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Name: Michelle Pham and Akshay Kumar
Location: New York City, New York
Size: 2,000 square feet
Type of Home: Loft
Years Lived In: 1 year, renting
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Michelle Pham says she originally joined and started creating on TikTok in February 2022 to “better understand the user experience for creators and brands. We were still [working from home], so it was the easiest for me to create a consistent stream of home decor content for my testing and learning.” The reception to her home TikToks was enthusiastic, and Michelle admits she didn’t “expect the content to resonate as much as it has with viewers. My home design process has been a year in the making, most of which I did very quietly and out of public view, so it was fun to see that people also enjoyed our vibrant home.”
“Although I’ve worked in tech for my entire career, I’ve always had a passion for design and style,” Michelle admits. “I grew up doing a lot of arts and crafts at school and in Girl Guides. My mom was an avid design lover balling on a budget, so my childhood was spent in many fabric aisles, thrift shops, and kitchenware stores. In college, I sewed my own clothes, and when I graduated — I let many of my design interests sit dormant until we moved into this apartment. As a society, we undervalue and underpay the average employee in the design and arts, so as a first-generation college student, I always felt that there was an implicit pressure to choose a more practical vocation. Many naysayers told me that design was a ‘frivolous’ profession, but I rather disagree — any craft or job done well requires precision, planning and execution.”
“Nearly a decade later, I am finally confident enough to start doing what I love — even if it is just as a hobby. My parents are Vietnamese refugees and are extremely resourceful. They do their own home renovations and are the original DIYers. They taught me to spot potential in what others may write off. In our home, everything could be darned or fixed. My family has a strong ethos for learning how to get the job done yourself and we believe that treasures can be found anywhere, not just in posh, high-end stores,” explains Michelle.
“My partner is an investor. His parents are originally from India, and also share the philosophy of fixing problems with intellect and creativity. We incorporated some Vietnamese lacquerware and art into our home, and we also have a few Indian accent pieces such as our antique wooden plant stand, our servingware and our Indian patterned bedding from Printfresh. We look forward to incorporating more of our cultural backgrounds into our home in the coming years.”
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Eclectic, Maximalist, Colorful, Worldly, Bohemian
Inspiration: I’ve been in love with the idea of “homes” for as long as I can remember. In Virginia Woolf’s novel “A Room of One’s Own,” she asserts that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write (“every woman needs a room of her own and five hundred pounds a year.”) The premise of her statement is that without the freedom that even the slightest of economic independence affords, women’s progression in arts and literature are hindered. This is my dream space where uninhibited creativity can exist. I now have “rooms of my own” to create and house my DIY supplies and projects. I am grateful for it and for my partner’s support!
Favorite Element: We love our greenhouse and pink reading room. My partner is from sunny California and is often found basking in the sun on our bubble sofa with a book. The room has south-facing windows, and we have at least 20 perky plants stretching towards the sun in there. It’s an instant dopamine hit when the light flows in. We wanted separation between a TV room and a reading room, since both of our careers required extensive screen time. This is a space where you can be present in a book or with friends, surrounded by an assembly of urban jungle plants. My mom has a sensational garden back home, and the sight of green or fresh florals is an instant mood-booster, so I created an indoor secret garden. It is unusual for many to see a pink space like this with a man living in it, but my partner always says that he loves me and my love for color, so he gives me full rein and comes home everyday to a colorful abode.
Biggest Challenge: 2,000 square feet is a lot to design when you own no furniture, and we did it ourselves while working full-time jobs. I moonlighted as an interior designer at night. Our largest challenge was finding furniture to fill our home with, because every retailer had a six-month+ lead time due to the supply chains. We approached it with a flexible, “can do” attitude and tried to figure out how we could put very eclectic pieces sourced from everywhere together in a way that worked. We found that the Industry City outlets (Design within Reach, West Elm, and more) in Brooklyn were great, as well as sample sales from stores such as ModShop (where we picked up a custom-made enamel buffet that a customer had rejected upon delivery — I fixed two to three small scratches with a bit of matching nail polish) and France & Son (where we picked up a gorgeous white buffet with slight scratches on top — easily resolved with a strategically placed vase). Facebook Marketplace was also a dear friend, and the algorithm has a knack of serving me exactly what I might be interested in. I am also a very active bidder on eBay, where I found two new Regina Andrew porcelain flower lamps that I absolutely adore. I also collect a lot of vintage Italian glass which I primarily source from eBay, Etsy, and travels.
Of course, we have “dream design” pieces, but we will reserve some of those for when we buy our own home and for when supply chains resume normalcy again. I would love to undertake a project of restoring a home with good bones and/or doing a gut renovation project on a brownstone in the future.
