UPDATE: This story was originally published on November 20.
When you get home from a long day at work, all you want to do is take a load off, kick your feet up, pour yourself a glass of Pinot, and take in the view. Except, in NYC, you probably don't have a view. And, uh, sometimes when you kick your feet up you might accidentally kick something over. Yes, living in such covetable zip codes often comes at the cost of space, but that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice a single ounce of style.
For proof, we knocked on the doors of five influential New Yorkers (one of whom happens to work at R29) to see how they make the most of their tight square footage—and, of course, we didn't leave without grabbing all their expert tips to making a tiny pad look oh-so-big. From a DIY faux fireplace to a sophisticated loft (yes, they exist), these cribs may not have an XXL tag, but their chicness is off the charts. There's even room for plenty of Pinot—Noir and Grigio alike!
Click through for the five coolest small spaces in NYC—plus, amazing decor tips.
Photographed by Winnie Au
Bevy Reyes, Executive Recruiter for Berglass + Associates
What are your favorite parts of your apartment? Anything you'd change having lived there?
"It gets beautiful light and it's my first apartment living in Brooklyn after living in the West Village for nine years. I don't think I would change anything about it. Well, bigger closets, actually."
rag & bone shirt, Topshop jeans.
Your apartment is really clean with pops of color — describe your design inner-monologue here and the philosophy of your aesthetic.
"I like clean lines with a few special pieces thrown in. A white couch means you could change the accent pillows if you get bored, without having to change the couch!"
What is your number one design tip for making small spaces look bigger?
"Hang drapes high and wide to make the room and windows look larger."
Is your apartment hard to keep clean? Any secrets to keeping a small white space neat?
"It's easy to keep clean. Avoid a shag rug, though, if vacuuming isn't your thing."
Is there anything you don't have room for that you wish you could bring in?
"A farmer's table for the kitchen...and a photobooth."
Richard Saja Frankentoile cushion and Jonathan Adler pillow.
What is your favorite home store in NYC?
"I love Future Perfect and Brooklyn Reclamation."
Are there any unexpected problems with living in a small space people should be wary of before moving in?
"Not thus far. It forces you to edit your things, and only bring along the special items, which I think is a good thing."
Jonathan Adler bedspread and pillow.
What is one thing you're always re-stocking?
What will be your next big home splurge?
"I'm not sure, splurges are always spontaneous for me."
MoMA Design Shop vase.
Elana Fishman, Digital Fashion News Editor at Lucky
Do you have any tips for finding an apartment in NYC in the first place?
"I never thought I'd want to live in a small studio sans roommates — but a nightmare roomie situation my senior year at NYU convinced me that it was time to strike out on my own. I combed through Craigslist posts for weeks, and that's exactly where I'd suggest anyone start — especially if they're hoping to avoid a broker fee, which in itself can be challenging. Once you start going to open houses, make sure you bring a checkbook should you fall in love with a particular place on the spot. The early bird truly does get the worm. And, remember, the higher the floor, the lower the rent in many cases. Of course, that rule only applies to walk-ups, not fancy high-rises!"
Trina Turk wrap dress.
How does your personal style compare to your home decor?
"They're pretty much one and the same. Most would describe my personal style as aggressively feminine — nipped-waist dresses, circle skirts, ballet flats, and cardigans are my uniform — and my bird-and-butterfly-filled apartment definitely reflects my aesthetic of choice. It sort of looks like Marie Antoinette threw up all over the place, but I wouldn't have it any other way."
Any tips for making your small space look bigger?
"Resist the urge to over-furnish! With a small apartment, even a single unnecessary chair can cause crowding. Once you've covered the basics — bed, small sofa or loveseat, vanity/desk, and perhaps a small end table or two— redirect your energy to buying smaller décor items to round out the overall look of the place."
Vintage loveseat and vanity.
Headboard and couch from Craigslist.
Do you have any small-space design "no-nos?"
"Not making use of the storage space you have is a biggie. My wooden armoire houses my TV above and folded clothing below, my under-bed area is packed with off-season clothing, and I keep even more clothes (coats, scarves etc.) in big suitcases at the back of my closet — and on top of it, too! Don't let any square-footage go to waste, especially if it's not out in the open. Clever shelving can be a real lifesaver here."
