Living Space with Molly Grace
Living Space with Molly Grace
Photographs by Kristen M. Bryant
1. How old were you the first time that you were able to create/design your own living space?
I don't really count a lot of my living arrangements in my early adulthood as spaces where I was particularly free to explore style, and truthfully I don't believe I had any taste back then anyway. I was twenty when I got my first apartment alone. It was in Massachusetts, in the Pioneer Valley in a tiny village called Montague, and my then-boss and close friend had a home (and a cafe, where I worked) that was meticulously, wonderfully styled. I remember walking into The Lady Killigrew the very first time and thought, "Yes," and then walked into her enormous old farmhouse and thought, "YES!!" It was like someone finally put into vision the types of places and items I'd always want to be around and enveloped by. Antiques, collections, old photographs, and yet something strikingly contemporary about the way everything was composed. It made me think of the house I grew up in -- old things, wooden things, things made of tins, little baskets, simple homey accents -- but Sarah gave it a flare I recognized as clean and simple. Later she asked me if I would help her come up with a term to describe her style. I replied: Modern Nostalgia. Thank God the woman sold the cafe and went into interior design! She now lives in Oakland, CA and is a very impressive freelance designer.
But you asked about my living space. It's relevant, believe me. At that same time I got my own spot in Montague, an equally aged, charming country house apartment, and painted the interior of my first "home" the exact colors I wanted. I spent weeks stopping off at the same four antique and vintage spots in Greenfield and Northampton, MA and slowly put together a collection of perfect pieces. I had started with absolute scratch because I'd just broken up with my boyfriend in New York. I had nothing to begin with and started to build this sort of aesthetic based a little on Sarah's influence and also on how much I was embracing living in the country after leaving the city. The country feel has kind of never left me, in many ways. Ever since that apartment, every home I've had I've strived to keep it as eclectic-yet-minimalist as possible, with country farmhouse accents. A sort of "the old homestead" feel, but with some mid-century modern influences thrown in there as well. Straight lines, clean sheet white, and lots and lots of old, wooden stuff.
2. Where did you live? What were you inspired by?
I live in West Salem, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Apart from Sarah, my biggest influence for my home comes from my nanny, or daytime caregiver, growing up. She's a, shall I say, collector of the unnecessary. Now that she's older some might call it hoarding, but when I was younger it wasn't that way. She found treasures everywhere and her house was full of just special little things. And not too much of it, either. We found pine cones and rocks and smooth glass and stuff, would bring it in after playing all afternoon outside, and they would just sit in the same windowsills for months or years. She lets flowers die in the vase and they also sit. Currently she has some baby's breath in a pitcher in her kitchen that has been there since I was a kid, I'm not kidding. Milk glass and pitchers, mixing bowls, and aprons are visual staples from that house. Wooden bowls, wooden boxes, woven baskets. All of that is still with me and you can find it all over my home.
3. Creating your own space can be seen as an essential part of self development and self expression, did having the opportunity to create your own living space ever feel like a pivotal moment? If so, what was it like?
It almost feels like it was the pivotal moment, sometimes. I'll try to explain this. Keeping in mind the whole Sarah and Massachusetts side of things, before I moved up there I lived in New York in one wretched apartment after another. Always with roommates. Always a temporary thing, never felt very settled. I mean, structurally they were okay, but they lacked any sense of style or even utility. I remember knowing I wanted a place to feel like it was my home, like a sanctuary, and knowing there were all these great other apartments all around me that did capture that, and I truthfully think I had my head way too far up my own ass to actually get to know who I was, let alone create a space around me that was a reflection of that. I mean, I was truly inside my head the entire time I lived in that city. I was so obsessed with fitting in, finding a place in that jungle, being a success, that i never stopped myself to be like, "you're eighteen years old, you can chill, and just learn what you like." Thus, every space I lived in was sterile as hell, very uninspired. I met a guy and started dating him. He had taste. He had already figured out the "who am I" part of his life. He used lamps. He collected furniture pieces he liked. He used area rugs and listened to records and had framed prints of Winslow Homer on his walls. And books -- he had so many books, every single one of which he had read. When I started living with him I realized, Okay, finding out how to make your living space a reflection of all that makes you comfortable and at ease is important. Shortly after, Massachusetts happened, and I've already explained the rest. Ever since then -- and people who are close to me can assure you this is true-- I amconstantly working on my living space. I am constantly making sure each room feels exactly the way I need it to, and reflects the things that are important to me. When I was in my later college years, moving around, I had about a million different apartments, and each of them I styled as meticulously as I did that first one in Massachusetts. I would drive boyfriends and my pals crazy. Every time they came over things would be rearranged. That, in and of itself, was a perfect reflection of who I was back then: always in flux, always changing, searching and searching. When I settled down and moved south, with a family, I needed it to reflect safety, coziness, and a little bit of where I came from (this is when the influence from my childhood caretaker came in full force), and I started to realize I was really getting somewhere in decorating spaces based upon seeking a balance of not only aesthetic loveliness, but function. When I moved into my current home, the first I've lived in for longer than a year (I've been there for over three!), I finally have slowed down. Rooms still change, sometimes in drastic bursts, but generally the feeling of the place has been rooted since we moved in. I love it. It's exactly me, and it is appropriate that it took this long for me to find the home aesthetic I've been searching for -- since I've finally only just discovered the me I was looking for as well.
