Rekha Lyons lives in a 515-square-foot studio in Adams Morgan with Melo, her 4-year-old silky wire-haired miniature dachshund.
Lyons, who is 32 and currently on a work sabbatical from the marketing and communications world, moved into this apartment in June 2021. She originally lived in Portland, Oregon, and signed the lease via a virtual tour. “It had incredible light, an amazing view of a church, and all the charm,” Lyons says of the space’s touches like hardwood floors and painted window trim. She also loved that it’s rent controlled, has two large walk-in closets, and comes with a separate entryway. “That’s become one of my favorite features,” she says. “I feel like I have the elements of a home, but in 515 square feet.”
Here, we chat with Lyons about DIYing a rental, shopping for longevity, and her love of all things French:
What was your inspiration for your home’s aesthetic?
“I love everything Parisian and antique. I wanted to marry the subtle charm of French interiors, via moldings, ceiling medallions, and gold mirrors, with the pieces I collect that remind me of important times in history. For example, I have two antique bookends that are busts of of Lincoln—a nod to my love of history and our democracy.
What was the biggest splurge you purchased for your home?
“I spent about $800 on my fireplace mantel. It was originally $1,600 on Wayfair, and I waited a few years until it went on sale, so I consider that a win. I don’t have a lot of capital to invest in my space, so most of what I have is off Facebook Marketplace. I’ve bought a lot of items secondhand. I’ve also collected items I love over the last 10 years, even if I don’t have an immediate need for them. I keep them on a shelf in my closet and know that I can pull from my own closet-slash-warehouse when I need them. I also buy things I know I can repurpose in future homes, like my antique dresser or my antique corner cabinet. Both of those could go in a nursery or dining room someday. I dream about turning the dresser into a changing table—the nursery of my dreams! Similarly, I use an antique entryway table in my kitchen that would be perfect for a larger entryway in a home.
What’s the best deal you’ve scored on an item for your home?
“I’m obsessed with Facebook Marketplace. I’m on it multiple times a day. When I first moved to DC, I found two gold mirrors from separate sellers (one is above my antique dresser and the other is above my fireplace). I think I spent somewhere around $80 for each (plus the cost of Zipcars to get them in Virginia). If I purchased those new or from auction houses, my guess is that I would have spent thousands. Utilizing Facebook Marketplace and similar sites like Craigslist is my biggest tip for anyone who values a good deal. Especially in a transient city like DC, where there are so many sellers looking to move things quickly. And when you combine that with the area’s historic properties and considerable amount of generational wealth, it’s amazing what treasures you can find.
What DIYs have you done to the space?
“So many. I’m really proud of my entryway and kitchen transformations. I painted my entryway a really smokey black with Roman Clay paint from Portola Paints and added a chandelier I scored from Facebook Marketplace. It really defines that space as separate from the rest of my home. I wanted something with impact when you first walk in—something that says ‘This isn’t a regular entryway; it’s a cool entryway’ (millennials will appreciate my Mean Girls reference).
“Last fall, I completed a cosmetic renovation to my kitchen. I painted the walls with green limewash paint, changed my cupboard hardware to brass, and added an entirely new setup against via an antique table, faux stems, a cookbook stand, and wall shelving to display glassware and pretty things. I also added an antique corner cabinet, which both hides the exposed side of my fridge and also adds to the Parisian and antique look I love.
“I’ve also added peel-and-stick flooring to my bathroom and painted the walls black, and I’ve switched out light fixtures. Don’t be afraid to make cosmetic improvements to your rental. Most landlords are flexible given the right communication, and everyone deserves to live in a space that reflects their style, regardless of whether or not you own it.
What’s your favorite part of the house?
“I adore my faux fireplace. Since I live in a studio, it’s visible from every part of my home aside from my bathroom: sunrises from bed, cooking dinner, playing games with friends, my Zoom background. That’s one of the best things about a small space—it’s easy to fulfill all my fireplace-in-every-room dreams. I added brick peel-and-stick wallpaper behind it to make it look more authentic, as well as some logs to give it that cozy vibe. For anyone looking to add a faux fireplace to their own space, I recommend finding a corner for it and then adding some kind of wallpaper behind.
What’s your favorite item in your home?
“Hands down, the French-looking antique dresser that my dad and I restored before I moved to the East Coast. I bought it for $90 and we completely stripped it, repaired some structural deformities, repainted it, and added new hardware. Because of my limited space, I use it as a nightstand and store my makeup and jewelry inside. Best of all, my dad wrote me a surprise note on the bottom of one of the drawers. When I was 16, he took me to Paris and told me he wanted me to experience it for the first time with a man who would always love me. That inspired my obsession with all things French, and I think about my family on the West Coast whenever I look at it.
What’s your favorite thing to do in your home?
“Make changes to it! I’m constantly thinking about ways to improve it. I was just featured in Apartment Therapy, and I couldn’t stand the fact that some of my walls weren’t painted. I’m single, but I essentially feel like I’m dating my home because of how much time I put into it. I’m constantly looking for antique art for the walls—I just picked up a beautiful piece from the Dupont Little Flea market—dreaming up DIY wall moldings, and getting it messy so that I can clean it again.
Who are your top dream dinner party guests?
Barack and Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Pete and Chasten Buttigieg, Ron Steslow of the Politicology podcast, and the influencer Anna Kloots. Can you tell I’m into politics?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.