Q&A: Myquillyn Smith on how to have a cozy home

Sep 17, 2020

For the last twelve years, Myquillyn Smith, known online as “The Nester,” has inspired homeowners to rearrange their rooms to be more welcoming. Her newest book, "Welcome Home: A Cozy Minimalist Guide to Decorating and Hosting All Year Round" is full of practical advice. Smith is a self-taught, design school dropout who took a week-long course so she could be a certified home stager and redesigner. She and her family have lived in lots of fixer-uppers, including 13 different houses, apartments and condos.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, Marie Kondo, the Property Brothers or Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest, answer your decorating, design and decluttering questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and organizing. For more than 20 years, our Thursday Q&A has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share your own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small.

Good morning to all. Hope you are staying safe with the awful hurricane, fires and covid threat. This uncertainty means that we need to feel safe and cozy in our homes which is what Myquillyn Smith, 'The Nester"  is here to talk about today. Her newest book, "Welcome Home: A Cozy Minimalist Guide to Decorating and Hosting All Year Round" is full of practical advice. Her mantra is less stuff, more style. She takes a seasonal approach. Let's chat.

Good morning!

I'm so glad to be here!

I can't wait to answer some questions here.

I consider myself an Imperfectionist (no insisting on perfection here) and a Cozy Minimalist--I want the most amount of style with the least amount of stuff. 

So that's the lens I use to answer questions and give advice.


My goal is to help you create the home you've always wanted so you can use it the way you've always dreamed. 

Love that term. How do you describe that? Is it similar to the Danish “hygge “?

Yes, quite similar with the focus being on how that affects what we bring into and edit out of our home. I consider Cozy and Minimalism TOOLS not a specific style.

So no matter your style you want a balance of those welcoming codifiers--soft goods, cushy chairs, welcoming filtered lamp light, and simplicity. 



What's the best way to get my husband and children on board with making our home less cluttered and more stylish?

The best way is for you to not have expectations that they will find the same joy in having a less cluttered, stylish home.


BUT there is power in them seeing how a clutter-free, stylish home affects you and often that has a HUGE affect on the family jumping in. 


When my family sees how happy, calm, and thrilled I am with a home I love, they like that and even if it's not important to them, having a happy mom who loves her home has huge benefits to the entire family. 


My advice, any small changes that you make to your home--GUSH about, show how happy that makes you and your family will begin to value that too. 

I have a huge blank wall (with a very tall ceiling) in my living room and I am not sure what to do with it. Gallery Wall? Large paintings? I’m not sure any of that feels right. What are some other options?

Blank was are so intimidating!

My first question--do you need or could you use seating, a surface or storage there? If so, focus on that first.

If not, consider if you could use a wall treatment: paint, wallpaper, millwork.

If not, then consider a large piece of art. Ideally filling 2/3 the space. Art doesn't have to be fancy or expensive, maybe a mirror  from facebook marketplace or a vintage tapestry. 

Gallery walls are HIGHLY difficult and most of us create an accidental gallery wall because we have many small items and no idea where to put them. Sadly, we end up with an accidental gallery wall that will probably look disjointed. A gallery wall can be great when planned out, but it's not a solution to having lots of small art.

When you decorate for different seasons or holidays, do you do pretty much the same thing every year? Or do you switch it up? Do you have any tips for organizing and storing decorations that aren't being used?

I don't store much seasonal decor so I like to have the option to change it up by what greens/plants natural items I use, keeps it so fun!

I live in a small awkward space with 4 kids. I have decluttered but I still need some storage systems. At the same time, I want advice on paint colors, furniture arrangement, and rugs. Do I call an interior decorator? A professional organizer? Someone else? Thank you!

If you don't want to deal with making those decisions--Yes, ask around for a local decorator.

IF you just don't know where to start, read my book: Cozy Minimalist Home and I'll tell you exactly what order to go in. 

I have been itching to create a reading nook in our library/toy room. One wall is filled with books and I'd love to carve out a cozy space to enjoy them. I'd appreciate any tips or suggestions on making it our families new favorite reading spot.

Two things: cozy seating + filtered lamp shaded light will create exactly what you need!

I am on the hunt for washable cozy throws- so many are synthetic- acrylic fleece. Any sources?

