There are homes that are beautiful and there are homes that are personal—Thoey Bhu’s home strikes the chord for both. Her Vietnamese heritage imbues the space, from its vibrant hues to coastal decor reminiscent of her parents' hometown.
Though, it goes beyond aesthetics. Taking after her refugee father’s resourcefulness, Bhu honed her upcycling skills, transforming an old dresser into a creamy modern art piece that now adorns her living room. It’s part of her commitment to sustainability—and ancestral reverence.
Bhu is also cognizant of her surroundings. Nestled in culturally rich East Oakland, she makes it a point for her home—which she shares with her partner and toddler—to be a communal space where neighbors are welcome. It’s a feeling that’s harmoniously relayed through message-making artwork and her overall inviting nature. Ahead, Bhu shares more about her community-oriented mindset, thrifting process, and rock’n’roll-inspired palette.
How did you first discover your space? What about it appealed to you?
We had been house shopping in Oakland for about two years and had seen so many homes with odd layouts and hasty renovations. But when we walked into this home, we instantly connected. We were greeted with a beautiful archway, original hardwood flooring, and a cozy layout that inspired so many ideas.
Does your home fit in with your neighborhood's vibe or does it stand out?
We live in Deep East Oakland. It’s a tough neighborhood that has seen its fair share of crime, blight, and homelessness. When you peel back the curtain a bit, you’ll realize that Deep East Oakland serves as a cornerstone in shaping the city’s vibrant culture. Oakland itself is incredibly diverse with a community that is resilient and proud.
Aesthetically, our home blends in but it was important to us that we connected with our neighbors. Over the years, they’ve fed us, we exchange gifts during holidays, and we watch out for one another. We’re really proud to call Oakland home.
How would you describe your style and approach to decorating your home?
We pull from our Southeast Asian background to bring vibrant colors into our home. We try to be mindful consumers, which can look like really slow decorating.
I approach decorating by starting with one room or nook at a time. I rearrange, play with layout, and pull from other areas until I get a feel of what I’m going for. If I feel I’m missing a piece, I note measurements for easy shopping. If it’s something that can wait, I try to thrift first, repurpose, or lastly buy new. It can take more time, but it’s more sustainable and budget-friendly.
Who or what are your biggest design inspirations?
How does your heritage inform your style?
My partner and I are Vietnamese and Cambodian. Both of our families came to the United States as refugees starting from scratch, so we had very resourceful parents. A big part of my inspiration comes from growing up watching my dad work on various projects, upcycling discarded items and giving them a new purpose.
When it comes to decorating our own home, we get to be creative and pull from our diaspora, culture, and traditions. We bring in a subtle beach town feel from my parents’ hometown Nha Trang, Vietnam with rattan furniture and woven textures. Plus, our color palette nods to Cambodia’s vibrant music culture during its golden rock’n’roll era.
Any other cultures you take design notes from?
We’re also drawn to Indian textiles and Mexican folk art colors.
What were the greatest finds in your home? Can you share a story behind any of them?
During quarantine, I got to work on a new skill that I’d always wanted to learn: finding furniture to restore into one-of-a-kind pieces. The larger the piece, the more we’re saving from going to landfills. I scored a high-quality dresser with beautiful details for free and got to document the project. With some trial and error, I learned how to sand, stain wood, and distress with chalk paint. Now, restoring furniture isn’t as intimidating and I enjoy working on smaller projects here and there.
Do you have a favorite design feature or room? If so, where is it in the house and what makes it unique?
Our little Pantry Cafe has won me over the years. It’s a small but mighty multi-purpose room: laundry, pantry, breakfast nook for three, buffet line for gatherings, and late-night bar for mama. I’m inspired by tiny home living and I get to really think about how to maximize this small space.
Where in your home do you spend the most time, and what are you usually doing there?
Our backyard. We love to host our friends and family for all occasions—any reason to get together, eat delicious food, and catch up. On weekdays, we’re also taking advantage of our outdoor space for yoga, meditation, and gardening. Our busy toddler loves to run around and we’re excited to create different sensory play zones as they grow.
Read the original article on The Spruce.