The New Basics: My At-Home Essentials

by Maxwell Tielman


As Grace pointed out in her own list of at-home essentials, living in New York City can necessitate a sort of back-to-basics approach to living. Whether it’s because you’re constantly moving (skyrocketing rent prices will do that to you) or just living in a space that’s the size of a shoebox, New Yorkers and Brooklynites must develop an almost nomadic, minimalist approach to home decor and personal objects. As somebody who began my Brooklyn experience in cramped dorm rooms and graduated from that to equally cramped apartment bedrooms, I have learned the massive importance of cutting back and finding out what, exactly, I need for my own house to be a home, so to speak. Throughout my time as an apartment renter and homeowner, I have turned to a number of basic products and minimal decorating tenets time and time again. These are my at-home basics—the concepts and things that I love and help to make me feel at home, no matter where I am. —Max

Above image: 1. Hunter Brushed Nickel Fan | 2. OneFortyThree’s Brass Swing Lamp | 3. Jonathan Adler’s Pepper Candle | 4. Target’s Organic Cotton Bedding | 5. Matthew Uebbing Painting | 6. Picardie Glass Tumbler | 7. MUJI Washed Cotton Duvet Cover | 8. Brendan Ravenhill Dustbin


1. Comfortable, Attractive Bedding: Because I’ve lived with roommates for much of my adult life, I’ve learned to turn my bedroom into a personal oasis of sorts—and good bedding contributes a great deal to that. If there is one place where I knew I could be comfortable and by myself, it was my bedroom, so I felt that investing in comfort and a look that appealed to me was important. Time and time again, I’ve turned to IKEA’s down pillows (for stomach-sleepers, thank you very much) and, despite their super affordable price, they are the best I have ever found (Tempurpedic pillows be damned)! I’ve recently become absolutely obsessed with Target’s Organic Cotton sheet sets—for the price, they are downright luxurious, with super soft fabric, minimal details, and a form that fits my mattress like a glove. To top my bed off, I love a nice, simple duvet cover and my absolute favorite is MUJI’s Grey Washed Cotton one—the fabric holds up wonderfully, it has a beautiful texture, and it looks better after every wash!

2. A Good Fan: Alright. Confession. I think I have a heat intolerance issue. Translation: if I don’t have a fan blowing on me at all times (even in the winter), I will likely be sweating like a broiled pig (sorry for that image, I’m just keeping it real). A fan has always been a part of my life (whether it’s for keeping me cool or just providing some nice white noise while I sleep), so I’ve tried to invest in ones that I think are beautiful and will last me a long time. I love the basic metal options that Hunter has, both as for the desk and standing floor models. They can be a tiny bit more pricy than the typical plastic fan, but I think that, given the way they compliment almost any space, they’re worth the extra pennies.

3. Good Lighting (with a DIMMER!): When it comes to creating an atmosphere with a limited budget or very few items, lighting is so important. With lights, you can dictate the mood, color, and tone of a room. Depending on how far-reaching your light’s glow is, you can create small “spaces” within a space—like designated conversation nooks, intimate dining areas, and calming reading corners. I cannot stress enough how important lighting (and dimmer switches) can be for creating a beautiful interior. While I have used a number of different lighting options throughout my career as a homemaker, I have recently become totally, completely OBSESSED with the handmade lights my friend Logan makes for his company, OneFortyThree. They are simple, but stunningly beautiful—both in terms of material and craftsmanship. My fiancé and I currently have one of his lights in our living room and it has become one of my favorite items in our apartment.

4. Scents: My fiancé is going to kill me for this one (he simply cannot abide by my love for all things scented), but I’m going to stick to my guns on it. When it comes to creating a home from any space, I tend to have an all-senses approach, right down to the way it smells. I think that scent can be a powerful tool in creating a space away from the world and can, depending on the fragrance, awaken you or calm you down. Currently, I am in love with Jonathan Adler’s “Pepper” candle. Its price runs a little bit high, but it lasts a long time, has a beautiful spicy scent (perfect for fall and winter), and when it’s completely finished, you can use the glass holder as a drinking glass or cocktail tumbler! Win-win!

