After a lengthy search for the perfect space in New York City, Interior Designer and owner of Pistachio Designs, Elaine Burns, finally bought her studio apartment a little over a year ago and began making the space her own. As a designer and a lover of all things aesthetic, Elaine skillfully optimized every corner of her New York City apartment for small living. Coupled with bright, airy designs and an eye for detail, Elaine’s apartment is not only a testament to her creative eye, it’s also a great example of just how effective designing with intention can really be for even the smallest space.
If you love adorable, sunny New York apartments, look no further than this beautiful tour of Elaine Burns’ home and learn all about her experiences owning a small business. Not to mention, her work as a designer gives her an in on some really great places to find unique decor.
What was your first job and how did you land it?
My first job out of college was at Ralph Lauren as a Distribution Analyst. I was a part of their summer internship program before the start of my senior year and landed a job with the same team as soon as I graduated. At the time, the position was a great match with my skill sets — it was highly analytical, but an artistic and creative mind helped me stand out.
Before you got started in interior design, you also worked in corporate fashion for brands like J.Crew and Ralph Lauren. What was your experience in the fashion industry and how do you think it set you up to become an interior designer?
My early experience with the fashion brands served as wonderful exposure to how iconic brands maintain their brand identity and product assortments. This was especially important when I started Pistachio Designs and helped guide me on which opportunities and partnerships were the best to say yes to, and know that it was OK to say no if the opportunity wasn’t aligned with my vision.
Being exposed to a creative work environment on a daily basis and learning the operations side of a business first-hand was invaluable as well.
In addition to interior design, you’re also a small business owner. Can you tell us a little about your interior design company, Pistachio Designs?
Pistachio has undergone quite a few iterations since I launched it as a blog back in 2013. Initially, I started the blog “Pistachio” as a creative outlet to showcase all of my projects I was working on — anything from my crafting projects (like my very first quilt!) to home decor and decorating. Over the past 4-5 years, it has served as a platform for my side-hustle business endeavors (always design-related!). I was feeling a little directionless about what exactly I wanted my brand to truly be and committed to interior decorating and design and haven’t looked back!
Pistachio offers decorating services for any room in your home. I tell my clients that my goal is not to completely overhaul all of your belongings — I love to incorporate existing pieces into new designs, especially vintage or heirloom items. It adds personality and makes the final product that much more special. A mixture of contemporary pieces combined with unexpected details makes the Pistachio aesthetic stand out.
Pistachio Designs is such a unique and creative name. How did you come up with it?
I get that question a lot! Initially I was concerned that the name “Pistachio Designs” would be confusing and that people would assume I ran a food company!
I wanted an easy, memorable name and focused on objects with my favorite color palettes as inspiration. It sounds strange to say, but pistachios have beautiful colors — purples, taupes, and greens — so it was always a top contender. Plus it makes for a great conversation starter!
When someone approaches you for design work, what is your process? What are some of the first steps you take when designing the home or workplace of a client?
I always like to start the process off on a fun note, so my clients work through a questionnaire on their design tastes and pull together their favorite sources of inspiration — whether that’s a recent vacation or images from a magazine.
From there, my client and I meet — either in person or online (thank goodness for video conferencing technology!) — and we talk through the functionality of the space and the emotional attachment behind how the space is used (i.e. a kitchen that is the family meeting place for most conversations, or a bedroom that is a complete oasis).
So much of the process is editing and creating a space that fits a client’s dreams and aspirations, so taking the time in the beginning to really listen for what is needed sets both me and the client up for success during the rounds of room layout review and furniture sourcing.
As someone who works frequently with the homes of others, what was it like finally designing your own space, and how did those experiences compare?
I had been looking forward to designing my own (owned!) space for as long as I could remember. As a highly-detailed person, I was excited to tackle even the smallest purchase; every design choice I made — from a layout choice to a furniture purchase — was infinitely more personal.
I began planning my layout and furniture selections within hours of signing my closing documents (literally, I took the train over to the neighborhood as soon as I left the lawyer’s offices).
On the whole, I tackled this design project just as I would for any of my clients — I spent a bulk of my design time configuring the layout and meticulously compiling inspiration boards, which made sourcing furniture a super streamlined process.
You purchased your studio apartment a year and a half ago. How did you find this space?
I began my search process about four months before finding this apartment. I was already well aware of the high-stress/high-stakes nature of finding a rental apartment in NYC and I tell people that the buying process was very similar to the rental process — it just lasts longer than a couple of weeks!
I took a class on buying in NYC taught by an amazing local broker and I ended up working with her through the entire process. I saw tons of homes — most of which were within my budget so as not to tempt myself! — and would check listings constantly. I saw this space listed one morning, visited it later that afternoon, and put in a competitive offer immediately afterwards. I knew I needed to act fast and I’m so glad I did!
What drew you to this studio when you first saw it?
There were three major wins when I found this studio: 1. The overall layout, I knew I could work with this layout to clearly divide my living/sleeping spaces. 2. The amount of natural light. I’m on the top floor in a neighborhood with relatively few high-rise buildings, so the natural light streaming through my three large windows was huge. 3. A recently, well-done gut renovation of the kitchen and bathroom. Not needing to spend money upfront on renovations was a big must-have for me. I wanted to live in the space as soon as possible!
What were your initial design plans for the space when you first moved in, and how did they change once you got settled?
To be honest, not a whole lot changed from my original plan to the final execution! Because the main room is only a couple hundred square feet, I did not have many layout options.
