Interiorssneak peeks

sneak peek: victoria reppert

by Amy Azzarito

Victoria Reppert makes fixing up a standard rental look like child’s play. For the past seven years, she’s worked as a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department at the embassies in Cairo and Tunisia. Even though Victoria loves her job, it can be difficult being so far away from family and friends, so she works particularly hard to make her residence feel as homey as possible, which is quite a challenge. The residences in the Foreign Service are almost always furnished, so Victoria has had to become an expert at disguising the utilitarian furniture. This residence is located in La Marsa, Tunisia, in the northern coastal suburbs of the capital, Tunis. La Marsa, المرسى‎, means “anchorage” or “marina” in Arabic, and it was the old summer capital of pre-colonial Tunisia. According to Victoria, La Marsa is distinguished by many fine older houses — some dating from the time of the Ottoman beys — as well as splendid Mediterranean vistas and wonderful established gardens of bougainvillea and oleander throughout the neighborhood, which is fringed with tall cypress trees. During her previous assignment in Cairo, Victoria acquired many Middle Eastern items that she’s balanced with thrifted mid-century pieces, which have the added benefit of being lightweight. (Foreign Service Officers have a limited weight allowance for shipment between posts, so weight is always a concern.) Of course, nothing in the Foreign Service lasts forever, and just two months ago, after three years in Tunisia, Victoria packed up her furniture and put her personal items in storage as she heads to Baghdad for a year. After a year in Iraq, she’s slated to go to Paris, where she can’t wait to roam the stalls of the Clignancourt flea market! Best of luck to Victoria! Thanks so much for sharing your home with us! And thanks to her fellow Foreign Services Officer, Isabel Rioja-Scott, for the lovely photographs. — Amy Azzarito

Image above: This horsehair-stuffed chair was my first reupholstery project, under the tutelage of my 87-year-old grandmother, Dorothy, who traveled the world as a Navy wife and who has visited me three times in Tunisia. She’s an expert milliner and upholsterer, and I enjoy working late into the night with her on various sewing projects. We’ve already started on our next project, recovering a ladies’ chaise lounge with a down cushion in a cool saffron-colored linen we found at the market in downtown Tunis. The bookshelves are the only pieces of Embassy furniture I like, and I worked mightily to downsize my book collection enough to fit only two rows’ deep on the shelves. I tend to stuff interesting rocks in my pockets wherever I go, and this picture has a lot of neat rocks and fossils I found camping in the Black and White deserts in Egypt. The carpet is Tunisian; I liked its worn pile and slightly faded colors, and it’s comfortable underfoot.

Image above: The living/dining room is big and undefined, so I used my mashrebiya screen from Cairo to define the sitting area from the library. On the side of the screen is a cool metal cast-iron ring with a bunch of sharp hooks that maids in the medina would use to clean out the laundry and other debris that kids would throw down the well in the central courtyard of old Tunisian houses. It has no function other than potentially impaling you when you walk by, but I love its looks and heft. I tend to gravitate toward old metal cleats and meat hooks and such, for no reason other than that their utility and their design are so intertwined. The mashup ’50s Pharonic-style chairs are from a junk shop in Cairo and were formerly cane with big holes in the seats. I found a wonderful furniture restorer and craftsman in Tunisia, Chokri, who redid the seats and backs in tawny leather with brass tacks. They’re now really solid and comfortable. The pouf is Tunisian, and the carpets are vintage Iranian. I have a bunch of copper pots from Cairo, which are good for houseplants.

See more of Victoria’s home in Tunisia after the jump . . .

Image above: I love this carpet, which is a Turkish Kazak I found in Cairo and which has cool, stylized animals and a very graphic style. I have a lot of wood in the house, and I find that warm-toned blues help downplay all the wood tones. The couch and side tables are Embassy; the lamps are from Goodwill, and the burlap shades cast a nice light at night. I’m mad for soft lighting, so I have dimmers on everything, even the table lamps. The wooden bowl is Tunisian and was used for rolling couscous before you could buy it in a store. It’s really soft and smooth from years of use. I found the old mashrebiya screen in a pile of dirt in the Khan elKhalili market in Cairo; I hung it off the wall a bit so you can see the patterns of light it makes on the wall at night. The coffee table is from Millennium Decorative Arts, a funky midcentury store, on U St. in Washington, DC.

Image above: The rope chair is from a yard sale and is covered with one of many sheepskins I found at the fripe (used clothing market) in Tunisia. There are lots of sheepskins to be found in Tunisia after the annual Eid Al Adha holiday, when observant Muslims sacrifice a sheep for the family in commemoration of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail. I found the iron piece hanging on the bookshelf in the southwest of France; it was used to moderate the temperature of a pot cooked over an open fire. The carpet is Afghani. The stereo speaker (one of many) is from Goodwill.

