Clockwise from bottom left: The chair was a Craigslist find that Byrne hauled from Brooklyn in a livery cab. “It had weird orange-velvet upholstery,” she says. She accidentally upholstered it in leather meant for clothing. Byrne found the “vintage-inspired” floor lamp at PBTeen, Pottery Barn’s line for the high-school set. “There’s really nothing ‘teenager’ about it,” she says. The mounted chalkware pheasants were found at a thrift store in St. Michael’s, Maryland, and the mallards on Etsy. The plate (also from Etsy) says “FiFi,” Byrne’s nickname. The paper flowers were party favors from a ball at the Museum of Arts and Design. The cable-knit vase is from Crate & Barrel. “It reminds me of home,” says the Ireland native. The whitewashed mirror and the oversize white candle holders are from the discount retailer HomeGoods.
Before she decided to single-handedly redesign her Lower East Side apartment, Fiona Byrne wasn’t really the handy type. “I could barely paint,” says Byrne, founder of byrnenotice.com, a lifestyle and culture website with a downtown slant. But the Irish transplant had style in spades, as well as a collection of unusual objects picked up here and there: a hammered tray from a souk in Marrakech, huge artificial pink flowers lifted from a Fashion Week party at the Soho House, a granite chunk from Nelson’s Pillar (a Dublin landmark until 1966, when it was destroyed by Republican militants).
Byrne had rented the same small one-bedroom since crossing the pond in 2004, and when her roommate left a year and a half ago, she finally began to make it her own—slowly. It started with the hallway, which she wallpapered in blue floral sheets using liquid starch. (“I got that tip from The Nate Berkus Show.”) Below, she created wainscoting from cut-up Ikea blinds. Next was a small annex that she turned into a Lucite-filled office. Each project opened the door to another and another until she was spending much of her spare time adding grosgrain-ribbon stripes to the bathroom walls. She stretched her budget with pieces from Pottery Barn’s teen collection and online stores like Etsy to update whitewashed Cape Cod style with warm textures and odd touches. And she became comfortable with using a manual saw and miter box. “Basically, I was a weekend warrior,” she says, noting that she spent about $6,000 on the entire project, including new furniture.
But there were limits to what she could teach herself. Take the decal fireplace—one of her proudest moments. She found the decal online, and once adhered to the wall, it gave her tiny living room a much-needed focal point. It’s topped by a shelf that holds a stuffed puffin, which she picked up in Iceland during the Reykjavík Fashion Festival, along with a couple other prized trinkets. “It still isn’t straight, and it’s not very sturdy,” Byrne says. “People come in and say, ‘That’s nice.’ I’m like, ‘Do not touch it!’ ”