Home & Living

See How a Nashville Studio Takes DIY to Decorator Status in 500 Sq. Ft


Last time we checked in with Katherine Vo, she was living in a colorful 750 sq. ft Orange County apartment. But in just a few short years, everything has changed. Katherine and her husband packed their bags and moved across the country to Nashville, Tennessee. With this being her first time living outside of California, she decided a style overhaul was in order. After selling most furnishings on Craigslist, the couple set out to decorate their new—even smaller—space (500 sq. ft, to be exact) on a tight budget. Her biggest splurge? A $250 IKEA couch. Read below to see how Katherine utilized every inch of space and included DIY projects for a personalized touch (without breaking the bank).

Name: Katherine Vo
Age: 31
Current occupation: Content Creator / Actor / Freelance Stylist / Fashion & Lifestyle Instablogger
Education: University of Southern California (USC), BA in Theatre

Since we last spoke, you moved from Orange County, Calif., to Nashville, Tenn. What prompted the move, and how are you adjusting to life in the south? 
We moved mainly for my husband Bramley’s work, but also because we’d both never lived outside of California before. Orange County especially is such a unique bubble, so we wanted to venture out and experience a new environment. Let’s just say I’m still adjusting to life in the south! Luckily, Nashville is a growing city and is becoming hip and trendy, so the amenities and lifestyle that I was used to is trickling over here. Just waiting on IKEA, Zara, and better Asian food!

The move prompted you to downsize even further—from 750 sq. ft to 500 sq. ft. Did you take all of your pieces with when you made the move? How did you decide what to keep? 
Because we drove across the country in only my Honda Civic, we couldn’t bring any furniture. Although I was sad to have to leave about 80 percent of my stuff behind, getting to start fresh and with a clean slate meant the ability to create a whole new look for our Nashville space.

Having a smaller space means not taking any area for granted. Every inch of space is utilized and purposefully decorated.

I tried selling as much as I could on Craigslist. My most expensive piece of furniture—the blue-green Crate & Barrel sofa—was sold on Craigslist. Whatever was left was either transferred to my mom, or kept in storage until Bramley could bring a few items over each time he returned home. And I actually sold my DIY artwork that was above the sofa to a fellow Everygirl reader in San Francisco who saw my OC home tour.

How did you adjust your decor and styling for this move to a smaller space? Would you say your aesthetic has changed?
The biggest adjustment was going from a 93-inch sofa to a 60-inch-long chaise in the living room. Other than that, I absolutely loved downsizing! Having a smaller space means not taking any area for granted. Every inch of space is utilized and purposefully decorated. The only drawback is not being able to fit overnight guests comfortably!

My aesthetic has definitely changed. Most noticeably, I withdrew from a lot of color. My OC apartment was bright pops of blue, gold, and hot pink against a white backdrop. This time, I wanted to detox from all that color. I chose to simplify and become more minimal in my use of color, especially bright hues. Needless to say, I still ended up with a colored sofa! But it’s a light, subdued pink. I also replaced gold accents with marble accents and touches of wood for contrast and balance. The one thing that will probably never change though is my love of white walls. They are just so fresh, bright, and inviting to me.

As many know, Nashville is definitely an up-and-coming city, which sometimes makes affordable property difficult. How did you find your place?
It surprised us upon moving to Nashville that rent is not cheap. It made apartment hunting on a budget challenging, which was the main reason for us downsizing. I tried scouting apartments while still in California, but the best thing is to visit the area and the building in person, so we actually Airbnb’d it upon moving here so that I could get a better feel for the neighborhoods and physically visit apartments before committing to one.

What was on your wishlist and what were some non-negotiables? What made you finally settle on your place?
My wishlist consisted of white walls, wood floors, bright natural light, and something on an upper floor (for increased security and better lighting). The only thing that was negotiable was the color of the walls, because I intended to paint any wall that wasn’t already white, white. Luckily, our apartment came with white walls!

If you have the time and get satisfaction from making stuff yourself and knowing you just saved a lot of money, DIY it!

Aside from the walls, I also picked our place because of the floor plan. It’s advertised as a studio but is actually a “partial one bedroom,” which means that it’s not a true studio. It has a separate bedroom area only; There’s no door, so I put up a curtain to act as a fourth wall.

You’re a pro at working on a tight budget. Tell us about some of the DIY projects you incorporated into your space.   
DIY projects are such a fun part of decorating! I still maintain that if it’s not fun or gratifying for you, don’t do it. Save yourself the time and stress and just try to find a way to buy it. But if you have the time and get great satisfaction from making stuff yourself and knowing you just saved a lot of money, DIY it!

Just like last time, I delved into the web for project inspiration. I saw many DIYers turning glass tables into faux marble tables using contact paper, so I knew I wanted to do that. With my leftover contact paper I “marbled” the floating IKEA nightstands, which are DIY projects in themselves since they’re wall shelves turned into nightstands. For cohesion, I tried to incorporate a touch of marble into every corner of the home. The contact paper was a very economical way to do that.