5. Art: I am not the sort of person who can regularly afford to put original art in my home. But whenever I have chosen to (whether it’s buying a friend’s painting or a print from Etsy), I have never regretted the decision. Art can really make a space and, if framed (even in the cheap IKEA frames that I use), it adds a lovely sense of togetherness and grown-up-ness. I purchased one of my friend Matt Uebbing’s paintings a few years ago and it still remains one of my absolute favorite items in my space.

6. Good Kitchen Basics: When it comes to dinnerware and kitchen paraphernalia, I think that simple design and good construction is a must—especially if you plan on moving often or have an evolving sense of design (you want something that will compliment all of that!). I love a good white dish set (currently loving CB2’s Frank Dinnerware Set) and a simple, sturdy drinking glass (Duralex’s Picardie glasses are a design classic and an absolute must).

7. ORGANIZATION: When people have me over to their apartments and ask what they should do to make their spaces more livable and beautiful, my first piece of advice is simple: organize, organize, organize! Having a clean, neatly organized space is truly the first step towards having a beautiful space. Even if you don’t have the most beautiful furniture or the ideal architectural details, organization can lend a feeling of lightness and zen to a space, something that, in itself, has beauty. Over time, I have learned to fully embrace the idea of less-is-more. Recently, I have been going through my belongings and, if I don’t see myself using it any time soon, I will bring it on down to my neighborhood Goodwill store. I don’t really like to outright throw things away—but if I must, a good garbage can is also a great thing to have. I recently purchased Brendan Ravenhill’s white dustbin for my kitchen and I am loving it. It is a shining example of efficient, beautiful design and its durable construction (made in the USA, I will have you know) is top-notch. I will admit, it was a bit of a splurge, but I don’t see myself getting another garbage can for a long, long time. Lesson: ORGANIZATION—you can’t go wrong with it.

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  • Daniel described his adventure in finding the Muji duvet for himself and a pal, but the linen one seems to have been unavailable for quite some time. :(

    • Gillianne— you know what, you’re right! I think Daniel and I have been saying the linen one but we, in fact, have the *cotton* one. The linen one is a bit more expensive and has a slightly more textural look, but the cotton one is really beautiful, too. Sorry for the confusion and thanks for pointing that out!

  • Thanks much for clarifying. Your cotton one looks all inviting-rumply-natural-fiber-y, so I kinda thought it might be linen. Might have to forsake linen and go for gray cotton after all. :D

  • Ooo! Thanks for pointing out that Target has soft sheets. We bought the same color grey sheets from Ikea, and although the swatch felt soft, it had obviously been doused with tons of fabric softener. It took maybe a year of washing and sleeping on them before they softened up enough to not bug me. Never again!

  • i learned about picardie glasses 15 years ago working retail at williams-sonoma. they are classic and french. i’ve had a set of 6 for a decade and still love them. i think the company went out of business for awhile, but someone else is making them now. i can’t wait to add to my collection.

    i also have classic white dinnerware from crate & barrel that i acquired some 15 years ago… still love it.

  • Max, I used to sweat at night all the time too and had to have a fan on. Then one day I decided to try blankets over a down comforter. What a difference, I will never use a down comforter again. It also makes me a little nostalgic to sleep under blankets. I have three blankets of different weights and use one or layer them depending on how cold it is. I bought beautiful cashmere and cotton blankets. I know that duvets are much easier – but it is a thought!

  • The organic cotton sheet sets at Target are a BARGAIN! Nowhere else can you get queen-size organic cotton sheets for under $60–NOWHERE! And it’s so so much better for the environment!

  • You have such great taste–thanks for sharing, and keep up the good work (and everyone else at Design Sponge, too)! I love the handmade lamps.

  • I also sleep with a fan year round. If I don’t use a fan I wake up sweating in the middle of the night. I had a similar looking fan that I bought at Walmart 10 years ago and the motor finally died. I may check this fan out as it is more attractive then my go to box fan.

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