4. What are the key aspects of creating your own perfect space, i.e. your favorite things to surround yourself with?
I like minimal, simple space -- or negative space-- paired with simple objects that are functional but also have character. I love pillows and get genuinely excited when I find one that is perfect. Plants are a huge staple in any room. In terms of furniture I like mixing old, very old pieces with some new. A major theme is to take modern pieces that have straight angles or lines in their structure (think mid-century or art deco), with clean wood finishes, or untreated pine even, and pair them with shabby, rough, older wooden pieces. Like an old plywood bookshelf that looks like it's almost rotten through and kept in a barn for ages. Just yesterday I hauled that exact furniture piece out of my garage (it used to hold bike parts and tools) and placed it square in the center focus of a room with modern wooden pieces of a lighter color, a white shag rug, a modern sofa. Tribal patterned textiles and wall decor are about the only way I jazz up a room. Pillows, rugs, and weavings that have clashing colors and symbols but are still simple in their existence, authentic. I studied anthropology in college and have since always been absolutely taken with textiles native to other cultures. I guess its funny that its become so trendy, or at least it seems so anyway. Good for that, though. Culture should be trendy. The only time color comes into the decor is with plants or these cultural textiles. I've also always taken a nod from that New York boyfriend. I keep my books and never throw them out, and they're a magnet for focus in my living room. Beyond that, knick-knacks made of milk glass or white ceramic, random old genius pieces that remind of someone (like a crazy old pair of binoculars, a sling shot, The Lords Prayer printed in Latin on parchment, the Virgin Mary as a statuette) are about the only "Non-Functional" items I seek out. I used to have a lot more. Back when I was jumping all around I collected treasures everything and filled rooms and shelves with them. I've parred down tremendously. I've only kept pieces that I genuinely like to look at. All that said, I can not tell you what it is inside me that arranges them where I do. Like, on a Wright-esque end table next to a doorway in my living room, I have a white ceramic urn next to a naked Chia Pet, next to a Snake Plant, next to a rusty castor and an old dart from a bar? I don't know why those things are put together, but my eye goes to it constantly when I walk by and I'm always pleased they're there.
5. What are your favorite places to shop for home goods / decor / furniture?
Oh, antique stores for sure, for the random little things and for some of the more unique furniture pieces. I mean, you have to understand that I have no money. Like, none for luxuries like this. So this is only on rare occasions, and not nearly as often as you'd think. Honestly, thrift stores have done me well, and Ikea. I'm not ashamed of that at all. The Ikea part. I know people who are, and I just think that's dumb. A lot of my more modern-inspired pieces have come from there, like my sofa and my bed frame. Much of what I have I've had for years and years. I've picked up some pieces from friends who were getting rid or something and I said, "Uh, are you insane?" I go to Meyer's Greenhouse for plants, apart from Lowes and the like. I go to Collage on West End Blvd., it's owned by this fantastic woman named Janis. I've gotten pieces from Elizabeth's on Reynolda, and more recently smaller treasures from Design Archives. Mission Thrift is a huge supplier of random pieces of furniture. I wish I got to go hunting more. It's kind of a big goal of mine, to start again. It used to be a nearly daily thing. But then again, maybe I don't need to be doing it as often as I used to. To be honest, Winston doesn't have as many spots as other cities I've lived in and it makes me sad. Or maybe it's because I haven't had the time to explore. I know there are a ton of spots in Rural Hall and surrounding areas that I simply haven't been to. Also, estate sales. Maybe when I come into some spending money again I'll jump back in.
