Published on May 22, 2019

When Erin Kestenbaum decides on a DIY, you know she means business. The Connecticut-based photographer-turned-blogger always has a beautiful hack up her sleeve, be it a French tufted mattress or a farmhouse-style outdoor dining table. So when Kestenbaum decided to make over her home office, we knew it would be filled with high-low design ideas.

“I really wanted it to pack a big punch without feeling overdone,” she says. “The room needed something that was going to be the star.”

Cue the temporary wallpaper. The whimsical chinoiserie mural set off a chain reaction of creative projects, including a Louis XV–style chair that’s now reupholstered in $40 Schumacher fabric salvaged from eBay. The sophisticated aesthetic isn’t just storybook approved, it’s wallet-friendly, too: The whole room came in under $3,800—a number Kestenbaum earned fair and square after patiently waiting 13 weeks for the curated look to come together.

“I think because this was the one space [in my home] that was mostly cosmetic, I thought it would be really fast. And to be honest, it should have been,” says Kestenbaum. “It’s just the reality of living with a space and knowing everything isn’t going to be right from the beginning.”

Ahead, Kestenbaum shares four must-try DIYs from her chinoiserie-inspired work space.

The Scenic Wallpaper

After Kestenbaum and her husband gave the room a surface-level facelift with a fresh coat of paint and new crown molding, she set out to select a statement print for her accent wall. “I wanted it to be something that was really exciting, but because it’s an office, I didn’t want it to overshadow the work I was doing in the space,” she explains.

Kestenbaum found herself gravitating toward classic prints by luxury wallpaper purveyors like De Gournay, but was justifiably nervous about making the commitment. “Knowing that this probably isn’t our forever home, I didn’t think this was the appropriate place to splurge on that,” she shares.

After doing some digging, she came across Tempaper’s Garden Metallic print in champagne. The choice to go with a removable treatment turned out to be as simple as adhering the panels themselves. “It was shockingly easy. It’s definitely a two-person job, because you want to match everything up as best as you can, but as soon as you get it lined up, it’s smooth sailing,” she says. Once the pair prepped the wall with a semigloss paint to hold the paper’s stickiness, it took them just an hour and a half to hang the entire piece.

The Ugly Radiator–Turned–Eye Candy

Homes built in the 1970s come with their fair share of quirks, and sad radiators are among the many eyesores you’ll find. Luckily, hiding a hideous heating system is easier than you’d think. Kestenbaum and her husband scrapped the metal cover that had previously concealed the radiator and built a new and improved box to stand in its place.  

“I really wanted it to pack a big punch without feeling overdone. The room needed something that was going to be the star.”

“We used some of the scrap wood from previous projects and a mesh insert from Home Depot, and just kind of winged it,” says Kestenbaum. In addition to repairing the surrounding drywall and painting the new cover white, the pair opted for an elevated platform to display books, plants, and other treasured office accessories. The stylish and storage-friendly look draws the eye up and away from the less-than-pleasing heater.

The Abbreviated Besta

In lieu of relegating her pens and planners to a lonely junk drawer, Kestenbaum scoured her own home for an all-encompassing storage solution. The couple’s beloved IKEA Besta media cabinet, which had lived in the living room of their apartment three years prior, proved to be the obvious fix.

“It has always adapted to our lifestyle,” she says of the hackable staple. Though it was too deep for the tiny office, Kestenbaum updated the configuration to be narrower and added drawers, as well as a sleek glass top for a clean finish.

“Our needs in the previous space were different,” continues Kestenbaum. “As we need it to shift to adjust to our life, it’s super-easy and straightforward to buy the new pieces and make it work for a new space.”

The Craigslist Light That Rules

Kestenbaum’s do-it-yourself motto is one worth noting for all future furniture and decor hacks: “Everything looks better with a coat of black spray paint!” she suggests. For proof, look no further than the matte black modern light fixture—a $10 Craigslist steal Kestenbaum transformed after a quick trip to the hardware store.

“I love investing in items that are vintage and well crafted, and that I know no one else is going to have.”

The budget-friendly upgrade cleared the way for her biggest splurge: the antique desk. “I stalked it for weeks. I even got into a bidding war over it,” she says of fighting for the piece in an online auction. “For me, that was an investment in the history of the piece. I love investing in items that are vintage and well crafted, and that I know no one else is going to have.”

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