Proudest DIY: I grew up in a coastal city, and my parents often took us to the seaside. My floor length seashell mirror remains my favorite DIY to date. It was the first DIY project I completed in this home, so perhaps there is a bit of “first child” bias. I am happiest when I am in water, and I wanted to see a reflection of the ocean every morning. For this project, I bought an oversized $50 mirror from Facebook Marketplace. The bulk of the shells came from a woman in Rhode Island whose late grandpa had amassed a gargantuan collection during his military service abroad and my aunt in Florida who gifted me some during a visit. I also sourced some rare and unique shells for my centerpiece from Etsy sellers in Florida.
Biggest Indulgence: This is hard to say. One could say that everything in this apartment is a bit of an indulgence. As humans, shelter is a basic need. Not all have access to reliable and safe shelter. When one begins to have the ability and resources to then transform the foundation of shelter into a design vision, there’s a meaningful difference — it represents a form of freedom for me. I am aesthetically minded, and having “things as I like it” in my home is the largest indulgence I could possibly ask for.
Thinking about “aesthetics” and “form over function” were not primary considerations in either of our households growing up (many immigrant households have other pressing concerns), but we’ve been lucky to build careers that allow us to make more expansive about choices what type of a home we’d like to design. I was taught to seek inspiration everywhere I went, may it be as I scroll through the TJ Maxx website or as I take a stroll through a multi-generational porcelain shop in the streets of Florence.
On a fundamental level, we feel blessed to have the space that we do, and not a day goes appreciate where we don’t that we get to come home to all of this.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? It is strange not to have neighbors in units next door to us in New York City, but we love having the full floor. It’s the thing our guests comment on the most when they come out of the elevator. The unit is zoned for live/work, so we could technically run a small business in the front half and live out of the back.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? Midea U-Shaped Air Conditioner for our bedroom. I like to turn off our central A/C at night to conserve energy, since we only need A/C in our bedroom. This U-Shaped A/C is whisper quiet. You cannot hear anything since the U-shaped design means that the window can close completely (blocking noise from outside) and the electric motor components are all housed on the outside part of the window. It’s helped me sleep so much better in the NYC summer.
Due to my allergies, I’m a big fan of humidifiers and air purifiers. I love the Venta humidifier system (German engineering at its finest, easy to clean and maintain) and the Blueair 211+ air purifier.
My 1970s embroidered zebra tapestry from a flea market in Paris. I enjoy textile arts and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. My brother and I were taking a stroll when we saw it in front of a shop. After negotiating a price, we spent an hour removing it from its frame; I folded it up in my suitcase and had it reframed in NYC.
My Alex Katz artworks. I discovered the 94 year-old artist at the Colby Art Museum when I was a student at Bates College in Maine. The large scale landscapes and style of portraiture left an indelible impression on me. At 19, I told my friend that I was going to collect his works one day. I love how he painted his muse and wife Ada throughout his long-tenured career. I saw “Brisk Day,” (displayed in my dining room) at a gallery in New York with an ex-boyfriend, who declared that he would never live in a home with this piece in it. Needless to say, shortly afterwards, I broke up with him, and I went on to buy the piece when I moved to New York. Akshay loves the artwork — he’s a keeper!
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: An open space layout meant that we needed to create and bring in storage solutions since they weren’t built in. Before moving into the apartment, we mocked up how we would arrange the space in a free online interior design tool (eg: console table placements, art placements, office space). This step guided us in deciding what we needed to buy for the home.
1. We love reading and needed a bookcase, but lumber prices were sky high in 2021, and we weren’t able to find a large bookcase unit that would quickly deliver enough. We stacked four IKEA Kallax shelves together to create a large bookcase section, and color-coded our books for a colorful aesthetic. The bottom row of the bookcases have IKEA Kallax insert attached doors to them for extra hidden storage.
2. Wardrobe and closet space are always a constraint in NYC. We an oversized wooden wardrobe and placed it outside of our room for purchased extra clothing and shoe storage.
3. We love baskets! I have a lidded straw basket where we keep all of our spare blankets. A lidded strawberry basket in the kitchen is where we keep all of our favorite snacks. In our bathroom, we have three different-sized baskets that keep our face towels, hand towels, and bath towels.
4. We looked for furniture pieces that could double as storage solutions. All the buffets and cabinets have space for us to store our dinnerware, pantry items, and knick-knacks. We also added in our own shelving.
5. We have a mini fridge to store our drinks. When we moved in, our fridge was much smaller than the one we have now, and there wasn’t enough room to store beverages. I wallpapered the exterior to make it more funky!
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Have fun with it and create a space that makes you comfortable and happy. A home should be lived in.