Kerra Michele Huerta on apartment design and decor | Home Front

Nov 07, 2013

Kerra is an interior and event designer and the writer behind the popular design blog,, a site dedicated to improving the lifestyles of those renting the American Dream. Recently transplanted from Seattle and a long-time renter herself, Kerra specializes in small space design and planning, and aims to create warm, eclectic spaces with an effortless West Coast style.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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Washington designer Kerra Michele Huerta's charming one-bedroom rental apartment is featured in Local Living today. Here is the article. Kerra is an expert on making a rental apartment have personality and style. Her blog Apartment Envy is full of tips. Kerra moved here to Seattle with her husband a few years ago and has plugged into the Washington design scene. There are already lots of questions for Kerra so let's get going.

Thank you so much for having me today, Jura! I can’t wait to answer everyone’s questions. While I may be sentenced to live in a shoebox, many of my clients live in much larger homes; so even if your dilemmas aren’t small-space specific, just ask away! Don’t be shy!

I rent part of a charmingly old, bordering rundown row house in NW. I have a small room, an even tinier closet that is barely the width of a hanger, and of course an excess of stuff to put in it. Any tips (preferably economical ones) about organizing and maximizing the design potential of tiny spaces?

Great question! I am very familiar with this problem in my own apartments! First of all, I would recommend going through everything in the closet. Have you used in the the last 6 months? How many times have you used it since you got it? Do you truly *love* it? If you can't answer those questions honestly then donate donate donate! I go through this process myself in my own home twice a year to keep clutter to a minimum.

If you've already done that and still have a full house, I recommend building some simple shelves from floor to ceiling. A hardware store will cut the wood to size and the holes from small nails and screws can easily be patched and painted when you move out!

Hi there, thanks for taking my question. My husband and I just bought a new house, and want to paint every room the same color. We're looking for a beige/white/neutral, but also something that won't look odd with the white-ish trim and baseboards we're also interested in. Any color suggestions for the walls and the trim? Thanks!

How serene! One of my favorites is a taupe-y gray from Ben Moore called "Barren Plain" because it's neutral and light but still warm. It plays nicely with white, cream, and gray so it should go well while still being light and breezy!

Kerra, can you tell me where you got that arc floor lamp in your living room? I've been looking for one just like it, but the only ones I like are way out of my price range. Thanks! Love your apartment!

Thank you! The lamp is a total budget find from CB2. It's called the Big Dipper Floor Lamp and it's only $199!

I checked out your blog and love what you did taking the doors off your old kitchen cabinets. I want to do the same, and paint all the cabinets as well. I like the idea of having the bottom and top cabinets in different, but coordinating colors. Any ideas on do's and don'ts?

Great question! DO choose a simple palette from the get-go -- you don't want the space to get cluttered up visually and look like a circus tent. For my kitchen (and entire apartment) my two accent colors are mint and shades of coral/orange. DON'T overfill the cabinets once you remove the doors. The idea is to make the area seem more spacious, so stuffing the cabinets full of dishes, pantry items, and the like will only make the space feel claustrophobic.

Kerra, we're renting this great little historic home in Albuquerque right now. 2 bedroom, 1 bath but luckily it has a basement so there is plenty of storage. Our challenges with our cute little home is the bathroom and kitchen. They both have vintage built in storage (early 1900s) that are quirky shapes & sizes. Any recommendations for outfitting spaces like these without ruining their vintage charm?

Sounds like such a charming space! I LOVE built-ins but sometimes things you display in them get lost in the background. Paint the backs with a pop of color or go for a printed paper (wrapping paper or wallpaper) like I did in my bookcases. The items on display will be more visible and it will add so much interest to what is already a wonderful space!

Hi Kerra! I have a question regarding interior design for a couple. As a man, I would prefer something modern and practica with minimalism as the guiding principal. My fiance does not agree. How do you reconcile differing styles for shared living spaces? Just let her win (happy wife = happy life)? Or do I say, "do what you want, but I get a man cave?" Cheers, Po in the OC

Haha! I get this question from almost every client! No, you definitely should not suffer in silence :) A happy medium can always be found, and I've discovered that what often works best is choosing classic pieces of furniture, but layering in textures and accessories that go more masculine and feminine. For example, in a living room, go for a simple sofa in a color/fabric you both love, then add a leather throw pillow and a glam chenille throw blanket on the side.

Do you have any favorite shades of grey for interior paint? Trying to figure out how to incorporate this shade without making things gloomy.

Sandy Hook Gray by Benjamin Moore is a good color. Also Martha Stewart's Bedford Gray for Home Depot.

What color would you suggest to paint the walls of a super tiny bedroom to make it look larger and brighter, but still cozy? Thanks!

