City Spaces: 'Broke girl vintage' meets whimsy in northeast Minneapolis apartment

The vintage character and romantic flair are fit for a poet.

The vintage character and romantic flair are fit for a poet. Lucy Hawthorne

Leave it to a poet to come up with this aesthetic: "Americana wind-rustled."

Yet that does, in part, describe Ali O'Reilly's two-bedroom apartment in northeast Minneapolis. It's also Grey Gardens meets stagecraft meets estate sale meets house museum. Vintage photos of strangers mingle with rusty farm shears. An old television plays only static. There's an ineffable quality to O'Reilly's style that comes from collecting so many disparate things and making them somehow fit together. You almost feel as though you're walking through a poem. 

Check out our slideshow for the full tour.


Who: Ali O’Reilly
Where: Northeast Minneapolis
How long you've lived here: Since March 2016

How did you find this place?
I know the people who live below. A fellow poet. He put it on Facebook and I was the first person who saw it. I walked in and immediately took it.

What's your favorite thing about your home?
The light. The natural light makes it really dusty and my heating bill is off the charts, but I love it. I love the openness of this place. We face west, so I get the sunset through that window and the first evening I was here I walked out into this room and there was this incredible purple sunset.

What's your least favorite thing about your home?
It’s not well insulated, so it’s drafty and dry.

What’s your favorite room in the apartment?
That sunroom is awesome in the summer. It doesn’t get heat, and I don’t have a space heater so I don’t even use that room in the winter. But in the summer I spend pretty much all my time in there. Also, my wardrobe. It’s the second bedroom and I live alone so it’s a wardrobe.

If you had the budget, what would you do to your space?
I would stain all the wood even darker. I really love dark wood. Then I would reconsider all the light fixtures. I really love the chandelier in the dining room. I think the designer is Lindsey Adelman and she makes all these kits where you can add on [pieces]. My friend Jonathan is an artist and he came over and installed it. I didn’t even realize how ugly the lighting was before until he came in and was like, ‘Oh.’ He was right. The lighting was this kind of dirty yellow. It’s something you don’t consider but it makes a huge difference. And, yeah, I’ll have to uninstall it when I move, but it’s worth it.

How would you describe your style?
I feel like a cat lady who doesn’t have any cats. I’d say it’s vintage but it’s broke girl vintage. Nothing in this room was more than $20. This dining room table we found in the basement and my landlord was like ‘Godspeed. Take it.’ Things seem to kind of come to me. I think I honestly built the home around the navy blue chair [in the living room]. I found it at a thrift store and was like, ‘You’re coming with me and you’re going everywhere I go.’

What's your biggest design inspiration/influence?
I like vintage theatrical. I like makers. So I have this dress form, and the poster on my wall is an old theater poster. Another way that I feel about my space is that I feel like an actor in it. I know that that sounds probably crazy. But I like my stuff to have a sense of make-believe and pretend and drama. That’s why I have that spare bedroom as my wardrobe. And this building, if you check in on Instagram, is called the Champagne Factory. My friends and I just named it that. It’s all just a little bit Grey Gardens. A self-aggrandized sense of taste, but it’s not expensive. It’s not bougie. I like beautiful things, but they’ve had to be incredibly cheap.

So where do you like to shop for that sort of Grey Gardens aesthetic?
Empty the Nest in Golden Valley. Their business model is they clean out people’s houses and they bring all the stuff. They have to sell it quick so it’s priced like a thrift store but it’s nice stuff. It’s like bringing an estate sale to a store.

You’ve collected so many cool vintage items! The ladder, the typewriter, the knick-knacks.
This entire place, when I got it, I honestly furnished it within two weeks and it was all I did.

It’s delightful. It feels like an eclectic house museum or something.
Yeah, that’s another thing in my house is there are a lot of things that are nonfunctional. It’s not a space where if you have the flu you should come over and get better. I go to some people’s houses and it’s so comfortable and I think, 'This is amazing, lying on this couch and watching seasons 1-5 of Girls and not moving.' But I just don’t think it would work for me. I mean, I lie around in my bedroom a lot, but it’s the least considered space in my house because it’s not public-facing.

I also have a lot of photos of people who I don’t know. [Pointing to framed photo in dining room] This guy looks like he fought a war and someone loved him.

So you don’t know him? [Pointing to another framed photo] What about this lady? Do you know her?
Uh uh. Don’t know her.

[Pointing to another framed photo] What about them? Are they your grandparents?
No! This is why I fear that I could become a hoarder. I found them at Empty the Nest, in a drawer tucked away. It really blows my mind what people part with. I saw them and was like, ‘You guys are adorable. You’re coming with me.’

Trend you love:
I really like gold accent pieces. I have a can of gold spray paint that I sometimes take to things. I’ve always gravitated toward Mid-century Modern, but it’s hard to do it cheaply. Like, I’ll invest two grand on a couch when I have a house where I’ll be for a long time. I also love wallpaper. I think people are afraid of it, so I don’t see a lot of it, but I would love to have velvet paisley wallpaper.

Trend you hate:
I really don’t like chevron.

You are not the first person to say that.
It was cute but it’s too finite of a shape to be splashed everywhere.

What's your best memory here?
I had a poetry reading here. The sunroom doors were open and I had a stool and a mic and everyone sat out in the living room and we had a lot of champagne. It was kind of like a housewarming party and a book release party at the same time.

What's one item you like to show off in your home?
The typewriter. It was a gift from a friend who moved to L.A. It works, but it needs a new ribbon. I like it because it’s an editing tool for me. When I have a poetry reading, I’ll speak my stuff out loud and then I’ll type it and because typing it is so cumbersome, especially when the ribbon needs ink, it really makes you evaluate if you need all these words.


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