When you think of Washington, DC, you probably think of political leaders, the White House, and maybe even the recent government shutdown — and if you’re anything like me then Olivia Pope from Scandal definitely comes to mind. She’s basically like a political leader, right?
Here, Heather Bien, a Digital Content Director, shines a light on how the other half of Washington lives and why it is so much more than a government town. After moving from neighborhood to neighborhood to finally finding her home on H Street, a bustling area known for nightlife and restaurants, Heather has seen it all. She shares her favorite parts of living in DC and will make you want to move there too!
From a digital content directing to blogging to copywriting, Heather does it all — she is our definition of a true go-getter. As a remote worker, she knew her new apartment needed to be functional yet still fit her aesthetic. Her passion for design has led her to craft the perfect space for her and her husband. Keep reading to discover Heather’s love for DC, the best vintage shopping advice, and how to decorate your home as a couple!
Name: Heather Bien — by day, I work remotely as a Digital Content Director and Copywriter at a creative agency. I’m also a freelance writer, copywriter, and blogger.
Location: H Street, Washington, DC
Sq. Ft.: 614
Years Lived In: 1.5 years
Rent or Own: Rent
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
My first job out of college was as a Design Assistant. I cold-called every interior designer in Charlottesville looking for an internship during my fourth year of college and landed one with a fabulous firm that specializes in high-end residential design. By February, they had offered me a full-time job upon graduation. I started the Monday after I graduated!
How did you transition to freelance writing?
I’m actually a copywriter at a creative agency in my day job, but I’m a hustler by nature. If I have free time, I’m going to fill it with meaningful and interesting projects. I first started putting myself out there whenever I saw calls looking for writers, I took on every project I could get my hands on just to build up my portfolio, and eventually people started finding me through word of mouth.
I take on clients for both web copywriting and content writing — the thing that ties them all together is that they’re all awesome women and awesome companies doing awesome things. I write for photographers, designers, lifestyle websites, and super talented entrepreneurs.
What is your favorite thing about living in Washington, DC?
The diversity of the neighborhoods and the walkability of the entire city! I’ve lived in Glover Park, Dupont/Adams Morgan, and now on H Street. Each neighborhood has a distinct personality with incredible local restaurants and shops. Whenever I have an appointment or meeting in another part of town, I’ll make an effort to spend my whole day there so that I can explore everything that’s new and changing. I’ll work out of a coffee shop for a bit, stroll through the side streets, and maybe pop in a boutique or two. DC is such an evolving and vibrant city, it deserves far more credit than just being a government town!
Also, the personalities that are drawn to DC tend to be Type A and scrappy — people that are going to get shit done. I love the motivation and ambition that you find in this city.
When searching for a new place to live, what was the most important aspect or feature you were looking for?
The biggest priority was walkability. I don’t have a car, and I have zero desire to get one (my husband does have one, but we only use it to get OUT of town). If I’m going to pay the premium that comes with living in a big city, I want to be out there experiencing and taking advantage of the city every day — the best way to do that is by walking or taking public transportation! Our apartment is in the middle of tons of restaurants and bars, several grocery stores, coffee shops, and more fitness studios than I can count. I love the variety that’s at our fingertips.
My other priorities were natural light, wood floors, and a modern kitchen and bathroom. I was 100 percent willing to sacrifice square footage in order to have an updated living space.
After moving in with your husband, how did you manage to make the space feel like it was both of your homes rather than just yours?
My last single girl apartment was over-the-top feminine, so I felt like I’d gotten that out of my system! While I did most of the decorating in our apartment, it was important to me that it feel like home for both of us. I tried to incorporate Adam’s opinion whenever possible (though his attempted veto of animal print was overruled.) For items like the living room rug, bar cart, and dresser, I would pick out three or four options that I felt worked and then let him have the final say. I also worked to find a space for each of the photos and prints that he brought with him. Over half of the items in our living room gallery wall are his!
We’ve worked to create a space that strikes a chord between colorful, eclectic, and functional, with the functional part being so essential to keeping it “ours” rather than “mine.” With a tiny space, I knew that every inch of our apartment needed to be liveable – as much as I love a beautifully styled bar cart or bookshelf on Instagram, I had to find a balance between style and function, feminine, and masculine.
