Sarah Minegar’s New Jersey home is a collection of beautiful pieces that changes with the seasons of her life. This museum archivist’s home is a reflection of her eclectic, evolutionary style, defined by clean lines and a balance of investment pieces and vintage finds.
Before graduate school, Sarah taught high school English and history but after studying modern history and literature at Drew University, she began working at a museum. Today, Sarah calls herself a special collections archivist and a museum educator. When she’s not hanging out in the archives, she’s spending time with her husband and pup, hunting Craigslist or Etsy for new finds, or exploring her town and the surrounding areas.
Continue reading to hear more about Sarah’s career as an archivist, how she and her husband transitioned to the East Coast, and how she decorated their beautiful Summit home.
Name: Sarah Dixon Minegar
Current job/company: Archivist and Museum Educator, National Park Service
Education: Ph.D., Modern History and Literature, Drew University
You have such an interesting job—tell us more! What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
I work as a special collections archivist and museum educator. I work with manuscripts, books and artifacts that range from the 15th to the early 20th century. My job entails everything from preservation to manuscript transcription, to teaching students and interns, to blogging and preparing exhibits—a history nerd’s dream come true. I mean, I get to hang out with Thomas Jefferson, Susan B. Anthony, and Darwin all day. Before graduate school, I taught high school English and history.
You moved from the Midwest to attend graduate school in New Jersey. Tell us about the transition! What was the biggest adjustment? What advice would you have for others in the process of making a big move?
I’m a Hoosier transplant, so the biggest adjustment for me was the pace of things. In 2006, my then-husband of nine months and I quit our jobs and took a huge leap. Almost eight years later, we’re still here. The East Coast is growing on me. I really appreciate the amazing blend of people and values this part of the country has to offer. My advice for other transitioning academics: Experience living away from “home” at least once. You’ll gain a lot of perspective and it will challenge you in ways you never imagined.
Let’s talk about your home! Do you own or rent, and how long have you been living in your current place?
My husband and I rent the second floor of 1920’s Cape Cod. This summer marked the beginning of our third year here.
Tell us how you decorate on a budget. What home items are important to invest in? What items do you recommend saving on?
The creative juices start flowing when designer ambitions meet an adjuncts salary! Our home is a collection of highs and lows, but even our nicer things were purchased after careful planning and lots of bargain hunting. We’ve invested in essentials (couch, dining table, console, lighting) and have allowed ourselves to be more frivolous with accent pieces, like pillows. Still, I recommend saving where you can.
My secret is shopping annual sales, buying floor models, and scouring TJ Maxx and Homegoods. You’ll find solid pieces that hold up, but you won’t pay through the nose. I’m also a Craigslist and Etsy junkie. And I can’t say enough good things about Target’s Threshold and Nate Berkus collections. Our home has undergone a slow evaluation from nearly all hand-me-downs to hand-selected pieces, but we’ve always been guided by the William Morris school of decorating: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” As renters, we tend to invest in design elements that we can take with us wherever we go.
How has studying history and literature influenced you in a design sense?
It took me seven years to complete my doctorate and those years in school have certainly made me a more conscientious and contemplative person. I study literary utopia and international communities so I’m fascinated by all the thinking, planning, and revising that goes into improving one’s environment. This fascination is apparent in my ever-transitioning and eclectic space.
I guess the museum bug bit me hard because I am a curator of intriguing home decor: antiques, handmade items, heirlooms (like my grandma’s dishes and lamps), reclaimed objects (my dad made our bench from wood found at my great grandpa’s farm, in his storm cellar), and family photos. I like to think each piece tells a story of our journey. This is why I really like to incorporate art that we have created or treasures we’ve found while antiquing. My love for literature is also more directly represented in certain elements of decor. My office, in particular, is full of literary references. I even framed the jackets of some of my favorite books to help create a scholarly vibe while I wrote my dissertation.
How would you describe your personal decorating style?
I would describe my style as a boho modern—a fusion of carefree and structured. I like furniture with clean modern lines but prefer textiles rich in texture and pattern. I like my home to feel chic and contemporary, but also comfortable and lived-in.
You have so many gorgeous plants in your space! Any tips on finding low maintenance plants for those of us without a green thumb?
I’m a self-processed “crazy plant lady.” I think the right plant adds the perfect design element to a space. And because my love for greenery does not agree with my black thumb, I tend to gravitate toward succulents. Those babies can hold their own, and they come in so many shapes and sizes—nature’s modernist sculptures!
What was the biggest challenge you faced in decorating your home?
The layout is pretty quirky (read: weird), but we enjoy the design challenge. Our apartment was formerly a large single-family home, so it seems they lined up the second and third floor kitchens with the original first floor plumbing footprint. Our kitchen is in the back of the apartment next to the bedrooms and our front door opens into the dining room! Although I never get used to food smells wafting over my comforter, we used the setup to our advantage.
The sleeping areas are divided into three teeny rooms, making for some cozy spaces. Since my dresser won’t fit in our bedroom, I got a default “dressing room” out of the deal. It feels fancy having a whole closet room! To reduce the awkwardness of a dining room entryway, we carved out a little landing pad next to the door. It suites us because it sets up a casual atmosphere that is very welcoming. As soon as guests arrive, they are in the middle of the action.
How long did it take for your home to look the way that it does now?
Our home is a work in progress. We’ve been collecting and updating since we got married nine years ago.
How do you approach designing a new space? Do you begin with a full vision in mind or allow it to take shape gradually?
