The challenge: Tai Burgos had rented a unit in a century-old fourplex in St. Paul. Before moving in, she wanted to “make a sacred space out of my home, and put it together so I feel at ease, calm ... where things are in order,” she said.
The designer: Jeralyn Mohr, Interior Design Minnesota, interiordesignminnesota.com, and on Instagram.
The back story: Mohr, a close friend of Burgos, had designed her previous apartment, as well as the space for her business, Avivage Massage, St. Paul. “I know her style really well,” said Mohr. “So well that I could create a pinboard of what I know she likes.” The 1,100-square-foot rental unit had “great bones and woodwork,” said Mohr, but also “a lot of quirks.” Her design for the apartment combined modern silhouettes with elements inspired by wabi sabi, the Japanese term for finding beauty in imperfection and the patina that objects acquire over time. Mohr, who is also an artist, created several large pieces for Burgos using upcycled materials. “We were trying to make fewer, bolder-scale choices so it wasn’t busy or cluttered,” said Mohr, who also shopped for bargains online and in thrift shops. “I stay budget-conscious,” she said. “Creativity is created out of that.”
First step: The apartment was due for a paint job, which the landlord had already planned to do, so Burgos asked if she and Mohr could choose the colors. “It set a beautiful tone, with all neutrals,” Mohr said.
Kitchen fixes: The apartment’s kitchen was large, but “there was no counter space whatsoever,” said Burgos. Mohr created a center island, using a counter-height table, plus another table in one corner, to add prep space. Open shelving from Burgos’ previous apartment was installed in the new one, creating places to store flour, sugar and spices — all in striking glass containers with black labels. “My goal was a patina apothecary feel,” Mohr said. She found hand-thrown glazed pottery in earthy colors at a thrift store, also on display on the open shelves. On the wall behind the shelves, Mohr applied peel-and-stick wallpaper in a subway tile pattern to create the illusion of a tiled accent wall. Inside one cupboard Mohr found “beautiful brass hooks” for hanging teacups. Burgos didn’t need all of them so Mohr removed some of the hooks and put them beneath a cabinet that extended over a radiator top to create a makeshift pot rack. “You can wash the pots and dry them on the radiator,” Mohr said.
Sight and sound: The living room had a small stained-glass window but it was oddly positioned. “It was too small and too high to be an art piece above the sofa,” Mohr said. And its traditional European design and bright colors stuck out amid the neutral-hued, Japanese-inspired look Mohr was creating for the apartment. So she suggested they cover the window with a piece of artwork created for the space — a 5- by 5-foot wood frame covered with dropcloth, then silk, upcycled from Indian saris and woven into vertical folds. “It’s earthy and more aligned to Tai,” Mohr said. Most of the living room furniture came from Burgos’ previous apartment, with the addition of a drum-shaped metal coffee table. Burgos plays drums, so Mohr looked for a piece of furniture that could do double duty as a percussion instrument. The one she found was hollow in the middle. When tapped, “It has the most beautiful deep sound,” Mohr said. “It’s intended as a coffee table but it’s 100% drum.”
Cozy nook: At one end of the living room, Mohr created a music/meditation space for Burgos’ drums, guitars and cushions. A small round table, a tray set on legs, on a round rug holds Burgos’ “sacred things.” A low console table serves as an altar, where Mohr wanted to create a warm, glowing focal point. “I wanted to add a cozy feel, like a fireplace,” she said. She bought a peel-and-stick LED light strip, and adhered it to the back of the console, then painted it amber-y gold, “the color of candlelight, so the light’s not so blue. It creates a nice warm mood.” Above the console is another of Mohr’s creations, a large plaster spiral. “Spirals are universal, and the shape shows up in Tai’s [Puerto Rican] culture,” Mohr said. “Looking into the spiral is grounding.”
Serene dining: The dining room had a chandelier — a shiny brass one from the 1980s. Mohr found a replacement online. “It was more airy, more black/bronze, more sculptural,” with taper-like arms. “And it was really affordable,” she said. So they asked the landlord’s permission to swap — and even got the landlord to chip in. For artwork, Mohr created another custom piece — a block print with words and symbols about growth and green, a theme with meaning for Burgos. “She’s a plant person,” Mohr said. Burgos’ many plants were in terra cotta pots of varied hues, so Mohr used leftover white paint to give them a calming, unified look. A rug found on eBay completed the room. It was new but imperfect, with a few loose threads on the back. “It blends with the aged patina” of other elements in the apartment, Mohr said.
Sweet dreams: For her bedroom, Burgos said, “I wanted a fancy headboard. But you can spend thousands on them.” Mohr looked for affordable options. “She wanted a piece that felt hand-carved,” Mohr said. “I found some but they were way beyond the budget. So I found a beautiful hand-carved room divider that was really affordable and had the same look.” She searched for one with an arched top. “It creates more of a crown, more drama,” she said. Then she laid it flat, screwed it into the wall and found a wooden bed frame the same color. “She saved me a lot of money, and it looks just as good,” said Burgos. The nightstand lamps also were improvised — ombré glass vases with clip-on bulbs inside.
Zen office: In a sunny spare room, Mohr created a multipurpose bedroom/office with a desk, daybed and lots of plants. For artwork, she upcycled a previously used canvas to create a stencil showing a bodhi tree, a Buddhist symbol, and two elephants. The image was stenciled on the ivory canvas in metallic gold. “It’s so happy,” Burgos said of her office.
The result: Burgos’ home feels like the calm, sacred space she was seeking. “Having a beautiful home that’s put together intentionally makes you want to keep your place clean and in order,” she said. “It elevates your senses and sense of well-being. It’s worth putting in the money to have people help you. I wish I had that talent. You have to have somebody who knows how.”