Gwen Hefner, the influencer and designer behind The Makerista, breaks down the formula for her haute thrift living room.
What makes a room more than just pretty, what are the elements that make it memorable? In our Secrets of a Great Room series, we ask designers to tell us how they created their signature rooms. From decorating advice to the practical nitty gritty of furnishings, we get their insider advice on crafting rooms to remember, like this modern-yet-traditional living room by Gwen Hefner, aka The Makerista.
Hefner is that rare type of woman who seems glamorous yet approachable. Her home is effortlessly elegant and chic, yet she’s the first to tell you she got nearly everything in it secondhand. When she started blogging in 2013 it didn’t hurt that she had a contractor husband to help her tackle big projects, but it is her unerring eye and genuine passion for thrifting that her community follows along for on the daily. Hefner, who describes her personal style as “modern traditional” breaks down this classic room for us:
“I’m sure I borrowed this phrase from somewhere, but I want my home to be fancy but not formal, says Hefner. “I want beautiful wonderful things, but I also want people to feel comfortable in my home.” For example, when people come to her house, Hefner says she might be in a really nice dress, but barefoot because she feels like it is more welcoming and inviting. She wants her rooms to have that same feeling.
Decorators are always using mirrors to redirect your view. “I thought mirrors would be a good way to add some interest to the wall to the kitchen,” says hefner. “The mirrors also trick your eye to not understand that there’s a pass-through window on that wall. (It’s a dated thing, but it’s very functional.)” The majority of her mirrors were less than $20 and all were thrifted.
“Anyone who follows me knows I am a huge thrifter; it’s one of my biggest passions, says Hefner. “Almost everything in this room was purchased secondhand.” Even her phone is a vintage find. “We added a house phone earlier this year and I went with this vintage red one. (My husband calls it the bat phone.) The pop of red is so fun!”
Hefner started a private Instagram group called Thrift Club (@thriftwiththemakerista) to share her tips. For example, if you’re out shopping and trying to determine quality, Hefner says one trick is to pick something up. If it’s heavy, it’s probably older and of good quality.
“I love animal prints. They are always bold and interesting,” say Hefner. They’re also classic yet still feel fresh. Hefner says the animal prints started showing up in this room after she got her hand-knotted wool Hugo rug. “That was the jumping off point,” she says, “I loved repeating the pattern in little ways throughout the room.”
“I love the idea of being a maximalist, but I get kind of overwhelmed by the things at the same time,” says Hefner who says she likes the look of a highly-styled vignette, but not all the dusting. “When I design a room, I start with it pretty clean–over time I find treasures thrifting and place them in the space.” When she gets to the point where it’s too much, Hefner clears it out and starts fresh. As a result, the styling in her own personal spaces is always evolving.
“Being a perfectionist, who is obsessive and wants to get a room right the first time, I am never willy nilly about designing a room,” says Hefner, who confesses she may overanalyze everything. “But as a result I love my designs for a very long time because it’s rare for me to just make an off-the-cuff decision.” For example, when Hefner chose the rug for this room, she got samples of several neutral rugs before committing to the Hugo. Purchasing something so large without seeing it in person first and in the space was a chance she didn’t want to take!
Reupholstering is a big conversation in Hefner’s Thrift Club. “If you want to try it, you are going to have to just dive into it,” says Hefner. She says the key is finding an upholster who you can put on speed-dial so they can give you a rough estimate of how much fabric you’ll need to recover something you’re thinking about buying. “Now that I’ve worked with mine on a few projects, I can text them a picture and they will send me a quote.” Once you get into it, she says you also start to know what things are likely to cost. Reupholstering a piece like these swivel chairs is not cheap, but Hefner says she believes that even if you spend what you would have paid for something new, the quality is likely going to be so much better because older furniture was often better made than today’s.
“I love forcing bulbs in winter because that’s something that is just so seasonal and fresh,” says Hefner. Plant life provides a lot of happiness during the dead months outside. Forced bulbs are inexpensive and you don’t have to have a lot of space to grow them: Just put a few bulbs in a piece of silver. “I also love a great tree,” says Hefner. “For me Christmas is about fresh greens and about bringing nature inside.”
“I created that baby’s breath arrangement during lockdown,” says Hefner. “I love the presence of its shape. Hefner says she was going to the grocery store once every week or two, and I didn’t have a lot of other floral options. So she decided to take a fresh approach to a flower that has felt dated. “It wouldn’t have worked if I mixed anything else,” she says. “It’s just three or four bundles of baby’s breath. it’s wispy and airy and it dries really beautifully, too!”
“This room had eighties oak paneling when we moved in,” says Hefner, who says she initially had mixed feelings about painting a paneled room and admits several people have critiqued her decision to do so. However, she says “once I painted it, I was like, ‘Why didn’t I do this when we first moved in?’ I love that room. It’s light and bright and fresh.” The color is Sherwin Williams ‘Pediment.’
Hefner replaced the room’s fan light with this vintage stunner scored off of Craigslist for $300. She says an electrician had saved it from a house where the homeowners wanted something more modern. “At the time, that was a lot of money for me to spend on lighting, but it absolutely transformed the room,” she says. “And ultimately it was a great deal.”
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