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Author Myquillyn Smith, a.k.a. The Nester, on creating a cosy space

Everything you need to know about styling small spaces, minimalist design and creating cosy spaces

By The Washington Post | October 29, 2021 | Category

Picture: Unsplash
Picture: Unsplash

For 12 years Myquillyn Smith, known online as "The Nester," has inspired homeowners to rearrange their rooms to be more welcoming. Smith is a self-taught design-school dropout who took a week-long course so she could be a certified home stager and redesigner.

Her newest book is "Welcome Home: A Cozy Minimalist Guide to Decorating and Hosting All Year Round." Myquillyn Smith, author of "Welcome Home: A Cozy Minimalist Guide to Decorating and Hosting All Year Round."

Smith joined staff writer Jura Koncius last week for The Washington Post's Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: How do you describe the term "cozy minimalist"? Is it similar to the concept of Swedish hygge?

A: It's quite similar, with the focus being on how it affects what we bring into and edit out of our home. I consider "cozy" and "minimalism" tools, not a specific style. You want a balance of those welcoming codifiers, such as softgoods, cushy chairs, filtered lamp light and simplicity, no matter your style.

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

A: 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 that often has a huge effect on the family jumping in. When my family sees how happy, calm and thrilled I am with a home I love, they like that. Even if it's not important to them, having a happy mom who loves her home has benefits for the entire family. Gush about any small changes you make to your home and show how happy they make you, and your family will begin to value them, too.

Q: I'm a big holiday decorator, but I'm always unsure of how much to add before it gets tacky. Do you have any tips for decorating for fall, Thanksgiving and Christmas?

A: I love decorating for all days. I find that if I seasonalize something first and work through the five senses - add a layer of scent, sound, textiles, etc. - then my home is well on its way to feeling like it's ready for celebrations. Once my house is seasonalized, I need to add only two or three touches to get it ready for the celebration and to make it feel festive. For Christmas, that means hanging stockings on the fireplace, putting up a tree and adding wreaths on the door.

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

A: You want all the senses to be represented: listening to a fall playlist, cooking seasonal dishes and putting flannel sheets on the bed. I focus on consumables, because then I don't have to pack items away.

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

A: Don't underestimate nice linens. I think a bedroom looks more finished if it has a few layers of high-quality blankets rather than a bunch of art on the walls. Dress your bed like a grown-up. You spend so much of your life there, so it's worth it.

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

A: A fireplace. If you don't have a real one, look for the plug-in wood stoves that look real and emit a warm, fire-like glow and heat. We have one, and it's magic.

Q: Where do you find the best large, decorative pieces for an affordable price?

A: I love using large items because they get the most impact. Secondhand items are ideal, because they add style and soul to a home. My top three spots to shop are antique malls, Etsy and Facebook Marketplace.

Q: I have a living room with a difficult (to me) floor plan. When I moved in, I thought I would eventually figure out a furniture arrangement that would work. I've figured out all the other rooms, but it's been five years, and my front room still doesn't look quite right. I'd be grateful for a little professional help, but I don't know how to obtain it. Is there a website you can recommend? Do I need to track someone down locally? What type of service should I request?

A: This can be so frustrating. First decide if you want to make these decisions yourself. You can get some tips from my book, and I also have a private community where we work through rooms together. If you prefer to hire someone, consider if you want to start fresh or need basic help for one day. There are many redesigners out there who can come to your home for a day or two, use what you have and then finish it up for you. Asking around locally is a great idea.

Q: Do you have any styling tips for a big wooden dining room buffet?

A: Display one large item. In the fall, I'd go with a real, large statement pumpkin, which should last you through Thanksgiving.

Q: What suggestions do you have for someone who wants to ensure that there is enough seating and serviceware to comfortably host others without cluttering her small home?

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

Q: I have a high-ceilinged entry where the stairs and wall are visible going up from right to left. What would be your cozy minimalist suggestions for how to style the wall on the stairs? I have large canvases of two of my four children there. They don't have to stay there, but I had thought of doing a canvas for each of my kids.

A: Sometimes we feel like we need to fill a wall with stuff, but the real problem is that the walls are the wrong color or we don't like the bones of the room. I would first ask about the paint color, the lighting and if you have a rug or a bench. Work through the steps, and you might find that you don't need wall art; however, I love the idea of canvases of your kids.

Q: How do you ensure that colors work together in a living space?

A: Keep in mind that it's easier to choose solids that work together than lots of patterns. Go easy on the patterns, and work with solids if you find colors intimidating. You can also still get interest in other ways, such as by mixing woods and metals.

Q: I struggle with finding the right bulbs for my lamps. I want lighting that is bright and cheerful but not too blue. 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. Help!

A: Lightbulbs can be tricky and personal. You want to use some lamp light with cozy, filtered shades. The shade color and lightbulb 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 lampshade.