As much as I love a beautifully styled bar cart or bookshelf on Instagram, I had to find a balance between style and function, feminine, and masculine.
What advice would you give someone who is working with a smaller space when decorating and styling their apartment?
Make every inch count, but don’t forget to include your personality! I like to keep surfaces on kitchen counters, the coffee table, and dressers pretty minimal and clutter-free so that we can actually utilize those spaces, but I’ve added things we love on all the walls, on our bar cart, and in the bookcase. Minimal, small-space living doesn’t have to mean you don’t have stuff. You can still have books, prints, and beautiful items — you just make sure that everything has meaning, function, or makes your space feel more liveable.
Don’t overdo it on the furniture, both in terms of quantity and size. I would have loved a larger sofa, but I also didn’t want it to take up half the room, so we went for a compact, functional piece (also the coffee table, which I’m never, ever getting rid of already took up half the room!). An extra chair in the living room would start to cramp the space, so we just pull in the slipper chair from my desk if we have guests over. The dressers in the bedroom multitask as nightstands, because we didn’t want to overcrowd a space that should be calming.
Also, you don’t need to go all light, white, and bright just because a space is small! There’s something to be said for a cozy, welcoming room, and there’s also some design advice that will tell you dark colors can actually make a space seem bigger. We did just one dark gray wall in our living room, and it visually makes that wall recede into the background, which then creates the illusion of a bigger room.
Your gallery wall is pretty amazing! How did you start designing it and what was your inspiration?
The gallery wall is one of the features that ties both of our styles together. There are old photos from Adam’s great grandfather; there are nods to Texas, where Adam is from; and Virginia, where I’m from, there are political references, there are photos of us, and there are these 19th century sporting dog prints I found in London and framed in gold. (My dream is to one day have a foyer that’s painted in a neon color with a gallery wall of ONLY bird dog prints framed in gold.) There’s also this fabulous mirror I actually found at Target on clearance — the two critters you see climbing up it are actually from a pair of sandals! When the sandals finally gave way, I knew I couldn’t throw these eccentric little gold guys away, and now they live on this mirror.
I wish I could say the gallery wall was carefully planned out, but I’m not a perfectionist. I have a decent eye, so I just started nailing and hanging and hoping things would work out. Now, I just fill in the spots whenever we have something new! I did, however, make sure there was a cohesive color scheme. Everything is fairly neutral and the frames are either dark or gold, which brings in the dark gray and gold that’s in the rest of the room.
You’re a huge fan of vintage shopping! That’s great! How did you incorporate some vintage pieces into your home?
I like to say our space is a blend of antiques and Ikea. While it hasn’t made sense to invest in a nice, new sofa or bed because our space is so limited, I have splurged (and found amazing deals!) on interesting, vintage pieces that will stand the test of time as move from one place to another.
Our coffee table is a 1970s Mastercraft greek key brass and glass table that I snagged for $40 off Craigslist from a woman that was just selling a bunch of antiques her parents had unloaded on her. Both of our dressers are vintage — mine is a refurbished 1970s lingerie chest that I found on Etsy (that was the biggest splurge in our apartment!) and Adam’s is a two-part mid-century chest that we don’t believe was intended to be used as a dresser, but it works! My aunt actually found it and did the paint work on it — she has a booth at an antiques shop in Richmond, VA where she does amazing, colorful, whimsical takes on vintage pieces.
I also have so many great antiques from my grandmother — the kitchen chairs are a mid-century take on Windsor chairs that I painted dark gray, the end table is another mid-century piece that I painted glossy coral and switched out the knob to this funky glass Anthropologie find, and the steamer trunk in the bedroom is well over a century old (I love its rustic look — no need for paint here!).
While it hasn’t made sense to invest in a nice, new sofa or bed because our space is so limited, I have splurged (and found amazing deals!) on interesting, vintage pieces that will stand the test of time as move from one place to another.
Do you have any advice for beginners who want to start shopping vintage? What should they look for?
I’m a vintage shopper through and through. When I travel, vintage clothing boutiques are the first I place visit — you never know what you’ll find! However, when it comes to vintage finds for the home, I have three-part advice.
