Because San Francisco is notoriously the most expensive city to live in in the United States, renters there have a unique predicament in finding a home with both enough space and at the right cost. Lauren Haden, who works at Sephora’s San Fran headquarters, was able to find a beautiful 650-square-foot studio in the heart of the Inner Sunset neighborhood near Golden Gate Park (her secret? Craigslist). She also runs a blog, Bliss This House, where she shares interior design tips as well as travel and lifestyle content.
Her apartment is bright, colorful, and airy, complete with stunning natural light, vintage touches, and eclectic flair (I spy an Everygirl x Interior Define chair). The dreamy details — like her favorite spot to enjoy coffee, at the bistro breakfast nook looking out at a rose glass window of the church next door — make us want to move right in. Her journey to the perfect place to call home hasn’t been perfect, however, having to first live with roommates to save money, move back home unexpectedly, and lose what seemed like the perfect place to another renter.
Scroll on to read her tips for mixing colors, textures, and patterns, where to save and where to splurge, maximizing a small space, making your space feel like you, and how to find inspiration.
Editor’s Note: Since this interview took place, Lauren left San Francisco and her job at Sephora and now resides in Nashville, Tennessee, where she works in interior design.
Name: Lauren Haden, Associate Communications Manager at Sephora
Square Footage: 650
Rent or Own: Rent
City/State: San Francisco, CA
What was your first job and how did you land it?
My first job was in high school as a hostess at California Pizza Kitchen! Talk about allll the free pizza. I was a senior and wanted to save up so I could join a sorority in the fall, and have some spending money for dorm accessories. I remember attending an open interview and didn’t think I’d get the job because everyone else had restaurant experience and I didn’t! Somehow, it worked out. The funny thing is, that CPK location closed and turned into (you guessed it) a Sephora store.
How did you land your current role working in Sephora’s headquarters in San Francisco? Let us live vicariously through you, do any free samples ever come your way?
My journey to Sephora was a long and winding one! When I graduated college, I took a job that wasn’t the right fit for me, and ended up moving back home with my parents. It was a pretty difficult time, but I was determined to find the right job. I ended up reaching out to a girl who went to my university and worked at Sephora as a recruiter. I basically stalked her on LinkedIn and sent her a cold message. She was kind enough to take the time to meet with me at their office in downtown San Francisco and go over my resume to give me pointers. Although there wasn’t a role available at the time, we stayed in touch. Fast forward almost four years later, she ended up hiring me on her team to manage internal communications for the corporate office. I worked really hard to impress the team, even though I already knew someone there. When they asked me for work samples, I designed and put together a beautiful bound portfolio just for the interview, featuring work from my previous company, as well as my blog. I wanted them to see that I was a real person with interests outside of work, and that I would always go the extra mile!
As for the samples… let’s just say my hall closet is exploding with products! I love trying new things, but having them on hand to give to family and friends is the best part.
How do you like living in San Francisco? Tell us about the area where you found your apartment, is the location near any of your favorite spots in the city?
San Francisco is home. My parents met here in the 1980s, fell in love, and got married in the stunning and scenic Pacific Heights neighborhood. I was born in the Marina district, which is the northernmost point of the city, and even lived there for a short time a few years back. I didn’t know much about my current neighborhood until I moved there, but quickly fell in love with it. My place is just a few blocks from Golden Gate Park, which has endless paths to walk and breathtaking scenery to enjoy. My personal favorite spot is the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. It’s the perfect place to take visitors! Plus, the Inner Sunset (my neighborhood) is known for its array of yummy cuisines.
Tell us about the competitive real-estate market in San Francisco for renters, how did you find your current home?
Everyone knows that San Francisco is the most expensive city in the United States, and when it comes to renting, it can be tough to find the perfect place that is within budget. It’s like highway robbery, how much people will charge for these places! I swear by Craigslist, and so do most people that I know in SF. I shared the story of how I found my apartment on my blog: basically, I was going through a particularly anxious time, and to help with my anxiety, I decided to start looking at studios online as a casual activity after work/on the weekends (weird, I know… but it’s oddly soothing to me to visit open houses). I had found a place I loved in a different neighborhood, and after meeting the landlord and applying, I was crushed when I found out I didn’t get the apartment. That same night, I remember logging back online and finding my place. I pounced on it right away.
How did you know this studio was the right place to fit your needs? Was there anything aesthetically that stood out to when you saw it for the first time?
I knew right away that it was “my place” when I walked through the door. It felt like love at first sight, even though I’m very single and have NO idea what that feels like! The hardwoods, tall ceilings, molding, and big bay windows were all calling my name. My favorite part, however, was that the kitchen window faces the beautiful rose window of the church next door! It felt like the most peaceful and perfect place to put a little table and relax with a cup of tea.
What is the secret to studio living? What was your approach to space planning?
I can’t say I’m a minimalist — in fact, I have accumulated a lot of stuff since moving in a year and a half ago. The best advice I have is to embrace hidden storage, and look for a place that has it already built-in! I’m lucky to have a huge walk-in closet that holds a dresser, bookshelf, mirror and all of my clothes. In the kitchen, I bought a rolling butcher block cart as extra storage, and in my main room, I made sure to hide anything I wasn’t interested in displaying in the cabinets of my big TV stand/buffet table.
When planning out my main room, I knew that putting my bed by the window is a no-no in earthquake territory, so I reluctantly chose to place it against the wall to maximize space. It has worked out fine, although I wouldn’t recommend it if there are two people sharing the bed. I love having my couch in the bay window — it’s the perfect place to people watch!
How would you define your style?
Feminine, colorful, and eclectic. I am not afraid of mixing patterns, textures, and colors, and tend to draw towards whites over dark colors when it comes to furniture.
