Inexpensive Ways to Personalize Your Home.

By: Jen Shoop

Some of the apartments we toured during our recent house hunt were perfectly nice but lacked personality. I would say that Mr. Magpie and I are pretty adaptable when it comes to home style — in fact, we always scoff when couples on House Hunters state a laundry list of “must-haves” as they seek their new homes: “a claw-foot tub,” “fine woodworking details,” “wainscoting,” etc. Our home in Chicago was fairly contemporary-looking: there was a see-through fireplace separating the dining and living areas in a modern slate gray setting, a sleek metal banister on the steps up to the second floor, and a “hidden bathroom” cleverly disguised in a wall that was paneled with various types of frosted glass (hard to describe, but it was slick), among other contemporary-looking details–but we have gravitated towards the traditional charm of pre-war buildings here in Manhattan. The main thing for us is that we want a home that doesn’t feel like a box. We want interesting details, quirky nooks and crannies, personality. Our current apartment (which we leave on Friday!) features a pass-through from the kitchen to the dining room, arched entryways, and a small built-in cut into the side of the kitchen to display serveware. Though we are very ready to leave it (we are absolutely busting at the seams), I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m a little misty-eyed thinking of bidding adieu to old Louise. We enjoyed our first (and second) Thanksgivings alone as a family here. We sold our old home in Chicago from here. Mini learned to walk here, and sleep through the night here (joy!), and express herself in increasingly complex language here. I found out I was pregnant here — and I will never forget calling Mr. Magpie from our master bathroom while he was in between meetings at work to tell him the news.

“Lan…?!” My voice trembling and bright. He knew before I finished the sentence.

I struggled through the final uncomfortable trimester of what is likely my final pregnancy here, and muscled my way through that painful week of being overdue, and then — we brought micro home here.

So many family milestones in this itty bitty pocket of Manhattan — and the personality of this apartment has been a perfect foil to each and every one of them.

I am glad, then, that our new digs boast commensurate character, though it occurred to me when we were down on our luck and frenetically trying to line up a place to live that we could probably give any old place a personality, thanks to the careful purchase and curation of accents and curiosities that I have accrued over our nearly decade-long marriage. Below, I thought I’d share a couple of my favorite (largely inexpensive!) ways to personalize a home:

+French enamel house numbers. I bought a vintage one with patina and rusting to prove it (similar to this one) featuring the number 18 on it — Mr. Magpie’s lucky number as a former ballplayer. I worked ours into a gallery wall hanging above our sofa, but you could replace the house number on the outside of your home with one of these, or prop it up on a bookcase, or buy a bunch of them and line them up on a narrow wall, possibly to showcase a wedding date or number of personal significance. I also like these ones, though the white-on-blue is kind of classic.

+Framed handwritten recipe or note. We have a recipe scrawled in Mr. Magpie’s grandmother’s loopy script for pierogis (she was Polish) that we framed and hung with a bunch of other prints in coordinating gilt frames. You could frame a note from a loved one, a recipe, etc. I love the look of old-fashioned writing on a wall.

+Calligraphed lyrics or prayer. I used this Etsy shop to have some lyrics of personal importance calligraphed onto 11×14 paper for my sister and I. (I also love the quotes here and here, and would also consider having a prayer or Bible verse of personal meaning calligraphed.)

+If you live out of state and have hometown pride, a block print from Old Try will bring joy and personality to a gallery wall. We have the “Old Dominion” one and get so many compliments on it.

+Vintage oil-on-canvas/watercolors in a theme of personal significance. Mr. Magpie and I love dogs and have amassed quite the collection of vintage art pieces featuring canines for our gallery wall. Etsy is a treasure trove for this kind of thing — check out this cool etching or this amazing original watercolor. (Don’t be intimidated/put off by the small size on these things! You can always reframe them with a large mat around them so that they take up more space and look more modern. Alternately, mix in some bigger, less expensive pieces, like a mirror with interesting rope detailing.

+Framed article of clothing. How sweet would it be to frame a Baptismal gown or bonnet? Or maybe a handkerchief from a wedding or a loved one? Or a square from a beloved quilt? So many cool ways to personalize your space with this while repurposing something you already own and love (and just for the cost of the acrylic frame!).

+Frame a vintage map. This is another great trick for filling a big, empty wall space — maps are typically fairly inexpensive but can be enormous. Pick a location of personal significance — we have framed maps of Lyon, France (where I studied abroad and came into my own) and San Sebastian, Spain (site of our most cherished vacation ever). I found both for a song on Etsy and framed them myself. (My Lyon one is similar to this one.)

+A unique door-knocker. I recently featured this brass bee, which many of you loved. I also love this dragonfly one and this bunny one, but searching on Etsy yields all kinds of gorgeous options.

My final piece of advice — if you go to a high-end home design store (I especially love Jayson Home in Chicago and Scully & Scully here in NY) and you see a piece you adore, do a little hunting on Etsy, eBay, and Target for something similar (and less expensive) before committing to the higher price tag. For example, I loved these little horn-legged cowhide footstools at Jayson Home, but they were pricey. I found these nearly identical ones on eBay and it’s happily lived in our living room since. Later, I wanted a flokati stool for mini’s nursery but couldn’t believe that they often retailed for upwards of $400. I found a dupe on Target similar to this that was perfect (and not overly precious!) for her nursery. Use those high-end stores (and also your favorite interior design books! — I’ve gotten tons of ideas from this Nate Berkus one in particular, as he has a knack for incorporating cool curiosities into the homes of his clients — photo at top of this post is proof of his talent in this regard!) for inspiration and then hunt around to get the look for less.

P.S. Luxuries for even the smallest of homes.

P.P.S. Loving the look of these boxy yet trim cardigans this season. Everlane sent me this one (in rose) and I am OBSESSED WITH IT. And speaking of rose: I am kind of head over heels in love with this The Great sherpa coat. I love the webbing at the cuffs, the collarless style (so many sherpa coats have those huge double-breasted collars), and the color, of course.

P.P.S. These fragments I have shored against my ruins and I won’t soon forget.

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5 thoughts on “Inexpensive Ways to Personalize Your Home.

  1. This is such a great list that I know I’ll return to for future reference! I LOVE the idea of framing a loved one’s recipe in their handwriting … I know the exact recipe I’d do from my mom, written in the late 70s on IZOD stationery! Ha!

    So many good Etsy finds, too! I love Etsy and sometimes forget about it (i.e. go years without ordering anything) — I did just find the cutest case for my new AirPods there, though!

    P.S. That’s the Everlane cardigan I just bought! (the alpaca one) … do you find it itchy? I’m guessing not, as you said you’re obsessed, but curious to know how you’re styling it. I love it buttoned up, as shown on the models. 🙂 xx

    1. Hi! I always wear a thermal tee or lightweight cotton tee under the sweater, as I do think it would be itchy directly on the skin…I LOVE it though! So chic!

      Yay, glad this post resonated 🙂 xx

  2. Love all these ideas. I’ve started buying cheap street art when we travel. It serves as a nice memory of our trips and I love looking at all the pieces of memorabilia we’ve collected over the years.

    I recently hand-lettered a bible verse for a friend on a huge piece of wood for her to hang over her couch. I have to say, it turned out nicely!

    Love the idea of framing a recipe card too – will have to go through my mom’s pile to find some good ones!

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