We often tend to think of minimalism as being just that: nearly empty spaces completely devoid of any real character or design intrigue, and minimal to an almost sterile degree. And while we can appreciate the importance of Kondo-ing away your life’s effects from a functional perspective, Thea Hughes and Kyla Eato’s pared-down Brooklyn apartment is proof that minimalist style can be layered.
“Everything has a story, or is from an event that a friend threw, or signifies a turning point in a new relationship,” says Hughes, a fitness instructor who owns the New York-based social workout club T Collective. “That’s my biggest thing: Finding a way to create personality in your space and having stories and meaning for everything. Not that this has to turn into having photos of family plastered everywhere or all these tchotchkes lying around, but [it’s asking] what does each thing mean to you in a more symbolic space?”
This more intentional approach to design and Hughes’ need to feel connected translate into her own work. Having moved to New York without knowing anyone, she was inspired to start something that combined her two passions—fitness, and fostering a community of like-minded, badass women. Enter: T Collective. Part workout, part social club, it cultivates a supportive and motivating environment grounded in creativity and drive.
“I have a dance background and started to get into fitness just by way of loving exercise but more specifically loving the challenge of training, which are two very different things. Then the boutique fitness phase really started to kick up and I loved it, but I realized that while I loved aspects of different studios, none of them were my perfect thing,” explains Hughes. “I thought about it more and was like, why don’t I just create that?”
Just as her work is about creating a connection, so is Hughes’ home. It may be minimalist, but the thought that went into decorating the 1,000-square-foot space is inspiring. Every piece has meaning and was carefully selected to be a perfect representation of her style, which Hughes describes as “a mix between Scandinavian design and Bauhaus.”
Designed to feel like a sanctuary, the apartment has lots of natural light and relies on muted and pale hues for peak tranquility. Hughes was also inspired by the resurgence of the mid-century modern style in recent years—perhaps a byproduct of living in NYC, where it’s especially popular—and finds her pieces by taking inspiration from classic silhouettes. Then, she searches for a more budget-friendly alternative or reupholsters items to make them feel custom.
Take for example the now-white lacquered console currently serving as an anchor for one of the living spaces. Originally black (from the relatively budget-friendly CB2) Hughes sanded it down and gave it a fresh coat of paint to match her style. “It’s more about understanding the style you like, seeing how things live together in a space, and scouting the different pieces,” she says of decorating on a budget with minimalism in mind.
And while she admits to a specific design weakness—beautiful, architectural lamps—for the most part, Hughes stuck to her affordable decorating philosophy. “If you can’t afford the real thing, you might be able to find a different version elsewhere. Figure out what you want to splurge on, and what you want to use just as inspiration,” she continues.
One of her favorite finds is an arched lamp. “It was one of the first pieces I ever got. I stumbled on it in a store and couldn’t believe it wasn’t sold yet—I think I got it for like $250!” she says. “I think it was wrongfully priced; not sure how I got away with that. But it really anchors the room and I’ve always loved that.”
As for adding interest to a minimalist space beyond large fixtures, Hughes is all about art. Mixing mediums and scale to create a layered effect that borders on eclectic, interesting pieces pepper the home—and of course, there’s a story behind each one.
A particularly important piece is her pink Procell poster, which sits above a desk and brings an unexpected pop of fuschia to the room.
“About two years ago, I started to clearly identify that the lane I lead from is women in fitness and culture. I met Jess, who runs Procell with her partner, Brian. Her energy was incredibly inspiring and motivating and I appreciated the female perspective that she brought into the shop,” says Hughes. “The poster was from a recent pop-up they had. It signifies clarity in my choice to pursue fitness and wellness culture full time, unapologetically from a woman’s perspective.”
Some art is hung while other pieces are more casually propped on the ground, which keeps the space from feeling too perfectly put-together. A smattering of fresh-cut flowers and a healthy dose of greenery soften the more sleek, minimalist furniture, rounding out the apartment.
By the way—lest you think this clutter-free lifestyle is way too unattainable, Hughes has one bit of organizational advice worth taking note of.
“A secret crap drawer—or three,” she shares. “That’s the drawer you clean out every quarter. Otherwise, everything has a home—if it doesn’t, that means something needs to go.”
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