Josephine Von Dohlen says a beau­tiful table setting makes guests feel cher­ished.
Courtesy | Josephine Von Dohlen

Degree? Check. Job? Check. Cheap apartment? Check. 

When the dust settles after the initial chaos of tran­si­tioning from college student to young pro­fes­sional, fledgling grad­uates may look around at their empty, white-walled apart­ments in unfa­miliar cities and start to miss the comfort of their old com­mu­nities. But home­making and hos­pi­tality are skills developed through practice, and those who’ve made it through that dis­ori­enting first year of inde­pen­dence have plenty of advice to share. 

“You feel like you’re a freshman all over again when you first graduate,” said Josephine Von Dohlen ‘19. 

Von Dohlen lives in Arlington, Vir­ginia, where she moved for a job in jour­nalism the summer after grad­u­ation. She doc­u­ments her exploits in cooking, baking, dec­o­rating, and hosting on her Instagram. Being the oldest of nine children, she has always lived in com­munity and wanted to inten­tionally build a home that would bring people together in her new environment.

“There’s so much beauty in essen­tially sanc­ti­fying the everyday,” Von Dohlen said. “It’s such a gift to the people around you to really go the extra step just to make them feel cher­ished, and it doesn’t have to be dif­ficult. I think some­times we might think, ‘I have to own my own house before I start hosting people,’ or ‘I need to have this or that before I have a dinner party.’ That’s not what the reality is — you can use what you have and make it beau­tiful. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to be difficult.”

The first step, she said, is filling your apartment or little house with every­thing you didn’t know you needed.

“It sounds crazy, but just gather more things,” she said. “You don’t realize how little you own until you’re in an empty white apartment, and you’re like, ‘I don’t have any­thing really, just clothes and books, and my bed I ordered off of Amazon.’”

Thrift stores and Facebook Mar­ket­place are your best friends in this regard, according to Von Dohlen. She pur­chased most of her fur­niture and artwork for cheap through these means. 

A thrift store is also where Von Dohlen found “The Mag­nolia Table Volume I” by Joanna Gaines, and cooking through all the recipes became her quar­antine project. 

“I really got into cook­books mostly because I was able to find them at thrift stores for good prices, and I had the idea similar to the whole ‘Julie and Julia’ project,” Von Dohlen said, referring to the movie about French chef Julia Child. “It was kind of a joke because ‘Julie and Julia’ and then ‘Josephine and Joanna.’”

Beyond cooking, there are very simple ways to “make your envi­ronment really inten­tional” that

“don’t have to be any­thing beyond lighting a candle and buying flowers for $3.99 at Trader Joe’s,” she said. 

“Don’t be afraid to invest in your space around you because it really does affect your mood,” Von Dohlen said. “Just the other week someone asked, ‘Why does your place feel like a home and not an apartment?’ And I think there are ways to cul­tivate a home through art on the walls, a table­cloth on the table, and just little things like that.”

Senior Car­oline Greb, who got married last summer and lives in downtown Hillsdale with her husband Ethan Greb ‘19, agreed that the heart of hos­pi­tality is sim­plicity and openness.

“It’s a simple thing of just offering a space and offering a bev­erage,” Car­oline said. “We always have tea on hand, and those kinds of simple, inex­pensive things. It doesn’t need to be grand, but I think it’s just in the act of being bold enough to be open — that’s true home­making. Vul­ner­a­bility is being willing to share things even if it is not perfect, because it’s never going to be.”

The Grebs had the benefit of a wedding reg­istry to help get their home started, and Car­oline reit­erated the impor­tance of investing in the right material things to make a house a home.

The Grebs (front) cel­e­brate an engagement at their home.
Courtesy | Car­oline Greb

“We thought about this while making our reg­istry, not because it’s this mate­ri­al­istic activity, but because you’re doing it with someone else, and you’re envi­sioning a life together,” she said. “You’re thinking about what you’re going to do as far as things like hosting dinners and these very tan­gible, physical objects that meant to be used as objects of service to other people.”

She and Ethan were of the same mind when it came to making their home a restful place for others. Caroline’s prac­tical home­making tips include thrifting and simple recipes (such as her three ingre­dient peanut butter cookie), and Ethan added that reading scripture and bud­geting help as well.

“The first prac­tical tip I would say is to read the New Tes­tament,” he said. “There are countless instances of hos­pi­tality, espe­cially in Romans 12 when Paul says to show hos­pi­tality to fellow Chris­tians. Then number two would be to set up a budget for hos­pi­tality, which will give you peace of mind.”

Von Dohlen con­cluded that making your space wel­coming and beau­tiful is not a selfish act if done for others, as well as yourself.

“It brings such a light to others when they are able to truly rest in your home and at your table, and find comfort and joy in your home.”