Scroll through Brigette Muller’s social media pages, where she chronicles her home renovation projects—she’s @hummusbirrd on both Instagram and TikTok—and you’ll find yourself wondering how and why she’s putting so much effort into her railroad rental in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. (Yes, we repeat, it’s a rental.) Nothing was technically wrong or broken with the apartment when Muller moved in—she would have occupied the space as it was with its basic metal kitchen sink, the fake wood counter, the too-bright sterile walls, and the standard lighting—but she saw a potential for a home life that could better mirror her vintage French countryside cottage energy.
Since moving into the space last June, the 34-year-old has replaced her kitchen sink and added a zellige tile backsplash. She changed out her entire shower system—the valve, knobs, faucet, and shower head—and retiled a good portion of the visibly mismatched bathroom tiles in the process. She’s repainted every square inch of her apartment—literally, all the wooden floors, moldings, and walls—in the creamier, homier shade of Behr’s Swiss Coffee in an eggshell, satin, or semi-gloss finish (depending on the room) to cover up the cool-white matte that previously covered every wall in the unit. She’s replaced or added a number of light fixtures: The vintage chandelier in the living room was previously a silver-toned ceiling fan with no light, the light in her dressing room used to be a ceiling fan with a bulb, and the lights in her kitchen and bathroom were once naked bulbs without covers. Smaller but still substantial projects include mounting a massive mirror on the mantle, building a canopy for her bed, and painting the window frames that were previously black. In the kitchen, she installed a marble counter and replaced all of her cabinets. For her living room, she installed large shelves and window grilles that mimic the look of mullions.
Muller’s self-described "abundance mindset" shows—she’s totally transformed her rental to reflect her exacting aesthetic, which is tonally neutral and vintage-leaning with hints of brassy, Victorian-esque ornate flourishes.
"I think that I have a true underlying style, which I’ve been trying to chip away at over the years. I'm not trying to follow trends with fashion or home decor," says Muller, who when I meet her is wearing a simple black slip dress that blends in seamlessly with her surroundings. "When I first moved in, I thought to myself this [apartment] is my freaking dream: the charm, the tin ceilings, the arched doorways. I already knew what my vision was and [my renovations] just feel like a natural extension. This all feels like me. I feel so at home here. It's wonderful."
Muller acknowledges that renovating an apartment you don’t own isn’t realistic for most tenants—she says this is the first place she’s ever lived in where the landlord, who she has never met, has allowed her to do whatever she wants, so long as she pays for all upgrades herself. Because she’s aesthetically driven, she couldn’t help but ask to change out some things, starting with her kitchen sink and then her shower fixture. Paying for those pieces and then hiring the subsequent TaskRabbits for the installations didn’t come cheap. But as a full-time freelance content creator who has previously worked in social media for Free People, Etsy, and Bumble—and who has organically grown her audience and developed partnerships with many brands who now sponsor her home renovations—the financial plunge paid off.
But for those of us who are not home renovation influencers, Muller still has some tips on how to make your temporary home feel a bit more lived-in and personal. Admittedly, Muller says sticking to a budget has never been a strong suit but she considers all these DIY efforts as leveling up to the bigger-picture goal of owning a home "in nature" one day. "I don’t think that we should judge other people based on whether they rent or not, but I do get a lot of that judgment," she says of commenters who criticize the way she chooses to spend her dollars. "New York City’s so fucking expensive and if I want to live in Greenpoint, which I do right now, I have to rent. That’s just the reality of it. So for me, I don’t mind spending the money on this place because I’m investing in my current happiness." Needless to say, she’s pleased with her nesting situation. "Every day I get to wake up and be like, ‘Ooh, look how pretty my home is.’ It brings me so much joy."