Where do you normally source inspiration when designing a room?
A lot of it comes to me instantly! For instance, when I saw my kitchen nook upon touring the apartment, I knew that it was meant to have a little marble table and two bistro chairs, and that I wanted that space to remind me of my first trip to Paris a few summers ago. I do love Pinterest and I pin almost every day, but don’t like to replicate exactly what I see online. I am drawn to inspiration I see in stores (Anthropologie is my fave) as well as in interior style magazines like AD and Elle Decor.
How do you know when a room is complete? Is there a certain feeling you get once a design concept comes to fruition that makes you feel like you’ve achieved your vision?
Yes, that feeling is real! Of course, I always believe rooms are meant to be changed from time to time — I like to think my apartment is a living, breathing thing! Still, there’s a moment when you light a candle, sit back, relax, and look around and are so satisfied with the way the room has turned out. I would say that you’ll know you’ve “arrived” when there’s nothing in the space you are trying to replace with something different or better. I also think about a time I had some girlfriends over for a holiday happy hour and was so proud and excited to show them my space. That’s a feeling I don’t want to forget.
What was your favorite part about designing your apartment around your style? For example, is there an element of your space that turned out better than you anticipated?
I’ve had the most fun with the corner of my apartment that now hosts my gorgeous pink Interior Define chair (part of TEG collection!). Originally, my desk was in that corner, but I never loved the way it looked there. I knew I wanted a cozy-but-feminine chair to curl up and read or watch TV, so eventually that space transitioned into a reading nook of sorts. I re-styled the ladder shelf, added a big monstera plant and arranged artwork to create the perfect hangout. After over a year in the space, that corner finally felt right.
Were there any quirks in the space you had to design around? If so, tell us about them.
Like many older apartments (my building is from 1920) there are practically no electrical outlets to work with! In fact, there are no outlets on my countertop in the kitchen, and only two in the main room. I ended up buying a 25 foot-long extension cord to make sure I could have a light next to my bed, somewhere to charge my phone, etc. I feel pretty lucky though, as that has been the only major flaw of the apartment!
What advice would you give other young professionals moving into their own places, how did you budget around buying decor? How did you determine what was essential versus what wasn’t?
First of all, if you are moving into your own place, embrace that excitement! I will never forget the feeling of moving into this apartment and making it my own. Luckily, a lot of my bigger pieces of furniture I had purchased before I moved in, but there were definitely items I needed to make this place feel like home. My rule of thumb is that I’m not afraid to splurge as long as I know that it’s something I will adore for years to come — an example of that is my TV stand, which is actually a buffet table from Anthropologie. I eyed it for several years before actually buying it, and I know it will follow me wherever I go next. Where I budgeted in this apartment was mainly on artwork (I love Society 6 for their variety and their awesome sales) and decorative items like my lamps (all from Target). My gorgeous 9×12 area rug was purchased online and cost less than $300, too.
A lot of your decor elements feel eclectic and vintage, giving your space’s aesthetic an almost French feel. Where are some of your favorite places to shop for decor?
Thank you! I wanted to make it feel like my space and no one else’s, so maintaining an eclectic vibe has been really important to me. My furniture is from all over — West Elm, Anthropologie, World Market, and Serena & Lily — but many pieces are also from consignment shops and Craigslist! If money were no object, I’d love to outfit my home in furniture and rugs from ABC Carpet & Home in New York City. Their selection is incredible.
As a renter, you really need to get creative when it comes to design, what impermanent changes can renters make to style their spaces?
I’m thankful that my apartment had a good paint job and nice-enough countertops and cabinets when I moved in, but I know not everyone is as lucky. Something I haven’t tried (but want to) is removable wallpaper to create a fun accent wall, as well as contact paper for kitchen countertops. If you need a fast fix to turn around a drab room, I’d start with a gorgeous rug that will distract from unsightly floors, and nice, light curtains and ambient lighting (i.e. lots of lamps) to brighten up the room. Also, never underestimate the power of plants to bring life into an otherwise dead space!
What are some of your favorite unexpected things to incorporate into interior design?
Personal mementos are a must. You don’t want someone walking in and not being able to tell that the space is yours. I’ve decked out my apartment with personal touches like family photos (my grandmother’s sorority composite portrait hangs framed in my kitchen nook!) and a pin board collaged with notes, photos, and other sentimental papers that have all meant something to me along my journey.
What is one of your favorite elements of the space?
The element I appreciate the most is the natural light. The apartment faces east, so I get great morning light through my bay windows, which helps me wake up with ease and start my day on the right foot. My kitchen windows face west and north, so the late afternoon and early evening light is beautiful.
Another element, although not functional, is the fold-down ironing board in my kitchen nook that has seriously been around since 1920! At one point, I thought I might have my landlord turn it into a spice cabinet for me, but I decided to keep it the way it is because it’s kind of funky and reminds me of how old this building actually is!
And finally, what advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?
Everyone’s timeline is different, so don’t worry if yours doesn’t look like the woman’s next to you. (P.S. You are stronger than you know!)
Lauren Haden is The Everygirl…
How do you unwind at the end of the day? Usually with a spin class, but if I’m not working out, I like to cook dinner and read a bit before bed!
Favorite Sunday activity? Farmer’s Market in my neighborhood… the flowers are so cheap!
Last movie you saw in theaters? Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Cate Blanchett was incredible and I love the nod to architecture throughout the film.
Next place you’d like to go on vacation? Somewhere tropical! Hawaii would do, haha!
Favorite Instagram account you follow? I love Ashley Kane. She’s a San Francisco blogger and her style is impeccable.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why? My mom… I see her all the time yet I would choose her again and again to spend an afternoon with. She is amazing and we always have the best time together.