexandra was eager to fine-tune her aesthetic: earthy, calm, organic and super-comfy. What she was not excited about was the lack of funds to bring her vision to life; altogether the design cost $600. From upholstered burlap squares installed as an architectural headboard to a side table rescued from the trash, she tapped into each and every one of her stylist skills to make budget-based items look high-end.
Installing the headboard was a nightmare. "My entire family stayed up with me until 3 a.m. to finish it," Alexandra says. "What made it so hard was keeping the lines of each upholstered square straight."
Another problem was getting furniture up the steep, narrow stairs. The angled turn at the stairwell's landing made it nearly impossible to move the hand-me-down sofa from Alexandra's grandparents up the stairs. The solution was to remove the legs before moving the sofa up into the attic, and then reattach them with extra-long screws once the sofa was in place.
Although the attic had some standout features, such as great natural light and nearly-new laminate floors, it also had its shortcomings. Storage was a major issue. With the exception of a small alcove cut into one of the low-angled walls, there was absolutely no space for Alexandra's things. The alcove was draped with burlap and cotton tie-backs were used to keep her clothes and shoes concealed. She opted for open storage for everyday items such as socks and belts, as well as work-related tools and accessories.
The designer snuck in a bit more storage for her prop-styling essentials. After a photo shoot, Alexandra was given a leftover outdoor ottoman that she held on to and used in her living area. "Not only can I rest my feet on it, I can dump all my work-related supplies into it right after I get home," Alexandra says.
The attic needed to serve as both a living room and a bedroom on a very tight budget. To make it all work, the designer rummaged through flea markets, thrift stores and garage sales to find second hand accent pieces such as nightstands, end tables and accessories. The only brand-new items were the pendant lights, bedding and area rugs. To make the old and new work together harmoniously, Alexandra focused on a consistent, neutral paint color to unite them and create the overall serene atmosphere.
"My living area is by far what I love most about my attic apartment, because it's just so personalized," Alexandra says. "I made the floor pillows, my crafting supplies are right there inside the ottoman, and the sectional sofa that was handed down by my grandparents fills the space perfectly." This previous prop-styling intern might be moving on to bigger things in her career, but from the looks of her cozy, new designer-quality digs, it's unlikely she'll be moving out anytime soon.
Jewelry designer Mark Edge transforms a spare room into a library showcasing his collectibles