I love and agree that you want WASHABLE throws--so important, you'll just need to keep your eyes open at all the regular places. Etsy and vintage stores are great for washable items that hold up too!

With a 4 and 6 year old, our house is overtaken with toys. We try to keep toys in bedrooms but they always make their way to our main living space. Which then always feels cluttered. We've tried to make a space for toys, but that quickly becomes a mess too. Help!

I believe mom gets to make the toy rules, you decide the rules, what gets to stay in public rooms and what they need to be stored in. Then, if other toys are brought in during the day, at night the kids need to put them back in their room. I like a mix of public toys for main rooms and bedroom toys that live in their room.

I just moved into a new-to-me home that has a large entryway, but no coat closet. I have about a 6’ x 7’ section of dead space that I can use, but I’m not sure what to do there. I’m thinking a small bench and then some kind of open armoire to store jackets and boots, do you have any thoughts on what kind of pieces to look for? And how to style the area? Thank you!

First decide if you want open storage or hidden storage. Will it bother you to look at coats hats and bags? IF so, I would opt for a large piece with doors that can be closed. Facebook marketplace is on FIRE right now with great pieces and prices!

Other than the usual candles , throws and pillows - what else can we do to make our homes more appealing during this fall/winter ?

You want all of the senses to be represented--a fall playlist you can listen too, cooking seasonally, flannel sheets on the bed, I focus on consumables so I don't have to pack things away. 

I live in Annapolis and my home has sort of a coastal/global/transitional vibe. Think blues and grays with geometric patterns/ikat. I have a voracious cat, who loves to chew up living plants, and a toddler, who loves to scoop dirt. I tried keeping areca palms, potted houseplants, even an indoor herb garden, to add a natural green element to my home. I love the way a large potted plant can fill up a space and bring some life to an otherwise neglected corner. Unfortunately, all of these plants are short lived in my environment. My solution has been to purchase a couple of large, rather convincing, potted areca palms and call it a day. My conflict comes from all of the VERY STRONG opinions on faux plants I see from designers I respect - a few are for them but many are vehemently opposed - Tacky! Dated! Kitschy! Look so Fake! What is your take on the fake plant debate? If I decide to keep them, how should I take care of them so they keep looking good? If you think I should get rid of them, what else can I replace them with that my feline and human companions won't destroy?

I agree, real is always IDEAL.

But, there are various reasons some people can't use real.


In that case, it's worth it to upgrade to pretend plants that look so realistic that your designer friends will walk over and touch them and ask "is this real?" that's when you know you've found a good fake plant! It should fool you and others!

I have a living room with a difficult (to me), floor plan. When I moved in, I thought I'd eventually figure out a furniture arrangement that would work, and over time I figured out all the other rooms, but its been 5 years, and I still haven't gotten it quite right in my front room. I'd be grateful for a little professional help with this layout, but I don't exactly know how to obtain it. Is there a website you can recommend? Do I need to track down someone locally? And what type of service I should request?

It can be so frustrating.

First decide if you want to make these decisions yourself (I can help with my book Cozy Minimalist Home--and I have a private community where we work through rooms together).


OR if you would prefer to hire someone consider if you want to start fresh or just need basic one day help. There are many Re-Designers out there who come to your home for a day or two, use what you have and finish it up for you. Ask around locally but this could be a great solution!

Love that quote from your website. Can you elaborate on that design concept?

Many of us are drawn to the simplicity/minimalist movement, but we shy away because we think we can't have both a warm inviting home AND incorporate minimalism.

But COZY doesn't have to mean cluttered. 

Throw pillows, rugs, drapes have a purpose, one if which is creating a cozy, welcoming atmosphere. You can have a cozy home and still honor simplicity.

I’m so drawn to the idea of cozy minimalism, but I’m overwhelmed and on my way to hoarder status it feels like! What is a practical tip to start getting rid of stuff? Donate, dumpster, garage sales? It feels too overwhelming to land on a starting point.

Personally, I think the pain of donating items and not trying to recoup money spent can be a good reminder for me to not buy unnecessary items in the future I would donate!

How can multiple old family photos (size 5x7) be styled on a surface & still look clean & not cluttered?

I don't think that lots of tiny photos displayed get the attention they deserve. I would pick a favorite, have it enlarged, then put the others in a gorgeous photo album and display it on that surface.


