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Stories for being at home.
A secret garden in the heart of a Los Angeles Highland Park neighborhood.

Two Nina's, One Urban Farm.

05 16 21
Julia Sherman

In the heart of Los Angeles Highland Park neighborhood, there’s a secret garden, masked by the facade of an unassuming one story house with a big green Toyota pickup truck parked in front. Make your way through the side gate, and therein you’ll find fruit trees pregnant with clusters of swollen papayas and blue ice cream bananas, bees gorging themselves on a healthy mix of native flowering plants and edible annuals like chickpeas, fava beans, dinosaur kale and tomatoes. There’s a lime green cottage for the world's happiest chickens, and baskets filled with orange calendula blossoms drying in the sun. While this might appear to be a wild enclave of nature in the midst of the concrete city, this is the no doubt the product of the tireless, passionate work of two women named Nina. These two are on a mission to change the way we understand our food system, on the most intimate, local scale.  

This place is called Ziza Urban Farm, and it’s one half of Ziza Foods, a collaboration between Nina Weithorn, an urban farmer, and Nina Anakar, the cook who turns these homegrown produce, hand-dried spices and medicinal herbs into Morrocan comfort food that you too can enjoy at their weekly Echo Park pop-ups (check their Instagram for ordering info, @zizafoods, and for a constant feed of useful garden tips). A visit with these two ambitious, mindful young women is an education in anything from how to feed a living vat of indigo dye, to the traditions of culinary apprenticeship in Morocco. I kept them company as they prepped for their next pop up, shelling furry fava beans (saving the pods for nitrogen rich mulch), pulling green garlic from the ground (planted as a crop, but also as a pest repellent), and dividing cardamom plants, used not only for their pods, but for their fresh, warm, aromatic leaves.


Nina Anakar – how did you get into food? What was your path to building your own catering company?

I work as a private chef and caterer in Los Angeles, cooking with flavors inspired by my Moroccan heritage and local California produce. I started my career working front of house in restaurants and was a part of Sweetgreen’s original brand marketing and customer experience team for four years as the on the ground lead for the company’s NYC and CA launches.

After that, I spent a few years learning to become a professional cook. I wanted to connect with my heritage, so I went to Morocco and learned to cook from local women. Then, I moved to California for cooking school, but decided instead to continue learning through apprenticeships and by working in restaurants that served the kind of food I wanted to be making.

Now I cook full time for private clients, brands, and cater events in Los Angeles.

 

Wow! Tell me more about learning to cook in Morocco. That must have been fascinating.

Much of my family lives there and my dad still works in the hotel industry and visits often. I spent time cooking with my grandmother in Tangier in addition to taking classes and apprenticing in Marrakech at an institution called Maison Arabe, among others.

Apprenticeships are the “formal” culinary training in Morocco, at least for people who want to learn Moroccan cuisine. “Dadas” are women who teach cooking classes throughout the country in various forms; they are considered the highest experts in the field, and people can learn under them. Many of them own restaurants, hotels, and schools where they also teach young cooks.

 

Nina W, tell me a little bit about how you came to be my garden guru, the person I turn to when I have questions about composting, natural dye, what to do with calendula, and how to fix a bust in my irrigation system?

I have been doing urban agricultural work for about seven years now. I grew up in Los Angeles going to farmer’s markets and cooking with my mother, so I’ve always had an appreciation for fresh, local produce. Then I went to college at New York University and during that time I worked at a couple different urban farms and organizations, and by the time I graduated, I knew that growing food was something that I wanted to pursue.

I have done so many different things under the urban agriculture umbrella! I worked as a garden teacher in Hawai'i, and for Fruitstitute here in Los Angeles, doing holistic fruit tree care. During that same time I also completed an Herbalism Apprenticeship through Green Wisdom Herbal Studies in Long Beach, CA, learning about medicinal herbs, how they grow, and how they benefit the human body. For the past two years I’ve been working part-time for Urban Farms LA, installing and maintaining residential edible gardens around the city.

So, how did all of this knowledge lead you to the making of Ziza Urban Farm in your backyard in Highland Park?