Image above: I found the mock-Eames chair and ottoman from a man on Craigslist who said his grandfather had spent the past 30 years watching TV in the chair; it is that comfortable! Chokri, my Tunisian carpenter friend, restored the peeling veneer and dried-out leather (which was previously a nicotine beige), and it looks much classier than before. I found the lamp on the side of the road in Dupont Circle. The side table is an old whisky barrel that I got for 35 cents at a church yard sale. I like its iron bands and huge old cork. The small carpet on the right is a prayer rug from Iran.

Image above: The upstairs sitting room is where the TV lives. I found the chunky coffee table (which you can stand on, always a plus) at a furniture store in La Soukra, Tunisia, and I made the floor pillows with funky vintage curtains I found at the fripe used-clothing market in Ibn Khaldoun, outside Tunis. I’ve been toting around the cast-iron chandelier, which I found at a junk shop in France, since high school. The fabric wall hanging is from the tentmaker’s market, the khayameya, in Cairo; the artisans there have been sewing thousands of tiny pieces of fabric together since the days of Salah Ad-din, and it’s a dying art. I found the Danish couch on Craigslist and worked with my grandma to cover the new foam cushions in undyed linen. The brass table in the corner is from some alley of the Khan elKhalili market.

Image above: Embassy table and chairs (I loathe the huge, wide seats!). I put a lot of vintage mirrors in the corner to compensate for the room’s general lack of light. The canvas map on the wall is a pull-down map from the ’30s, and it’s neat to go through the countries of Africa to see what has stayed the same and what has changed since it was printed. The kilim is vintage Berber, from the areas near the Algerian border with Tunisia, and the brass lamp is from Cairo.

Image above: Close-up of the dining area. I found the mirror, which probably topped a dresser, and the silver mint julep cups at Country Boy in Norfolk, VA. The bar cart is from Goodwill, and I bought the Dansk teak ice bucket on Etsy. My father brought back the candlesticks from Iran on a trip after college. My friend found the old painted tiles on a deck outside his roof in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia.

Image above: This was the table I grew up eating on; I normally use it as a desk due to the cool foot rail, but I stuck it in the kitchen here, as it can expand to seat a crowd — I love to have lots of impromptu dinner parties, which usually spill into the back patio off the kitchen. I lifted the carpet, which my dad picked up in Cairo in the ’90s, from my parents’ house (thanks, mom and dad). I found the Danish spindle chairs on Craigslist and spruced them up a bit with some steel wool and teak oil; note more sheepskins from the fripe market, enjoyed by both man and beast. I got the brass lamp on a recent trip to Fes, Morocco, and it makes a great twinkly light at night.

Image above: The kitchen is really well laid-out for Tunisia (normally people don’t socialize in the kitchen in the Arab world) and has a big island and nice Italian cabinets and appliances. The oven is tiny, but somehow I managed to squeeze in a giant Butterball turkey for the holidays in true American fashion. I put mirrors on the counter to bring a little more light into the room; this one is from Community Forklift in DC (a wonderful salvage operation), sans many layers of seafoam-colored lead paint. The hurricane lanterns are from IKEA, and I found the teak wine rack on Etsy. I am really clumsy and prone to dropping glassware, which prompts shatters on the tile floors (never again!), hence the second-tier carpets in the kitchen. They also help to save your feet from hurting while cooking; tile is less forgiving than wood floors with joists that give a bit when walking or standing.

Image above: Dining area close-up: The oak fridge in the corner was my great-aunt’s; I use the zinc-lined top part (where an ice block would have sat) as a bar, and the ceramic-lined bottom section (where foodstuffs were kept) for table linens. I found the oak chairs on Craigslist and had them cleaned up; I like the leather seats even if they are a bit cracked. The lamp is from Cairo, and the Danish teak candlesticks are from Etsy. (Note to self: Do not let candles burn down to the stub in wooden candlesticks, as they quickly turn to kindling!) I love old mirrors, especially once the silvering gets discolored and peely; the one over the chair is from a junk shop in Belfast, Maine, and was originally part of a cabinet.

Image above: My bike, which I love, lives here. Above is a huge old brass tray I got in Cairo, which has Koranic script all around it. The carpet is an old Hamadan camelhair, which I purloined from my parents’ house; I had the fringe restored and some of the more egregious holes sewn up. I love how older carpets get more richly colored as time goes on. I put a stick-on mustache by the peephole in the door for no reason other than it amuses me.

Image above: Close-up of the sitting area in the living room. This is one of a pair of funky old plant stands I found in a Cairo junk shop. The pillow is from a great store in the Khan elKhalili in Cairo, which sells old movie posters and funky fabrics; this guy is an Egyptian film star from the ’60s, I believe.

