Before and After: This Family’s Townhouse Remodel Includes A Gorgeous, Affordable IKEA Hack

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Designer Gianna Marzella-Vazquez, who owns the boutique interior design and styling firm Gia Mar Interiors, lived in this townhouse with her husband and two young sons. Formerly dated and run down, she put her design skills to the test, crafting a high-end looking home on a not-super-high-end budget.

Name: Gianna Marzella-Vazquez, husband David, 5-year-told son Leo, and 2-year-old son Noah.
Location: Beechhurst — Queens, NYC
Size: 1800 square feet
Type of Home: Townhouse
Years lived in: 5 years, owned

This project is near and dear to my heart as it was my first home where I lived with my husband David and two young children, Leo and Noah. We took on a massive renovation while I was pregnant with Leo. The home became my little design laboratory, and after the renovation, I just kept tweaking the overall look with furniture and accessories. I guess it was difficult to put the pencil down when it was my own space, so we photographed it only shortly before we moved out.  

We redid the layout entirely and completely renovated the kitchen and bathrooms. All products and finishes are attainable, but I like to think the application of said materials, and how I detailed them, make them appear higher end. There are a lot of DIYs, fully custom, and also semi-custom solutions. We carved out nooks and crannies in every possible place to maximize the space to accommodate myself, my husband, our two children, and oh, yes, my interior design office once Covid hit. It’s a lot to ask of 1800 square feet, but we made it happen. We loved and used every inch of the house and were happy to find the right buyers who appreciated the space as much as we did.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: My style is inviting, modern, and a little bohemian but in a very tailored way. I love natural material, abstract patterns, and weathered finishes. 

Inspiration: I am very inspired by nature and bringing the colors of the outdoors in. I love rough and imperfect textures juxtaposed with sleek materials. I am very inspired by the work of Kelly Wearstler and how she uses furniture as sculpture. I also draw inspiration from color. I generally have a restrained approach to it, both in how I dress and how I create spaces, but it is nonetheless critical. I love neutral colors and how they allow the shape of something to really be seen and appreciated. The foundation pieces and materials of my spaces are typically neutral, but almost always layered with some color. The colors are generally soft, muted, and found in nature. For example, the main bedroom is basically the same color palette of my current capsule wardrobe — whites, creams, black, cognac, and blush/nude/terracotta tones.   

Favorite Element: I love my desk! It is so functional, since it has an entire second work level that nests below the tabletop. I use it to store my material trays, which contain the finishes of my active projects. When I need to layout materials, I can pull it out completely and slide it perpendicular to the main desk for an enormous workspace. It is also something I designed with my husband, so I love that it was a collaboration with him.

Biggest Challenge: The challenge here was blending my very high-end taste with my moderate budget and the reality that this would not be our forever home. I wanted to use quality materials that would last and stand the test of time. They needed to be interesting, and I had to love them, but I needed to be sure the next homeowner would as well. However, this was decidedly NOT a flip. It had to feel authentic to who we were. 

For example, tiles I originally wanted for the kitchen were hand glazed brick and just felt like too much of a splurge at 50 dollars per square foot, so I found a beautiful machine glazed tile from TileBar that was less than half the price but completely achieved the painterly and organic look I wanted for the kitchen backsplash. I think it is important to dream when designing. Don’t hold back! Figure out exactly what you would want if there were no limitations or constraints, and then come back to that design and figure out how to make it real in a way that aligns with your current investment level. The outcome will still capture the essence of your dream space, but if you start at the bottom, that is exactly where you will end up.

Proudest DIY: The main bedroom was a DIY/semi-custom job. We had a unique layout since the room was narrow but long. I didn’t want to fill it with furniture but rather wanted a more serene, hotel-like vibe of continuous case goods. I felt that limiting the materials and shapes would make the space feel larger. We created a feature wall that was comprised of two closets, which held hanging clothes as well as four drawers each (in lieu of bedroom dressers), floating shelving for display, and also to define the TV area, and a floating ledge for my vanity/informal desk area. We also took some space from the adjacent hallway closet to create a shelving alcove for my cosmetics and jewelry.

