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Name: Jahzeel Cabada, Joseph Babcock, and cats Polly and Whiskey
Location: North Park, San Diego, California
Size: 693 square feet
Type of Home: Condo
Years Lived In: 5 years old
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In 2017, Jahzeel Cabada was house hunting with her two cats, Polly and Whiskey, for their first home. “This apartment immediately felt right — vaulted ceilings, a cute little balcony that looked out onto restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and vintage boutiques,” Jahzeel explains. “The location was the perfect balance between quiet and bustling, tucked away from all the commotion, but also close enough to feel like it was still part of a vibrant community. I absolutely loved it.”
But while there were plenty of pluses to this space, Jahzeel says it needed a lot of work to get it to look good. “The appliances were really old and the floors were icky vinyl and outdated,” Jahzeel admits. “The kitchen had these really bulky wood cabinets that felt heavy and seemed to suck all the energy out of the room. Honestly, that was part of the appeal for me — I knew this would be a project home that I could make uniquely mine.”
“A year later, I met my boyfriend, Joe. We spent a lot of our initial time together as a couple hanging out in the apartment. Joe likes to say that this apartment will always be special for us as a couple because it’s where we first fell in love. Together, we’ve put so much love and effort into making this apartment feel and look ours.”
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: It’s hard to choose one word to describe it. I would say it’s a mix of modern, bohemian, mid-century, and eclectic. Playful, dynamic, and always evolving.
I try to use vibrant colors wherever I can. Neutrals always make me feel like there’s something missing, like the space could have a lot more life with some color, like you aren’t letting it live up to its full potential. At the same time, for the most part, I like to keep things simple and functional.
It was actually our passion for functionality and quality design that brought us to the world of vintage furniture in the first place. We just weren’t finding affordable, quality pieces from the big established furniture and home decor stores — the stores where, unfortunately, most folks buy the vast majority of the stuff inside their homes. We realized that the vintage pieces we were finding were actually amazing! The level of craftsmanship and attention to detail and quality of materials of, for example, an Italian marble dining table from the 1960s was mind blowing!
As we continued hunting for vintage pieces to fill our space, we realized there was a huge supply of beautiful, amazing pieces, classic designer tables and chairs, sofas and lamps that might have needed a little love and refurbishing but still had plenty of life in them.
We felt good about repurposing vintage pieces, giving them a new home and saving them from the landfill. It might sound like a cliche, but every vintage piece tells a story—like classic old homes, a piece of vintage furniture comes imbued with its own unique narrative, its own unique history of ownership, of use, of care, a history embedded within the context of the broader history of design.
This is how Hi Wey Design and Hi Wey Studio were born. We wanted to share the beauty, artistry, and history of the vintage pieces we were bringing into our space. The account really just started as a little side project and fun way to experiment with, but as we continued finding more and more amazing vintage pieces to rotate into our space, we started offering pieces for sale. That’s when we realized how similar our experience was to other folks around our age — people living mostly in smaller spaces working with a limited budget who wanted to avoid buying a piece of cheaply-made, overpriced, and environmentally destructive “fast furniture.”
Inspiration: Mexican architect Luis Barragan — no one does mid-century modern better than him. His vision is both simple and playful. His spaces are functional while also feeling totally unique and otherworldly. I love the warm, vibrant colors in his work and the clean, long lines and sensual texture. His buildings force you to pause and appreciate the extent to which our emotions, our general state-of-being, is impacted by the aesthetics of our surroundings.
Favorite Element: My favorite piece of furniture is our Italian marble dining table, which we purchased from a very sweet lady on Craigslist. She was moving back to her hometown in Sweden and couldn’t take the table with her — it weighs something like 600 pounds! She’d had the table custom made in Italy back in the ’70s. It was a very special piece for her, and totally unique. She was really excited that we were able to give the table a loving home.
Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge so far has been finding a setup that allows us to maximize space and functionality without sacrificing style and comfort. We first started by decluttering as much as we could. There are so many beautiful vintage objects out there and it can be very easy to overdo it, so we’re always asking, “Does this piece feel right here? Do we really need it?” If the answer is, “Hm. Maybe not…” then we’ll usually rotate it out.
Honestly, it’s also a huge help being able to resell pieces through @hiweystudio. That means we get the opportunity to enjoy and try out different pieces before committing to them. If we find something else that might work better for our space, then we can usually find a new home for the old piece and not end up wasting money or material. That’s the beauty of up-cycling! It gives us a lot of flexibility that would be otherwise hard to have on a tight budget.
