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Introducing Jess’s Makeover Takeover…All 363 Square Feet of It




Hi everyone. It’s me, Jess, Senior Market Editor and Official EHD Spotify Playlist DJ (that of which I am completely unqualified for). I can’t believe my fingers are actually typing this post because it feels like 5 years since I started to design my apartment. I think Emily, the team, my friends, family and the guy at the liquor store would all agree with that timeline. KIDDING about the liquor store. Design hasn’t driven me to drink…yet. It’s just been a long process. I’m pretty sure Emily teased my MOTO in the beginning of last year. BUT this apartment is SO special to me and getting it right was non-negotiable. It’s 363 square feet (so SMALL) of pure cozy heaven. Guys, it’s my first no roommates/no boyfriend place. I mainly blame this on the fact I have lived in San Francisco and New York…cities that are not very budget friendly to the non-professional creative person’s income. I also lived with great people but I like to have options and living alone wasn’t one of them until LA.

So when I got the job at EHD and was on salary for the first time, I started the search for my new sophisticated and adult-like coop. Like Emily, I was/still am a reluctant Angeleno. While sitting in my Brooklyn apartment I actually used to say that it would be my dream to work for Emily but I’m never moving to LA so that dream is never coming true. Well, the universe had a different plan. Like moving to Australia with my boyfriend of two years, breaking up (on good terms) then moving back to Southern California into my dad’s apartment for a few months to try to figure out my life. Ya, my life flipped upside down hard. But I couldn’t be more grateful as I still am in disbelief that I get to have this life. Still, it’s extremely hard to shake that New York pride when you move to LA. But unlike New York, in LA, you can get a small place without going totally bankrupt and get this…sign a lease without a co-signer. If you’ve ever lived in NY, you get what a HUGE deal that is. So getting my dream job and living on my own has massaged this “calling LA home” reluctance a bit.

But we are here to talk about design. Let’s do that, shall we? About six months after starting at EHD, Emily told me if I wanted, I could start designing my MOTO (Makeover Takeover for anyone new here). When the initial wave of excitement/panic subsided, I got to work. This was about a year and a half ago. Yep, 18 months to design not even the entire 363 square feet, but just living room and kitchen. But when you’ve been dreaming of having your own place since you were little and you are given the best gift of all, fantastic companies that want to gift you decor, a little thing called Style Paralysis likes to visit and hang out. I wanted it to feel like me but also inspire me. How exactly was I going to do that?? My plan was to find pieces that were a little outside of the box from what I had previously considered my style. Fun fact: That takes an annoying amount of time and mental agony. So before I embarrass myself and show you some of my first moodboards, I want to show you the space. Let’s start with the living room.

Emily Henderson Jess Moto Intro Living Room Before

I know she doesn’t look like much but as soon as I walked in, I knew it was perfect. I called in asking if I could be late to work (the answer was of course) and ran to the bank to secure it. City living has prepared me for the war of apartment hunting. You have to be prepared and take no prisoners in the process. I actually can’t fathom a world in which I would be given the option to take my time to think about whether or not I wanted to rent a place. Maybe in the afterlife…or a normal/not as overpopulated city.

I loved the light, wood floors, tall-ish ceilings, the location and the fact that even though it’s technically a studio apartment, the kitchen and “bedroom” (more of a bed nook) are in separate rooms (again, that is a loose term). The ceiling fan/light wasn’t great and the varied shades of “apartment beige” needed to go but I knew those were easy fixes. Changing lights is something I have done in every rental I’ve lived in. It personalizes your home instantly and isn’t a huge landlord red flag (as long as you keep the original fixtures or offer to leave them). The only real bummer was that wall-mounted gas heater and the fact that there is only ONE outlet in the entire main space. I guess in 1920, they didn’t predict our lives would be taken over by technology. But I do have internet access so I’m going to stop complaining and get into my design inspiration…

Emily Henderson Jess Moto Intro Living Room Inspo 1
image sources: top left | top right | bottom left | bottom right

I would call the style I wanted as So Cal meets Modern European. Mostly textured neutrals with pops of color, curved furniture, geometric patterns and a TON of art (mixing modern and classic styles). Oh and so many books. Looking well read is essential to achieving this look. I’m not kidding. Over the course of working at EHD, I quickly became obsessed with that laidback, cool kid Euro/Parisian look. I know it’s all the rage currently, but I don’t care. I love it. It’s refined, collected with a hint boho. Plus, my actual life goal is to live in Barcelona surrounded by iconic architecture, old tiles, modern design and all the wine. But that will only happen if Emily opens a Spain office…Emily, thoughts?