If you must display multiple smalls, you want commonalities--either the frames or the photos should be the same tone/mateiral.

Where do we find the best large items for an affordable price?

I love using large items because they get the most impact that reads as style. For me, seocond hand items area ideal because they add style and soul to a home. Antique malls, Etsy and Facebook Marketplace are my top 3.

Hi Myquillyn- do you have a ratio or equation for how large the art scale can be or how to choose based on shape etc.?

Art feels most balanced when it's about 2/3rds the size of what it's hanging over. You don't have to measure it perfectly, just estimate.

I've been a big fan of yours and have purchased all three books. In your latest book, the intro does a great job of emphasizing the three "phrases" of your approach from the beginning. But is there anything from your first book you would disavow now if you were writing it again?

of course! When I wrote my first book almost 10 years ago, I wasn't yet a Cozy Minimalist--I was more of a Stuff Manager and didn't realize it. But I still believe the message is important: it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful!

What is your favorite piece of decor to use in winter?

A fireplace! 

Truly, even if you don't have a real fireplace they sell AMAZING small plug in "wood stoves" that look like a real wood stove, have a warm/fire glow light and are heaters. They sound dumb, but we have one and it's MAGIC!

We just bought our first house, and there’s so many projects I want to do. Where do I start?



Pick a room, the one you're in the most, the one that's bothering you to most....whatever, and focus on that. I have steps for you to follow in the Cozy Minimalist Home book. 

How do I make my bed look cozy without all the throw pillows?? We have a king size bed and without pillows it looks like a big flat box in the middle of the room!

Don't underestimate nice linens. I think a bedroom looks more finished if it has a few layers of high quality blankets, than a bunch of art on the walls. 

Dress your bed like a grown up, you spend so much of your life there, it's worth it!


I have a high-ceilinged entry that upon entering, the stairs and wall are visible going up from right to left. I’m wanting your cozy minimalist suggestions for how to style the wall on the stairs. Right now I have 2 large canvases of 2 of my 4 children. They don’t have to stay there, but I had a thought of a canvas for each of my kids, but I don’t know for sure.

Sometimes we feel like we need to fill a wall with stuff but really, the walls are the wrong color or we don't like the bones of a room. I would first ask if you like the paint color, the lighting (makes SUCH a huge difference) if you have a rug down and maybe a bench. Work through the steps and you might find you don't need wall art. Although I love the idea of canvases of your kids!

I have a 12ft by 12ft vaulted wall behind my couch and no idea how to decorate it. If I follow the rule of 2/3s, we're talking a huge piece of art that could potentially take over the space and be extremely expensive, but right now it's a sad blank wall in the most used room of the house.

Sometimes it's best to pretend a valued wall ends at the same place as the other walls in the room. It's hard to say for sure without seeing a photo, but I'd start there.

Styling tips for a big wooden dining room buffet?

One large item. In the fall, I'd go with one REAL, large statement pumpkin--he'll last you through Thanksgiving!


Any tips for making these hard decisions to reorganize a space or declutter?

My organizing guru is Dana White, from A Slob Comes Clean. She has helped me so much with clutter and organizing!

Over the past few years, my house has reached a level of domestic chaos that I didn't realize was possible. This was a result of having to care for my MIL with dementia, dealing with my father's residence after his death, absorbing items from my dad's house and my MIL's house, and my diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer this spring and general loss of energy and drive. How can we get our house back? I think creating a soothing interior would benefit us all, but I don't even know where to start at the moment. I'd appreciate any advice. Thanks much.

Give yourself grace and time.

I would begin with Dana White's book: Decluttering at the Speed of Life. To edit out stuff if you have a lot of clutter. Then, my book, Cozy Minimalist Home to make design decisions!

Do you have any suggestions for someone who wants to ensure there is enough seating, serviceware to comfortably host others without cluttering her small home?

I have a small home too and we value hosting so I prioritize having STORAGE piece that look great. A sideboard and hutch are priceless and can truly be worked into a kitchen, dining area even a living room or porch.

What is your opinion on hanging a large canvas print on a wall with no furniture below it to ground it? I know your 2/3 rule

I think if it fills about 2/3rds of the wall then it will look great.

if it's floating way in the air it might look like it needs something below it to ground it.