This design was really a partnership with my husband. I always tease him about the random stuff he watches on YouTube, though truth be told I too now learn so much there. Somehow, he stumbled upon an IKEA hack that inspired us to create this. The whole wall is nothing more than two IKEA PAX wardrobes (one of which came from our old East Village apartment by the way), MDF, and some crown molding. We took one of the IKEA shelves to the hardware store to have them match the exact same white as the wardrobe unit, and had all the adjacent components painted the same shade and finish of white. I used simple black hardware and wrapped the pulls in leather for a high-end look and a more beautiful tactile experience when opening the doors. I also like that the cognac color for the leather softened the black color in the space. I envisioned some touches of black, but I generally wanted to keep it light in there. The pulls are a dramatic 18” long, so it felt like too much black if we left them bare. We used the same concept for the closets flanking the bed. The only furniture in the room was my vanity chair, the bedside tables, and the cedar chest at the foot of our bed. The space felt open and was incredibly functional for us. Every object had its home.

Biggest Indulgence: The architectural finishes were our biggest indulgence. We did not skimp on the crown molding, or the wall base. I even designed the door casing profile myself, and had it made by a local lumber supplier. We used solid wood doors, and high-quality blackened bronze hardware. The tactile experiences in a space matter to me as much as the visual. When you reach for a door lever and you can tell that it is durable and hefty, it just feels better in your hand and signals quality and attention to detail.

What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? I love my living room stools/coffee tables. The stools are solid wood and have such a unique geometric shape. They are made from a cross section of a tree, so the tops have very interesting graining. I love how they look together and apart. They are used both ways all the time. We would pull them up to the dining table when we needed extra seats and used them clustered as a coffee table on a day-to-day basis. Also, my kids liked to turn them on their sides and pretend they were horses. Anything that keeps my kids busy on a consistent basis is a winner in my book. The “Beam Stools” are made by a small company called Holler designs. They are based out of Tennessee and use locally sourced lumber. The stools come in a myriad of colors, but the white lets the shape stand out, in my opinion. They can be purchased directly from Holler or from West Elm.

I loved all my Frigidaire professional appliances. They are smudge proof, which is probably my favorite thing about them. I am sort of a lazy clean person. I really want things to look as nice as possible at all times, but I have a life to live and really can’t be wiping my 2-year old’s fingerprints off my appliances on a daily basis. This series also looks high end but is well priced. The appliances are made in America, which is nice when you can swing it.  

Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: Go to the ceiling with your kitchen cabinets. If you live in a small space, you will never regret the extra row of shelves it gives you. It is also a much nicer look. Also get creative with your existing storage. We took part of our second floor hallway closet to create a shelving alcove in our bedroom. The closet was 3’ deep. No one really wants to reach that far back. Using it in another room captured some very valuable space for us. And we created a shallow entryway closet. We didn’t have the space for full depth, so we made one that was only 14 inches deep, but we were still able to store coats in it by using a laundry valet.

And if you have a small dining area, like we did in our open concept home, consider an oval dining table. The rounded edges soften the space and make it feel more open because there are no corners to bump into. It also visually leaves more negative space in a room. It is the most versatile table shape because you can add what seems like an endless amount of people to it since it is one continuous edge with no corners. The table was set for four on a daily basis, and it looked great that way. We have had up to 10 people sit at that table.

Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? If you are afraid you can’t afford custom, don’t forget about Etsy! I had our dining table made from two different Etsy sources. The top, created by a woodworker, is a solid spalted maple, which is a rare wood. It is a weird size, 68” x 42”, but that was the best size for the space, and I was insistent. I had the base made by a metal worker, and we just screwed the top to the base ourselves. The table cost less than $2000, and this is unheard of for something custom, and especially for solid wood. If you care enough to spend the time to think things through and get creative, Etsy is an amazing resource.



  • General Color Throughout — Benjamin Moore “858 Athena”
  • General Trim Throughout — Benjamin Moore “CC-20 Decorator’s White”
  • Main Bedroom — Benjamin Moore “2163-50 Burlap”
  • Leo’s Bedroom (light green walls) — Benjamin Moore “463 Woodland White”
  • Noah’s Bedroom (light blue walls) — Benjamin Moore “2041-70 Irish Mint” * I had this lightened by 50 percent because I wanted an almost white blue
  • Office — Benjamin Moore “OC-117 Simply white”




  • Dining table— Etsy (custom)






  • Desk — ​Custom built-in desk with pull-out table below that can be used to double the work area and or hold design materials for active projects.
  • Chair — ​ Knoll

Thanks Gianna!

This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.