10 Ways To Make a Tiny Apartment Feel Bigger & Cozier
Two summers ago, my couple friends Jason and Tyler moved in together, and within barely a month of being in their new spot it felt cozier than all my past apartments combined (so typical of nesting lovebirds). You might remember the space below—we shot it to talk about how they merged their two styles into one, and ran the piece after profiling Jason’s apartment as the “before.”
For cozying up or grabbing on the way to a picnic in nearby Tompkins Square Park, this Turkish Cotton throw (available in the Food52 shop!) adds a soft touch.
In the spirit of the new year (which always makes me want to freshen up my own space), we’re bringing you the story again—this time with all the good ideas spelled out clearly so you can pick out the ones you like and set some apartment goals for 2017.
Turning a Tiny Second Bedroom Into a Den
When Jason and Tyler told me they were going to turn the smaller bedroom in their new 2-bedroom apartment into a living room (the result above), I worried it would, being just 5 feet across in some places, feel cramped—and therefore not at all a place they’d want to hang out. But a good window gave it plenty of light, and they took care to maximize every inch without cluttering it. How?
- Add homey accents: Reclaimed wood shelves from Build it Green! NYC, a tiny ornate rug Jason swiped from his parents for softness underfoot, a good blanky, and a stack of vintage trunks lend plenty of creature comforts that make you want to slip right out of your shoes when you walk in.
- Use the nook. By hanging their TV in the most recessed width of wall space, Jason and Tyler gained an extra foot in distance between the screen and the couch. An added chair for setting things on or sitting in makes it feel curated—adding valuable purpose rather than just taking up space. Vintage trunks that form the TV stand double as hidden storage.
Jason’s “beloved Eames chair,” which he found in a trash heap and will never let go of, reflected in their mirror-plated credenza.
- Maximize the natural light: On top of the fact that they wanted to make this the TV room, they also needed to house a whole wardrobe in it. By inching the couch close to the window—exactly where you’d want to be for reading or snuggling—and selecting a mirror-plated wardrobe (which reflects what’s coming in from the window), every seat in the room gets plenty of sunshine.
“We were able to fit two of our biggest pieces without the area feeling constrained,” Tyler reports—but the hidden storage and the enhanced lighting are the real victories here.
Open Shelving 3 Ways in the Bedroom
A fuzzy fleece blanket, jersey laundry hamper, and pale, creamy sheets create a range of neutrals—our favorite color scheme.
One of the reasons the couple sprang for this apartment was the light; there’s at least one window in every room—that’s not guaranteed in NYC!—and two tall, south-facing ones in the bedroom. To keep things crisp and sunny, they went with cool white walls in the bedroom, graphic accents, and open shelving three different ways. And if you’re wondering about that quilt above, which is soft and fluffy right out of the bag, we sell here it in the Shop! (Full disclosure: I brought it with me for the shoot because I wasn’t sure they had a comforter.)
If you can’t find storage boxes this pretty and sturdy, try wrapping a regular shoe box in paper you love.
- Graphic accents: An old American flag, printed boxes, a vintage-inspired speaker, and a charcoal ceramic holder for their shared sunglasses addiction are all impactful—with clean lines that don’t clutter.
Our photographer, Mark Weinberg, and I were captivated and delighted by Jason and Tyler’s overflowing sunglasses collection.
- Open shelves for display: Between the windows, the duo hung shelves that matched the ones in their living room (the brackets they sourced from a hardware store), and decked them out with things that look good: plants, old bottles, pictures, and a camera. “There’s a good amount of greenery outside the window,” Tyler said, which they played off of with hits of moss and olive on the shelves, “and easy access to the fire escape outside for enjoying a beer (don’t tell our super).” Relegating some shelves for pure and simple display—and not strictly storage—keeps even a small space from feeling like a cell.
Their terrarium, complete with little figurines in a mossy landscape, was a favor given to guests at a wedding they attended prior to moving.
- Open shelves for sweaters: Their bedroom does have a real closet, but to house the overflow that would normally go in a dresser, they’re instead using an open bookshelf (see left image below). If you’re proud enough of your sweater collection, it’s a genius move: In the same way that open shelves in a kitchen keep things feeling airy, so do they make more sense for a small space than a bulky dresser—and there’s the added bonus that they force you to be neater. (A few smartly placed wall hooks give their hoodies a home in a hurry.)
- A tall, narrow stack of books: Instead of adding more horizontal shelves for their books—or cramming them into the ones between the windows—the pair added an invisible vertical bookshelf beside the sweater holder. It’s graphic, an art-piece as much as a holder, and a tidy way to keep their favorite titles on hand.
An invisible bookshelf and diamond-shaped Japanese Wall Hooks (that you can find in our Shop) create storage out of thin air.
A Little Warmth In a Rental Kitchen
In a rental apartment when you’re on a budget, the style of the kitchen cabinets is not likely going to be something that makes or breaks the deal—they wouldn’t have chosen this finish, or this countertop, if it were up to them. But a lot of good light and plenty of space (there’s actually another wall of cabinets and a countertop that faces this one) sold them on this kitchen as a place they would be happy to cook regularly.
Shop their tea towels (flour sack and striped) in our Shop.
- Decorate naturally, instead of all at once: With time, the kitchen is a place that automatically gets homier, as it’s prone to accumulatingc one version or another of “fridge art” (signs of life, that is) over time—here: a piece of art, a card, plants, ceramics, soft rumpled linens, and a brass bottle opener. Sometimes the coziest rooms are the ones you don’t decorate, but instead sit back and observe as they gather artifacts from your life over time.
An Expandable Place To Eat
The ceramic vase and glossy votive holders (that double as condiment bowls) can be found in our Shop.
Right when you enter Jason & Tyler’s apartment, you’re greeted by a table and chairs backed by a tall, leaning mirror that seems to double the size of the room—this is where they eat, and I loved that it was the first space you encounter (“We really like how it’s the central point in the apartment,” Jason says). Better still, it’s expandable without feeling fold-up:
- Seating can double: A few wooden folding chairs leaned against a nearby wall, and those—coupled with that Eames chair from the living room—would allow as many as six or seven to gather around this compact table if you pulled it out from the wall.
- Continuity between rooms: One more reclaimed wood shelf was placed high above the tall mirror, making it the third room that has one. Each set of those shelves is different, but it’s a control amongst the variables—something that makes all the decor, however minimal, feels part of a whole as you travel through the rooms. It’s the perfect home for Jason’s bottle collection, featuring the same blues, greens, and toasty browns from other rooms.
This post originally ran as in 2015 as “Moving In Together: Finishing Touches for a Small Space” last summer, but we brought it back because apartments have resolutions, too.
Photos by Mark Weinberg
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