My living space is smaaalllll which means finding super unique furniture pieces that are the right scale are hard to come by. Fine. Instead of getting mad, I got even and by even I mean I begged my very handy dad for help. He agreed, rightfully with hesitation (I might be a picky client) and made this from a drawing I designed. May I introduce you to the beginnings of my wraparound low shelf bench…

Emily Henderson Jess Moto Intro Living Room Shelf Side By Side

Since it was impossible to make this one singular piece of wood because of its large size, he added holes and dowels where the two pieces meet. Then in his creative genius (which I normally disagree with…did I mention picky client??), he put two latches underneath to secure the two pieces together so they wouldn’t separate. It also makes it super easy to take with me to any future apartments I live in.

Now let’s move into my small but mighty kitchen…

Emily Henderson Jess Moto Intro Kitchen Before

My heart stopped when I saw that open shelving. I thought, “this is my chance (*cough* justification) to buy only beautiful things I love…or spark joy because I will be looking at them every day.” 🙂 Look, I read Marie Kondo’s book in 2015 so I’m old school about sparking joy. AND while small, there was space for a dining nook. A dining nook people! That IKEA bistro set didn’t make the cut because I designed a custom, somewhat DIY, banquette. 

Onto the countertop…the original countertop was not my jam, but in my naive mindset at the time, I thought I would replace it. Silly, silly Jess. But keep reading because what I ended up doing turned out to be a pretty awesome alternative and is sort of another DIY. My last gripe was the fridge. Not beautiful but not the worst, this is apartment living after all. That is until I found out it only kind of kept things cold. Why they gave me a broken fridge is beyond me. Then refused to fix it saying they weren’t required to give me one in the first place…cool. Needless to say, big changes happened and below was my initial inspiration for those changes.

Emily Henderson Jess Moto Intro Kitchen Inspo
image sources: top left | top right | bottom left | bottom right

As you can see, it’s a very similar vibe to the living room. Euro-inspired, lots of wood and pops of color. But as I said before, my countertop was my biggest visual pain point. Replacing it would be financially irresponsible as a renter (my forté but I abstained) so I needed to get crafty. Enter Remodelista’s Sarah Lonsdale. In 2014, Sarah was willing to replace her rental’s kitchen countertop but her landlord was not on board…a foolish decision on his part. Unwilling to live with what was there, she covered them with pretty plywood. GENIUS. I again called my saint of a carpenter father to see if he could make me a similar countertop. It’s safe to say he nailed it…

Emily Henderson Jess Moto Intro Kitchen Diy Countertop Side By Side 1

I hesitate to say DIY for any of these pieces because to “do it yourself” you need a decent amount of carpentry skills and the right tools which I will get into more when I fully reveal it next week (living room is on tap for tomorrow, kitchen next week, so stay tuned).

The last “DIY” I conned my father into helping me with was my dining banquette. I designed, he constructed. Here is a sneak peek into the progress. FUN FACT: Those pieces of wood are actually red oak stair treads which means the front part of them we already rounded. #expensivehack ($46 a tread and I needed 10). But what was actually affordable were the back cushions (not pictured) that I tricked my cousin into helping me put together. Families who make things together, stay together (even if you kinda force them)… right? Also a special call out to my dad’s girlfriend who ensured my dad didn’t take any “creative liberties” with my design and found that brass rod for me (a curtain rod from the Restoration Hardware Outlet). And Julie, who helped with multiple installs and Arlyn, for helping me hang my living room curtain rod. What I am trying to get at is it takes either a village or A LOT of money to customize a home. I am lucky and have an unbelievable village but don’t be fooled…I spent plenty of money.

Emily Henderson Jess Moto Intro Kitchen Banquette Progress

What I want to touch on next was my search for the perfect white paint color because white is hard. That original beige bummed me out every single day so I reached out to Farrow & Ball to see if they would be willing to gift (each gallon of that stuff is nearly $100, but their paint is SO GOOD). I have a deep love affair with this brand that dates back to my New York days. Knowing that my perfect shade of white is Farrow & Ball makes me stupidly happy.

I wanted to do this paint selection right, so I took Emily’s advice and painted all of my samples on the wall to see how they look at different times of the day. Now most of you probably think outside of the gray they all look really similar. But look at how they change throughout the day. My goal was to pick a warm white. Not beige but not icy white with blue undertones. I must have stared at those swatches for a week before I pulled the trigger. I ended up going with Pointing (second row, middle) and could not be happier.

Emily Henderson Jess Moto Intro Kitchen Picking Paint

To finish off this intro, I thought it would be *gulp* fun for you to see my first five moodboards (yep there were more) to show you that almost all design plans evolve into something VERY different from their original idea. Well unless you are a pro like Em with a ton of practice, but even then it usually changes. But you have to start somewhere and this is where I started mine.

Emily Henderson Jess Moto Living Room Mood Board 1

As I already stated, I wanted this apartment to feel like it could be in a cool European city. So I chose a pretty neutral sofa, elegant but textured pillows and sophisticated accent pieces. But when I see this board now my first thought is, WHAT?! The main reason I cringe is for my lack of any real scale. Did I think I all of a sudden I lived in a huge apartment? The accent chair is great but there was zero chance of a normal human-sized chair fitting well into my little living room. The rug was a definite “risk” I thought I wanted to take but am glad I didn’t. I actually still like the idea of it but an orange rug was going to be bold and probably weird. Also, this one looks shiny. Not my ideal look. Mostly, this board just bored me. See what I did there? 🙂 And lastly, why did I think a candle holder by a tree was smart???

Emily Henderson Jess Moto Living Room Mood Board 2

Okay, out with the orange and in with the boho. The rug is so pretty but disappears into the wood. Too similar in tone. I also wanted a slightly more youthful feel and added that Lulu and Georgia throw and Rebecca Atwood pillow. Those helped but the room still felt blah. That coffee table is great but was really too big for the space. I will talk tomorrow about my coffee table nightmares. And still the candle with the tree (palm in face emoji).

Emily Henderson Jess Moto Living Room Mood Board 5

Since I wasn’t happy, I thought that maybe I should switch it all up and go bold with a mustard velvet sofa. Fun right?? I just needed to mix it up and boy do I love me some mustard (color not condiment). But I know myself and although that color is cool, I really wanted an off-white sofa. Thought I should take advantage of the no boyfriend, no kids and no pets thing while I can.

Emily Henderson Jess Moto Living Room Mood Board 3

This board is where I felt like I was getting somewhere. The sofa (the winner) was perfect, the side table was natural yet modern, and the rug grounded the space. All in all, it was more of the look I wanted. But I still wasn’t in love and once again that coffee table was WAY too big in real life but definitely was the look I wanted.

Emily Henderson Jess Moto Living Room Mood Board 6

This is the last moodboard I’m going to show you so I don’t give it all away. I was crazy inspired by Caroline Gayral’s living room and created this board. Her space is warm, yet so eclectic and soooo cool. I wanted more of that. But I felt like it was a little too similar to her home. The light fixture and pink curtains to start. Plus while I love a bold curtain, pink curtains just aren’t me. But the new additions like that beautiful floor lamp (Em has it in chrome) and that heart-stopping pouf were keepers. I also fell fast and hard for that bench but A. it was soooooo expensive and B. wasn’t an ideal size. I do thank it because after knowing it wasn’t a possibility I was inspired to design my low shelf. It all worked out.

Well, that’s all you get from me today. Come back tomorrow for my living room reveal. I hope you are pumped to see it. I know I probably won’t be sleeping due to the anticipation. So until 2 am PST (when the post goes live), here is a progress picture I took a while back with the newly painted walls with that killer sofa, pouf, lamp, throw (not currently available) and rug all in. Also, please take a moment to note the craftsmanship of the cardboard coffee table I made to make sure the one I wanted was the right size (FINALLY). I’m handy, but am going to leave the real carpentry to the pros. xx Jess

Emily Henderson Jess Moto Intro Living Room Sneak Peek Bw

For more of Jess’ Makeover Takeover: Jess’ Living Room | Jess’ Kitchen & Banqette

Fin Mark


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0 responses to “Introducing Jess’s Makeover Takeover…All 363 Square Feet of It

    1. Thank you! I feel like we never reeeeally stop designing and tweaking our homes so I will take all the inspiration! I am a big fan of The Design Files. This house is stunning and thanks for sharing:)

  1. Looking forward to the reveal! Oh, to have a handy carpenter in my life.

    Please dish the source on that awesome sculptural side table in your 4th mood board. Need.

  2. Thanks for starting out by letting us know that you don’t like LA (my home town) and never wanted to live here.

    1. I usually don’t comment, but I wanted to share my perspective on your comment. I don’t think she said anything disrespectful about LA. She did not detail her reasons for not wanting to live there originally, and gave the city props for several things in this post. She wasn’t LA bashing; she just loved her old city.

      I moved about a year ago to a new city and state for my husband’s job. I can definitely point to many things that are good about our new place, but I LOVED my old city, and I miss it almost every day. Clearly, I picked this city; I can point to many good things about it (including the new opportunity for my husband). I try to notice and be actively grateful for the good things here. But it is part of my honest narrative to say I didn’t intend to settle down here.

      Jess said she didn’t ever expect to move to LA, “But I couldn’t be more grateful as I still am in disbelief that I get to have this life.” I don’t think her goal was to insult people who grew up in LA. I think it was just to provide some personal context for her story and demonstrate how the universe does have an interesting way of surprising us with our path. Jess, no offense taken here! I loved this post and find it inspirational that you’re diving right in to make your unexpected apartment a home!

    2. And because LA is your hometown nobody is allowed to dislike it or never want to move there? C’mon, Helga, that makes no sense.

      I don’t even think Jess doesn’t like it there, since she mentioned so many things she eventually found out about the city and enjoyed. But even if she actively disliked it, what of it? People are entitled to their own feelings, are they not?

      I’ve been to LA a few years back (eight, I believe?) and it really doesn’t do it for me. I’d rather live in NYC of SanFran. It’s a nice city and I see why so many love it there, but it doesn’t suit me personally (at least so far in life). And that’s ok. You can still love it and live there forever if that’s what makes you the happiest 🙂 we’re very particular and different, humans. That’s like, half the fun!

    3. Helga,

      Please know I really like LA! I didn’t want to bore the readers with my entire life history that I grew up an hour south and moving to LA (hence my SoCal design influence) in a very silly way felt like I was moving home which was never the plan. My life goal was to have only brand new experiences. And like I said in the beginning of the post my life was in a VERY strange place and until I got the job at EHD it felt like I was backtracking living in Southern California again. Even if it was a totally different city. I also know that that’s nuts because how lucky are we to live in such a beautiful place? I was also playing on the silly LA/NY rivalry:) Look, I clearly miss NY but am super happy to be falling in love with LA.

    4. I also didn’t detect any LA bashing. I consider LA my home town now, but in my younger days, I often told people that I would NEVER move to California, ESPECIALLY Los Angeles. I’ve been living in LA for thirty years now and have no plans to leave!

    5. Lady, I respectfully feel you need to have some chill. Firstly because no city is perfect for everyone and secondly because all she said was that she loved NY and San Fransciso and never planned to live in LA.

      Jess I’m excited to see the reveals! We’re about to move our whole family to a small-ish space so all inspiration is welcome.

    6. Oh my. Don’t worry, everybody loves you LA, insecurity sometimes shows though. Try living in the Midwest and hearing every single person on the West and the East Coast assume you don’t wear shoes, must love Trump, have a steady diet of Ranch dressing and “didn’t know you guys had Starbucks.”

        1. I already commented on this without reading the comments, and my issue is that the whole NY vs LA thing is sooooooo played and old and boooooring. Could have done without it. It adds an unnecessary sour note to an otherwise upbeat story.

      1. I literally laughed out loud. I’m so with you – I live in the Milwaukee suburbs. They literally call us “flyover country”. Thanks for making me smile!

    7. Helga,
      I had the same thought. I thought it was a bit rude for a blog read by people all over the nation and world. Why would someone start a story in a negative way about any city? Then add the fact that there are a lot of New Yorkers moving here and making it more NY like or wanting to make it more NY like. What’s the point of moving here if you’re going to make it more NY like. Just wanted to say I understood where you were coming from.

  3. I just love your dad in all of this. My step-father was a remodeler/home builder and I have such great memories of my first house, which he helped me gut and install a new kitchen and bathroom, refinish flooring and side the exterior (it was a small town and I over invested in the house, but am still proud). Anyway, THAT shelf and THAT banquet are smashing. So clever to use the stair treads!!! I am excited to see the reveal but am already happy to start my day thinking about father/daughter projects.

    1. Thank you for your sweet words! I am grateful everyday for our relationship and all the projects we have done together. But I can hear him now, “We?!”. Ha. It’s honestly the best:)

  4. Want to hear more about putting together the banquet! I have hopes that this DIY-er + handy friends could make a similar bench situation come to life in a little nook in my kitchen!

    Very excited for this whole reveal. Love tiny space designing.

  5. I can’t wait for tomorrow’s reveal either! If you get a chance though, I’d love to know the source of the brown rug in the 2nd mood board. Looks AMAZING and might be exactly what I need for my living room.

      1. Thanks for getting back to me! I’ve done that too–copied an image I liked but not saving it to PinInterest so I don’t remember where I originally found it. Thanks for the link though! I’ll check it out.

  6. Kudos for finding a place with hardwood floors and a bit of architectural interest as opposed to the carpeted ice cube trays that so many apartment buildings resemble. Small spaces are so challenging – every single item needs to work both functionally and stylistically – and after this great intro – I can’t wait to read the upcoming reveals!

    1. Agree with your comments. However, it would be so nice to see an ‘ice cube’ apartment MOTO, as so many live in that type of housing. Spaces not blessed with any interesting architecture.

  7. Excited!!! I actually LOVED the mustard couch option but i fully support embracing all-the-white before kiddos. Love your writing voice too!

  8. Excited to see the full reveal tomorrow! Would you mind providing the sources for the black, round coffee table and the white, leather ottoman (from mood board #4), along with the rug from mood board #5? Thanks so much!

  9. i love this post. i want to marry it! 🙂
    i love love love all of the carpentry projects that you have going that your dad is doing for you. that wraparound-a-corner-bench is amazing. i need this in my next house (if we ever move). that banquette is inspiring me for our dining room, and the wood countertop in the kitchen over the old one is genius and looks amazing. this whole post gave me such inspiration.
    your moodboards are great, and i love that last one best. where is the rug in your last moodboard from? (the black and white one) and the pink curtains?
    also, ask your dad if he wants to come to michigan to do a bunch of carpentry for me!!!!! i’m obsessed with everything he did for you. i pay in cookies : )

  10. Oooh, I’m really interested to see how it all turned out! I lol’ed at the cardboard coffee table as I did something very similar to check my parameters as I searched for a Craigslist coffee table that would fit proportionally in the L of our quite small sectional. I did eventually find something just right, good materials and scandi and perfect dimensions/legs/shape for $30! Needs refinishing to refresh the wood and make it a lighter tone but I’m down for that once the spring weather hits.

  11. Hi! Do you have a source for the coffee table in boards 2&3? I like that style, but all the ones I see have a rectangular base, creating an inner, inaccessible, rectangle that seems like it would cause vacuuming difficulties. The open triangles are perfect! 🙂

  12. Can you please share the sources for coffee tables 2 and 3? I have a large living room and would love to take a look!

    Thank you!

  13. Yes! LOVE this! a) also obsessed with “modern euro” look. b) it is so helpful (…er, comforting) to see your evolution of decisions and mood boards as a fellow non-professional (ha!). Can’t wait to see the rest!!!

  14. Hi Jess! Loved this post, seeing your inspiration boards transform and seeing the projects you did with your dad! They are awesome! Where is the beautiful organic wood bench from? Love it! Thanks!

  15. Not at all related to Jess’ story, but can y’all please do something about the automatically playing videos that start with sound? They REALLY slow down the site and, truthfully, if I’m trying to read the post in a public place I don’t really want to have audio to automatically start playing.

  16. I read this in bed and as soon as I got up I started looking for wraparound bench friendly corners. It looks incredible. Sadly I don’t think we have any. But I enjoyed seeing yours!

  17. I love your inspiration images and can’t wait to see how you brought that feel to life without the great architectural bones that back them up!

  18. Hi EHD! What software do you guys use to make your moodboards? I’ve tried so many ‘apps’ on my phone for my fledgling design business, but none ever seem to look as nice as yours. Thanks!

  19. AH! Can’t wait to see what comes next! Also you are giving me MAJOR inspo to take on decorating my new house!!

  20. Oh my gosh, I am really excited to see your space tomorrow! Can you please share the link to the rug in your final board? Thanks so much!

  21. I’m really looking forward to the reveal (and love the kitchen counter and the wraparound bench). But.

    Can NY fans not reflexively bash LA? It’s very off-putting.

  22. Very excited to see how this turns out as my boyfriend and I just moved into a 500 sq. ft. back house an hour north of LA built in the 1920s with some similar things happening. It’s a lot of work to find the right small space solutions to solve for all of the issues and make it feel beautiful and non-cluttered. Currently having my handy boyfriend build a corner banquette so we can make the most of our tiny compined living/dining space!

  23. Excited! And can I just say your dad totally nailed it with the low shelf *swoon* and breakfast nook. Can’t wait to see both of your handiwork!

  24. So excited for the big reveals! Can you share the sources of the wide side tables in mood boards #4 & #5 – on the hunt for something similar.

    Thank you!

  25. Can you please post the link for the candle holder? I have been looking for it for a while since I saw it in another blog and have not been able to find it. Thanks!

  26. Need to know where that second rug is from please! ????That space is by far my favorite!

  27. Jess, I’ve been a reader of Emily’s for about five years and THIS is where I feel like you are designing exactly what I want! A little relaxed California, a little funk. I actually own one of the couches on your moodboard and the anthro mirror and wiggly line wood art have been on my moodboard for ages (but are not actually in my home because I too suffer from design paralysis). Anyway, thank you for being so relatable and keep doing your thing. I can’t wait to see the reveal!

  28. Nice! Can’t wait to see it! I’m curious to see which ceiling lamp you’ll choose. I really like The serge mouille you have in your latest mood board, but at several thousands $ / or worse Euros! for an « official serge mouille » I gather that you have found a better alternative…

    I would so want one… and in white!

  29. Great job and I can’t wait to see the reveal. Style wise I am into the euro/Parisian look as well. I’d also appreciate links to some of the items you didn’t choose (specifically the black round coffee table and the wood coffee table that inspired your wraparound bench).

  30. Oh I have loved reading this post and seeing the progress! Not QUITE setting my alarm here in Australia for the reveal, but very damn excited all the same. Beautiful work!

  31. I love your writing voice Jess 🙂 Friendly and funny, and open and real. Also love everything you’ve done in a compact space… that banquet… ahhh! If I was designing my dream house, even if I had ample space, banquet seating is one of those things I’ve love to do. They always bring me memories of my grandmother’s cottage in Germany (a good thing). Can’t wait for your reveal!

  32. Looking forward to seeing the full reveal. I am a newer reader of the blog and am wondering, how do you make the mood boards? What program?

  33. Can you please provide a link to the rug in the 5th mood board? I love it and am actually in the market for a new rug. Love the post- totally my design aesthetic.


  34. Hi Jess – I really love your taste and basically everything you chose in the mood boards. Is there any chance you guys can post a link up to everything in each of them? I’m sure that takes forever…but it’s all good!

  35. Wow! Looking back at this intro after loving your living room & wanting all the info before diving in to the kitchen.
    Can I please ask what program / app you use to make your moodboards?

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