My design strategy is two parts big picture and one part inspiration-on-the-fly. We tend to plan out big purchases and furniture layout, but I am not afraid to let a lovely find inspire me. I try to limit the number of “browsing” trips to Homegoods, but occasionally a beautiful item gets my wheels turning in unexpected ways. Many of the vignettes in my home are the result of an exquisite find on Etsy or an antique shop.
Browsing thrift stores, vintage shops, and Craigslist can be overwhelming. What are your tips to uncovering all of the treasures you’ve found?
I like to use my Pinterest feed to help me organize my trolling exploits. If I’m in the market for a piece of furniture, I browse for that item specifically. This limits inspiration overload. The beauty of a Craigslist search is that you aren’t as easily distracted by all the pretty things along the way. Unlike a Pottery Barn or even an Etsy search, I don’t fall down the product rabbit hole as quickly. Cragslist’s new thumbnail image feature speeds up my search and the keyword search helps narrow my field.
Unless you are looking for an Eames lounger, price is usually negotiable. An occasional seller myself, sellers are expecting low-ball offers so they (we) often ask high and expect to meet in the middle. For me, probably the most frustrating thing is pining for something out of my price range or too far away. If a credenza is $1,200 on Craigslist, I probably can’t make a “best offer” I can actually afford. Save yourself. Don’t click.
Refine your keyword search and try multiple search terms for the same item: “credenza, sideboard, side table, console, buffet, china cabinet, dresser.” My TV console is actually part of a bedroom set.
Be patient. You sift through a lot of duds before you find a gem. Imagine the up-cycle potential. Does it have nice lines? Is it made of nice materials? Can you paint it or add new hardware? Then ask yourself, will you realistically invest the time in a makeover?
Troll big city listings if they are local and feasible for pickup. I see the coolest things on the NYC and Brooklyn listings. I’m sure part of it’s sheer volume, but I have a theory that limited space makes apartment dwellers eager to get a transaction rolling. City sellers don’t have a basement or attic to stash their stuff, so they are willing to bargain.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Perfectionism may be a motivator, but it is also wearing you down. It’s OK to sometimes do less, say no, and take naps.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years?
I intend on staying in the public history profession. I love teaching with collections and utilizing museums as alternative classrooms. We are eager to own a home, so I hope we make some progress in that direction as well.
Sarah Minegar is The Everygirl…
Who would play you in a movie of your life?
Amy Adams. I like her energy.
Book you could read again and again?
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus.
Best part of living on the East Coast?
Proximity. I’m a train ride away from the city and a short drive from Philly, Boston, and DC. I’m used to states that are seven hours long, so everything feels so close here!
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
The brilliant Mindy Kaling. I admire her wit and comic genius. We’d go out for a reverse dinner, ice cream, then tacos. I always make dessert a priority and I feel like she’d agree.
Bench and Coat Rack, Custom (reclaimed wood from great-grandfather’s farm)
Key Hook, Anthropologie
Round Mirror, Target
Seed Box, Vintage
Wall Planters, West Elm
Windsor Chairs, Target or Amazon
Orb, Kate Spade for West Elm
Stacking Sideboard, Land of Nod
Map Art, DIY
Cloche, Crate & Barrel
Dauchund Figurines, Etsy
Prints, Hipstamatic Printlab
Sofa, Crate & Barrel
Chairs, Home Goods
Striped Pillow, Home Goods
Chambray Linen Pillow, Custom
Kilim Pillow, Etsy
Rug, West Elm
Modern Lamp, Target
Apothecary Lamp, Ballard Designs
Geometric Throw, Terrain
Coffee Table, Home Goods
Hairpin Leg Table, Homegoods
Black Gold Dipped Table, Nate Burkus for Target
Vintage Crate, Ebay
Vintage TV Console/Dresser, Craigslist
Vintage Globes, Etsy
Roller Shades, IKEA
“This” Canvas, Custom
Map Art, DIY
Zinc Letter, Anthropologie
Vintage Star Map, Etsy
Plant Stand, Vintage
Terrarium Kit, Red Envelope
Cement Planters, Target
“Good Vibes Only” Banner, Custom
Fabric Basket, Home Goods (similar here)
Eames-style Desk Chair, Amazon
Lounge Chair, IKEA
“Be Present” Print, JessLC
Abstract Art, DIY
Vintage Side Table, Craigslist
Modern Lamp, Target
Desk Lamp, IKEA
Marble Box, West Elm
Throw, West Elm
Black and White Pillow, IKEA
Kilim Pillow, Etsy
Basket, Home Goods
Miniature air plants, Amazon
Miniature Flower Pots, Michaels
Glass Box, Anthropologie
Ceramic poppy, Tower of London Art Installation
Slim storage dresser, IKEA
Hemnes wardrobe, IKEA
Jewelry holder, DIY using this
Stacked glass shadow boxes, West Elm
Ikat bowl, Anthropologie
Egg crate, Anthropologie
Necklace tree, Urban outfitters
Hobnail bowl, vintage
Hobnail vase, BHLDN
Faux horn bowl, Pottery Barn
Three piece trinket bowls, Young in the Mountains
Concrete and gold planter, Target
Lamps, Target Threshold collection
Duvet, TJ Maxx
Headboard, Craig’s List
Nightstand knobs, Anthropologie
Tray, Nate Burkus for Target
Eames replica chair, Amazon
Throw, West Elm
Zinc letters, Anthropologie
Wall shelving unit, IKEA
Fire King Jadite pieces, vintage
Glass pitcher, Crate & Barrel
Ceramic watering can, West Elm
Cheese crate, vintage
Tea kettle, West Elm Market
Roller cart, IKEA
Ceramic berry crate, Anthropologie
Brass “toilet” sign, Amazon
Doggie ring holder, Anthropologie
Hand towels, West Elm