When I started growing in the space that is now Ziza Urban Farm, it felt like a culmination of all of the knowledge I had gained from my past experiences. I use layouts of raised beds that I learned at rooftop farms in New York, methods of growing tropical plants from my time in Hawai’i, and fruit tree pruning techniques from Fruitsitute.

Since Nina A. and I partnered over a year ago, I’ve been cultivating Ziza Urban Farm and growing produce for Ziza Foods and our local community.

 

What was the space like before you started to transform it? How did you tackle it?

When I first got here, there was essentially nothing but one very sad looking succulent and a whole lot of depleted, compacted soil. Restoring the soil was clearly the first step. We sheet-mulched the entire backyard by layering cardboard, compost, and wood chips. This method of sheet mulching is one of my favorite ways to quickly build soil. The cardboard smothers weeds, the compost adds beneficial soil organisms and nitrogen, and the wood chips hold in moisture and support the growth of fungi, which are vital to soil health.

The fruit trees came next. At that time I was still working for Fruitstitute, so we had a big volunteer day with the entire team where we planted fruit trees. Now there are around 30 in the space! We filled in the area around the fruit trees with edible and medicinal perennial plants, planted passion fruit and grapes on all the fences, built two different systems for composting, a chicken coop, a shed, and a couple of raised beds dedicated to annual veggies, herbs, and flowers. I am really lucky that my boyfriend and two of my best friends all happen to be really talented woodworkers, so most of these larger construction projects were completed by them.

How did you two meet, and ultimately decide to start working together?

[Nina A] We met in 2019 when I was cooking for the Fruitstitute fundraiser (Nina W’s employer at that time). We instantly connected. I started hiring Nina W to help with cooking and sourcing local produce for catering gigs, and we worked really well together. Given the fact that both of us were open to experimentation, and how well our skills complement each other (me the cook, she the grower of all things), I invited Nina W to join Ziza as a co-founder and partner.

 

Where does the name Ziza come from?

[Nina A] Ziza is my Morrocan grandmother’s family nickname (her full name is Khadijah). “Ziza,” or “Aziza,” is often used as a term of endearment for respected matriarchs in Morrocan culture. It also happens to be the name “Nina” with the “N’s” flipped sideways.

A lot of our work in both the garden and kitchen is inspired by what has been passed down from generations before us. The reference to the Morrocan matriarchs is really central to the concept. In Morocco, matriarchs and home cooks are more revered than chefs, which is a sentiment that we hold at the core of our project. They also almost never write or publish recipes. Instead, they’re passed down through family lore, apprenticeship, and through hands-on learning.

What is the mission of Ziza?

On the urban farming and sourcing side, we do our best to set an example for how one can incorporate restorative methods of home gardening and urban farming into one’s everyday life. Underutilized land with depleted soil can be transformed into an urban ecosystem capable of supporting wildlife and producing food and medicine. There are so many vacant lots in LA and there’s so much opportunity to grow food hyper-locally in ways that are community-based and restorative to the planet, so this is something we advocate for.

This is also a moment, post pandemic, to really rethink how the food service industry can be re-built and reimagined in ways that aren’t as environmentally harmful and extractive as the current systems that are in place. We try to keep that front of mind with everything we do.

What do you see missing from the Los Angeles food and urban farming landscape?

It’s great to see environmental awareness and acknowledgement of the climate crisis becoming more mainstream over the last year. Food and urban farming are a really important part of this movement. However, we see that many of the individuals and organizations that have the largest platforms to speak out about these issues are doing so from positions of great privilege and continuously fail to give credit to historically marginalized people working within extractive food and agricultural systems.

We hope to see more leadership granted to Black people, Indigenous people and people of color who have always had the answers for how we can use this work to heal both ourselves and the land we live on.

I was lucky enough to place a big order for your first pop-up. It was so refreshing to me because it felt like home cooked food rather than take-out. How would you describe your food?

That’s the idea! I cook with Moroccan flavors and seasonal California produce, and I try to make my food feel warm and nourishing in a way that I think you can only feel from a home cooked meal. There is lots of olive oil, spices, citrus, and herbs, with a focus on vegetables, fruits, and local meat (especially lamb).

I also cook a broad range of Moroccan food, which means you’ll sometimes catch the flavors of the people who have colonized or immigrated to Morocco over the years, like Spanish and Arab, to name a few.