I know it sounds crazy, but go for a medium-dark color in a glossy finish. The semi-gloss or high gloss paint will reflect light and receed from the eye, making it look cozy but still deeper and larger than it really is. If you aren't afraid of color, try Ben Moore "Blue Danube" in high gloss. Otherwise I highly recommend my bedroom color, Ben Moore "Taos Taupe" :)

I really enjoy articles on decorating small spaces. Kerra, your apartment is beautiful. Where do you put less than attractive items like the TV, computer, cable boxes, etc.? I didn't notice any of these items in the pictures, and would be interested in your thoughts and ideas. Thanks.

Oh, cables ruin my design life! They're the worst! But a necessary evil. I posted a story about what I do in my own apartment on my blog, which is to hide all these small things in an inexpensive IKEA cardboard office box and cut out the back. Read more about my trick trick here:

Could you talk a bit about what is the best way to mix colors and patterns in a room? I find that i'm drawn to color, but don't want my house to look like a circus!

I understand your fears! My rule of thumb is to always maintain balance and you can never go wrong. Step 1: Choose a color palette and STICK WITH IT. From there it's just about alternating colors and patterns from room to room. If you paint the walls in one room a bold color, try to keep the furniture and accessories more neutral. Then the connecting room should have walls that are neutral (but still in your chosen color story), but maybe you have a bright yellow couch. Same rule applies for patterns -- stick within your palette and you can't go wrong with mixing them up!

I've seen design magazines featured rooms with black paint and am considering it for a living room scheme. But how does that work with the adage that dark paint makes a room look small?

This is an urban myth, my darling! I say if you want the black walls, GO FOR IT! But make sure the furniture and accessories stay on the lighter side so it doesn't turn into the Addams' Family parlour. And I always recommend going for a glossier finish when you do a darker color in small spaces to give the room more depth. Use caution if the walls are lumpy and not smooth -- those damaged walls look best in flat paint finishes.

Howdy - my apt. bedroom (in a building approx. 90 years old) has an unusual oval-shaped light fixture on the ceiling. There is no cover for it. It is rare that I can find shades that might fit it, and if so, they are expensive. The light is arranged such that there is a light bulb on either end of the fixture - about 10 inches from one another. There is also no hardware left, and landlord frowns on re-wiring. Suggestions? HELP!

My mantra is "Lighting is EVERYTHING" -- you must fix this light! I think the easiest thing to do is take the whole thing down (no rewiring necessary and any budget contractor will do it for next to nothing in 30 minutes) and replace it with something you love. A light fixture is an excellent investment because, unless you move outside the country, you can always take it with you when you move!

Hi Kerra! I LOVE your blog and am dying for some advice. I recently moved into a small (550 sq ft) apartment with an open floor plan. I'm having trouble distinguishing my entryway from my living room. How do I create a separate space with a small open floor plan? I have a giant white wall that is shared by the living room and entry area. I would love to hang some artwork and such on it, but it seems so big and intimidating. I'm going to try and send you pics, but I'm not sure that is an option here.

Oh my goodness, we share the same apartment dilemma! First thing you have to do is break that wall in half. Decide where you want the entry to stop and the living room to begin, then use furniture to define the spaces. For example, you could use the IKEA Expedit open bookcase perpedicular to the wall to create a "wall" that separates the two spaces. If you don't have room or that's not in the budget, use floating shelves on the living room side of the wall and style them with art and photos leaned against the wall with accessories mixed in.

How can one bedroom possibly have nine doors? I can't picture it.

It has tons of closets. Plus one door out to the hallway. If you look at the photo gallery here, you will see all the doors.

Hi, Thanks for your suggestions in advance. My apartment is an open concept and has floor to ceiling windows with a nice view of the city. The living room, dinning area, and kitchen have no doors or walls to divide these spaces and most of my furniture is black and gray. I love the open floor plan but I am having a hard time accessorizing with different colors. I am a very colorful person and I see that you also like vibrant spaces. Do you have any recommendations on how to make the space be bright and at the same time have balance? Many thanks!

Sounds like you need a color infusion, STAT! With an open plan it's imperative that you keep a cohesive color story throughout the space, and it sounds like you've done just that! And with a palette of black and gray, the sky is really the limit as far as options for colors go. If your furniture is all a solid black then I would aim for colors in patterns and bring in rugs and pillows to soften things up. In the kitchen or dining room it's easy and inexpensive to put out a big bowl of lemons to carry color in that way.

What kind of rugs do you recommend for a fairly dark space with bleached wood floors? Also, there is a toddler in the place, so I worry about whether light rugs will stay clean.

You didn't tell us much about the colors in the room other than the bleached floors. If you have a toddler, you probably don't want seagrass or sisal rugs. You could look for indoor/outdoor rugs that are easily hosed off or scrubbed clean. Try for neutrals with a pattern or something like a tweed or twist yarn. They don't show the dirt as much.

Living in DC where are the best places to find items for my apartment on a budget? I don't have a lot of money to spend, but want to get my apartment out of being just beige!

