This writer's light-filled apartment makes a case for snubbing trends and prioritizing personal style

It's the green velvet couch for us

Apartment living room with green couch and pug sitting on top
(Image credit: Ella Cajayon)

There's a reason why so many people obsess over the idea of New York City living. The movies are kinda right. Skyline views, incredible restaurants, and bars on your doorstep, quirky design features — these perks all exist, but so do the cons. You can't forget the sky-high rent prices, bazillion-floor walk-ups, and smelly garbage odor that rocks up when it's summer. 

Still, the 8.4 million people living there gladly embrace it all. And many of them have an unreal ability to decorate their spaces. Ella Cajayon is one of them. She lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with her one-year-old pug Janet (SO cute). It sounds dreamy, though she jokes that it seems "glamorous until you realize you have to climb up five floors to get here." 

As a freelance writer for Marc Jacobs and several other clients, we weren't surprised to find that her home is also super stylish. For starters, she has a curvy green velvet couch in her living room, and that's barely scratching the surface of her interior style.

Ella and Janet the pug sitting on a green couch

(Image credit: Ella Cajayon)

The background story

Cajayon has been perfecting this place for almost a year but dreaming about it for much longer. "I wasn’t anticipating moving but my friend actually used to rent this apartment, and when I found out she was moving to LA, I jumped on the opportunity to move in as fast as I could because this place is such a gem," she says.

This friend also happened to be impeccably savvy when it came to decorating the apartment. "I had a LOT to live up to," says Cajayon. "She had a stunning gallery wall in the living room, a disco ball planter that caught the sunlight so beautifully, and she had such decadent modern pieces throughout her home that truly belonged in a magazine."

Now that Cajayon (and Janet) had full reign of the design direction, she got to work. 

Apartment with a gold mirror and bench

(Image credit: Ella Cajayon)

Cajayon's apartment style

Though it's easy to squeeze people into a "preferred design style" box, for a lot of people it's hard to limit themselves to one look. "You know, not to be *that* person — but I’m not sure I know how to define my interior design style into a singular category," says Cajayon. "I wouldn’t know enough to deem it as 'mid-century modern' or any buzzword to describe an aesthetic, but instead, I truly feel my home is an extension of my own personal style and my evolution as a person."

We have to say that's a much more liberating way to look at your home design style. Rather than stuffing her place with furniture and decor that adheres to trends or a store's limiting and overly curated picks, she went with a blend of items. "It’s filled with hand-me-downs, pieces that have lasted me since my very first year in New York, and momentums of trips and people in my life." 

For her, it was important she had items that are "beautiful, cozy, and reminiscent of where I come from with a dose of humor sprinkled in between since I am someone who will never 100% take myself seriously."

Gallery wall in the corner of Cajayon's apartment

(Image credit: Ella Cajayon)

Cajayon's design inspiration and process

Cajayon notes that there are two things she aims for when creating her home, no matter where she lives or moves to. "The space needs to feel peaceful since it’s my very own little cave away from the hustle and bustle of New York," she says. "But it also needs to feel like me, so whatever it would take to create a space that basically feels like one giant hug is exactly what I wanted to achieve."

Trends and hot new home aesthetics may seem appealing at first glance, but Cajayon has proved it's worth ignoring those and looking at what's really you. She still looks to Pinterest, Instagram, and friends for inspiration, but her individuality is front and center. "I truly think everything about my home is rooted in my personal style, so it only was natural for me to gravitate towards a color palette I love to wear," she says.

Coffee table with print rug and pug beneath

(Image credit: Ella Cajayon)

On choosing the look and color palette

Cajayon is drawn to neutrals, but it doesn't mean her entire place is only covered in beige, black, and white. She mixes things up with extra texture (through wood and rattan) and works in a good range of accent colors, including green, plum, and deep orange. 

Rather than solely plucking looks and colors from the usual sources, she looks to someone incredibly important for inspiration. "My color palette is definitely inspired by how my mother decorated our home growing up," she says. "Similar to her, I loved deep, dramatic hues contrasted with soft neutrals and so much of my mother’s spirit and style I strive to carry with me wherever I go."

Apartment dining area with a gallery wall

(Image credit: Ella Cajayon)

Her favorite room

It's an impossible question for a lot of people, but we still like to ask. Cajayon laughs noting "it’s almost like asking who your favorite child is." For her, the living room and dining room tie for first place. "I honestly never thought in my life I would have the space for a dining room in an NYC apartment but here I am," she says. "That room is so special to me because it features a gallery wall of photos I pulled from coffee table books that have been given to me as gifts, and some of the images remind me of moments and people in my life who I treasure so, so much." 

She also installed a projector for an upgraded movie night set-up (can we come over?). Plus, the view of the Manhattan skyline from her window is hard to beat, being in the room "just feels so special and surreal sometimes." 

Her love for her living room comes from similar reasons. It's another special curation of objects that hold special meanings. "It will always be the room with my most cherished memories since it’s housed everything — movie nights, dates, parties, and out-of-town visits," she says.

Artwork and decor lined up on a wall in Cajayon's apartment

(Image credit: Ella Cajayon)

The tough parts

Designing your home is never easy, even for the pros. Whether it's a creative block when it comes to actually decorating or an issue with your apartment's structure or layout, there are always annoying obstacles. New York apartments in particular tend to have some weird quirks, which Cajayon confirms.

"For me, this apartment is somehow… uneven," she says. "So nailing the gallery wall together and assembling other pieces in my home involved figuring out how to make things look symmetrical when the walls and floors aren’t symmetrical at all." 

Homes in this city also tend to be, well, teeny tiny. "You’ll notice my bathroom isn’t featured and that is because it is literally the size of an airplane bathroom," she says. "I can’t even find a bath mat to fit on the floor because it’s that tiny! So similar to so many aspects of surviving the city, it’s all about being strategic."

A bedroom with a mirror and hanging artwork and lights

(Image credit: Ella Cajayon)

A little advice

When it comes to decorating your own apartment space, Cajayon has some helpful hints. Firstly, your decor doesn't have to be perfectly complementary. "Embrace the mismatch when pairing pieces together," she notes. "Find pieces that can serve multiple purposes to make the most of the space. Take advantage of wall space and mirrors — and all hail whoever invented a ladder and command stripes."

Speaking of ladders, another hot tip? Get yourself one. Being 5'0, Cajayon found this was essential — eventually. "I have had the pride to avoid buying [one] for seven years until now, but I will say, embarrassment and humility aside, it was a good purchase."

Cajayon's apartment entryway with coats and hat hanging up

(Image credit: Ella Cajayon)

What does home mean to you?

It's tough to put into words what your home means to you. Cajayon made it look easy with her definition. "It’s a place that should embody who you are and a safe space you can turn to for comfort and ease," she says. "I mentioned this earlier, but home to me really is somewhere to come back to that feels like a giant hug.

Home to me really is somewhere to come back to that feels like a giant hug.

Ella Cajayon

We're feeling a li'l teary-eyed now. Home means something different for everyone. But we think anyone can get behind the idea of your home serving as an embrace every time you step through the door, especially when it looks as stylish as this light-filled, homey apartment.

Melissa Epifano
Former Global Editor in Chief

Hi, I'm former editor of Real Homes. I cut my teeth in New York City, covering fashion and beauty but eventually made my way into the world of homes. I've spent several years writing and editing for The Spruce, Apartment Therapy, Forbes, MyDomaine, People, InStyle, Real Simple, Lonny and more. I track trends like it's a competitive sport but am equally excited about covering products and style ideas that stand the test of time.