What is your favorite part about your apartment and one thing you wish you could change?
"I'm crazy about my boarded-up fireplace and the mantle above it. It's a perfect display space for my dried flowers, perfume bottles, and other knick-knacks, and lends a nice old-timey vibe. The one thing I wish I could change? I wish it was a real, operating fireplace. One day…"
Urban Outfitters jewelry tree, C.Wonder magnifying glass.
Working at Lucky, we're guessing you've got a lot of clothes/shoes — any tips for organizing in a small space?
"Well, I got particularly lucky (pun intended), having two closets in a single studio. But, the key for me is to reassess my entire wardrobe on a seasonal basis and get rid of anything I haven't used or thought about in a year. There's no need to waste valuable storage space with clothes and accessories you no longer enjoy wearing — especially when there are so many places in NYC where you can donate or sell them! Also, stacking and/or layered clothes hangers: Use them, love them."
How do you feel about having your bedroom and living room in the same space — any tips for entertaining in a studio?
"To be completely honest, I'm not big on hosting dinner parties — as evident by the fact that my stove hasn't seen any action since I first moved into this place. That said, I do love having a few friends over for some wine and Homeland. To avoid furniture-bumping fiascos and major messes, I advise keeping your group on the smaller side. That said, if you feel like throwing a major rager in your studio, all the power to you."
Magazine stand from Furnish Green
Have you made any design mistakes you've learned from since you've moved in?
"Well, I certainly wish I'd realized that once you start building a gallery-style artwork wall above a specific piece of furniture — the bed, in my case — you kind of can't move that furniture ever again without throwing everything off-balance. So, make sure you're completely happy with the placement before you start hammering holes into walls!"
What is one thing you are looking to splurge on for the home this season?
"I'm about a million years behind on this, but I'd love one of those silver Moroccan poufs from John Derian. I'm also looking to add to my collection of decorative antlers. My lone pair needs some company."
Fiona Byrne, Founder and Editor-In-Chief, The Byrne Notice
How does your personal style compare to your home decor philosophy?
"I think they are similar, I like a minimalist look and adding fun accessories."
What is the defining characteristic of your apartment and your best tip for designing in a small space?
"It's very bright and has a Cape Cod feel, but with a city edge. My best tip is to keep clutter to a minimum and have multi-purpose pieces. I originally bought the clear console as a vanity and now it's my desk. The clear bedside tables are part of a nest that have been used as everything from risers to living room tables."Gap shirt, J Brand pants, Isabel Marant sneakers.Refurbished chair from Craigslist
What is your favorite home store in NYC?
"I love John Derian in the East Village and Haus Interior in Nolita."
Talk about the use of color in your home — how is this important specifically in a small space?
"Well I like a lot of white, but with touches of black as a grounding element. I kept my furniture mostly white and this has helped in keeping the space quite fresh as well as helping to create a feeling of openness. The flowers in the living room are from a Mulberry Fashion Week party. You don't really get more of a pop than those. They really are the standout feature. I have navy accents in my bathroom to make it gender neutral."
We love the added fireplace — tell us how you constructed it.
"Thanks! I'm not typically a fan of decals, but I liked the idea of having a focal point in the living room, so I found this decal online and had a corniced shelf custom-made through an eBay store for around $35. I added white ribbon to the shelf so it blended well with the decal."
DIY fireplace decal.
Any tips for making a small space look bigger?
"Keep the walls fairly neutral. I had black stripes below the chair rail in the bedroom at one point, and it really shrank the room so I changed them to white. It's one color but gives it texture."
What is the next thing you want to purchase for the home?
"A sofa bed so I can have guests stay over."
Vintage sacks, bike by Linus from Adeline Adeline.
Tell us more about some of your creative DIYs!
"The hallway is decorated with bedsheets by Laura Ashley, which I applied using liquid starch, and below the chair rail I used spare slats from window blinds to create a wainscoting-meets-picket fence look. In the bathroom I did stripes using grosgrain ribbon and liquid starch. The best part about using starch and fabric is that you just remove the fabric when you're done and there's no repainting required when you move out."
What is the easiest DIY someone can do for their apartment?
"Definitely fabric on the walls using liquid starch. It's so easy and a really great alternative to wallpaper. It's inexpensive and so much easier to apply and remove!"