Great question! I am always checking out the Georgetown Flea Market and the new District Flea for great vintage furniture to paint or repurpose. If I have an idea of exactly what I'm looking for, say a credenza, then I will look on Craigslist, Etsy, and Krrb. You can also find great design at IKEA and Target, so don't be afraid to look there, too!

I love the paint colors you used in your apartment! What's your favorite brand of paint to use and how do you decide which color to choose?

Thank you! My absolute favorite paint is Benjamin Moore. They have so many colors to choose from and the paints go up smoothly and dry quickly. I ONLY use no-VOC paints, however. Being married to a climate scientist and growing up in the Pacific Northwest has made me very concious of what I have around me in my home, and my impact on the environment. Ben Moore has great eco-friendly paint lines that aren't too expensive, but Lowe's also has a nice no-VOC line as well. 

And when I choose my colors I just try to make them cohesive and balanced, so I'll alternate a colorful room with a less colorful one.

Why did you convert a closet into a dressing area, of all things? Seems to me that's what bedrooms and/or bathrooms are for. Isn't closet space prime real estate in an apartment?

Kerra's apartment is unusual in that it has tons of closets in it. She decided that one of the large walk-in closets could be better used by her as a dressing room plus it virtually added a tiny room to the unit.

Have a great room w/ varying shades of pale to med grey on the walls and fireplace. Furniture khaki (more beige) clean lined sofa, balck leather chrome chairs, glass coffee table, glass dining table (sand blasted- looks green) off white area carpet and sea glass colors in accessories. Need some new accessory colors and ideas. Thank you!

I love gray, seafoam, and yellow together! Classic but punchy.

Any tips for creating a simple and modern nursery for a baby girl? We have an empty room with ample space for a crib and dresser, but don't know where to begin!

Congratulations!! I treat nurseries like any other room and only have the baby-specific items be temporary pieces that can be changed as your baby gets older. Instead of buying a changing table/dresser, why not try a vintage credenza that can double as a dresser with you don't need the changing pad anymore? And try a warm, soothing gray-brown on the walls and use white and lavendar in the accessories and bedding. And, of course, she'll need a fabulous chandelier :)

You recommend getting rid of mini-blinds, but what can we use that will: a) provide privacy, b) not dim the light too much, as the house is already dark from orientation and mature trees, and c) be safe from/for cats and young kids?

My favorite mini-blind replacement are fabric roller shades. They stay off the floor (good for kids and pets), let in light, but you can't see through them. You can pick up ready-made shades at most hardware stores or have them custom made to your specific dimensions. I like because they're inexpensive but custom -- and they look fabulous!

Are artificial plants or flowers out in cases? I am in my late 50's and that seemed to be the thing to do back in the day.

Did you mean to say "Are artificial plants or flowers out in ALL cases?" My personal preference is not to use them. If you don't want to do flowers, you can always buy freeze dried topiaries of boxwood for an all green look. Or use fresh fruits and vegetables in a bowl or basket. Plants also last longer. I am not a fan of faux flowers myself.

Hey Kerra! I have a lot of belts, scarves, and necklaces, and no space to keep a large jewelry armoire and not a huge closet to hang my accessories in. Do you have any fun and creative suggestions for storing my MANY accessories, so that they are easy to get to and see each day while planing out outfits? Thank you!

My rule in small spaces without storage is, "If it's beautiful, display it!" Get some pretty hooks and put them in a line along an empty wall in the bedroom or bathroom and hang your accessories up on those. It also solves the problem of having bare apartment walls! I did something similar in my dressing room:

I love the apartment, particularly the blue sofa - where did you purchase it?

Thanks! It's by Gus Modern and I bought at Homebody in DC, but if you're not local you can find this brand in other places.

Kerra, i loved the rug in your living room. Can you share where it's from?

Thank you! I love it, too :) It's a cowhide rug by Bashian.

It was a joy to work with Kerra on Dupont House Tour. Q: what are guidelines for the height(s) at which to hang pictures and other artwork on walls? Robin Diener

Awesome question! You should always aim to have things at average eye level. A general rule of thumb is about 60" from floor to the center of the art.

Greatest. Hour. Ever. If we didn’t get to you then please don’t hesitate to contact me through my blog, Thank you for all the fabulous questions, and thank you again to Jura and The Washington Post for inviting me to the party! 

Thanks to Kerra for answering so many questions and we are sorry we didn't get to all of them. Clearly there is a need for information about apartment living with style. Thanks for being with us. Next week we will have Lou Lenzi, GE's director of industrial design, to chat about kitchen and appliance trends.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archive
Kerra Michele Huerta
Kerra is an interior and event designer and the writer behind the popular design blog,, a site dedicated to improving the lifestyles of those renting the American Dream. Recently transplanted from Seattle and a long-time renter herself, Kerra specializes in small space design and planning, and aims to create warm, eclectic spaces with an effortless West Coast style.
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