Janet Lee is a serial small-space nester. She has lived in a dozen pocket-sized spaces. Although not a professional decorator, (by day, she is a mild-mannered TV producer) she is a true design enthusiast. Each apartment along the way has become a personal decorating lab where Lee has created and road-tested posh, portable and affordable ways to live large and proud in her petite pad.
We just LOVE her ideas!
Janet shares her DIY projects, room makeovers and tips with us that have helped her to live happy and well in her nutshell. You must read her book, ‘Living in a Nutshell’!
ASIANCE: What is your background? Where did you grow up?
Janet: I am first-generation Korean American. I grew up in a large, boisterous family with two older brothers and three sisters in sunny San Diego. It was a home full of love, laughter and lots of yummy homemade kimchee. My mother was a supreme cook and hostess. She would have me and my three other sisters form an assembly line in the kitchen to make dumplings and peel garlic. She artfully displayed the food, flowers and decorated the home with finesse. My mother is my style muse.
Growing up, I always had to share a room, which looking back, most likely fueled my future passion for designing small, chic spaces.
Working for over decade as a senior producer for Oprah, gave my mother and father bragging rights.
ASIANCE: What did your parents say that you were pursuing a career besides the traditional Asian background?
Janet: My parents were strict but they were not what you would call ‘Tiger Parents’. They never had to tell us to do our homework or get good grades. They led by example. They had such an admirable work ethic and sacrificed so much for us all that the least we could do was work hard in school.
My father is an accomplished surgeon and is known as the grandfather of microsurgical transplantation surgery. Luckily, my older siblings chose medicine and engineering, which eased the career path choice for the rest of us. I pursued a career in television and journalism and my parents have always been enthusiastic supporters. Working for over decade as a senior producer for Oprah, gave my mother and father bragging rights. No, their daughter didn’t go to Harvard (UC Berkeley would have to do) but she worked for O-pah-rah (the Korean pronunciation).
ASIANCE: What made you follow interior design as a career and not just a hobby. That is very hard to do!
Janet: I still keep my day job as a television producer but my passion for design continues to grow by leaps and bounds. I recently wrote a design book based on the popularity of my blog called ‘Living in a Nutshell’. I remind readers of my book and blog that I am not a professional decorator but that they should think of me as their design buddy on the front lines who has made all of the mistakes so they don’t have to.
The blog gives me a way to share space-saving projects, discoveries and DIY decorating tips with people from all over the world. The opportunity to share and teach is what motivates me.
ASIANCE: How do you keep your small places clutter free? Any advice? What about someone who has a big wardrobe?
Janet: I am constantly fighting the good fight against clutter. When you live in a petite space, you have to surrender to the fact that the majority of your storage solutions may be more open than hidden away in a closet or under a bed. There is only so much closet and cabinet space available. For my shoe collection, I hang my favorite high heels out in the open on wood molding strips on my bedroom wall. Mail, house keys, cameras and gloves are kept neat and tidy under boating straps strung across the wall in the foyer. (see attached photo) Since I am not a naturally neat and organized person, I have to make storage systems easy and fun to maintain or I won’t use them consistently.
ASIANCE: Any designers that you admire? Could be in any industry?
Janet: On the top of the list would be interior designer Kelly Wearstler who reinterpreted Hollywood Regency glamour for a younger generation. I fell in love with Tord Boontje’s paper cutout curtains and lampshades. He is an award-winning industrial products designer who grew up in the remote countryside in the Netherlands. The fairytales his mother would read to him as a child inspire his art to this day. His ‘Until Dawn Curtain’ hangs in my bedroom with cutouts of deer, flowers and snowflakes. Finally, there is sculptor and installation artist, Louise Bourgeois, who became world famous at age 70. Her work is so provocative, modern and intimate and it gave me the courage to reflect my personal side in design.
ASIANCE: Can you give us an idea of how you go from concept to completion?
Janet: The process varies but the first step usually stems from the list of flaws in a space that need correcting: a bad view, poor lighting, cramped bedroom etc. I like coming up with chic, creative, whimsical solutions to camouflage problem areas. For each room, I pick an anchor or a feature piece in the space and then it’s all about color. I love mixing bold colors and patterns. Small spaces are usually featureless boxes without much architectural interest. Bold color and patterns customize a space so it feels unique and not cookie-cutter, big-box store designed.
ASIANCE: Why are your favorite color schemes right now?
Janet: I love citron and grayish-pink together. Graphic patterns in black and white seem fresh again and metallic gold and bronze add just the right amount of pizzazz a tiny niche needs.
ASIANCE: Is there an ultimate project or dream project that was done which you would have or would like to take on?
Janet: I am currently working on my dream project. I am transforming a small beach shack into a charming cottage. It measures around 800-square feet and it is a true fixer-upper. On a very tight budget, I am not only renovating the inside of the house but I have to revamp the garden. I have a brown thumb so it has been challenging but truly satisfying. Like most old homes, there is very little closet and kitchen cabinet space and the bedrooms are postage-stamped sized.
ASIANCE: Are you still living in New York or LA? I can’t tell from your blog?
Janet: I lived in NYC for about 17 years and then recently moved back to my hometown of San Diego. I commute between LA and San Diego for my television gigs but I try to stay close to my family in San Diego.
For more on Janet Lee, please visit her website http://www.livinginanutshell.com/