Illustration: Sari Cohen

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Do I Feel at Home?
I once spent a very sad year living in an old railroad flat that had one window in front and one window in back and no sunlight in between. I gave each room a fresh coat of paint and bought a new bed and beautiful throw pillows. But these measures didn't do much to help. Finally, a friend said, "Don't spend any more money on this place. You can't put a price on natural light." But I could put a price on it! I realized that if I stretched my budget just a little bit, I could get a smaller but sunnier apartment with eight—count 'em, eight—windows. I moved and never looked back. That was how I realized that when it comes to a home that feels like home, light is an essential requirement. But it's not my only must-have. Warmth is important. For ten years, I was lucky enough to have a fireplace, and it was heaven. With a book, a cup of tea and a fire, there was never another place I wanted or needed to be.

Beauty is my third essential. I want a well-curated array of things both lovely to touch and useful to own: a Le Creuset teapot in winter white, handmade Japanese bowls for ramen, sheets that make me smile even if the thread count isn't high. I've optimistically monogrammed our towels with the word casa, Spanish for "house," because one day I hope to also have a beach house, whose towels will be monogrammed, naturally, playa.

Though I no longer live alone—I'm married, and we have a child—our apartment isn't big. Early on, my husband and I agreed that we wanted to always have the smallest home that made sense so we could be able to take the big vacations we love. Despite our limited space, there are reading nooks in each bedroom, and in the living room, a charcoal sectional fits three if we want to be close or two if we want a little space. In our home, there is always a place to snuggle, to sit alone, to cry the day out.

Our home is rarely perfectly clean, but it's perfectly arranged to soothe and inspire. I think almost any amount of mess can be tolerated when one has a cheerful attitude about one's home and the people who share it. When I walk in the door I want that ahh feeling, and I want my family to feel it, too. My friends laugh, but most nights I mix my husband a martini and put it in the freezer, and make my daughter a cup of warm pink milk. "Welcome home!" I say. Because no matter what happens out there, all is well within these walls. No, it's better than well—it's downright swell in here.

—Veronica Chambers, author of, most recently, Kickboxing Geishas