Image above: This is the corner of my patio, with a neat leather chair from the ’30s that is insanely comfortable. I normally don’t keep it outside, but it’s really light, so it can follow you around the house.

Image above: That’s me, sitting like a pacha. I found the old red circus poster on Etsy and mounted it on posterboard; the room needed some graphic elements to contrast with all the ethnic stuff and old wood. I painted the side and back wall a particularly lovely shade of dark teal blue last winter over a weekend, and it helps to break up the space, which is dark to begin with. I like to paint and am working on a series of random ancestors (none of them mine) from a book of old daguerreotypes; this squinty fellow is hiding a mess of stereo and power converter wires.

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  • I love everything – all very comfortable and personal. Although I think my vintage kitchen stuff would take up the whole weight limit if I were in her shoes. I particularly love all the rugs.

  • I’m in love with all of the rugs! I’m trying to talk my boyfriend into getting one similar to the Tunisian rug in the first pic for our living room.

  • What a lovely space: it’s airy & cozy at the same time. Just the sort of home one can settle into comfortably. I’m sorry to hear that she’s going to have to move on from it, although I expect her next home will be just as terrific.

  • Hello, yes, thank you for this. I also live as an expat in a rental it gets very frustrating as most of my interior design dreams seem to involve structural changes or knocking up fixed furniture, painting walls etc. So this gives me some great ideas about our next move and rental (next month). More carpets! great for zoning, character furniture (which we have)…maybe the landlord letting us paint one wall. This is great tho, you have an extra talent above your diplomatic duties :-)

  • What an amazing collection for an interesting career in the Foreign Service! I love it…and I wish I were the one moving to Paris…which I would imagine would only feed the well-honed collection here. I will live vicariously here…and I were the one flitting from time zone to time zone I’d be picking up skeins of yarn hither and yon for the next knitting project.

  • I love it! You worked with what was available and it seems you were very economical with your finds. I think thats how most of my home is furnished. It’s more fun and you have great stories for each piece. Great!

  • I am LOL at your Embassy provided furniture. I left the U.S. Foreign Service in 1990 and had the exact same book cases and dining set that you do now in my apartment in Tel Aviv…and they weren’t new then…standard issue Ethan Allen is still the furniture of choice for the State Dept. evidently. You must have a much larger weight allowance these days as there’s no way I could have had all the personal pieces you do in my limited shipment. I loved my time on the Middle East and still treasure my Egyptian and Syrian copper pieces. Stay safe in Iraq and have fun in Paris.

  • These are all so beautiful! Especially that carpet from Cairo! And the blue wall adds a great “pop” to the room :)

  • hey victoria!! glad to see you are doing well in tunisia! of course, i would expect no less from a classy gal like yourself. love your apartment!!! much love from a fellow COL alum. xoxo tatiana

  • Your house looks so personal and interesting – you have done a wonderful job creating a home that is so engaging from a range of generic furniture you didn’t choose. So inspiring!

  • Such wonderful inspiration! I’m heading off on my first FS assignment in March and have been wondering how I can maintain some style with all that dark, heavy, oak furniture.

  • Love what you’ve done with the place! Great ideas for people living in Embassy housing and how people can make the space their own!

  • !!! I LOVE la Marsa! I lived in Nasr Deux, a neighborhood in Tunis, six years ago. That patio is so classically Tunisenne… I can imagine jasmine and bougainvillea growing all around. GORGEOUS home, Victoria!!! *sigh* My heart aches with nostaliga!

  • This is beautiful. Loved the blue wall. And your carpet collection. If something’s missing I’ve taken it.
    Just beautiful.

  • I love it all! Especially the old fridge, repurposed as a bar and storage for table linens and all the sheepskins. Also, I found in amusingly ironic that the whiskey keg came from a church yard sale. The whole place looks cozy and comfy.

  • Oh my God. I think you are the only person in the Foreign Service who owns more Danish design than me. P.S. I tried to get Clements to insure my Eames Lounger and Ottoman for $4k but when the bill came, it was for four chairs at $1k each. I called to ask about it and Clements said they just assumed it was a mistake, because what FSO brings a $4k chair to a hardship post? Fair point.


  • Love it! From one FSO to another, disguising our ugly Embassy furniture and making our housing feel like “home” is such a challenge! Kudos on your success (and which sofa covers do you buy?).
    By the way, I also have a collection of rocks, shells and fossils that I’ve collected on my travels. I recently found a stone and a sprig of dried thyme in the pocket of a fleece vest I last wore hiking in the Cevennes mountains in France. Each thing I’ve picked up has a memory attached to it, I love it when I come across them unexpectedly.

  • Love the rugs! I got 3, and I’m constantly searching for ‘new’ second hand ones. I also like the colours of old rugs better. Great place, also love your couch and that you reupholster with your grandma :)

  • As a fellow FSO, I can appreciate what an incredible feat it is to make our housing and furniture pool look this good. Thanks for the inspiration, love the rugs!

