I wonder frequently about what choices my peers make when it comes to design. How do they pick spaces that adequately suit their needs? How do they know what they might need? 

I think about how out-of-touch architects and designers can become, so far removed from generations behind them and having to anticipate their needs. So, I interviewed some people my age who have recently moved out to understand more about the environments they choose to cultivate. 

Below is one of those interviews. There is some great insight to be gained from this discussion; I hope to use the information when I am a licensed architect designing housing. 

Note: these choices might be specific to the US, and even more specific to California, but that doesn’t remove their utility.

Freedom to Design: How Gen Z Designs Individual Spaces - Sheet1
©Daisy Gantner 2021

Do you want to introduce yourself?

My name is Suhey…I have been living in this apartment for about two years now, one and a half years. I’m mostly using it as just a place to sleep because I work so much and do my school thing. I just needed someplace to live during my college years, but I have made it my own since I’ve been here.

When you picked your apartment, did you ever think about how people would respond to it when they came to visit you? 

I 100% did because I just love having people over. And I knew that first of all, I wanted an apartment with a big shared space, big shared spacesmy room isn’t the biggest.

But like I said, I pretty much just sleep here because I’m always working or doing school somewhere else. My living room is pretty big and I really appreciate that. I think it’s awesome to have people over my apartment.

Once it came to decorating internal changes that I had to do in my apartment, I definitely also kept that in mind. I wanted just as much open space as possible, really. So kind of look for where I can put these sofas so that I can have people sit around and, you know, encourage conversation.

Like the kitchen, I really love the kitchen super open, the open shelving. I really like having a lot of people standing in the kitchen while I cook. Even when I don’t have people over and it’s just me and my roommates right now, I live with my sister and one of my other best friends. Just having them, standing around, you know, and all we’re all just making it a home.

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©Daisy Gantner 2021

How would you describe your design aesthetic?

Honestly, it seems completely [different] from when I first moved here. Well, I dormed my first year… So a lot of what I had was things specific for dorms. And if you’ve ever gone into any Target, for example, during Back to School season, you just see so many shelves marked “this is perfect for dorms”, you know?

When I first moved into my dorm, my first year of college, I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what my storage situation would be. What exactly I would be using or just how I would use my space in general. So I had a lot of things that were, and even still, I have a lot of things that are very time or space-efficient, you know, just a lot of little things that act as storage, stuff that.

When I first moved in [to the apartment], it was just very minimal. Even color-wise, I’ve stuck to whites and beige. Pink is the only color that I had. Just grays and blacks, very neutral tones.

I’ve been staying at homewe’ve all been staying at home. So, I have been wanting to pick my space and make something that really feels like a sanctuary to me. Even now I do a little bit of work from home too. And so I just want everything to feel very comfortable. And I enjoy looking at it, you know, being in this space.

I have started to add more color. I think one thing that I’ve always since I could remember, and I’ve always been drawn to vintage things and just anything that has a lot of personality, but it looks old too. I really enjoy royal colors too. 

Royal greens, royal purples, royal blues, a lot of really deep colors. I’m just into anything that looks old, which a lot of the time comes from used, you know? So, give me some second-hand shops or let go, or, off the curb. I love finding good. I love finding good yard sale pieces because I just feel I really could feel the personality in it.

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©Daisy Gantner 2021

What the earliest design or decor purchase you could remember is?

Well, that’s a good question because I shared a room seriously, my entire life, and had very, very little space for my own decor, you know until I moved out of my house.

So, and that’s pretty recent, I would say, probably when I moved to the dorms, it was a throw blanket. To this day, I love to throw blankets around my house. It’s a very unique piece for me. It’s a regular size throw blanket, deep, I would say, gray-brown. It’s pretty dark brown, but the tips are white. A little bit of gray too. 

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©Daisy Gantner 2021

Daisy describes her aesthetic as “[her] Japanese side meets the 90’s meets vintage.”

How does your space suit your needs? How does it reflect you? How is it designed around you?

Yeah, I think most of the ways that it does that is just kind of being so close to school. A lot of people that live in the apartment complex that I live in, or any apartment complex near me, I would say probably 70% or at least 60% are college students. And it’s such a great thing to just be surrounded by college students. Even when I’m looking for parking late at night, I’m surrounded by other people my age, I just feel safer.

I just feel I am surrounded by people who are me- we all just moved out recently. You know, we’re all young adults and this is one of the first places that we’re living in. It definitely makes it more comfortable to me and feels safer overall, in my space, my apartment specifically, I really enjoy that.

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©Daisy Gantner 2021

What changes would you want to make with your space? 

Right now, I’m in the middle of actually making a few changes to my space. I’m focusing on my bedroom. One of my roommates is moving out and I’m getting new roommates. So I’m moving the bathroom that I use. The bathroom that I used before, it’s pretty small and it has a glass tile shower. I’m moving to a bigger one with a tub and a curtain. I’m definitely in the middle of working that out. I’m even changing the aesthetic that I had in the bathroom before to the one I have now, just because it is a more open space. There’s more light in that bathroom. I just wanted to try something new.

Before I definitely was feeling more of a minimalistic vibe. And right now I am just, no, let’s cover every wall. There cannot be white surfaces. 

What would you say your decor budget looks like? How much are you trying to spend whenever you do things like this? 

Honestly, I don’t really buy decor items every day, especially I really buy things with a lot of personality. So they’re statement pieces that I have to look up for a long time. Oftentimes, I’ll buy one thing that I’m in love with and look at it every day for three months. And then I’ll be, you know what? I saw this one thing on a random Pinterest board. Now I need to have it in my house and then I’ll buy that. And honestly, when I do that, it’s kind of bad because I don’t even really set a budget for myself. I’m just, I’ll buy it as soon as I can, you know, as soon as I find it or as soon as they can afford to buy it. But yeah, I don’t really do too much. I would say that I try to, whatever, whenever I try to buy some sort of decor item, I also try to make it functional. 

I go window shopping all the time, but I hardly ever buy things. So I only buy things I feel connected to.

How does your environmentalism play into the things you bring into your space or how you interact with your space? 

I would say that the number one thing is that most things I bring into my space are reusable. I hardly ever bring anything into my space. Not only, for environmental reasons, but also just for money-saving reasons. Let’s get on the reusable train. Everybody, let’s get on the reasonable train.

It’s so much better. It makes your life. It makes you feel like an adult too. Honestly, you have things that you’re gonna say you’re gonna move from every apartment or house that you get to and you’ll have things that mean something to you, remind you of things you have memories of. 

And even when I’m not living in the college apartment, even when I have a better job or just another more permanent living space, I’ll have plates from college that my friends gave me during, you know, a holiday party, or whatever it was.

©Daisy Gantner 2021

Like Suhey, Daisy collects second-hand items to bring character to her space

Describe your ideal living space. What’s the architecture like? Where it is, what’s in it, what size, whatever you want. 

Okay. On a beach for sure. And it’s small. I hate big spaces. I get so spooked out. It’s pretty small. It’s very cozy. Let’s say ideally, I’m living there with my husband. Well, this is pre-kids before I have to start worrying about other people and I could just be as selfish as I want. I’m living on the beach. We have a cozy little beach house. It has our bedroom and it has a workroom. And then it has a room where we literally just get to drink in a party room, I guess. I love to entertain, just some room to gather people when they come. And then, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a morning room, but I’ve always wanted to have a morning room. Yeah. I would love to have a morning room. So I guess this is not that small.

The rooms are cozy. That’s the most important part to me that a room is cozy. Just, you know, chilling by the beach. That’s perfect.

Suhey and I talked a lot more about what other things impact her design choices, what she needs to cook, how she interacts with social media and even community organizations that inspire the way she lives. The photos provided by Daisy showed a similar trend. When given the freedom to design, young people have found a way to balance their aesthetics with their needs, taking comfort and style as one instead of prioritizing either. While every 20-year old will give you a different reason for how we live and why the answer remains simple: however we want.


Nia Smith is an architecture student at Howard University. She uses her background in fashion to design spaces that are useful and beautiful. As an environmental advocate, Nia focuses on low-income housing made sustainably with circular design theories.