Alright, I know this has nothing to do with Ziza per se, but I am so fascinated by your indigo dye vat. Nina W. -- Can you tell me a bit about it? How did you start the culture? What is required to keep it alive, and how is it different from other dyes?

Indigo is one of the most beautiful and satisfying natural dyes to work with! It has been used as a dye for thousands of years across Asia, Africa and Central America. The species that I grow is called Persicaria tinctoria or Japanese Indigo. It’s an annual plant (completes its entire life cycle in 1-2 growing seasons) that prefers warmer temperatures, so I grow it in the spring and summer.

You can make dye with the fresh leaves, which produces a really amazing aqua color, but to get the deeper blue that is usually associated with indigo, I make a concentrated form of the indigo pigment: indigo pigment, fructose, calcium hydroxide (pickling lime), and distilled water. In order to sustain the vat you have to “feed” it with fructose every couple of weeks or after extensive use.

 

What advice do you have for people looking to get their hands dirty and start gardening, but who feel overwhelmed and intimidated?

Gardening is an exercise in patience. A huge part of gardening is just waiting - waiting for the seeds to germinate, waiting for the flowers to bloom, waiting for the fruit to ripen. Of course, in the interim there are lots of things to be done like watering, weeding, fertilizing, or checking for pests. But, new gardeners get really frustrated with the amount of time it takes for some plants to grow, and there’s really nothing you can do about that timeline.

Another tip is to start small and easy. Start with herbs like thyme, rosemary, or sage. They are low maintenance and easy to use in the kitchen. Some other good beginner plants are radishes, beans, peas, green onions, and mustard greens. Slowly add more plants as you gauge how much time your garden requires and how much time you are willing and able to give to it.

So, how does one best experience Ziza at this moment in time?

For now you can experience what we do through our regular pop-ups, by ordering through our Instagram and picking up meals in Echo Park. We will also be offering more educational programming. We always are excited to inspire people to grow their own gardens.

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An artist leads us through the story of his creative passions by way of his Brooklyn apartment.

Emmanuel Olunkwa
Is Writing an Essay With His Stuyvesant Heights Apartment

05 05 21
Rachel Hahn

If you catch Emmanuel Olunkwa on a Thursday, holed up underneath the wood shelves that he built in his home office in Stuyvesant Heights, you might think he’s just a student at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture. Other days of the week, it’s more apparent that he’s an arts writer and editor—he co-founded the magazine November and he’s an editor at PioneerWorks, where he has a column called The Object Talk. At other times, he’s a creative consultant, a photographer, a filmmaker, and a furniture designer. Next week, he might be a painter. He thinks about everything in his apartment, from the flower-shaped table he designed himself to the custom pistachio-colored Sam Stewart sectional, as part of his broader approach to storytelling that snakes through each of these disciplines. Below, Olunkwa shares more about his intuitive approach to design and the catharsis that comes with bringing an object into the world that had previously only existed in the deep corners of your mind.


Can you tell me more about some recent projects you've been working on?

In August of last year, I designed this flower table that’s come to life. I’m reactive at some points, so after my roommate moved out in June, I wanted to have a big table. We had a circular dining table that was against the wall, but I never had a table that you could sit at and really embrace—something that would provoke conversation. But I didn’t want a circle again, and the room is a perfect square, so I didn’t want a square table. So, what if a table was a flower shape? It’s a circle in its formation, but it’s much more sculptural. I wanted it to have a carpenter's table feel, with seesaw legs, and then I made chairs.

 

Were you and your old roommate equally invested in what the apartment looked like?

He was so much more practical. For him, it was a place to eat, sleep, and shower. For me, it was always this vibrating thing in the back of my head. I thought that there were so many things that this place could be. At the start of 2019 I designed shelves with a carpenter for my office, this tiny room at the front of our apartment. That was the first time I ever worked with someone like that, and I really liked it, but I wasn’t thinking in terms of, ‘I’m going to design this,’ or ‘I’m a designer.’ It was just: this is what this room needs, and I can give it to it. I thought about how to maximize the space’s potential. That’s always been the question, even with the table: what does this space need? What does it want? My roommate used to say that I liked beautiful things, but I don’t really think about beauty. I think about necessity. It's about honoring the architecture.

