News & Politics

The Blogger Beat: Department of the Interior

This week, we learn how to spruce up our digs with home-design blogger Jenn Lore.

Home-design blogger Jenn Lore at U Street furniture store GoodWood. Photograph by Chris Leaman

You can’t get more Washington than a home-design blog whose name riffs on the federal government. Enter Department of the Interior.

Jenn Lore, who works at Edelman PR, launched the blog a year ago as an outlet for her creative side. She uses the site as a scrapbook of sorts, posting photos from magazines, products she likes, artwork, and more. “I write for someone like me: a younger urbanite who loves repurposing vintage finds, likes feminine but unfussy design, and who has a major crush on the idea of rural living,” she says.

Lore doesn’t have professional training—home design is simply a hobby—but she’s been interested in it for as long as she can remember: “I was the only kid on the block who would rather spend a weekend afternoon rearranging my room than playing on the swing set.” Her current canvas? A one-bedroom apartment in DC’s West End.

We caught up with the Staten Island native to talk shop about interior design. Read on for Lore’s tips on making a small room look bigger, landlord-friendly design ideas, where to find bargain furniture, and lots more.

Five words to describe your design aesthetic:
“Simple, unfussy, vintage, feminine, and authentic. I describe myself as a city girl enthralled by the simple comforts of home. To me, luxury is less Liberace and more Little House on the Prairie—it’s the freedom of open space, sun-dried linens, the shimmer in an antique mirror. I’m really drawn to spaces that evoke those feelings but still make sense for city life.”

Five words to describe the decor in your home:
“Either ‘filled with what I love’ or ‘still a work in progress.’ I moved into my apartment when I was a junior at George Washington University, so I’ve been slowly replacing the Ikea stand-ins with items that I really adore. While it might not work for everyone, I love how my apartment has evolved over time. Instead of just buying the Pottery Barn showroom, I have a memory associated with many of my possessions, like really cool graphic pottery from Honduras or a detailed rattan chest I found in a consignment shop.”

Biggest design or space dilemma you’ve confronted in your home—and how you solved it:
“I get natural light in my apartment from about 9 to 10:30 AM—that’s it. To combat the constant darkness, I started bringing in a lot of creamy white linens, ceramics, rugs, and art. It’s made a huge difference and really brightens everything up. I also have a big mirror directly opposite the living-room window, which sort of mimics the effect of having a window on both sides of the room.”

Favorite magazine for gleaning design inspiration:
“I still love the standards like House Beautiful, Elle Decor, and Country Living, but I’ve also been using international magazines more frequently. Some standouts are Marie Claire Maison, Canadian House & Home, and Country Living UK. But my gold standard is, and always will be, Martha Stewart Living. Even though Martha’s had her fair share of troubles, I’ll always admire her for shining a spotlight on the unpaid domestic work women have done for centuries, presenting it in an artful way with the respect it deserves, and making a boatload of money doing it. She’s awesome.”

Best neighborhood in Washington for gleaning design inspiration:

“I’m most inspired just walking around quiet streets in Georgetown and Eastern Market. The rowhouses in Georgetown have such interesting histories and are maintained beautifully. I like Eastern Market because there’s a very sweet hominess there and a real sense of family life.”

Best DIY decor project you’ve ever completed:
“I have a bad addiction to buying artwork and prints with no clear idea of what I’ll ever do with them. To this day, I have a stack of stuff reserved for when I have more than two rooms to decorate. I decided to make a dent in the pile by creating a hodgepodge gallery wall in my dining area. Because I was bringing together a very diverse group of work—photos, pen-and-ink drawings, art prints, and paintings—I used one type of frame to unify them. The trick in making a gallery wall is to make it symmetrical without being too perfect. The frames don’t have to be in straight lines, nor do they all have to be either vertical or horizontal; however, they should all be equal distance apart.”

