When the Design Blogs Are Useless: a Thorough Guide to Decorating Your Musical Home

So this post has been a long time coming. My “How to Soundproof an Apartment with a Piano” post from a more innocent time (2013) is one of the top hits of this blog, and since writing said post I have learned so much more about making a home with musical instruments (and moved a whole bunch of times). “Write a better, updated post” was on the mental to-do list in the neglected back office of my brain for years.

Getting around to crossing that particular item off my to-do list was not on my list of priorities last week, and then I made a terrible life decision. I visited Apartment Therapy.

I stopped reading Apartment Therapy years ago when I realized the writing was terrible and the advice so-so, but sometimes the “I Want to Live in the West Elm Catalog” bug bites you and you will do anything to scratch that itch. I was delighted when I saw a post titled “7 Ways to Make Your Musical Instruments Feel Like an Intentional Part of Your Design Scheme.”

Just to make it clear, there is a market for articles like this. The world is full of nerds and dilettantes and, oh yeah, actual working musicians with instruments of all sizes, trying to figure out how to integrate things that produce large sound vibrations into their homes in the way that makes at least some sense. I have wrapped my brain around the placement of a grand piano and multiple keyboards in half a dozen apartments now, each time wondering why it was so difficult to solve a problem that surely other people had figured out.

Unfortunately, the Apartment Therapy article was a nasty surprise—beyond not remotely addressing issues with acoustics, it straight up recommends ruining your instruments, as you may have seen in a Twitter thread I popped off. I will save my unpleasant opinions about Apartment Therapy’s content-churning ethos for another time and just tell you, blog reader, this: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT DO ANY OF THE THINGS IN THAT ARTICLE.

Before we go on: I hesitate to make sweeping recommendations to all people with all instruments, but I’m writing this guide because 1) my Twitter replies indicated that a lot of people could use a guide like this and 2) I’m definitely a hell of a lot more qualified than Apartment Therapy. In addition to being a professional classical pianist, I played the violin, took a course on acoustic physics in college (and then promptly forgot a lot of it; please note I am NOT an acoustics engineer), have a visual arts background, and minored in design.

Those are my “credentials”—you can make the educated decision whether or not to take my advice.

I’ve loosely organized this post into sections, based on a hierarchy of priorities:

  1. Is Your Instrument Going to Be Okay: how to not ruin your instrument; folks, this supercedes everything else.
  2. What Do You Do With All That Sound: some quick and dirty basics of acoustics and soundproofing that you should keep in mind when incorporating musical instruments into your home.
  3. Actual Tips on Actual Design With Actual Intention: with a bonus rant on what design actually is, I give actual, practical recommendations for designing your decor around your instrument.

I’ve written this as broadly as I can, and the “expertise level” basically goes up as you read; if you’re not a musician, the first two sections may be really helpful, while professional musicians can probably skip the first two sections completely. Feel free to skim or skip over things as they apply to you, and remember, this is a guide based on my own personal experience and expertise; your needs may vary.

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Minimalist Vanity

One of my arbitrary life requirements is that wherever I live, I need a reasonably sized, dedicated place to keep my makeup, jewelry, and perfume. After four years of balancing all my girly things on tiny dorm room dressers, I’ve decided that from now on, I will always have a vanity. It sounds, well, vain, but I have earned this right! I’m an adult!

The thing is, I hate basically every piece of furniture designated as a vanity table. I hate the little decorative stands with little curly legs, I hate those tiny wood tables with built-in mirrors and barely functional drawers, I hate them all.

Because the universe likes to annoy me, a Bed, Bath, and Beyond catalog landed in the mailbox shortly after we signed the lease on the apartment. I flipped it open and saw this:

Bed, Bath, and Beyond Catalog

What is that?!?!

Bed, Bath, and Beyond Catalog

Seriously, what is that? Why are the legs all curvy? Why is there a wedding photo and an evil villain cat? Who has nothing to put on a dressing table but two bottles of perfume and a string of pearls?

Come on. Ornamentation belongs in Chopin, not on my furniture. So gross. I looked to IKEA and found that the only vanity they offered was this:

IKEA white vanity

 

IKEA, that looks like the type of vanity I’d have if I were a thirteen-year-old girl, the type who has stockpiles of Seventeen and Cosmo and spends two hours on her hair every morning before school—the polar opposite of the type of thirteen-year-old I actually was.

It just really wasn’t my thing. And it’s $249, which in IKEA terms is just ridiculous.

I just wanted something sleek and minimalist and…well, androgynous, for lack of a better word. In all seriousness, [puts on feminist hat] I’ve always resented that traditionally feminine pursuits, fields, or hobbies are culturally seen as being more frivolous or less legitimate than their traditionally masculine counterparts—the whole world of makeup is often derided as being superficial or unnecessary or the result of female weakness, solely because it’s conventionally a woman’s activity. (To quote this most excellent article, “Fashion is one of the very few forms of expression in which women have more freedom than men. And I don’t think it’s an accident that it’s typically seen as shallow, trivial, and vain.”)

So I don’t like how most of the vanities/dressing tables available out there just look like totally pointless pieces of furniture, like they’re just exaggerating some arbitrary gender stereotypes. TLDR: I don’t see makeup as a silly, frivolous, girls-only thing, and I want my dressing table to reflect that.

Mini feminist rant, over. Anyway. One day, while Bryce and I were browsing IKEA, we stumbled across this steel-and-glass laptop desk in the office section (the VITTSJO laptop table, if you’re interested):

IKEA VITTSJO glass laptop table

 

Go ahead and call me crazy, but I think that is beautiful. As soon as he saw it, Bryce said, “That would be a perfect vanity for you!”

My boyfriend just gets me. I love it.

The best part was that it was only $39. We picked it up right away, along with their $9.99 KOLJA mirror, which I liked because it was a no-nonsense square mirror. I took that thing home with me, and it took all of five minutes to assemble:

VITTSJO IKEA glass table

Looks good, right? Right. And then I put all my stuff on it! Behold:

Using IKEA VITTSJO laptop table as a vanity

Vanity 2
It’s so beautiful and minimalist(ish) and totally not stupid-looking! It’s so me! I love it! It makes my mundane blush-eyeliner-mascara routine quietly luxurious, and everyone who visits the apartment notices and loves it.

The wrought-iron chair, by the way, was a fantastic find of Bryce’s at the Alameda Point Antiques Fair (same fair where I found those great Cole Haan shoes). I was totally skeptical about it going with the table, but he promised that the curves would complement the straight lines, and he even haggled the price down for me.

And it totally does work with the table! I’ve been thinking about making it a little cushion, but I’m too lazy. Maybe I’ll just throw a sheepskin over it or something.

That patterned box (hand-me-down from my boyfriend’s parents—I think it’s a magazine box) underneath the table holds my hair dryer, curling iron, and straightener—I don’t need them to be all that handy. I used them all the time when my hair looked like this:

Poorly lit webcam photo, just because I can.

But now that my hair is as short as Annyong’s from Arrested Development, I don’t need all these hair styling tools. So that’s why they’re in the box.

Vanity (IKEA VITTSJO laptop desk)

Vanity

The shelf holds a bunch of easily-accessible stuff: a Kate Spade box where I keep my jewelry, my Naked palette, a comb, etc. The Lady Grey tea tin is where I keep my Q-tips.

 

Makeup Brushes

And because my best friend Alix told me to show it on my blog, here’s how I keep my makeup brushes—in fancy jam jars with paper stars. I am so freaking kawaii.

So there you have it, Internet. That’s how you do a dressing table, Sharon-style.

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