An Inspired & DIY-Filled Austin Loft

We give it a 10 out of 10.

By Chanel Dror
black shelving

Cristina Cleveland has been contributing to our Bring it Home column for 6 years, which, in blog terms, essentially qualifies her for Camille Styles tenure. In it, the design lover has walked us through the interior trends of our time, inspiring us with gorgeous spaces, and then sharing how to recreate the look of each in our own lives. With every installment, our team has been amazed at Cristina’s eye for design.

On a personal level, we adore the girl, and since her arrival to Austin back in 2012, she’s been a mainstay in this town’s creative scene. Cristina’s style is ever-evolving and authentically her, and so when we heard that she was packing up for The Big Apple, we knew we had to pin her down for a tour of her loft before she skipped town. Read on to see her young, fresh, and totally original space, and be sure not to miss her many clever DIY tips to apply to your own.

photography by Laura Alexandra

What was the design inspiration for your loft?

My ultimate design inspiration has always been museums and art galleries. Whenever I visit a museum I like to look at the art and objects in terms of where I would put them in a home. I’m inspired by the expanses of white walls and the way they display things to make them look significant. Anything can look like a piece of art with a story if displayed and lit well.

That’s a really creative way to approach interior  design. How does that play into your use of color?

Color is hard because we go through different phases in our life of loving different colors, or just liking bright whites or all neutrals. That’s what happened to me, I got all of this bold, colorful art and then in this home I entered a phase of wanting to get rid of all the color. My solution was to put all of the art on one wall so the color was contained in one place, and then kept the rest of the home a more neutral color palette with navy as my accent.

pictured: bed from Craigslist but can be found on Room & Board; bedside tables Ikea hack; picture ledges from Ikea; paintings are by Aboriginal artists Gloria Petyarre, Betty Mbitjana, and Jeannie Mills Pwerle, and can be found at galleries like Mbantua Gallery

How do you keep your surroundings inspiring?

I personally find that having fewer things gives me the space and time to feel inspired and creative – when I have too much going on my brain feels cluttered.

Totally agree. Did you find it challenging to keep this space looking and feeling minimal?

Yes. It’s so easy to shop and order things on Amazon or online that I feel like I “need,” like a pizza stone or a coffee table book. But with every new thing that I acquire I have to find a place to store it and then maintain it – it adds up quickly! So my biggest challenge has been avoiding the temptation to buy things just to fill a space.

Do you have any favorite design resources?

Antique stores. I’ve used Overstock and Ikea a lot because it’s more affordable, but antique stores are my favorite place to source the things that are going to give a home character and at least a feeling of history. I can spend hours digging through antique malls, but if you don’t have that stamina then places like Goodwill and Savers always have shelves full of the kinds of ceramics, bowls, and picture frames that you could end up spending a lot of money on if you bought them new.

Your home is so light-filled and happy. How did you find it?

This was the first place I looked at when I was searching for a home, and I knew immediately that this was the one. I knew I wanted to paint the windows black and put shelves in the corner – I could already see it. I still looked at other places just to be sure, but I was sold. I found it, looked at it, and closed on it all by myself, so it was a big exercise in trusting my own judgment. It’s been 4 years and I’ve really grown through the experience of living here and customizing this home for the life I want.

Do you have a favorite spot in the house?

The dining table. When I walked into the space for the very first time, I knew I wanted to put a long dining table in this spot. I love to sit here while I work, spread out, drink tea, burn incense, I also use it as a prep space when I’m cooking, and one of my favorite things to do is invite a bunch of people over for dinner parties. I like to eat all my meals sitting at a table instead of a couch – it feels like more of an occasion to me.

pictured: dining table DIY using wood from Eastside  Lumber; mirror from Anthropologie; white dining chairs from Overstock

I’ve loved following along some of the really clever design changes you made to your space. What affordable updates can you recommend to other homeowners?

1. Take the doors off the kitchen cabinets. This took me about 5 minutes with a screwdriver and created an open shelving look in my kitchen. I plugged the holes that make the shelves adjustable with little white plugs from Ikea.

2. Paint the kitchen cabinets. I didn’t like the standard reddish brown cabinets (before photos here) I had so I painted them this navy/grey color. It’s a bit tedious sanding and painting them, but it completely transformed the look of my entire home since it’s a studio.

3. Sticker tiles. I also didn’t like my backsplash but didn’t want to go so far as to retile, so I gave Smart Tiles a try and can’t believe how good the results were. No one ever believed me when they came over and I told them they were stickers. I also stuck them in the backs of the cabinets to make the open shelving more convincing. You can see my full review here.

4. Picture ledges. I’ve put these picture ledges up in the last few apartments I lived in, they’re so versatile! I can quickly rearrange everything on them depending on whatever phase I’m in. Sometimes they’re colorful, sometimes they’re more neutral, sometimes they’re super minimal.

5. Paint the window frames. When I moved in the windows had brown frames, and I wanted to give them more of a factory window vibe so I painted them black. I think it really elevated the whole look of the space, and while it was tedious, I’d definitely do it all again.

All of the changes I made were to make my home fit me and my lifestyle better. When I first moved in there was a built in desk and cabinets in the entryway, but I knew I’d never sit at a desk so far away from the windows, so I took them out and use the space as a landing strip and to store my clothes instead (since it’s next to my bathroom and closet). People were always telling me I should put up dividers for privacy or arrange the furniture differently but I trusted my own instincts and arranged it to suit the way I use the space.

After all that DIY work is done, what’s your favorite way to have fun at home?

Cooking something delicious. My boyfriend and I like to do pizza nights and compete to see whose topping combinations and crust are better. On weekends I like to try more elaborate recipes that take extra time you just don’t have on weeknights. I love making a big breakfast with waffles, berries, eggs, the whole thing. And I recently bought an Indian cookbook so I’ve been stocking up on all new-to-me spices and ingredients.

Who are your dream house guests?

My family. When they come into town I’ve had up to 6 of them stay with me, and my friends are always surprised that they all fit in my studio. It makes me happy to be able to host and take care of them since they’ve done so much for me.

pictured: pull-out sofa from West Elm; floor lamp from Overstock; black chairs from Overstock; coffee table from Ikea; black bookshelves from Ikea; ceramics by Work by Nonny 

How did you approach shopping for your loft?

I really enjoy taking inexpensive things and making them look high end. I have a lot of Craigslist finds, it takes time and patience but if there’s an expensive piece you want from popular stores like Restoration Hardware or West Elm then there’s a chance they’ll show up on Craigslist. And once a year I let myself invest in one dream item, like the purple painting, the floor lamp, the mirror, and the canopy bed (which I found after years of browsing Craigslist). Since I plan big purchases like that out in advance, I like to wait for an annual sale or Black Friday to make them.

Describe your home in 5 words or less:

Open, personal, vibrant, evolving