At the Heart of This San Jose Rental Is a Perfectly Imperfect IKEA Hack
This creative couple made (or thrifted) every last thing.
Updated Oct 12, 2018 4:29 AM
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Utharaa Zacharias and Palaash Chaudhary’s decorating philosophy is apparent from the moment you step foot in their San Jose, California, rental: The oak console table in the entryway? It’s one half of a bookcase they designed turned on its side, with each shelf doubling as a shoe cubby.
The young couple owns the furniture studio Soft Geometry, and their home is the testing ground for their prototypes. Any object they didn’t make themselves is hyper-affordable or thrifted, not that you could tell. The yellow mirror with hooks for keys is by IKEA (which they bought secondhand). As for the squiggly blue sculpture, it’s another test product.
The two-bedroom itself was quite a find, a light-filled needle in a haystack of tiny dark apartments. “What we really loved about it was the sun rays streaming in and the outdoor space,” remembers Zacharias. “Everything else was cookie-cutter, but we knew we could fix it up.”
Contact Paper, Meet Cabinets
To add a splash of (temporary) color to their all-white kitchen, the couple applied royal blue contact paper found at a craft store on the lower cupboards—but this wasn’t their first kitchen transformation. “We’ve done this a few times in different colors,” says Zacharias. Previous iterations included softer blue cabinets and mint green built-ins. The hot pink hardware is actually the old stainless steel pulls that they spray-painted. “We figured that it comes off pretty easily if you wipe it away with paint thinner, so we’ve decided to take the risk,” she adds.
A Quarantine Project
The Noguchi-esque rice paper pendant lamp above the dining table was another project, this one of the quarantine variety. Zacharias painted a $5 IKEA lantern using acrylic to give it a quirky checkered effect. “It’s just one of those things we did when we were kind of going nuts being at home,” she says, laughing.
It isn’t their only IKEA hack either: The dining table is actually a storage rack from the Swedish retailer topped with a round piece of glass that the couple typically uses on their Donut coffee tables. “We weave some pieces by hand at Soft Geometry, and I like doing those at home because it’s more comfortable,” says Zacharias, who stores all her multicolored yarn in the bottom basket. “Our dining table became this work–slash–dining space, even before the pandemic.” The couple paired it with Marcel Breuer B33 chairs they collected on Craigslist one at a time.
From Reading Material to Artwork
Zacharias and Chaudhary revamped the bathroom vanity in the same contact paper as in the kitchen, but the real showstopper is the art covering the walls: “They’re pages from a 1960s Esquire magazine we found at a vintage store in San Francisco,” explains Zacharias. “I think that we’ll keep adding to it. It’s a fun way for that wall to grow out.”
The Makings of a Mini Museum
The sunny living room is filled with Chaudhary’s plants—many sourced on Craigslist—and items that track the couple’s life together. The coffee table, for one, is the first piece of furniture they built while still in school at the Savannah College of Art and Design (she studied furniture design and he specialized in industrial design). Three years ago Zacharias hand-knotted the fluffy dotted rug when she moved out West before Chaudhary joined her. “In the summer, it’s bright here until 9 p.m., so it would feel like I had endless parts of the day where I was just home alone after work,” she remembers. “I started making this rug for a few hours each day. It took three months.”
The two curvy lounge chairs, part of their collection, have interchangeable seats and backs and rotate frequently. Fifteen yards of sheer organza make up the white one, which the couple cut by hand and layered in a tulle effect. “It’s a special edition we did for a gallery in San Francisco last year,” says Zacharias.
Not wanting to let any materials go to waste, the couple used five more yards of the leftover organza to drape the bedroom windows and door, creating a flow-y, gauzy cocoon. “Because we work so much in the living and dining areas, we wanted the bedroom to be calm and serene,” says Zacharias, who hid the brown rental carpeting with layered jute rugs from World Market. The only bright colors come from a painting, which the couple made two years ago to fill the blank wall across from the bed. “We paint for fun, but we never put up stuff,” she admits. This is the one exception, but hopefully not the last.
Favorite local home store: The Goodwill of Silicon Valley.
The most affordable thing in our home that gives us the most joy: A wavy tray with a ball base that stole our heart and we got for a grand total of $2.20 at Goodwill!
The object in our home that gets the most use: Our dining table–meets–weaving workstation.
Our biggest splurge: The vintage black leather Breuer chairs from Craigslist (we got them at different times, one for $200 and the other for $220).
This fabric is so us: We are all about handmade textiles that take forever to make, with loads of fluff and texture! Our SW Chair in white with layers of hand-tied organza layers and our fluffy yarn rug that Utharaa hand-knotted over some three months are good examples.
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