Episode 352: Birthdays and Beach Studios

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Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday dear Betsy. Happy birthday to me. Guys, you know that I don’t always take a moment to stop to celebrate. Not podcasting, anniversaries, not business inception in anniversaries, not lots of different things, including this year, my anniversary just flew by with all the other stuff going on. We did go to dinner, but we need something more epic after 12 years, do you agree? And usually, I let my birthday whimper and simper right by. I’m not opposed to birthdays. I have nothing against birthdays. It’s just that I’m often swamped. I try to do something, but it can be a little with all my other obligations. 

But not this year. This year, I am making it happen for myself. I am doing fun things! My favorite singer, Mike Doughty from the band Soul Coughing, which I was just obsessed with in college, is coming to Connecticut and playing a free show. Are you kidding me right now? I am a huge fan. 

So my friends said, “Betsy, what are we doing for your birthday?” I said we are going to see Mike Doughty in concert for free at seven o’clock, which I sincerely appreciate as a person in my 40s! Then I said, we’re going to be in Connecticut. You guys are going to come to this free show with me, and why don’t we head back to she-shed, my little cottage, and we’ll have a girl’s night. We’ll get takeout, light the wood-burning stove, and we will have fun. We will crack open the hot tub, which I have not opened for the three months I have been here. I’m very excited. 

Are you like me, where I still need to fully unpack this little cottage. I have been so busy, so preoccupied. Also, the priority is the main house. Who cares about my office, my space? My kids are living in chaos. My husband’s complaining daily that we only have one couch and one TV and what’s going on, where’s all the furniture, and what’s happening. And I prioritize my time over there and have yet to prioritize my time here. I will get my act together if I plan an event where somebody is coming over, and then I will clean up. So that’s what I’m gonna do. 

Without further ado, let me get to the questions that are already in my mailbag. 

This episode, we discuss…

[7:38] What’s the best shaped coffee table for my space? (Kristy)



Hi Betsy. I am purchasing this couch from Pottery Barn. I’m unsure what the best shaped coffee table to get. I love the unique shapes and styles like the one here from West Elm, but does it look better to stay more conservative like this one from CB2?



Typically, I choose something other than a coffee table based on the couch. Usually, I prefer the coffee table based on the size of the negative space between the couch and whatever’s across from it. If it’s a fireplace, a TV stand, or a wall, that’s what will dictate what shape my coffee table will be. Because I may not have enough depth for a circular table like you’ve put here or a triangular table like you’ve set here from West Elm, I may need to go with something long and narrow, especially in smaller spaces, which I assume you might be in because you’re writing from Los Angeles. So often, I’ll need to stick to rectangular or narrow ovals. Now, little oval, which was hard to find, but honestly, my favorite.

Those odd shapes like circles or triangles, kidney shapes, or amorphous shapes, you’re really going to need a lot of space around the coffee table to make sure you have walkways. Make sure you have enough room for your knees. Because in between the front of the sofa and the coffee table, you need at least 12 to 18 inches for your knees. And then between the other edge, the opposite edge of the coffee table. And whatever you’ve got going on, if there are armchairs across from it or, like I said, the hearth for the fireplace or whatever, you’re going to want some space. Indeed, if it’s in the middle of a thoroughfare like a walkway, that’s 30 to 36 inches that you’ll need if people are cutting through in front of the coffee table a lot. 

These are all things to take into consideration. First, I do the math. What actually fits well. And then I go for the look of what stylish kind of thing I could do because even if you get a boring rectangular coffee table, it might have a really excellent base. Also, the coffee table is independent of the sofa selection. And that’s totally true. It’s about spatial relationships. But I make sure that the sofa seat height is the same as the height of the coffee table, or the coffee table could be two inches less than the height of the sofa seat. And you’re telling me, Betsy, where am I going to find the size of the sofa seat? Well, if you go to the dimensions on the websites, it will typically give you the entire sofa’s length, width, and height. But naturally, there’s a little button that says additional dimensions. And then, it will give you the measurement from the floor to the seat of the sofa.

At a place like CB2, it can be very low to the ground, like 15 inches, and then you’ll need a low coffee table. That’s going to be 15 or 13 inches, and we’re within that range. The typical height of a sofa seat is 18 inches. So we want a coffee table that’s between 16 and 18. These are just some general guidelines when you’re shopping for coffee tables. And I hope that redirects your process so that you start with the spatial relationship in mind and work from there. 

[13:39] What’s the best way to make a small beach studio feel more cozy, yet still spacious?  (Kara) 


What’s the best way to make a small beach studio feel more cozy, yet still spacious? My significant other and I moved in together last month into an open-concept (but tiny) rental that I feel has a lot of opportunities for creative design and with a cohesive look, but I don’t know where to begin/which room to start in. I love interior design and try to keep it as a consistent hobby, so I’m hoping to get your advice on colors for the wall/peel and stick wallpaper (since it’s a rental), and the best knickknacks or decor for making it a humble abode. Thank you, love!



