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Fair Trade Apartment Tour
The first thing I did when it became clear we were moving was systematically search Craigslist for apartments. I knew I wanted to live in a walkable location and preferably a neighborhood recommended by friends who’d previously attended my program. But we needed to keep our budget very low, which meant that I was mostly restricted to 3rd floor walk-ups with questionable layouts.
I bookmarked the listing for our apartment early on because it met our location and budget criteria, but the pictures were SO UGLY. The place looked dark, outdated, and…just strange. Still, I’m glad I took a chance on having my friend Facetime me in to the tour, because it looked so much better “in person.”
We live on the top floor of a three-story row house built in the late 1890s. The space is a bit eccentric, with four exposed brick walls throughout, an interior staircase that leads from the door to the living space, wonky ceilings, wood beams, and a few generations’ worth of cabinetry and other “improvements.” But we’re used to this, in a way, because we lived in a similarly wonky basement apartment in Charlottesville.
The important thing, for me, is having a few well-lit spaces to bask in – as well as use for blog photography – and I’m so pleased with the expansive bedroom in particular. There have been a lot of “make it work” moments as we’ve set out to organize all our stuff in the new space, because we downsized rooms and closets, leaving us with comparably little space to store things.
I made use of two stunning baskets from Ten Thousand Villages, plus a couple more I picked up at a local thrift shop. If you live in a small space, I’m learning, baskets and hampers are your best friend.
Acquiring Secondhand Goods
We have done our best over the years to acquire mostly secondhand furniture – from local thrift shops, Craigslist, friends, and family. I highly recommend measuring your space, setting up a Pinterest inspiration board, then searching for secondhand goods locally before running over to IKEA or frantically buying online.
If you’re on a budget, this is really a mandatory venture anyway, but it’s nice to feel in control of the process, and give yourself time to find what you need.
This time around, we did end up purchasing a few things new simply because we needed items that served a specific purpose and fit the space. I was also a recipient of a few lovely fair trade goods courtesy of my sponsors:
The bedroom came together pretty easily. In a light, airy space with orange brick accents, I knew I wanted to stick pretty closely to our previous color scheme of black, white, and gray scale – but this time with blue and tan accents – so I salvaged thrifted pillow cases, our cream quilt, a South American weaving that used to belong to my old boss’ mother-in-law (this same motif was just featured in a larger version on the finale of Jane the Virgin! I could not believe my eyes!), and a lovely rug from Yabal.
Wool Rug – Yabal Handicrafts
Based in Guatemala, Yabal works with women artisans to produce a line of eco-friendly home textiles and accessories. I’ve had this exceedingly soft wool rug for a couple years now – having first reviewed it here – and I intentionally keep it close to the dresser so I can feel it on my bare feet as I put on makeup in the morning.
Yabal recently released a line of home textiles made with recycled denim.
Kaisa Hamper – Ten Thousand Villages
Stunning and sturdy, with the nostalgic, sweet smell of dried grass wafting off of it and imparting itself on stored linens, the Kaisa Hamper was produced by women artisans associated with Bangaldesh’s Hajiganj artisan group, which Ten Thousand Villages has been working with for nearly 20 years.
I use it to store extra throws and heavier blankets.
- Thrifted pillow cases from Under the Canopy and West Elm (they have a fair trade collection)
- Thrifted and hand-me-down furniture
- Thrifted artwork, reframed in new frames
- Leaf art by Michelle Morin on Etsy
- Thrifted hamper and butcher block table
- Jewelry chest – gift from my grandma in middle school
- Charlottesville-made weaving and watercolor print (from Darling Boutique)
- Oil painting by Frank Dong, purchased in San Francisco
- Daniel’s great grandparents’ marriage certificate
- NOVICA multi-color rug
- Platform bed frame by Zinus
The Living Room
The living room was a doozy to photograph because the windows look out on a wooded area, and light doesn’t really permeate until evening. But in real life, the space has a charming, cabin-like vibe.
As you can see in the photo above, there’s a large brick platform in the center of the space that used to hold an antique wood-burning stove (I saw it in older photos of the space while searching for apartments).
The stove was taken out for safety reasons and I’m secretly relieved, because it means we can use that space for something else, in this case our TV and a chest I use as a coffee table.
I was so happy we decided to bring our beloved, thrifted green velvet couch with us. This was one of our first purchases as a married couple – more than nine years ago – and it’s kismet that now green velvet couches are “on trend.”
Since ours is a sectional, you can use it in this L shape or extend it out like a regular couch. In a small space, the former layout works really well.
Bird Pillow – Amani Ya Juu
Available in 3 different styles, this bird pillow is appliquéd with pieces of kitenge – a fabric style popular across East, West, and Central Africa – with a handwoven cotton textile base.
Amani Ya Juu, which means “peace from above” in Swahili, employs close to 200 women in Kenya and Uganda – with a Chattanooga storefront and warehouse that extends the mission of peace to US customers and employees.
With a special emphasis on providing safe space, community, and holistic job skills – from stitching to bookkeeping to management – to refugees and other vulnerable women, Amani ultimately hopes to bring peace and stability to the communities in which it operates. I first worked with Amani 4 years ago and still regularly use their lovely salad spoons.
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- Thrifted couch
- GlobeIn coasters
- Hand-me-down loveseat
- Thrifted small bookshelf
- Local, sibling- and friend-made artwork
- Hand-me-down chest from my grandma
- Handknit blanket from my mother-in-law
- An inexplicably large number of stuffed animals
We have a very small – but easy to clean! – bathroom, so I didn’t need to do much to fill out the space. We did end up purchasing a couple of OEKO-TEX certified cotton bathroom items – a shower curtain and rug – from Target. Our previous shower curtain had been with us for nine years and felt really dark and heavy for the space, so I took a gamble on something sort of ethical but not totally there.
Bright Bits Jute Basket – Ten Thousand Villages
Produced by Ten Thousand Villages’ fair trade artisan partner, Dhaka Handicrafts, in Bangladesh, this basket is handmade out of sturdy yet pliable jute with recycled sari pieces woven in. It is the perfect thing for bath towels in this tiny space since we don’t have a linen closet! I can fit 6-7 full size towels in here.
- Thrifted small basket
- Thrifted wooden box (similar fair trade options)
- Whale art by Michelle Morin on Etsy
- OEKO-TEX certified shower curtain and rug from Target
This post took a million hours to put together, but I’m sure I forgot something, so if you have any questions, ask in the comments!
Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.