I sewed all the decorative pillow cases myself, and used a scarf to make the covers for the two main throw pillows on the sofa. I also bought copper plumbing pieces from Home Depot to use as candlestick holders, and instead of buying a bed frame this time, we just put our mattress atop some pallets that we acquired and then sanded and polished. Rather than buy a full dresser, which can be pricey, I installed $10 IKEA shelves and put some of my clothing there instead.

As with the last apartment, I continued making my own wall art by using tear sheets from magazines and painting my own art to hang above the sofa.

What was your favorite DIY project and why?
My favorite project is my DIY faux Icelandic sheepskin rug because I haven’t yet seen anyone else do it. I’ve been eyeing those beautifully spotted, multi-colored Icelandic sheepskin rugs all over Pinterest but just couldn’t spend hundreds of dollars on one. I came across DIY faux cowhide rugs where people used markers and fabric, so a lightbulb went off. I bought a black and brown Sharpie and took one of my faux white sheepskin rugs from IKEA and started coloring in areas of black/brown spots. I have to say I’m pretty proud of the final product! I think it looks like a great alternative, and it cost less than $20!

When decorating your place, what did you concentrate on first? Why did you choose that area? What was your first big purchase for that space?
I chose the living room (which is the main room), to focus on first. I think I always start with the living room, because to me that’s the room that most represents the overall aesthetic and feel of the home. To me, it’s the home’s centerpiece, the final look at the end of a fashion show. Because I had an even tighter budget this time around, I couldn’t go all out, so I focused the most on the main space of the living room/dining area, and had to sacrifice on the decor of the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen.

The first big purchase of the living room was simultaneously the couch and coffee table, as they were both retrieved from Ikea on the same day.

Do you have a favorite item/piece in your home that holds special meaning. What is it, and why is it important to you?
Anything that I buy or find at a bargain price automatically becomes special to me! So I have to say that I love my bar cart from Goodwill because it was exactly what I was looking for and it was only $9.99. It was also the only bar cart there at the time and I went to Goodwill that day with hope of finding a bar cart so I feel like it was waiting there just for me. I also love my DIY Icelandic sheepskin rug because I spent 3-5 back-breaking hours working on it. Oh—and I’m attached to all my candles. I’ve become a candle hoarder. But they can only be black, white, marble, or a metal finish.

What are your favorite places for budget buys (either for furniture or accents)? Any local stores you’ve discovered in Nashville?
There are undoubtedly many great independent local shops in Nashville that carry unique items, but honestly due to my strict budget, I still mainly shop at Goodwill, TJ Maxx, Home Goods, and also use Craigslist. We took a mandatory pilgrimage to the IKEA in Atlanta to buy our major pieces of furniture. I CANNOT live without IKEA!

As for favorite local stores in Nashville, I love Amelia’s Flower Truck. I like to sprinkle flowers all over my home just as much as candles because they’re little touches that really add a splash of color and good energy to a space. Amelia’s is this cute mobile truck that parks at different locations throughout the city each day and carries a beautiful selection of flowers in buckets, where you then get to put together your own bouquet. I think it’s a great example of the spirit and charm of Nashville.

Are there any pieces you splurged on? If so, what were they, and how did you know it was a good investment?
Unlike my last place where I splurged almost $2000 on the sofa, this time we splurged on absolutely nothing! The most expensive item in the home is the $250 chaise-turned-main-sofa from IKEA. Even the mattress was cheaper than that. Because we’re in money-saving mode right now, nothing seemed worth splurging on. I would’ve loved a real marble table or a fancier bar cart or a real Icelandic sheepskin rug, but for now the illusion is fine, thanks to the ability of DIY.

Where do you look for home decorating inspiration? Are there any design books, magazines, blogs, or particular designers you look to for ideas? 
I rely heavily on Pinterest and Instagram. They present such a wide-ranging collection of photos from endless sources; It’s the best inspirational library one can use. As for blogs, my favorite for home inspo are My Domaine and of course The Everygirl!

What advice would you give your 23-year-old self? 
Go after whatever makes you feel good. We actually desire feelings, not things, so feeling good is the intention. Feeling good is success.

Katherine Vo is The Everygirl…

Favorite way to spend a day off in Nashville?
Take my dog to Centennial Park, pick up some flowers from Amelia’s Flower Truck, grab a scoop of champagne pear ice-cream from Jeni’s Ice Cream, stop by Buffalo Exchange to peruse clothing, ideally squeeze in a yoga session in East Nashville, and go to Bar Taco for dinner with my husband where I’d order the ceviche and a margarita.

Guilty pleasure?
Reality shows, candle collecting, and speaking to myself in a British accent when I’m home alone.

I wish I knew how to…
Whistle and play guitar!

If you could have lunch with one woman, who would it be and what would you order? 
A Gilmore Girl, and I’d obviously order pizza and cheeseburgers, and a cocktail because I don’t drink coffee.