How to begin a design overhaul:
“You know that one thing you really hate about your home? Fix it. When I moved in, my dining area had the world’s most hideous overhead fixture. It was a brass-and-plastic fluorescent atrocity that was crooked. The only good thing about that lamp was the sickly pale light it cast on everything I ate—it probably made me lose five pounds. I can’t believe I lived with it as long as I did. Once I replaced that chandelier, it felt like my apartment was worth investing in. Other changes felt easy to make by comparison, and some things I thought needed changing didn’t. Their only problem was proximity to the ugly light.”

How to make a small space look bigger:

“I love small spaces—I live in one. The best place to start is with a coat of paint. Lots of people think painting a room white will make a small room look bigger, but I think it does the opposite. I prefer warmer neutrals or a nice muddy grey. If you won’t be using the room all the time, it’s also a great opportunity to experiment with very dark colors or with bold wallpaper. You should also not be afraid to use one or two large-scale pieces. Filling a tiny room with tiny furniture just draws attention to its limitations. I would start with a huge piece of art on a wall or a big but refined sofa. Finally, everything absolutely, positively must have its own place. Little pockets of clutter are never cute, especially when they’re between you and a light switch at 2 AM.”

Three landlord-friendly ways to decorate and personalize an apartment:
“This is a great question—it’s something I struggle with in my own apartment and have covered on the blog before. Being a renter obsessed with interior design is pretty much the opposite of fun. You’re tormented by overhead fluorescent lighting, stark white walls, appliances running since 1974, and let’s not even talk about the weird Southwestern-motif wallpaper in the kitchen. My first piece of advice is just to ask what changes you can make. Your landlord probably knows the apartment needs some work and might be happy to foot the bill if you’re willing to do the legwork of picking out fixtures and appliances. You might also be able to work out a deal where you can paint the apartment, provided you paint it back when you leave. If all of that fails, here are a few other landlord-friendly ways to make your apartment home: (1) Upgraded hardware—knobs, pulls, light switches—can give a room a little bit of architectural gravitas; (2) use at least five sources of lighting in a medium-to-large-size room. This will help free your dependence on existing overhead lights that are never attractive; and (3) always invest in pieces you love. I recommend using budget-friendly furniture as placeholders until you find the right piece for
you. People run into problems when they spend a lot of money on something they only marginally liked to begin with. It makes it all the more painful to replace it when you do find something you really want. If you fill an apartment with stuff that reflects your personality, it’ll feel like home—linoleum floors and all.”

Where to go to splurge on home decor:
“If you’re going to splurge, I recommend buying straight from an artist or craftsman or supporting local boutique owners. I also think some of the bigger shops in Cady’s Alley are good places to splurge since they work with tremendously talented designers. I like Thos. Moser, Ligne Roset, and Baker Furniture.”

Where to find the best bargains:

“Check consignment shops and flea markets. You might be able to find better bargains elsewhere, but half the fun for me is the thrill of the hunt.”

Where to find one-of-a-kind goods:

“I’m a huge fan of handmade goods on Etsy, and I buy everything from artwork to letterpress stationery to pillows on there. Locally, I love shopping at antiques shops and art galleries on 14th Street or Book Hill in Georgetown. In warmer months, I also like treasure hunting at the Georgetown flea market.”

Favorite accent color:

“Because I use creamy neutrals a lot, I like to use metallics as an accent color. I love how gold or silver pops against neutral colors. I collect mercury glass and vintage glass bottles, which have the shimmery look of metallics.”

Favorite local designer:
“Darryl Carter. I think he has redefined DC style when it comes to interiors. He leans toward traditional objects and furniture but uses them in an exceptionally minimal, sculptural way. It’s very unique and looks amazing.”

Favorite local design blog besides your own:

“It’s impossible to choose just one! My favorites are Pretty Lovely, Style Redux, Architect Design, My Notting Hill, and Semigloss Chic.”

Next week, we take to the kitchen with Not Derby Pie blogger (and sometimes vegetarian) Rivka Friedman. She gives us recipes for her favorite dishes, tells us her kitchen disaters, and much more. Check back on Wednesday for the interview!

Hogs Haven
All Blogger Beat interviews

Have a favorite blogger you’d like to hear from? Send suggestions to

Subscribe to Washingtonian
Follow Washingtonian on Twitter

More>> Capital Comment Blog | News & Politics | Party Photos