At Home With… Tanya Brothen

My apartment is not my home, but it is my refuge in a foreign land.  I am a Foreign Service Officer (AKA, a Diplomat) working for the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Home is Minnesota, and since my job keeps me away from there the vast majority of the time, I rely on my apartment – its design, contents, and character – to make me feel at home even on the days when I truly feel like I’m not.  The apartment isn’t just a place to store my stuff, or to sleep at night.  It’s a cure for homesickness, a space for welcoming friends and family who visit, and my little corner of the U.S.A. in Argentina.


Enjoying a sunny day out on my patio

That’s a lot to ask of an apartment, and one of the challenges I faced when decorating was making it feel like my own when I chose neither the space nor the furnishings that filled it.  The Embassy assigned me this residence and filled it with standard-issue furniture meant to withstand use by countless other Diplomats, their families, and their pets.  Not having to locate your own housing overseas is a definite relief in many ways (left to my own devices, I’m not sure I would be able to negotiate a rental agreement in Spanish…), but the chances that the surroundings you rely on to be your home away from home will feel even remotely homey are slim if you have no say in them.

I overcame these challenges with two simple fixes.  First, I purchased slipcovers for both the couch and the matching armchair.  This allowed me to select a neutral color on which I could place colorful and patterned pillows to add visual interest.  I was nervous about the slipcovers needing constant repositioning and re-tucking, but that has not proven to be an issue.  The material softened up when I washed it, and now the couch is my favorite cozy nap spot.  I readjust the covers once a week or less.

Living room

Second, I purchased a few, inexpensive items of furniture to give the space at least some of my own style.  The white coffee table provides a blank slate for placing decorative objects and the two end tables are great spots for holding my favorite magazines from home as well as a rotating array of fresh flowers from the wonderful flower stands in my neighborhood.  The small armchair with the leafy pattern was a going-away gift from a friend and it quickly became my favorite reading spot.

Reading corner

The living room did come with one feature that I didn’t choose but that was luckily perfectly matched to my tastes: lots and lots of natural light!

Table and balcony Side table

Two adjoining walls are nothing but windows, which fill the room with light even on the shortest days of June, July and August, our Southern Hemisphere winter months.  My living room has without a doubt become my home away from home, and it needed only a few, simple fixes to get it there.