Proudest DIY: Joe took on the task of taking down the bulky kitchen cabinets and a gross, super old microwave oven. As soon as those were gone, the kitchen felt much lighter and more open. We went for a combination of floating shelves and cabinets mounted to the wall. For the bottom cabinets, we kept the originals and gave them a new paint job. We also replaced all the appliances in the kitchen and installed a range hood above the stove along with an Art Deco-ish chandelier. Now the kitchen is much brighter and open than it used to be.
Biggest Indulgence: Our biggest indulgence was the sofa in the living room. That is kind of a touchy subject for us since it’s not a vintage piece but rather a reproduction of a ’70s Italian sofa by Tobia Scarpa. This is the thing about trying to buy strictly upcycled or vintage pieces: Sometimes you won’t be able to find something within your budget that will work for your space.
We have a tricky living room setup that is very narrow and long and we had tried and tried different shapes and sizes and none had worked. We would’ve loved to go with a vintage original, but realistically it would’ve been way out of our budget, so we went for a reproduction, which was still quite pricey. One thing that made us feel a little better about buying something that wasn’t vintage: The sofa is great quality and will last for many years to come. It’s not heading to landfill anytime soon.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? We had to figure out a way to fit a home office within our tiny space. Joe is a writer and appreciates having a quiet, secluded place to work, which is hard to pull off in a small space housing two humans and two cats! Eventually we decided that the bedroom probably made the most sense for his home office. First, we got rid of our bulky dresser and swapped out the outdated mirrored doors on the closet for curtains and added an amazing “Song of India” tree to make the space feel airier and less constricted. One half of the room is our sleeping area and in the other half we added a simple bookshelf and a standing desk that we thrifted. We have a componibili storage unit that works as desk storage/organizer as well as a nightstand. Since the space is small and is serving a dual purpose, we decided to repaint it using “Quiet Moments” by Benjamin Moore, which is a green/blue shade that promotes relaxation and calm. This has made a huge difference in terms of the vibe in the room. It really feels like a place where we can relax and think clearly.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? We love to support small businesses whenever we can, especially those that are women-owned.
We absolutely love our house plants. Zilah from Plants & Spaces in Los Angeles is amazing at what she does. She has an incredible selection of rare plants and finds the most beautiful handcrafted pots to go with them. Her eye for spaces is impeccable and she did an amazing job helping us figure out what worked in our space as far as having a more intentional small selection of statement plants that are in themselves pieces of art.
I also love our Fuugly mirror, custom-made by the super talented Caillee Rae. She has the funkiest designs and the most incredible colors — it was so hard to choose one! (IG: @itsfuugly)
We also enjoy our wavy handmade candles by Amanda from viisiionss. This little shop is wiggles and squiggles galore — all her cute handmade candles come in super fun shapes, sizes, and colors. We have them all around the house and guests almost always do a double-take when they see them.
Last but not least, we found the most amazing biomorphic glass bowl for our coffee table at 330modern. It’s so fun and cute — it almost looks like something out of a cartoon. Sarah has one of the best and most unique selections of vintage furniture and decor in the Bay Area, and she ships!
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: Two humans and two cats in a tiny space is quite challenging, especially because cats can be quite picky about where they sleep and where they go potty. We figured that the best solution to the long-time problem of the yucky litter box was to “hide” it from view while still giving our furry friends easy access to their bathroom. At first, we tried a few expensive but cool and futuristic-looking litter boxes that were more like a little kitty porta-potty, but our cats absolutely hated those. Then one day we were visiting our friends and noticed they’d implemented the brilliant idea of using one of their closets as a cat baño. Man, that was a game changer! The cats love the privacy, and we love not having the litter box in plain sight.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Don’t be afraid to use color! One easy way to introduce color to your space (if you don’t feel ready to commit to repainting a whole room or going very bold) is to maintain a neutral and simple palette for the space in general. This would mean keeping a neutral palette for your furniture and wall colors, and then adding pops of color here and there. The pop could be a colorful rug, a funky vase, a wall frame or a piece of art.
Another thing that I’ve found helpful is being more intentional in designing a space. I start with a piece of furniture or art that I absolutely love and then design/decorate around that specific piece. This makes it easier to create a more cohesive feeling and look and it gives your object a chance to take center stage. It also helps you not “over-do it,” and not feel too overwhelmed. Remember, you don’t need to tackle the entire house or even the entire room in one go. You can start with one single beautiful object that speaks something to you and see where that takes you.
This house tour’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.