  • wow, been reading design sponge for years and years, and this is definitely my favorite house in long time! It really suits the way my new house is shaping up–I’m got the danish/global thing going too. I’ve spent time in india, so I’ve got some interesting textiles I need to show off. My mother’s family spent a lot of time is Saudia Arabia, so I have a few inherited pieces and a love of real antiqued, inscribed brass. Really cool mix of pop/traditional “ethnic,” and thrifted items. I’m even learning upholstery too, to make my thrifted items re-live. Happy travels!

  • Ha, ha! How lovely is the embassy issue furniture almost 30 years down the line! I remember that dining set well from our days in Cairo, perhaps the best assignment ever, furniture notwithstanding. Oh to be young, footloose and once again prowling the nooks and crannies of the Khan el Khalili and Tentmakers Street. We still love and live with our Middle Eastern treasures to this very day–fuul pot lamps and all! Continue the fine celebration of your nomadic life!

  • Really the best sneak peak ever….the stories behind each piece, the creativity and passion involved in pulling all the flotsam and jetsam together. And the visiting 87 year old grandmother sewing her heart away in Tunis …..how can life be any richer?

  • I love this! We’re a FS family too and sometimes I feel a bit ridiculous hauling all of our giant art and furniture around the world (and watching movers unpack it with a ‘what the fork?” look on their faces) but all of those things go so far towards making a place feel like home. You’ve disguised your Drexel Heritage so well!!! I’m going to be studying these photos intensely after we land in Delhi and I’m setting up house again next week!. I especially love all of your amazing chairs and rugs and light fixtures, little things that don’t take up much space but make your place really feel one-of-a-kind and cozy!

  • This is easily my favorite sneak peek! I love that every piece tells a story. Beautiful home!

  • Great commentary on all the pieces, the personal stories make this sneak peek one of my faves! Happy adventure to you!

  • Awesome job at weaving your pieces in with State’s! I try to do the same in my house, too, because it really does make it feel more like home. It’s all about the rugs and the lamps. And plants. Plus, I love having people ask where I purchased my favorite pieces because we’re so lucky that there are often fun stories behind them. How many people get to buy rugs in Uzbekistan and lamps in Sri Lanka?

    My eternal questions though: to paint or not to paint? To slipcover or not to slipcover? I know it’s sometimes worth it, but it also adds up after a while, especially when your “home” is only for two years. My question right now: what to do with a not so attractive built-in that takes up an entire wall? I’m stumped.

    Thanks for showing us your gorgeous place!

  • Thank you, Grace, for showing your commitment to diversity and posting a home outside of the typical American/European context. Living in other countries hopefully hones the eye, as can be seen in this beautiful and expressive space.

    • kelly

      we try to show as broad of a range as we can. you can search homes by country on the sneak peeks landing page, too if you’d like to see a specific region or area :)


  • I love that this place isn’t like many other neutral toned places I’ve seen online and in mags lately. I especially liked your commentary on where you got your items….interesting and fun places!

  • Wow – thank all of you guys for these tremendously kind and validating comments! I think the most important thing I’ve learned from the past seven years of moving around in the Foreign Service (and this is completely relevant if you are a renter, whatever your locale) is to move in like you’re never going to leave. Painting, installing lighting the way you like it, investing in mature plants for the garden (if you’re lucky enough to have one) so you have the chance to enjoy them before you move, hanging pictures and mirrors, putting up your own window treatments – these are things that make you feel like a permanent resident and not just a passer-through. In the end, the extra money you spend is well-worth the peace of mind you have from feeling that you’re truly at home. Moreover, paint is cheap (especially if you do it yourself), hanging lamps or installing dimmers is doable for anyone with a handyman book or an internet connection, and great houseplants can always be scored for free from likeminded people who are moving. Per a question, I got the cotton duck slipcovers off Overstock.com several years back for about $50 – the key is to use a wooden spoon or long and skinny fingers to get the slipcover deep into the couch innards when you put it on. They wash well, and I don’t have to look at hideous red poly Damask! I’m more than happy to help out with house decorating ideas, so email me at vreppert at gmail.com if you want some random advice about how to hide your ugly Drexel Heritage, FS peeps!

  • When you have free moving all over the world it’s easy to amass a bunch of things from everywhere you go, and put together an “eclectic” mix of furniture. I’ve been paring my stuff down since I left the foreign service.

  • How did you hang your large, heavy tray on the wall? We bought a similar tray and I would love to have it on our dining room wall. Your home is beautiful!

  • I love to see fellow FS peeps appreciating the time it takes to make make your space beautiful. You obviously have a great eye!

  • Hello Victoria,
    I love what you have been able to do with all the FS furniture and other you have picked up along the way. Another source of inspiration for me!