FROM JUNK TO JOYA DESIGN TREASURE HUNT
If it’s a Saturday afternoon, you’ll likely find Shelley Cornia either painting or rearranging furniture. A product designer by day, Cornia carries her eye for design to her 1,200-square-foot bungalow on Madison’s Northside, where she lives with husband Reed and their children Beatrix, 11, and Callum, 5.
The 81-year-old home, which Cornia believes was a mail-order kit house from Sears, has modern touches combined with respect for its historic aspects, like the original corner cabinet in the dining room spotlighted by a contemporary West Elm pendant lamp. Cornia incorporates vintage discoveries, including reclaimed signs or classroom maps, into the cheerful, past-meets-present décor. There are pops of warm hues reminiscent of the ’70s throughout.
“I think if you like a bunch of different things and don’t focus on decorating to a theme, you’re going to end up with an eclectic mix. You like things because they speak to you for some reason—they reminded you of something in your childhood, or it was funny to you,” Cornia says.
She describes her aesthetic as “authentic and beautiful,” and adds, “I have things that are really meaningful,” like her children’s nature collection that she displays in a jar in the living room—twigs, feathers, and pinecones from outdoor adventures. “I try to teach the kids, ‘If you’re going to bring a piece of art home, you need to put it somewhere. It doesn’t ‘go’ on the table—that’s not its destination.’”
She thinks outside the box when making DIY creations, like the printed-lace window treatments made from a shower curtain. Cornia’s desire to create a warm and welcoming space makes for one full of positive vibes. “I’m just focused on what I can accomplish in my house and what makes me happy in my own little sphere.”
Cornia found much of her décor in thrift stores and flea markets. She found though that getting her table and dining room chairs were a bit more difficult to find. However, Junk Bonanza in Minneapolis is her favorite and she searches Craigslist for unique pieces. She calls her $250 midcentury dining room set a “Craigslist miracle.” She notes that it helps to develop an eye for good construction.
“I’m constantly rearranging,” says Cornia. She’s never wed to a particular room arrangement. “If I’m honest with myself and things aren’t working, then I’ll switch them around.” That means moving a pair of chairs from upstairs to downstairs or even swapping in an entirely different couch.
Cornia often plays with new paint colors or brings in refurbished pieces. She says, “I go neutral with the big furniture pieces. It makes it so easy to flip the pillows and have a whole new look. And if I want to change the paint color, it’s easy.”
From a jar filled with wooden knitting needles to ukuleles hung on the wall to a color-coded rainbow of books on a shelf, Cornia’s décor complements the space and serves a purpose. “It’s not really form over function. It’s really form and function,” she says.
Cornia values craftsmanship. She advises against getting carried away with inexpensive items. “As a younger person, I wanted many, many things that I could not afford. So I would buy cheaper things that I had to replace sooner, and I wish that I would’ve had the ability to just tell myself to hold on.”