6. Where do you try to save and splurge on items?
In terms of the home in general, I splurge on things like paint. God, I've painted and repainted rooms like crazy. I'll get done and love it for a week and then think, "no, that's not the right feeling." Because I own my home now, it's important to make the permanent or semi-permanent choices that are right. Picking out tiles, same thing. I've spent a lot of money on home renovations that are stylistically and functionally important to me. Like adding some really great salvaged french doors to an alcove in my bedroom to make a little "office," -- that cost me some money to get them installed. I just redid my bathroom entirely and it's absolutely perfect. I wanted a claw foot tub, so I got one. Splurge. However, I was choosy -- I got one used, out in the country, that I found on CraigsList. So I also saved about a grand in doing that. In terms of staples or pieces inside the home, I splurge on really, really breath-taking pieces. It depends on what it is. There's no criteria persee, just a feeling I get where I'm like, "Oh Sweet Jesus." Like, a dresser that is absolutely perfect. Before I had a kid I'd put up my entire rent for something, probably. Sort of like, I'll figure it out later I don't even care sort of mentality! Not so much now. Now, splurging is on something perfect and amazing, but I've calculated it or else just happened upon it and it's not too unreasonable. In general I try to save now. If I go to Lost In Time (the BEST antique spot inside of Winston proper, in my opinion) I could load up a basket of random stuff, knick knacks or what have you. Instead, I'll pick something up, decide to buy it because it's a good find or a good deal, and end up putting it back because I think, "do I REALLY need this in my space?" A good rule of thumb is, if I can't immediately picture where I will put it and why, then don't get it. Even though, yeah, I could find a place for most anything, I don't need to.
7. Do you have any advice for others in the process of making their own living space?
Pretty much listen to your personality and do whatever you need to feel good. Starting collections is really nice. It gives you something to shoot for. Or picking a geographic location in which to draw inspiration from. I didn't do that, but I can see it in almost every good designer. Santa Fe -inspired style, for instance, has a lot of themes that touch on a lot of personalities -- minimalism, naturalism, functionality, tradition. Think of values that are important and start there. Don't get trapped on Pinterest. That's a great place to be if you already know something about what you're core tastes are, but don't just go there looking for things to copy. Seek inspiration soley for inspiration, not imitation. In Massachusetts, I started collecting Interior Design coffee books. I still have some. You know the ones. They're called horrible boring titles like, Classic Boroque Style, or The French Cottage. But there are some great ones out there. Find these in antique stores or old creaky used bookstores. Leave Barnes & Noble out of this part. I found my favorite once, I think it's called Collections. It's just page after page of these insane collections that have overtaken entire rooms of homes, even entire homes themselves. I hate to say it, but some of the interior design books you can find in Anthropologie are great because they, believe it or not, touch upon a lot of different styles. Also, biggest tip: LEAVE D.I.Y. HOME PROJECTS ALONE. Just skip it. I'm talking about the ones where you screw a whole bunch of ikea furniture together, paint it Robins Egg Blue and Voila! Just...don't. Be patient and find shit cheap. Wait for those magic pieces and explore who you are in the meantime,
8. How did you choose the core colors for your space?
I think they chose me. It's all white. White, beige, neutrals, and natural wood. I tried to do the bold thing. The punk rock thing. The random-ass eclectic mis-matching floral thing. The oriental rug thing. The cabin-in-the-woods thing. The retro-70s thing. None of it suited me, at least not for very long. I just learned that bright, bold colors and busy patterns are not what I like. They don't keep me calm or grounded, and so I'd never relax in my home. I'd always just start moving things around to make it...feel better. Same thing with mis-matching furniture, willy nilly. It wasn't until I got a cohesive thing going that I started to breath, and whites, and beiges, light greys, natural wood tones --- they put me at ease and I imagine always will. God help anyone who tries to move in with me who likes clashing, busy patterns and bright framed artwork. I like clean, bare walls (most of the time) and lots of natural tones. It's been a problem before. God save that man when it happens. I suppose it will come time to compromise but, Lordy, he'll see me become a mess right before his eyes.
Sarah from Molly's Story:
most importantly love
like it’s the only thing you know how
at the end of the day all this
where you’re sitting
nothing even matters
except love and human connection
who you loved
and how deeply you loved them
how you touched the people around you
and how much you gave them