I have a couple of pieces of abstract art in a couple of rooms (which I love) and now I feel I can't add any other type of art. In an adjoining room, do I need to continue the same abstract look? And where are your favorite reasonably priced wall art? Thank you and I love your home!

Oh I love this!

The great thing about abstract is that it's abstract. Challenge yourself to find some examples of rooms on Pinterest that are mixing styles of art. I would consider piece with some demnsion, mirror, unexpected finds. 

Hi, I have a large space divided openly into three different rooms. I have had a wall nook with wall paper for the dining room, and the kitchen area painted tan. I have not painted the living room area, it’s still the builder’s cream. My husband likes it- I don’t. It faces north. I want to know do I paint it the same as the kitchen or use a different color?

This is beyond the scope of answering here, but you are right, direction amoung other things changes the look of a color. 

I would paint some samples or order some large paint samples to see what you like in the room. It does not need to be the same color as your kitchen but if that makes your life easier, then it sounds like it could work.

I am a big holiday decorator but am always unsure how much to add in before I get too tacky. Do you have any tips for decorating for fall/Thanksgiving/Christmas?

I love decorating for all days!

I find if I SEASONALIZE first--working through the five senses, adding a layer of scent, sound, textiles, etc, then my home is well on it's way to feeling like it's ready for the celebrations (Thanskgiving Christmas...). 

So then once my house is seasonalized, I only need to add two or three touches to get it ready for the celebration!. For Christmas that means the fireplace stockings, tree and wreaths on the door and my house feels very festive!

Do you have any tips on displaying/storing photo albums?

I'm a big fan of photo albums because it allows you to honor the photos without them all being on display taking up visual, surface space. I say first, opt for the most beautiful albums you can, they will be family keepsakes and you'll love displaying them.


I either like to have a matching set, or albums that work in different rooms so we can sprinkle them around the house.


We are decorating a vacation home that has an open floor plan. This is a first for me, as I'm used to a traditional Colonial. In the living room, we have a fireplace at an angle in one corner. The sectional sofa is in another corner with a recliner next to it. There is a large coffee table nestled in the angle of the sectional. The furniture is placed so that we can see the TV on the wall next to the fireplace. The problem is that there is a large blank expanse of carpet between the seating area and the TV. What could I do with that space that would give us extra seating when we have guests but not block the TV? Thanks for any suggestions you can offer.

sounds like the ideal place for a daybed style piece or a backless sofa or bench! I've always wanted one and never had the room!

How do you figure out how to make sure colors work together (and not against each other) in your living room space?

Color can be an entire TOPIC. In short, keep in mind it's easier to choose solids that work together than lots of pattern. 

If you find colors intimidating, go easy on the patterns and work with lots of solids, you can still get interest with other things like mixing woods and metals.

I know you advocate using larger items to decorate. But wondering what you suggest for decorating a 3 feet wide and 1 foot high cove

I wish I could help with such a specific question, this could be an opportunity for a wall treatment--paint or wallpaper instead of finding the perfect piece of art!

Hi, where can I get super huge art for rooms that are large? If my dining room is 15 feet long then I need to find a picture that is 10 feet wide, right?

Ideally you want your art to be 2/3 of what it's hanging over. 

So my first question would be do you have a surface or storage pice that could be used there? then pair the art with that and it will require much smaller piece.


Wall treatments could also be a good option, a fun color, millwork, wallpaper, mural.

I struggle with finding the right bulbs for my lamps. I want lighting that is bright and cheerful, but not too blue. But it needs to be good task lighting because we have an older home with no overhead lighting and minimal natural light. I’m drawn to wake lighting, but it always looks too dark in my house.

Light bulbs can be tricky and personal. For sure you want to use some lamp light with cozy, filtered shades. The shade color and light bulb type will affect the color light you see. Personally I like warm lighting in my house so I read the lightbulb labels for a warm light and pair that with an off white lamp shade.

Thank you so very much for hanging out with me today. 

You all had such great questions, and I love all the thought you are putting into your homes! I promise it's worth it!

Here's to Home,


Cozy is the word that best describes what we are craving this fall don't you think? Thanks for the ideas Myquillyn. Join me next week for an English design star - Cath Kidston. She has a new book and some great ideas for working with color and pattern in the charming ways that English country houses convey. You can post your questions here. See you then.

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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 and organizing.

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