After living in Los Angeles for nearly 10 years, Sarah Horton moved down the coast to Newport Beach at the end of 2020 and has embraced a slower pace of life ever since. “A sleepy little beach community was just what the doctor ordered,” she said of her new home. A born and raised Californian, Sarah embodies the breezy, beachy aesthetic of her home state but also draws on her parents’ roots in the Southeast. “I spend a lot of time in Virginia and North Carolina, and my design style is definitely a fusion of those influences as well as growing up in California,” she said.
Her small yet charming rental is just like something you could expect to see on-screen in a Nancy Meyers movie. The space is positively brimming with meaningful trinkets, beautiful art, and coastal touches, both indoors and out. Learn more about Sarah’s space—which she loves to share with her TikTok community of over 45,000 followers—and her best tips for creating a beautiful home on a budget below.
Sarah Horton’s Newport Beach Home Tour
Name: Sarah Horton
Location: Newport Beach, California
Square Footage: 425 indoors, 175 outdoors
How would you describe your current design style, and how has your aesthetic evolved over time?
I would say my current style is rooted in the traditional, with elements of coastal, contemporary, and French country styles. But it’s always evolving, and I love throwing in things that are a little unexpected! Growing up with my mom being a native Virginian, we had antiques all over our house, but she blended them in with more organic, contemporary California-style pieces, and I definitely see that coming through in my own aesthetic.
My style has changed over the years for sure. I went through a big Moroccan phase in my 20s, but I think the through line is I love mixing styles and blending them together in a way that feels beautiful, relaxed, and comforting.
Where do you turn to for design inspiration?
I’m hugely influenced by the queen, Nancy Meyers. I’ve been obsessed with her films since I was a kid, and I love that her interiors are beautiful and serene but also an extension of the characters who live there. Her spaces feel lived in and collected but calming all at the same time. I love combing through design accounts for inspiration, too—some of my favorite Instagram follows are Josh Young, Amanda Cutter Brooks, and Lucy Willams.
I’m also influenced by my travels, my friends and family’s homes, and design books, but I truly draw inspiration from everywhere and pull out the parts that strike me the most. I think what makes your personal design style your own is pulling in elements from all different styles and putting them together in a way that feels authentic to you.
Your entryway, living room, and kitchen are essentially all one big space. How did you create separation between those areas within such a small footprint?
The kitchen/living room area went through a few iterations, and as it stands now, I didn’t really create much separation. It’s basically one giant living room that happens to have a kitchen at the end. I tried to create that separation initially—prior to purchasing my big hutch, I tried a desk area there, and before that, I had a little mini breakfast table in that corner, but it always felt awkward and I never ended up using that space. I did away with both in favor of the vintage hutch, which is not only beautiful but also very functional in that it provided some much-needed additional storage.
Some people are blown away that I don’t have a kitchen table, but with small spaces, you sometimes need to make sacrifices. I end up eating at my counter, outside, or at my coffee table, and while that may not be everyone’s preference, it works for me in this space.
You have many gorgeous coastal grandmother-style pieces. Do you find that where you live has influenced your aesthetic?
Definitely! I live on the water, so bringing in those coastal colors and elements feels very natural to the space. I think it’s really important to honor both the space and your surroundings. If I lived in a city apartment or a cottage in the country, I would have some similar pieces, but I think my space would probably look pretty different. I also really enjoy sourcing finds for my home locally and bringing a little bit of the outside in.
Did you do any DIYs in your apartment? If so, what?
I don’t know if this fully qualifies as a DIY, but I really loved the look of these slipcovered chairs from Sixpenny for my living room, but couldn’t justify paying $3,000 for a pair of chairs. I had a pair of chairs from HomeGoods that I used in my last apartment, found a fabric I liked for $75, and had a local upholsterer make me two French seam slipcovers inspired by the Sixpenny ones for $200 each. All said and done, I paid about $475 to update both, and compared to $1400 for one chair, that felt like a pretty big win! So many people ask me about those chairs on TikTok; I love that I was able to achieve a high-end look on a budget and share that so other people can replicate it.
What is the biggest splurge piece in your space? What about your best bargain find?
I really haven’t splurged too much—there’s not much I’ve spent more than $500 on! I moved into my current apartment at the end of 2020, after six months of being a remote nomad and not paying rent, so I did go to the Serena & Lily outlet and picked up my bar cart, coffee table, console, and living room mirror. Even at 60% off, it was a decent chunk of change up front, but it ended up setting a great base for my apartment. I do have some higher-end art pieces, but those were mostly gifts or passed down from family.
My favorite bargain piece is probably my pine hutch. I bought it for $245 on Facebook Marketplace and I’ve seen similar ones listed for 10 times that amount online. I also love my vintage French empire pendants—I got one at a local consignment shop for $125 and bought the other via Facebook Marketplace for $250 after some negotiation.
You have floor-to-ceiling shelves styled with lots of fun tchotchkes, books, and artwork. What are your tips for accessorizing shelves and sourcing unique items for styling?
