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How to make your first home memorable

Kyle Schuneman‘s experiences as a Hollywood production designer eventually led him to the world of interior design — the perfect profession for a guy who drew floor plans and flipped through design magazines as a little boy growing up in Chicago. After building his industry contacts and working with high-end clients, Schuneman noticed that a lot of his twenty- and thirtysomething friends were still feeling disenchanted by the design process — a realization that planted the seeds for a design book.

“I wanted to put together a guide filled with design advice that’s useful, fresh, fun — and the antithesis of a design manifesto on how you must decorate to fit into a mold,” says Schuneman, 28. He collected his experiences in solving his clients’ real-life design challenges in his first book, The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces (2012).

Here are five of his tips for anyone setting up a first apartment or house.

Related: 10 layouts for a small living room

Kyle Schuneman | Live Well Designs, original photo on Houzz

1. Take care of something beautiful, something living. One of the first things Schuneman suggests to his clients is to go out and buy a plant or fresh flowers. He used a collection of glass bubbles from CB2 to house magenta dahlias in this street-level San Francisco apartment.

“When you have something living in your space, you need to take care of it. You become a bigger part of your space when you’re nurturing something in it,” says Schuneman.

He loves the architectural look and feel of the magenta dahlias and how out the flowers’ placement frees up valuable table space.

Kyle Schuneman | Live Well Designs, original photo on Houzz

2. Your space should have roots. Schuneman designed this bedroom for a young man living in an historic Los Angeles building. “I really wanted to pay homage to the masculine lines, warm woods and layered textures of the building,” he says. “You just can’t deny the greater context of the space.”

The designer gave a collection of vintage tennis racquets new life by turning each piece into a mirror; the collection creates a graphic pattern on the wall space above the bed. “The racquets are now the focal point of the room. They soften the hard, angular edges of the bed frame.”

He warns against treating your apartment or house like it’s a “floating cloud.” You can live in the city and opt for a cottage-coastal vibe, but let where you live somehow organically influence your choices.

Kyle Schuneman | Live Well Designs, original photo on Houzz

3. Take design cues from the places you love. The top-shelf mirror design of this retro kitchen repeats the design of Schuneman’s client’s favorite neighborhood watering hole.

“She just loved the way her beloved bar reflected the hard-to-reach, top-shelf bottles. For her kitchen we went for the same effect. But instead of liquor bottles, the mirror reflects an assortment of coasters from her travels,” he says.

Kyle Schuneman | Live Well Designs, original photo on Houzz

4. Tell a story with your surroundings and have a definitive point of view. When the designer first arrived to help this Nashville couple with their first apartment together, drum sets and guitar cases overwhelmed the area in front of the picture window, wasting their view of the Cumberland River.

Schuneman freed the guitars from their cases and integrated all of the instruments throughout the loft. “The instruments give the space an edge,” he says. They immediately show the clients’ musical roots, “lending the space a rock ‘n’ roll vibe.”

The designer chose low club-like furniture to create an intimate lounging area within the open expanse of the loft. A pair of wicker coconut chairs soften the hard rock appeal of the living room and help bring out the warm wood tones of the floor boards. 

Kyle Schuneman | Live Well Designs, original photo on Houzz

5. Bring home treasures and conversation starters. Without any intention of purchasing an extra armchair for her living room, Schuneman’s client spotted this midcentury modern chair while strolling through her neighborhood and fell in love with its design and $150 price.

Related: Discover Unique Accent Chairs and Armchairs

“It’s a great lesson on treating yourself to things when the right moment — and right piece — arises. She’ll always have that love-at-first-sight story to look back on,” says Schuneman.

The designer found the hanging metal piece in a nearby thrift store. “It’s hard for people to commit to art, but these vintage metal pieces feel sculptural and unique, so I think that’s why people are gravitating to them,” he says.

Schuneman acknowledges that good design — no matter the size of the space — boils down to one’s personal taste.

“At the end of the day, what matters is how we feel about the space.”


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