SHELTER, by Patrick J Hamilton

Now that we’re all spending so much time staring at our walls, we’re seeing things in our homes that didn’t quite register when we just rushed out and rushed back in, exhausted from things like complaining about how crowded the subway platform is at Times Square and hugging people (remember that?). And some of what we’re seeing (yes, we’re judging your Zoom background) isn’t all that pretty.

Q: I’m suffering from some serious cabin fever … and I’m sick of the way my cabin looks. It all needs some love, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I don’t even know where to begin.

A: If you feel like your apartment is going through its own sweatpants moment, there are plenty of ways a DIYer can change the vibe and spruce things up, without breaking the bank … or leaving the house.

While the inclination is “Add to Cart” (and it still might be), there are better places to start, and plenty of things you can do that don’t come with buyer’s remorse. And, let’s face it, you totally have time for a project right now.


Unless you have a threadbare rug or sagging settee, figuring out what’s not quite right isn’t always easy, especially if it’s a place you’ve lived in, like, forever. In lieu of (spoiler alert: shameless industry plug ahead!) hiring a designer or having your Sassy Gay Friend pick apart your color schemes and dating choices, my favorite trick is to photograph your home. A space you’ve gone “familiarity blind” to is easier to see clearly when you look at a picture of it. And, no, don’t fluff or filter. This should be an unflinching look, not an Instagram fantasy.

What will jump out are probably some practical issues – general clutter, a “paper problem,” grubby spots or some paint in need of retouching, shoe fetish – and some that are a little harder to pin down – things like flow, continuity, balance, composition, lack of a focal point are all examples of what could be contributing to “it just feels off.”

If your place just feels drab, consider the causes. It could be lack of textural interest, lighting, or maybe you’ve just outgrown your greige phase and you’re lusting after a little color. But trust me, you’ll see it all way faster in a photo than you will by just looking at the room.


Once you’ve analyzed the shots, pick a starting point.

For people with clutter problems (a crowded club to which I most certainly belong), begin there. And don’t be afraid to start small: a task with a quick outcome and start-to-finish arc that you can completely visualize is a great way to avoid being overwhelmed. You’d be surprised by how much of a jumpstart you’ll get from “take magazines to the recycling bin” as Item #1 on your To Do list. (Save those archive copies of W42ST though!)

Focus on a place or area you spend a lot of time in: your videoconference background, or a direction you face a lot. This will give you some more immediate-ish gratification that you can probably finish off before in-house happy hour.


As much as practical advice isn’t always the sexiest, sometimes the best way to shake the dust off an interior is to, well, shake the dust off the interior. Vacuum. Start swiffering. Do the deep clean, not just a dust-around. And ask any realtor: one of the best investments in time to make your house look and feel better is to wash your windows.


My favorite way to fall in love with what you’ve got all over again is to move it around. Once things are dislodged from a spot they’ve always been in, you start to see them differently, and remind yourself why you loved it in the first place.

Nowhere is that more true than with your art. Take it ALL down, walk it around, change rooms, and temporarily place it in new spots. When you’re ready to get hammering, reconsider how and where you’ve shown pieces before. Cluster small pieces. Lean and layer. Stack the work vertically. Get everything up on a gallery wall, leave another wall bare. Don’t overlook your kitchen or bathroom: two places in which I love to place favorite pieces. Just try to steer clear of the rookie mistakes: art that’s too small for the space, or pieces floating off away from the furniture beneath it.

Same goes for accessories: clear off a few surfaces, and start from scratch. Sure, some stuff might end up back where it started, but you’ll never know until you give it even the quickest vacation. And when it comes back, do what we can’t right now: cluster in groupings.

This summer, most of that art that I had stored under my bed finally found its way to a freshly-painted and re-colored gallery wall, with a little (lot) of help from my friends at iLevel.


One refresh trick I lean on a lot: rotate your rugs. I once had a client who swore we had sent her rug out for professional cleaning. Nope. Just gave it a 180. Many rugs have a light and a dark direction, and the room, and the rug color, can be seriously changed when you switch the rug’s orientation. It also helps a rug avoid overexposure to traffic or damaging sunlight.

Then flip the cushions on your upholstery. Not only will it help your sofa immediately look newer, but it will help it age a bit more slowly and gracefully. (Let’s face it: you have one favorite spot from which to binge watch, and, dude, it shows.) Same goes for dining and arm chairs: swap their places. And throw pillows are called that for a reason: throw them somewhere they haven’t been before.

My last bright idea? Change your lightbulbs. Even desperate times are no excuse for bad LED lighting. No one should be living in a space that looks like the inside of a refrigerator.

And if all else fails, or this is too much to make happen by your next Zoom meeting or virtual date, fake it. Find me on Facebook and download any of my room backgrounds. Problem solved.

Now, about those sweatpants…

Taken any tips from Shelter? Show us your befores and afters (hashtag #W42ST on Instagram). And if you’d Like to Ask Patrick a question, get in touch at


Patrick J Hamilton is an interior designer, writer, stylist, art consultant, and activist, living and working on the northern edge of Hell’s Kitchen, in the studio Apartment Therapy named its inaugural “Smallest, Coolest Home.”

His work has been seen on HGTV,,, Apartment Therapy, on the pages of Traditional Home and Holiday House: Ten Years of Designing for a Cure, which he co-wrote. He’s contributed to The Bilerico Project and HuffPost Gay Voices. He spearheaded and appeared in “It Gets Better: NYC Designing Men,” a video supporting The Trevor Project, and is a founding member of Safer Spaces: Design for Gun Safety Awareness. He blogs infrequently, but thoroughly, at Ask Patrick. Insta: @patrickJhamiltondesigns

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