First, go in every store you see, particularly when you’re in a new city. Yes, they’re going to carry a lot of the same trinkets and tchotchkes, but every once in a while, you’ll spot something you must have. This is how I’ve found pieces like the brass cowboy boot that lives on our bookcase or the odd little mirror by our front door. If we had more room, there are so many times I would absolutely have walked out with an amazing chair for a song.
Second, don’t get discouraged by the Craigslist game. It’s exhausting to spend weeks or months scouring listings and coming up empty handed, but when I knew I wanted a brass coffee table, I searched that term every single day, and it paid off. If you’re not looking for something in particular and have the space to bring home unusual finds just because, scroll through the listings and see what comes up! You may not have known that you needed a 1950s end table — but when it’s there and it’s a deal, why not?! With Etsy, you need to be a little more specific. I knew I wanted a vintage lingerie chest, and that’s what I searched. There were still hundreds of listing, but after a few weeks, I found the one.
Third, be open-minded and look for the potential in a piece. Particularly with my grandmother’s antiques, they may not have been my style in their original finish, but, with a coat of paint, they’re perfect for our space. Also, I’m the world’s worst DIY-er, and while I did these myself, there are so many places you can outsource the work, just in case you have the vision, but not the patience.
Were there any quirks in the space you had to design around? If so, tell us about them.
The awkwardly large hallway was a design quirk that totally worked in my advantage! It’s a weird spot, but it’s the perfect home for my office.
The bedroom was a design challenge — two of the walls are windows and one is the closet and door to the room. That leaves exactly one wall to fit ALL the furniture. We were working with a max of about 50” for both dressers (there was definitely no room for nightstands, so our dressers serve as nightstands!). Fortunately, I’d always wanted a tall, skinny lingerie chest, so this was the perfect opportunity to splurge on one. It was like looking for a glass slipper — I spent two months scouring Etsy and antiques shops to find the right measurements to fit within the space. After all pieces were in place, I think we ended up with exactly 3” leftover on that wall.
As a blogger and a freelance writer, was it important for you to create a space in your home where you could work and write, or do you prefer to keep your work and the home life separate?
In addition to my work as a blogger and freelance writer, I also work remotely for my day job, so creating a space where I could work and write was essential. I am not the kind of person that can work from the couch! When I’m in the work zone, I need to be sitting at a desk with a candle burning and music on.
Of course, finding space for a desk in an apartment without an office or a second bedroom isn’t easy, but I was able to make do with an awkwardly large hallway. I carved out a space there for my desk and chair, and I made that area into a feminine retreat. While the living room is rooted in dark gray, my “office” has light, bright prints in white and gold frames. There’s a shiny gold lamp and my white, Parsons-style desk. It’s the perfect spot to hunker down and crank through copy docs.
How has working as a travel blogger inspired the aesthetic and styling of your home? What elements have helped you achieve this?
Interestingly, I’d actually say that my space is more inspired by my love of design rather than our travels! I wish I could say we bring home amazing decor souvenirs from every place we visit, but the only things I typically bring back are photos, vintage clothing, or a piece of interesting jewelry!
My husband and I do, however, have a map in our living room where we pin every place that we’ve gone together.
What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?
I, like everyone, made a lot of mistakes in my 20’s, but one thing I did right was focus on building a full, rich life that brings me joy, independent of anyone else. Don’t wait for someday or someone to fill your home with beautiful things, to travel to Europe, to launch that side-hustle. Do it for yourself and do it now. Live up your 20’s as much as possible and don’t worry about trying to settle down! Focus on your career and honing in on what makes you happy.
And, because I didn’t take this to heart until I turned 30, don’t waste your time on meh relationships — date everyone! It’s the best way to find out what you actually want and need in a partner.
Heather Bien is The Everygirl…
Go-to date night activity?
I like to keep it classic! We’ll start the night at home with cocktails and snacks (my husband fancies himself quite the bartender!), then go out for a multi-course meal.
Last book you read?
Jen Sincero’s You Are A Badass Everyday. I haven’t read her other books, but I picked this up on a whim in the airport and it was JUST what I needed at the time.
Favorite Instagram to follow?
Home essential everyone needs?
Candles, of course! I like to think our home’s signature scent is a tobacco or wood scent.
Last item you splurged on?
An antique sapphire and diamond ring––I actually bought it shortly before getting engaged! It was a meaningful gesture to treat myself.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?