 

Do you think you would have made the flower table last year if we weren’t in a pandemic? Did having extended time in your apartment shift the way that you think about it?

For me, the only architecture that I had control over and that I could explore both as a form and a shape is my body. Silhouette is something that I think a lot about. I was always looking for pants that laid perfectly over my shoes, or a shirt that could dance on my body. During the pandemic, I wasn’t getting dressed for anything, so I had all of this pent up creative energy. I don’t think I would have made furniture if I didn't have the time and space to reflect inside.

It was really an intimidating process. I collaborated with friends on it for a few months, and everyone kept telling me the flower table wouldn’t be structurally sound, that it couldn’t be this or that, that it needed a metal base instead of the seesaw. But I wasn’t trying to make something that already existed. It needed to exist in the exact way that I saw it in my mind, which was very specific: no lines. I want to be able to see through the object. That’s always the most important thing. I never want to look at anything in my entire life, as long as I’m alive, where I can see a discrete table and a base. I want to see one object, made of the same material, with basically no seams.

Can you tell me more about the chairs? Were you referencing Donald Judd’s chairs?

I went back to Largent Studios [the fabricator in Red Hook that Olunkwa worked with] and first we made the arch chairs. They’re both arched backs, but one has an arched front and the other has a square front. The process was so intuitive. Kevin Largent would ask me how thick the back of the chair is, and I’d hold out my hands to show him, and he’d measure the distance between my hands. And then we made one with a rounded back.

I was thinking about Judd, as someone who works in the same material as me and as a reference point, but his furniture took itself too seriously. It announced itself in a way that was so not fun. He’s really into squares and boxes but I’m into circles. Hard, round edges and rounded lines. That’s what birthed the rounded back, because I wanted something that wasn’t retro. And the chairs have this engraving in them, and that gives them a visual weight. And with Judd and those hard lines, there’s no mystery to how the object comes together and what makes the object work. It didn’t feel like magic. It just didn’t really feel like something special. It didn’t feel like a collector’s item. I want an object that feels so special. That’s true of all the things I collect—ceramics, furniture. I want it to feel singular.

 

How would you describe the rest of your apartment? What are the things that you find yourself being drawn to in your space?

I really like owning things that are one-of-one. I wouldn’t really say I’m a collector, but I like sculptural and weird knick knacks. I think about it in terms of fashion and in the way that I get dressed—I have rules for myself. I give myself really specific parameters of how to exist, and I think of things in terms of color and shape.

I always have an anchor for each room. It’s like I’m writing an essay. Every room has a story, which is really driven by the architecture of the room. The anchor for the dining room is the table. Everyone has their own relationship to the flower table. People always talk about how everyone has their own space to sit within each pedal, but I never even thought about that. The table provokes a very specific kind of vulnerability. We call the conversations that we have around it flower talk.

The anchor for the living room is this orange painting by my friend’s aunt. It’s the color of my aura. The couch by Sam Stewart is new. I interviewed him for The Object Talk, and I was really enamored with the stuff that he was doing. The couch is a sectional with a rounded back that looks like one object. It curves in with the bay window. That’s in conversation with the painting. I don’t even notice the painting, the table, or the sofa anymore. I’ve pushed them out of my head. It’s like learning how to let go of things after they’ve materialized. It’s cathartic, even to have the sofa here—that lived in my head for a long time.

 

Where do you spend the most time in your apartment?

I used to spend all of my time in my bed. Now I feel like I’m meeting myself. I used to go over all of my friends’ houses and think about why they bought that chair or why all the kitchens in Pacific Palisades looked the same. It was just a class thing to have certain things, and it was so boring to me. There were so few people who were experimental, whose houses were really representative of who they were as people. I want to live in someone’s interiority. I’m learning how to spend time outside of myself in these different places because I’m just used to living within, in my interiority and in my imagination, and I’m not used to engaging with it outside myself. I had all of these ideas for such a long time and I never knew that I was capable of making things in this way. It’s sort of an overwhelming feeling.

I know that you’ve talked about the political implications of your photography. In stepping into the role of a designer, do you think about the political implications of the objects that you make?

It is a very political project, but it’s different from photography. For so long, I moved through the world as a witness. I was just collecting information and seeking out new experiences. I was asking myself a lot of questions, and that’s how it materialized in a lot of the photography. It was very curious. I was looking for love, and I was able to find love in those portraits that I took. And with designing and writing, I have a lot of things that I’ve been thinking about that I’m ready to finally share. I want to make lights, wall fixtures, and rugs. I have ideas for plates, paintings, and sculptures. I wish someone would let me design a house. I want to design a restaurant. For years, I was learning about myself. I was really afraid to share who I was because I never really felt like there was space to live outside of myself. And now, I’m not afraid to inhabit the world outside of me. I have this saying that good art is like a skate trick. I finally feel like I landed the ollie, and now it’s time to learn a new trick.

 

For more about Emmanuel please check out:

The Radio Show

Emmanuel Olunkwa 

E&Ko. 

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How the concept of circularity can create a  more sustainable furniture industry, and what we're doing about it. 
Furniture waste is a common feature of landfills. We're working to change that.

Why Circularity Matters

How the concept of circularity can create a more sustainable furniture industry, and what we're doing about it.

04 22 21

A well-appointed home can certainly spark joy, but it also has a potential environmental downside: unless you find a new owner for those old furniture pieces, they’re likely to end up in a landfill.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans generate 12 million tons of furniture waste each year, with 80% of it going to landfill. Just a small fraction of that landfill waste gets recovered for recycling. Fast furniture is largely to blame. Made of cheap materials, it’s designed for one-time use, rather than for resale or reuse. And because fast furniture is inexpensive to begin with, people are more likely to dispose of it when they relocate rather than to pay to move it.

But a forward-looking economic model, championed by organizations such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, aims to eliminate such waste through innovative design. By rethinking how things are made, a circular economy designs out waste and pollution from the manufacturing process, keeps materials in use longer, and replenishes the earth. By designing products to be used over and over and powering the system with renewable energy, circularity shifts the emphasis away from destructive economic growth toward creativity and innovation, creating a restorative economy that regenerates finite resources.

We’ll go into detail about circularity’s three principles, but first, a little bit about circularity’s history.

Beyond “reduce, reuse, and recycle”

Back in 2002, architect William McDonough and scientist Michael Braungart wrote Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, a revolutionary book detailing an alternative to the traditional model of manufacturing products. Rather than casting off waste (much of it toxic), the cradle-to-cradle approach takes inspiration from the circular system of nature.

As an example, a cherry tree produces thousands of blossoms in order to entice pollinating bees to help turn those blossoms into seeds. The blossoms that don’t become seeds aren’t waste—they fall off the branches and decay, turning into nutrient-rich soil that nourishes other plants and creatures. Similarly, man-made products can be designed to safely re-enter the environment as either “biological nutrients” (composting into the soil, for instance) or as a “technical nutrients” in a closed-loop industrial cycle, rather than being downcycled into low-grade uses like most recyclables (think plastic and paper) are now.

Designing out waste

Waste isn’t an essential part of manufacturing products; it results from decisions made in the design process. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation believes in “changing our mindset to view waste as a design flaw” and harnessing new technologies that would eliminate waste.

The organization compiles compelling case studies of companies doing just that. Evocative Design, based in Troy, New York, has developed an alternative to packaging made from polystyrene, or styrofoam, using mycelium (the root structure of mushrooms). After use, the packaging biodegrades, unlike plastic, a leading cause of physical pollution that introduces toxins into our environment. The minimal processing required to make the packaging ensures its economic viability. Since launching over a decade ago, Ecovative has opened a new production facility and is supplying packaging to a growing number of partners.

Extending the life of products

Instead of designing things for quick disposal, there’s an opportunity to produce products and components for reuse and repair. The UK-based company Hiut Denim, for instance, offers free repairs for the lifetime of its jeans. By selling direct to consumers, Hiut manages to maintain a healthy profit margin, which means that it can continue to invest in its business and its Grand Master sewers, who spend about 1 hour and 10 minutes sewing each pair of jeans compared to the 11 minutes some of the bigger factories spend on theirs.

Regenerating natural resources

In nature, nothing is waste—everything is food for something else. Instead of trying to minimize harm, circularity aims to benefit the environment. By returning valuable nutrients to the soil and other ecosystems, we can rebuild our natural resources.

In Japan, a small-scale rice farmer named Takao Furuno has figured out a way to produce 20%–50% more organic rice than industrial farming systems by growing other food synergistically along with the rice. Furuno’s process begins with rice seedlings in flooded rice paddies. Then, he introduces a raft of ducklings that eat the insects that normally feed on the young rice plants. Next come loaches, a variety of easily cultivated fish, and Azolla, a water fern, which fixes nitrogen from the air, providing a natural substitute for artificial fertilizers. The grazing ducks and fish manage the Azolla’s growth while their droppings provide nutrients that the rice needs to flourish.

The higher rice yield, combined with the production of the other foods grown alongside the rice, means that Furuno’s gross income from his six-acre farm sometimes rivals that of a typical 600-acre rice farm in Texas.

 



Circularity and Floyd

At Floyd, we’re taking steps toward a circular model in our commitment to sustainability. We launched Floyd in reaction to fast, disposable furniture by designing products that people will keep and that won’t degrade when moved. Floyd pieces are designed to be serviceable, making it easy for customers to replace parts over time if necessary. And manufactured in the U.S., they’re made close to our customers in order to reduce emissions caused by unnecessary transport. Now, to further our commitment to keeping our furniture in use longer, we’re launching a new resale and refurbishment program called Full Cycle.

Full Cycle is Floyd's center for extending the life cycle of our products—by giving you a way to shop returned and used furniture at up to 50% off, service what you already have, and recycle products responsibly when they’re beyond repair.

Keeping materials in use longer

As part of Full Cycle and in keeping with circularity, we design all of our products to be a kit of parts that can be serviced individually. That means if a component breaks, rather than throwing out the entire product, just the broken part can be replaced. Our customer experience team is available to help you get the replacements you need. Plus, because we’re confident about the quality of our furniture, we stand by it with a 10-year warranty. Our SVP of Operations and Corporate Development, Aaron Turk puts it best: “We're pretty much standing by our products for life."

Eventually, all products come to the end of their useful life. But we’re figuring out ways to save furniture from the curb by connecting customers to a proper recycling solution. Go here to join the waitlist for the recycling database.

Lowering our carbon footprint

Since most products come as a kit of parts and can be flat packed, we’re able to minimize transportation and warehousing costs and maintain a lean inventory model. To further cut down on transportation, our fulfillment centers are strategically located near our core markets in major metro areas, so the pieces have fewer miles to go for final delivery. “That allows us to transport product more efficiently in larger quantities from our manufacturers to those fulfillment centers, which not only minimizes the transportation expense but also the overall carbon footprint,” Turk says.

Our resale program also lowers our carbon footprint by saving furniture returns from taking a lengthy trip back to our Detroit warehouse. If, say, a customer in California returns a bed, it would normally travel to the local last mile hub, then to our fulfillment center near Memphis, Tennessee, where it would be held until we had enough of them to truck back to Michigan. Through Full Cycle, the bed is rerouted to a regional distribution center, where it gets inspected, photographed, and posted to our site for resale at 15% to 50% off retail.

Taking ownership

Full Cycle is about taking responsibility for our products, giving returned and damaged items a second chance at a long life.

But it’s just the start. Over the next four years, we’ll be making progress toward more sustainability goals—ensuring that 70% of the material we use comes from either recycled or renewable sources, minimizing packing materials and eliminating single-use plastics, using 100% FSC-certified wood in all our products, and measuring, disclosing, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions across our supply chain. All these steps are part of our circular vision for a future without waste.

 

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We spoke with interior designer Noz Nozawa about the best ways to make forward-thinking design choices. 
The Floyd Sectional in mineral is versatile.

How to Design with Versatility in Mind

We spoke with interior designer Noz Nozawa about the best ways to make forward-thinking design choices.

04 14 21

Kate Connors

The floyd sofa as part of a space designed for entertaining.

A Floyd sectional can be used as a single long couch.

A Floyd sectional can be broken up into smaller seating arrangements.

Creative apartment with Floyd shelving.

 

1. Madelynn Furlong's living room is laid out to host her friends and family. / 2. A modular Sectional can be a single large piece./ 3. Or you can separate your Sectional components if your needs change. / 4. Creative director Justin Ryan Kim's home is full of treasured objects, and they've traveled with him through several apartments.

The average American moves more than 11 times in their lifetime. That’s a lot of moves — and it’s easy to see how even the abstract knowledge of a future change could make it difficult to make permanent-feeling design choices in your current space. It can be hard to commit to a forever design, especially after a year spent at home, when a lot of us have rearranged our living space at least once. Yet, it’s so important to create space for yourself, particularly if you’re starting with a blank slate. But how can you create a beautiful space that feels “complete”, while still making smart purchasing decisions and avoiding waste?

We spoke with San Francisco based designer Noz Nozawa about how she approaches these issues with her clients and in her own life. Noz is known for her collected, colorful designs that are beautiful and personal, yet always functional. We wanted to understand how a design professional starts with a ‘blank slate’ space, and how she approaches choosing pieces that will stay with the owner for years (and moves!) to come.


Interior designer Noz Nozawa in her San Francisco home.


Start with Space Planning

According to Noz, the first step is thinking functionally: “I always say, I can make anything beautiful, but if it doesn't actually work, it's not a good design. So I always start by trying to understand how the space is going to be used, and what can we do to make that come to life in a way that adds a lot of joy and a lot of seamless happiness to that client's life.”

Understanding how the space is used comes down to the most basic elements of your daily routine. Do you always start your morning with yoga? Then you’ll want to lay out your space so you don’t have to rearrange heavy furniture to roll out your mat. If you like to have a lot of friends & family over, you’ll want to make sure you have lots of flexible seating. Noz suggests using these considerations to create a small-scale model of the space and play with layouts. It can even be as simple as a rough drawing in a notebook. “Get out that tape measure and get out a piece of graph paper and literally draw different size couches and different size dining tables, based on the number of squares, and just move them around. It's really like making a dollhouse out of paper.” By playing with these roughly to-scale components in your space, you can begin to see what you’ll need in your space to create a comfortable home.

Invest in Modular Pieces

Noz firmly believes that it can be worth it to make an investment in a piece that you’ll be able to take with you when you move. She’s a big fan of modular pieces for her clients who know they’ll be changing up their space. In a recent project, she knew her client (and friend) hoped to move to a larger apartment in the next few years. Although his current space was smaller, she chose a large sectional in multiple pieces that when arranged together was almost too big for the space. But, her plan took that into account: “It’s a huge sectional, but we turned one of the end pieces into more of an ottoman. We created a separate chaise so the arrangement in the space is not the full 11 feet long.”


Noz emphasizes that the beauty with modular pieces like the Sectional is that you have the ability to create many different seating arrangements. “That total length of couch is going to potentially be 11 feet in another apartment. Or it might become a sofa and another sofa, where we break up the four or five chunks into two different pieces that face each other.”

Rearrange Intentionally

But what about rearranging in a space you already live in? Beyond breaking up your sectional into different seating arrangements, Noz advocates for frequently trying out new things in your space. She loves to use what she already has to create a fresh feel in her space, without buying a bunch of new pieces: “I'm a huge proponent of trying not to buy anything new when I rearrange, not just from a sustainability standpoint, but also just because learning to accept and love things that may not be perfect, but are a part of your story, is really cool, and that adds to the texture of a space.” When she approaches rearranging, she starts by thinking about what she hasn’t been able to look at or enjoy lately. Then she’ll play Tetris with her furniture to try highlighting those windows or art pieces. And, she reassures, “If it's terrible, you can always move it back!”

Buy What you Love

Noz’s most important advice? Buy the pieces you fall in love with, and you’ll be able to find a use for them in the future. She knows that favorite pieces can create big emotions, and recommends following that feeling: “If you know in your heart that this is giving you big feelings and you're feeling a major connection to that piece, allow yourself to have it, allow yourself to treat yourself to it. And if it's upholstered and it gets a little messed up, you can always reupholster it someday in the future.”

In short, instead of trying to fill up your space all at once, take the time to find the pieces you love. In the long run, you’ll prioritize using them no matter how your space changes.

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