Start with what you can’t stand
For Muller, it was a no-brainer that the original metal kitchen sink was the first thing to go. "My eye always goes to the things I don’t like in a space," says Muller, "and since there’s no sink in my bathroom, I wash my face here, I brush my teeth here, I do everything at this sink. That’s why I have this tiny mirror up here." If a sink replacement isn’t doable (which is probably the case for most renters), adding a tile backsplash is one way to liven up the area. If that’s still too much of a commitment, paint or change out the cabinets. Or replace just the knobs or handles with ones that better reflect your style—stash the original pieces and screw them back on when you move out.
It’s the little things that count
Not all renovations have to be grand gestures. "Paint can change an entire room if you’re allowed to paint. Put curtains up; they make the space feel totally lived-in and wonderful. One of my favorite things to do is change out your light switch plates, which is a cheap thing to do but such a cute little touch," says Muller.
Another small way to make your home feel more cohesive throughout is by sticking to a specific color palette or material or texture you love. "I think about color scheme a lot. I like brass, neutral tones, and black. I don’t use a lot of color but I’m starting to do a little bit of blues and some greens," she says. "I like brass knobs, specifically unlacquered brass so it gets this patina on it the more you use it."
Can’t DIY? Hire a TaskRabbit
"Anything that I can’t do well, I'll hire a TaskRabbit," says Muller. What ends up costing her dollars in turn ends up saving her time and stress. She’s hired TaskRabbits for the light fixtures, the kitchen and bathroom projects, and for securing a five-foot-tall mirror on the mantle in her living room. "I totally recommend hiring people. Just make sure that they have good reviews and lots of reviews," she says.
Google like you mean it
Muller googles everything, whether it’s for sourcing items or for looking up tutorials. She has no specific hack or tip other than to do your research and dig around. For instance, googling is how she has found her favorite knobs: "There’s this website called House of Antique Hardware and it's all new stuff but with an antique vibe." As for decor and furniture, Muller likes to mix the old with the new. Her apartment is outfitted with gems she’s thrifted or found on sidewalks, or bought at Wayfair, Lowe’s, Anthropologie, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and Etsy.
Be flexible with your budget
For the uninitiated, figuring out home improvement costs can be a rude awakening. Muller tries not to let that dictate what she can or can’t do, especially if it’s for a project she’s never attempted before (which is usually the case). She might start with an arbitrary number in her head but adjusting her mindset has helped her better understand the realistic costs of material or labor. "With the marble countertop, I said if it's under $2,000 I’m going to do it, which is a random number I pulled out of my ass. When I emailed a company, they said it’ll be $2,500, which I could deal with, but then of course I didn’t realize I needed to buy an entire slab of marble so now the whole project is going up to $6,000," she says of the crash-course education in fixing up a home. "It is what it is. I don’t really have a budget but everything’s within reason."
Reconsider your layout
Greenpoint is peppered with railroad apartments. Traditionally, the largest end room is used as a bedroom and the middle room is a living room, "but I didn’t want to do that," says Muller, who made the largest and most sun-filled room her living room and turned the middle area into an extension of her bedroom. Muller’s bed (and only her bed) is nestled in a nook off her living room, which she purposefully positioned to face the windows. "I like my bedroom to feel uncluttered; I didn’t want all my clothes and shoes and everything next to my bed so this felt better to me," she says.
Take it slow
There’s often a rush to finish home renovations ASAP but being in a constant state of work-in-progress is not always the most livable situation to be in. "It’s better to take your time especially if you’re changing your mind a lot, like me. Marinate on what you actually want to do," says Muller. At one point, she was determined to retile her entire bathroom but reconsidered two days later. In the end, she retiled just a portion of her bathroom and just the parts that she didn’t like, which she sees as a compromise for living in a rental. "Maybe if this were my forever home, it would bother me, but I can live with this."
Be a good neighbor
Living in an apartment building means that construction noise tends to reverberate through the walls and floors. "After I had a lot of loud work done, I gave everyone in my building a gift card to the coffee shop around the corner. I left it on their doorknobs as a thank you and a little peace offering," says Muller. "I was like, ‘I’m sorry, and thanks for sticking through it as I’ve been moving in and making so many changes.’"