Thirtysomething

Tour a Vintage Expert’s Less-Than-700-Square-Foot Berlin Apartment

Theodora Melnik’s biggest treasure trove is her eBay finds
man sitting in chair and woman standing beside him leaning against a console
Theodora Melnik (right) and Benjamin Blackbenz have been a couple for 10 years, and have lived together since the first days of their relationship.

Our friends over at AD Germany recently launched an incredible series called #thirtysomething. In the franchise, the team visits creative people (most of them in their 30s) in their homes. No matter how they live, alone or with family, renting or owning, you’ll be inspired by their spaces. We’re highlighting one of our favorites, the home of copywriter Theodora Melnik. Theodora opens the door to her apartment in the borough of Neukölln that she shares with her boyfriend, Benjamin Blackbenz, and their two cats. Here is an excerpt from the story.

This is not a story about sustainability. But this much is certain: While the furniture industry discusses new materials and recycling initiatives, the most environmentally friendly method is actually to acquire things that are not new, but used—or, because it sounds a bit nicer, vintage. In this area, Theodora Melnik is an expert. Born in Hanover, she is a full-time copywriter, and, on the side, she gives her 175,000 Instagram followers insights into her less-than-700-square-foot apartment, where she has lived with her boyfriend since 2013.

Most of the furnishings in the apartment are vintage, including the marble table Theodora found on eBay. The Hans Wegner Wishbone chair is also vintage, and the Hay dining chairs are some of the few pieces that she bought new.

Valerie: You and Benjamin moved in in 2013. What have you changed about the apartment since then?

Theodora: We repaired the walls (there were countless holes in them) and filled them, removed paint from doors, filled cracks in the floor in the kitchen, and tiled the floor in the bathroom.

All on your own?

Everything—that’s why a lot of things here have a bit of a DIY character. That’s never bothered me—on the contrary, I find it quite charming.

The sofa is by Cor and is from the 1970s. Over the door hangs a carpet that Theodora’s grandmother made herself.

How did you go about decorating?

I took my time and waited for pieces instead of taking the first best thing. A lot of it was trial and error. I can’t even remember how many chair variations we went through. From Eames to super squiggly Thonet sets, and beautiful but not-quite-as-comfortable models from Ercol, we’ve had everything at our tables.

You’ve lived together for 10 years. Have you found your style together?

We were able to agree on the midcentury thing quite well. But now I’m planning to change our furnishings in a slightly “chunkier,” space-age direction. My boyfriend isn’t quite as big a fan of the idea.

The narrow hallway leads to all the rooms. Here the view into the living room showcases the old fireplace.

You buy mostly vintage. How do you go about finding it?

I often let myself drift. I look for materials instead of items, just to see what’s out there. In the process, I sometimes discover things I didn’t even know I wanted. And when I’m looking specifically, I look all over Germany; that way there’s a better chance of finding exactly what I want.

So you don’t always have exactly what you want in mind?

Not necessarily. The mirror in the bedroom, for example, found me (I kept searching eBay for “mirror large wood” and ended up finding it for one euro). The photos were terrible, but with a little imagination you could tell what it was. I just bought a second mirror, which I hope will fit well.

The lamp hands are, of course, also vintage. “I think the hand lamps are simply great, especially in the masses. There should be more,” Theodora says.

What’s the deal with your collection of lamps in the bedroom?

I have a collecting tic. And I think the lamps with hands are just great, especially in mass. I want there to be more. Although they are divisive—some find them creepy, others great. In any case, I like them very much! Right now I’m thinking about adding some porcelain hands to create a forest of hands. I enjoy taking things to the extreme.

You buy a lot on eBay, also in stores across Germany. What criteria do you use to assess the quality of the furniture?

I look for high-quality materials, also at flea markets. Of course, if you don’t see things directly, there’s always a risk involved, so I take a sporting view of hunting for treasures and also get over it if something doesn’t meet my expectations or even arrives broken.

The large mirror in the bedroom cost one euro.

Do you also live with furniture that you bought new?

Of course. The Hay chairs in the living room, for example, or my coffee table from Objects of Our Days. We also bought the kitchen new, but then remodeled it so you can hardly tell it’s IKEA.

You have old Thonet and Wegner chairs, and original Midgard lamps hang in the kitchen. Would you say you have a good sense of recurring trends?

I’ve had all of those for a long time. I’d love to say I had them before they were cool. But that can't be true at all because they are all design classics that were sometimes more or less forgotten but will always be present. I like classics very much. But it doesn’t always have to be a brand name. If the design and the quality is right, I’m there; whether there is a name on it or not is secondary.

You have over 175,000 followers on Instagram. What are they most interested in?

My apartment. It’s also important to me to keep the content mixed and also show my travels and food, because I don’t want to reduce myself to my four walls. And so I don’t have to rearrange that often either.

Benjamin plastered the kitchen walls himself, and Theodora found the refrigerator on a classifieds site.

Does that influence you in your choice of decor, for example, that you fear something might not appeal or resonate with your followers?

No, that’s not what it’s about for me. But I always try to question if I really like something or if I just saw it on others and that’s why I want it. I’m easily influenced, but insist that I don’t get lost in the maelstrom of inspiration on social media.

And what do you love most about the apartment now?

I really like the walls, and if we ever move, I definitely want to plaster the walls the same way we did here. As for the furniture, they’re more life’s companions for me, though, of course, I’m more attached to some than others. Right now, I can’t imagine parting with my refrigerator. For my closet, on the other hand, I’m currently looking for a clever alternative—it’s just there at the moment, but really not pretty.