Any big splurge you're hoping to pick up for the home for the holidays?
"In a perfect world I would buy some art by Nate Lowman."
What is your favorite thing about your apartment and one thing you wish you could change?
"My favorite thing is that it faces south, and since every room has a window it's amazingly bright and cheerful. If I could change anything it would be to knock the walls that separate the kitchen, living room, and office and make it much more open."
PB Teen bedspread, Ralph Lauren bedsheets.
Kristian Laliberte, Senior Editor at Refinery29
Talk a little about finding your apartment in the first place — any apartment hunting tips for NYC?
"There are very few things worse than trying to find a place in NYC. I tried everything — Naked Apartments, a broker, even a Facebook post! In the end, I had the best luck on Craiglist. I literally spent two days walking around the city looking at apartments, most of them incredibly crappy. Be prepared to see a lot of sh*t, and make sure to be ready to sign immediately... I lost out on a couple places because I waited.
Carry a list of measurements of some of the furniture you want to take with you: When I was on my search, I brought a tape measure and checked dimensions for possible places to put my couch, bed, etc. Also keep an eye out for any areas that could be utilized for storage — even a tiny, random depression can be lined with shelves or hung with hooks. Lastly, ask the current resident about the landlord and super, as well as (if you can) how much they're paying for the place. I negotiated my fee after talking with the former tenant and some of the neighbors."
Describe your home decor and how you scaled it for your small space.
"Personally, I think a space can look smaller if it's too spare. I subscribe to the more is more philosophy to a degree — every wall surface (including the bathroom door and fridge) is covered with framed paintings, drawings, and prints, and I used graphic patterns to make for a lot of visual candy. I wasn't afraid to mix stripes with Ikat, or clash red-and-blue with black-and-white. I edited my bric-a-brac to pieces that really pack a punch and tried to make sure there was a good mix of vintage and new, so it didn't look too old."
J.Crew button-down shirt, Ralph Lauren sweater, Rugby pants, J.Crew socks, Cole Haan shoes.Madeline Weinrib Black Zig Zag pillows, available at ABC Carpet & Home .
Your room is obviously very graphic with a preppy twist — is there anything you won't put in your apartment?
"Gee, thanks! I know it can seem a bit all-over-the-place, but there really was a method to my madness. When I get a bigger pad, I'm going to be less frenetic — I know this is a bit young and pop, but it's important to surround yourself with things that make you happy, and at this stage in my life bright is better. You also have to be cost-effective with your purchases. So, I'm not going to buy high-ticket furniture right now — stuff like couches or bed frames I'm fine with getting from Ikea, then I'll pay more for accessories or wall art.
You also won't find anything too dark in my place — while I admire the Navajo blanket, mid-century modern thing, I like to be a bit more peppy."
Your bedspread shows lots of UK pride — what was the decision behind taking this plunge?
"Honestly, I'm a huge Anglophile. Like, I actually read Hello and Tatler regularly. I watch the X-Factor UK — I knew about One Direction before they blew up (I'm not proud of it, just saying). So, when my mom found this, it was a no-brainer. Plus, it makes the bed seem less of a bed. I gave some Americana love with the pillows — they're white stars on red that are from...wait for it...Pottery Barn Kids."
Jack Wills bedspread, Upper Rust mirror (above fireplace)
A lot of NYC apartments have non-working fireplaces, how have you made use of yours and any tips for fireplace decor?
"My mom, who helped decorate and was basically the mastermind behind my apartment, is a genius. Every pad should have a focal point, so she made a fireplace. She built the frame out of wood you can get from Home Depot or your local lumber yard, painted the inside and the mantel black, and pasted cheese paper on the rest (you can buy the actual pattern here
). Then, we measured the inside and cut glass to size (google glass stores in NYC — any one of them can do it). Finally, we had a marble slab cut to size for the "grate" and added electric candles on different height stands to make it seem more real. Should we do a DIY?
Treat the mantle like a real mantle, and accessorize it on a scale that's eye-catching but not overpowering. I put matching Fornasetti votives on either end for symmetry, but mixed up the middle with a Waterford decanter, an urn with potted orchids, a Morrissey bust (that doubles as a candle), and some Assouline books. Invest in a cool, versatile mirror for above — it's something you can take with you from apartment to apartment."What is it like having your bed in your living room and vice-versa? Any tips for entertaining in a studio?