I am happy to help. I’m delighted and a little bit jealous because you are living in a beach home. That’s so exciting. And you know, I’m a studio lover. I lived in many studios, including ones much smaller than this. Trying to understand your exact studio, it’s the true definition of a studio, and the living and the sleeping area are in the same open space. Even though I’ve got several fractured pictures, I have an issue here, and that a lot of your furniture is hugging the walls, all of your furniture is hugging the walls. And sometimes, in a studio apartment, we need to bring things into the center and turn something on a diagonal, so it doesn’t feel so claustrophobic. 

So it doesn’t feel like we’re just pushing everything against walls to get maximum space. It can make us feel very uncomfortable. And when I’m looking at these pictures, I know even though I can’t see a flat floor plan or truly understand the entire layout, I know you have missed opportunities here. I know that you need to be using the space correctly. And I recommend you start with those large pieces of furniture and think critically about where they need to go. And a studio, when creating the floor plan, I typically start with the bed. Not only is it typically the most significant piece in the space, and certainly, that appears to be the case in this space. But also it might have the most restrictions. I want to put the bed away from a window where it might be noisy or get a ton of sunlight. I want to put the bed away from a vent where I might be blown on all night and have that cool air. I want to put the bed away from the bathroom or near the entry door or the entryway. It’s awkward to walk into the bedroom zone first. 

So I always like to create the floorplan with the bed in mind first and then fill in with my other pieces once I find that optimum flow with the bed. That being said, there are other opportunities as well. When I think beachy, if that’s the style you’re going for, woven textures, whether it’s rattan or a basket weave seagrass, are really missing for me here. And having that natural element would also make it feel warmer and cozy. I also think about textures. What textures can we bring to truly create that great comfortable space? I would like to see a delicious throw blanket here. That’s nubby and draped over the chaise sofa. I would like to see softer edges right now. We have so many lines here. So we’re not just thinking, how big is this piece? Or what texture is this piece? What geometrical shapes does this piece bring into the room, be it in its solid form or pattern? And here you have so many lines, from the brick on the fireplace, which is very linear, to the rug, which is just a linear blue and beige striped rug, to the marble coffee table, which is very boxy and rectilinear. There are many lines from the faceted pendant light above this dining area. 

I would want to soften this out because when I think beachy and feel cozy, I don’t think of harsh straight lines. Something more organic, something less symmetrical, something more unexpected. Like most lines, something that could be better is that I want you to incorporate some of that. I also think you’ve got a lot of stark contrast with the black and the white, so the pendant light that I was referring to, the faceted pendant, is black. The dining table is white. The walls are stark white, the brick is white, the couch is dark navy, and the coffee table is white. I might play with less stark contrast, which can be jarring. It doesn’t feel soothing or comfortable. And I suggest incorporating some things with a mid-tone. We could use some light blues. We could use deeper beiges that don’t just read like cream but are really more brown. 

So when I look at a space, what is missing? And if I know the two-word phrase, which in this case I do, we want the style to be beach and enjoy the field to be cozy? Well, what could embody that? If I do say so myself, I’ve given you some pretty good ideas. But first, I want you to entirely re-evaluate this layout. I’m not loving that this beautiful large fireplace with this dramatic white painted brick fireplace is an afterthought in the middle of this room. The sofa doesn’t face it. It’s just not getting the gravitas it deserves. And indeed, you are spatially limited. But if you explore the center of the room, you’ll find opportunities you might miss.

[20:41] Thank you for sharing your real life (Melissa)




You write thank you, Betsy, for answering my style question on your premium podcast. I know, I now feel so much more confident with my ongoing design decisions. I love listening to your podcast, not only for all your fabulous design advice, but also the stories about your life and hearing that even successful designers have style woes and leaky pipes. 



Guys, you’re saying to yourself, you’re saying leaky pipes? I haven’t heard about this since when do you have a leak? Well, in my premium podcast, I’ve been going even deeper in my moving journey, even deeper in the journey of redesigning my home. There have been so many more anecdotes, so many more issues, so many more challenges. And also I bring you inside my mind as I’m choosing over 200 items, I need to fill this space, what kind of roadblocks I’ve been stumbling upon and how I’ve managed to stay within a very tight budget. All these different things, I’ve gone quite in depth in the premium podcast. 

If you’d like to hear those episodes, I think there’s at least seven of them now that just focus on my move. 

But I also have a catalog of 75 that you get access to if you’re a premium member, all you have to do is head over to affordableinteriordesign.com/podcast. You’ll see a link there to become a premium member, you can help support the podcast and get this catalog of amazing premium episodes, starting at $5.99 a month, or $29.99 for six months. Please head over to check it out and support the show. It means so much and I love that you’re supporting us all the way from Dubai. Thank you, Melissa. 








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