The biggest variance from my plan was in my foyer area. I initially had some chairs positioned in front of the shutters/room divider as a resting place to throw my bag once I got home, but I moved my vintage bureau there instead since it is such an amazing focal point and allowed me to display my favorite little trinkets. It’s an extra special piece since it used to be my mother’s, and I love having such a personal item be one of the first things I see when arriving home each day.
Were there any quirks in the space you had to design around? If so, tell us about them.
I was so fortunate that the apartment had been gut-renovated before I moved in, so many of the usual quirks that I have had to design around in past apartments (uneven floors, cringe-worthy wall colors) were not much of an issue for this place. That being said, the ancient electrical wiring made for a difficult time shopping for and then installing light fixtures. I’m glad that I ultimately selected lighting options that I love, because they are definitely not leaving the ceilings or walls anytime soon!
What are some of the design challenges of a studio and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge is, of course, that the space is basically one big room! Creating designated areas to be my bedroom, living room, and workspace was a top priority for me.
One statement piece of furniture in each “room” helped anchor each vignette — whether my sofa or vintage bed frame (an awesome Craigslist score if I do say so myself!). From there, I aimed to style each space separately — the living room with a gallery wall and the workspace with visible storage. And, of course, the faux shutter wall for the bedroom makes for a very clear division of space. I wanted to build a true wall without making the space feel smaller, and these airy shutters do just that.
We noticed you have a fantastic attention to detail — every inch of this apartment is designed with intention. What are some of your favorite pieces in the apartment and what are you most excited to incorporate into your space over time?
Oh my gosh, there are so many favorite pieces to name! I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I love mixing vintage with contemporary and some of my favorite pieces in the space thus far are antique or found items with history behind them.
My brass bed frame is quintessentially me, and required a lot of finessing to make it suitable for a modern mattress (kudos to the handiwork of my Dad — thanks, Dad!).
My velvet club chair is another amazing thrift find. I had been pinning retro-velvet chairs for months and discovering this one felt like fate.
And of course, so many pieces in my gallery wall are incredibly special to me — I have menus from favorite restaurants, some of my first real art pieces, and a charcoal drawing that my mom made in college (it’s signed with her maiden name!).
I’m excited to eventually update my sofa — it’s an Ikea sofa that I had reupholstered a few years ago. After making so many large purchases for the apartment right away, I chose to hold on this one for now. I also love adding of-the-moment textures through pillows (I LOVE accent pillows) and blankets. The cozier the better.
One of the benefits of purchasing your home is the ability to remodel it whichever way you choose. Is there a completed project you’re particularly proud of or one you’re excited to start?
I am definitely most proud of my faux wall! It was custom made (and is actually meant to be a window shutter) and getting them physically installed in the apartment was no easy task! But I’m so happy they fit into the space just as I had envisioned: beautiful, chic, and unexpected.
In regards to a project I’m looking forward to completing, I am working with my mom, a talented graphic designer, to design a wallpaper for my kitchen! It’s been such a fun collaboration to partner on colors and motifs. We have a couple of options currently using greys, pinks, and a deep blue with an art-deco-inspired pattern.
Your space is beautiful, eclectic, and airy — a balance that isn’t easy to achieve! What advice would you give to someone looking to achieve aesthetic balance in their home?
Thank you so much! I always strive to strike the right balance by considering scale — a large, focal accent chair can be balanced with a neutral sofa; or the bed can be adorned with pillows of all different shapes, sizes, and textures if the bedding is a simple base color.
I also was very considerate about having the space feel full, but not cluttered. That principle was especially important when deciding whether storage should be visible (for my pretty things!) or hidden. In general, I aim to only have one or two areas of open storage — this keeps my collections of trinkets curated too!
Where would you recommend people go to find design inspiration or helpful decorating tips?
I love perusing magazines to collect design inspiration, plus the act of thumbing through the pages is a therapeutic way for me to disconnect. House Beautiful and Domino are two of my favorites. I also always find helpful tips in Real Simple!
Catching up on my favorite blogs is another weekend activity I always look forward to. My favorite accounts to follow now are Emily Henderson, Anne Sage, and Harlowe James — I so admire all of these women for their clean and clear aesthetics and authentic voices.
As Pistachio Designs continues to grow, what do you envision the future of your design company will look like?
I am excited to continue to meet more wonderful clients and increase the number of e-design projects I take on to reach individuals from all over the country.
Overall, my future vision is to expand brand knowledge about Pistachio and its services and to continue partnering with all of my clients on a personal level. Decorating a home is an intimate process and I am always so honored that clients have brought me into their homes and lives.
What advice would you give your 22-year-old self?
The same advice I give myself today: you always get it done. So many hours have been spent worrying about deadlines or the millions of items on my to-do list, convincing myself I can’t handle whatever challenge I am taking on. The important things always get done, so try not to stress the small stuff.
Elaine Burns is The Everygirl…
Do I have to pick just one?! My forever favorite is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and a more recent favorite is The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.
Ideal Sunday activity?
A museum visit (fortunately NYC has so many options!) followed by a coffee date with a friend.
Next vacation you’d like to take?
My boyfriend and I are planning a Eurotrip and I’m excited to visit London (a favorite location for the both of us!) and Amsterdam (I haven’t been before!) Both cities are packed with culture, museums, and delicious food options — I can’t wait!
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Kate Middleton. I’m not ashamed to admit I have a bit of a British Royal family obsession and I would just love to meet her. She’s polished, stylish, and involved in so many wonderful organizations that support women — even just tea with her would be incredible.