I find that shelf styling is all about balance. I try to balance colors, sizes, shapes, types of objects, etc. It’s also key to have what I call a “cohesive variety,” and by that, I mean maintaining a color story but having an array of different objects in different sizes, materials, and textures to work with within that story. When putting shelves together, I start by placing bigger statement pieces in first and then build and layer from there. As far as sourcing, I love picking up sea fans, coral, and shells on my travels and mixing them in with art, ceramics, and other objects from secondhand shops, flea markets, and antique stores.
Though your apartment is technically a studio, you’ve managed to make it appear quite large. What are some of your favorite small space hacks to save space and eliminate clutter?
Funny you should ask! There has been some debate about what to call my apartment on TikTok; there was a bit of uproar when I called it a studio. The New Yorkers in particular were quick to call me out, but others did consider it a studio, so who knows! But either way, it is quite snug, and I only have one real closet in the entire apartment. I try to declutter and donate at least every other month.
As far as storage goes, my bed is on risers with tons of bins underneath, and the hutch came in clutch for more storage in my kitchen. To help make it appear larger, I have pretty tall, slanted ceilings and try to accentuate the height with whatever I can: shelves, window treatments, hanging art, etc. I’m also a big proponent of large area rugs—I find they make a space look larger because they draw your eye out.
When faced with such limited space, a lot of people would take a more minimal approach to decorating, but you have definitely leaned into a layered, curated aesthetic with art and accessories on nearly every surface. How did you decide to take that route, and how do you prevent the space from feeling cluttered or overwhelming?
I definitely take a little more of a maximalist approach, and I don’t know if I made a conscious choice. The minute I walked in to look at this apartment and saw all the natural light and the wood-beamed ceilings, I instantly pictured it flooded with art and found objects. I was envisioning an old beach house—if you’ve ever seen Message in Bottle, the ’90s movie with Kevin Costner and Robin Wright, that was the house I was picturing. Something about it just felt so effortlessly beautiful and unpretentious, and I think that definitely influenced me with this space.
I do have a lot of stuff, but the key to not having it feel overwhelming is carefully curating each area so that your pieces complement each other. Make sure everything has its place: If it doesn’t have a place, it has to go!
You have so many beautiful works of art in your apartment. Can you walk us through some of your favorites?
One of my favorite pieces is an abstract, impressionist-style floral painting in my hutch. My grandmother loved art, the walls of her house were always covered in paintings. One time, I commented on this piece, which she had added in the sunroom, and told her how much I loved it. A few months later, she surprised me with it for my birthday. It was unexpected, and I was really touched. She passed away a little over a year ago, and the piece is so special to me because it reminds me of her whenever I look at it.
I also really love my painting above my bed—the coastal colors really pop in that room, but it’s very contemporary which adds a little touch of the unexpected. That piece was also a gift, this time from my mom for my 30th, and it was painted by California artist Dominique Caron.
Where are your favorite places to shop for home decor?
I love sourcing furniture and accessories secondhand, and my personal favorite is good old Facebook Marketplace. Locally, I love going to the Rose Bowl Flea Market, and the Long Beach one is great, too. My favorite local antique/vintage shop is a little place inside The Find Consignments called Good Buy James. The owner, Kristen James, is amazing—she’s become a friend and her shop is so well curated with beautiful pieces that are unique and well-priced.
Your back deck is an entertainer’s dream. What are some of your go-to small space entertaining tips? What are some items you always like to have on hand when you host?
Entertaining in a small space can be challenging! I have two little benches under my console that I use as additional seating when friends come over. Whenever I’m hosting, I try to remove any day-to-day clutter—like coats, work bags, yoga mats, my laundry hamper, etc.—and stash them out of view. I usually use my closet but have also been known to stash things under my bed and in my shower as well!
I also try to utilize the outside space as much as possible. It really extends the footprint of the house, and it’s also such a beautiful setting being on the water. I will usually move either my bar cart or my pine bathroom cabinet outside and create a great little DIY bar for guests to use outside. Aside from a good bar setup, I always have fresh flowers and candles going when I entertain. That, along with a killer playlist, really sets the ambiance.
You’ve built a loyal following on TikTok of people who love your home! How did you decide to share your space on social media, and what has been your favorite part of building an online community?
It’s been so exciting seeing my little community grow! I’m really proud of my house, so in that sense, it’s really fulfilling to share something you’ve worked hard on and find people who are invested and interested in what you’re doing. It’s been so great connecting with fellow interior design junkies who love antiques and thrifting as much as I do and seeing their different styles and processes. There are so many talented and amazing people on TikTok!
I also love sharing my tips and tricks to help people make over their own homes, especially those who are living in small spaces and on a budget. I’d like to think of my house as aspirational while still being attainable: I live in a beautiful space, but it came together slowly and on a budget. I also try to put different sources out there for different people. For example, I love flea markets, consignment shops, thrift stores, and Facebook Marketplace. I’ve gotten incredible pieces that way for such a deal and really encourage people to find things that way, but the reality is a lot of people don’t have the time or the eye to dig through a million listings or shops. So while I encourage that, I’m not such a purist that I’m above sharing my favorite budget finds from big-box stores or more mass-market retailers.
I think interior design can be intimidating and overwhelming to a lot of people, and I just want to help make the process more approachable and show them that having a beautiful home doesn’t require a massive amount of money. It just requires vision, patience, and persistence.