When I first moved in, my mom told me to put the bed in the middle of the room. I was so positive she was making a mistake, but I'll admit it: Mother knows best. Sometimes it's best not to treat your bed like the elephant in the room — yes, you live in a studio, and yes, you're sleeping in the same room as your couch. In my place, the bed serves as a buffer between the kitchen and the 'living' area, and really compartmentalizes the apartment.
Clearly, I've done some entertaining here
— despite some readers' comments, it is possible! As I mentioned earlier, treat your bed like an extra seating area (I have three rows of pillows, which I move around) and have a bedspread that doesn't feel too 'bed-like' if that makes sense."
John Derian tray, C. Wonder tray, vintage Fornasetti ashtray, Cire Trudon Spiritus Sancti candle.
You obviously have a lot of shoes (and, we're assuming, clothes). What is your organizational method for keeping it all hidden, or at least, clean?
"You think? I built a 'shoe closet' in this random wall indentation with shelves that really couldn't hold anything. I ripped out all the shelves and glued shoe racks (the type you can buy at Bed Bath & Beyond) together, and mounted them to the wall. What you can't see is that I hung a curtain rod at the top and put a graphic piece of cloth that usually hides the shoes from sight, so it almost looks like wall art when closed."
Every single area in my apartment has storage space — I do have a lot of clothes (and shoes), so I have storage bins under the bed for boots and sneakers, SlimLine hangers
are a must, and an extra-large closet from Ikea that has very deep shelves — I store all my spring clothes behind my winter clothes and vice versa, and put all my bulky items like sweatshirts, raincoats, and extra bedding in the bottom shelf.
Of course, it's so important to edit! Every three months, I go through all my stuff — if I haven't worn it since the last time I looked, I take it to Tokio 7 and The Salvation Army."
What is your biggest tip for designing in small spaces, especially tips for making small spaces look bigger?
"Mirrors! I have mirrors everywhere — above the fireplace, in the fireplace, across from the bed, above the closet.... and, the best one, fit to size as a backsplash in my kitchen. They really make your place look bigger and the trick is to angle them so that they reflect off each other, hang them high to give yourself higher ceilings, or across from the window for light — there's a reason magicians use them so much!
Versatile pieces are also key....my clock, for instance, opens up and holds all my First Aid stuff, and under my coffee table I added a tray that displays all my glossy books and magazines. I don't waste any space. My bedside table has drawers, I added another closet bar in the closet, I have decorative antlers that double as clothes hooks...the list goes on.
Don't be afraid of big, graphic art. A large, colorful work can really make your pad have more depth — people sometimes think filling the wall makes everything look smaller, but I think the opposite is true. I especially love a salon-style wall."
What is your favorite thing about your apartment and something you wish you could change after having lived there?
"I love that every light is on a dimmer switch — and that I have tons of candles. With the right lighting, everything looks better. I also really curated my art — there's a lot going on, but I didn't just hang things that were cool — you have to love it 'cuz you're looking at it every day.
To be honest, I measured the F out of this place and got WAY more storage space then I thought possible, so I'm not sure how else I could configure it. I do wish that I was even better at paring down my clothes. Also, my jute rug is absolutely immovable, it's covered by all the furniture, and it has wrinkled since I've moved in, which drives me crazy. Next time, I am going to go with something more durable."
What are your favorite home design stores in NYC/your neighborhood?
"I've said it before, I'll say it again — I'm OBSESSED with The Upper Rust
on East 9th Street. It's not too expensive, and has all these amazing, one-of-a-kind pieces, from mirrors to little, beautiful tchotchkes. Next door is Pink Olive, which has great, handmade postcards and whimsical decor gifts.
In general, you can't beat Ikea for basics — all my wardrobes and shelving is from there. Restoration Hardware is excellent, but very expensive, so I'm saving up for a couch for my next apartment. Ralph Lauren has awesome lighting. The Barneys home department offers up a great selection of Fornasetti (can't you tell I'm obsessed?), plus chic, designer-y statement accessories. Dwell Studio is a go-to for bedding, and John Derian for coffee table stuff...their decoupage is still epic all these years later. I could spend years in ABC Carpet & