In the garden suite of a quirky, pink heritage house, Elsa & her partner, Kyle, have curated a home that feels warm and creative—just like them. They’re surrounded by DIY projects, art by their friends, and cozy lights around each corner. On our virtual tour, it felt like I had stepped into the hull of a gorgeous ship or someone’s secret writing retreat out in the middle of the forest. As a musician herself, that vibe definitely fits the bill.
“Bon Iver has a cabin up in Wisconsin that he goes to and makes music in, where it’s this artsy, eclectic, cozy refuge, totally surrounded by forest,” Elsa says. “I feel like my home right now is inspired by the semi-cabin life I want to live one day, or at least have a retreat to.”
Deeply creative & ambitious, the pandemic was like a door that slammed shut Elsa’s whole way of life. Her pre-COVID days were filled with DJing, writing, hosting community events, and supporting other musicians. Without these creative outlets, she wondered, “Who am I?” And even more challenging, “What makes us us anyway?”
As we were confined to our homes seemingly overnight, many of us joined Elsa in looking inwards. I think we all reflected on who we were “before”, and who we want to be moving forward. What makes us feel whole? Who brings us joy, balance, and safety? Below, we talk about how she has stayed centered & inspired during this surreal moment in time, the restorative power of a good, long shower, and the challenging yet healing process of discovering more layers to who we are—some that we may even feel pleasantly surprised by.
I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. And, please, for the sake of your well-deserving ears, take a listen to the songs Elsa currently has on repeat.
How has the last year affected the way you approached designing your home?
This pandemic has made us really think about where we invest our money. Instead of saying, “Okay, we’re going to New Orleans!”, we were like, “Okay, we’re staying home! How are we going to make this an enjoyable experience for us?”
Right away, we wanted to prioritize the things in our home that were minor inconveniences. We’ve upgraded a lot of our kitchenware now that we cook so much more. We also invested in a new coffee table and couch. Our friend, Devin, custom-built the coffee table for us and the couch is from Facebook Marketplace. The owner’s cats tore it up completely. But thank god for Bemz. We didn’t have the money for a brand new couch, but we also really wanted a sectional because of these ledges. Bemz is this European company that makes covers for size for any IKEA couch that has currently or ever existed. You can also take them off and wash them, so with a dog, that’s really nice. And if we change our mind, we can order another round of covers from them to switch up our couch.
What role does art play in your home?
My partner, Kyle, and I have always agreed on choosing art that we have a connection to. We want everything in our space to be attached to something, or mean something, or we want to have made it ourselves. You’ll see that there are a lot of DIYs in the house. We don’t want to have a house that is trendy, but soulless. We want it to have soul above all.
What makes your home feel like you?
The DIY projects for sure. There was a lot of stuff I didn’t think I’d be able to pull off. When we built the table and the benches, I felt so excited. I kept thinking about all the friends I’d be able to have over for dinner. And also, I just think, “We freakin’ built this thing!”
The instruments, artwork, and drawings also make this place feel like home. When I first moved in, I printed out a lot of photos of Kyle and I and our friends. I framed them and put them all around the house. Being surrounded by all the faces that feel familiar to us, especially right now, is really comforting. To be honest, it’s the stupid little kitschy things, like birthday cards, that make this space of ours feel like home.
What was most important to you when designing your home?
It’s really important for both Kyle and I to feel inspired by the space we’re in. In a basement, we were trying to go as colourful and bright as we could. We just wanted a lot of things that felt beyond the realities of living in a basement suite.
I’m also inspired by all the musicians that I follow, like Bon Iver and Maggie Rogers. I feel like we’ve ended up emulating the cool cabin vibes they all have. Bon Iver has a cabin up in Wisconsin that he goes to and makes music in, where it’s this artsy, eclectic, cozy refuge, totally surrounded by forest. I feel like my home right now is inspired by the semi-cabin life I want to live one day, or at least have a retreat to.
Your home truly feels like a refuge. What’s your secret?
We have a lot of very cozy things on hand at all times. We have a whole trunk full of blankets and pillows. As much as I look at Instagram and love the way that minimalist, mid-century modern couches look, nothing beats a really cozy couch and a huge duvet. Function is so much more important than design a lot of the times. Whenever friends come over, I’m pulling out multiple blankets and being like, “You don’t need to sit proper! You came here to watch a movie. We’re getting cozy.”
Scents are a huge thing, too. I have this favourite incense that I always buy from the grocery store down the street called “forest”. It makes the whole house smell like campfire. Very cedary. I grew up across the street from the forest in Port Coquitlam so that makes it feel very homey.
Are there any other folks who inspired your home, or people you thought of a lot when you were making this space your own?
My aunt lived in East Van for a really long time and, at least for me, this house is a bit of an ode to her. She’s this super artsy, social justice-minded person. Growing up, I would always hear stories about her from my mum. I’d receive art supplies and books from her all the time, too.
When we chat on the phone, I’ll mention I’m going grocery shopping and it’ll be the exact food co-op she was a member of twenty years ago. She led a whole life in this neighbourhood. And even though I grew up around here, I’ve never really explored East Van. Now, it’s my home. And it was my aunt’s home, too. That feels really nice.
How has the last year affected how at home you feel with yourself?
There has been a massive shift for me. Before COVID, I was out late all the time before and going to shows constantly. Kyle and I were also travelling more than we had ever before. Everything was really go-go-go. I was taking as many gigs as I could to pay off the debt that I had. At the time, that’s who I felt like I was. When the pandemic hit, I was like, “What the fuck am I doing? If my music gigs stop, will I still feel like myself? Will I still feel inspired, creative?” That was really hard to work through.
When the pandemic hit, I was like, “What the fuck am I doing? If my music gigs stop, will I still feel like myself?”
During this pandemic, it was a serious test of my ability to feel in control. I have an anxiety disorder, so not being able to know the “schedule” of this pandemic and when it was going to be over drove me fucking nuts. It still drives me nuts. I try to recognize that that’s okay and that life is still happening. My life is still moving forward. Time is still ticking on. I’m still going to have a birthday and there will still be holidays, so how do I continue to engage in those and stop pretending like I need to wait for this to be over? That was the biggest mental shift for me in starting to feel at home with myself.
When the summer came, I focused on the activities I could do at home and what made me happy. I got to do way more camping and hiking. It was so nice to not feel pulled in six different directions and feel really present with the people that I was closest with. This pandemic also helped me to focus on the people who are my real friends and not my “see you on the dance floor every weekend, but we don’t meaningfully communicate beyond that” kind of friends. I’m still very much looking forward to seeing my dance floor friends one day, but I just came to realize that this “scenester” life was not as meaningful as I thought it was. I discovered more layers to who I am and what I like to do, like taking up embroidery. I’m actually going to start a little side business for my embroidery projects.
Cutting all my hair off was really liberating, too. I didn’t recognize how scary it was going to feel and how much it was going to change how I viewed myself and how I operated. I’ve always bordered the line of never feeling too female or “womanly”. I’m fascinated by gender expression and how that plays out for people. My DJ name, DJ Dood, has actually always been a fun play on gender.
Overall, I feel at home in my body more than I have before. This year was pivotal for me in feeling that way. I think between creating a sense of home, which I haven’t had in a long time, and then adjusting things about myself and my mindset, I was able to find a sense of balance that I haven’t had before. There is a justifiable narrative around 2020 being a terrible year, and while it was in a lot of ways, it was also a really important year for me. Kyle and I were very lucky.
2020 helped a lot of us slow down and triggered forms of self-reflection that felt much more intense than previous years, didn’t it?
2020 halted the brakes immediately for everyone. And we all had to navigate that. I might have never reflected on who I was without gigging and my music. In a way, it was like the fear we can have about losing a partner or a best friend. We wonder if we would mean anything if we lose these central parts of our identity. But, when that happens, you still exist. There are so many things that make you, you.
When things have gotten tough, what are some of your go-to self-care practices that help center you?
Definitely a shower. If you’re having a bad day, it’s easier to have a good cry in a shower. It’s all going to wash away anyway! Something about a shower makes me feel like I’ve hit the reset button and when I get out I’m like, “Okay, I’m fresh and clean. I’m going to pick a new outfit and try again.” I also think when you’re living with a partner, showering by yourself is one of the few moments where you really get to close the door and be fully away from that person and have your cry. Or whatever it is.
Have you come to any new realizations about yourself while working from home?
Not having to dress my body for other people has been so big for me. It was a realization I didn’t know I needed to have. Dressing up in the morning for an office actually caused me so much anxiety. I could never wear what I actually wanted to wear. Now when I get ready in the morning, I’m truly getting ready for myself. I think about what feels comfortable that day, what my skin needs, what my body wants.
Sometimes what my body wants definitely isn’t the healthiest, but I’m not going to feel guilty about wanting to eat a whole pint of ice cream because I fucking need it. I mean, if we’re going to talk about mantras, my ongoing mantra is, “It’s a GLOBAL. PANDEMIC.”
Elsa’s Go-To Shops & Artists 🎨
A big thank you to Elsa for linking out to each of these amazing resources. You’ll be able to find a running list of all the home tour featured items in The Goods.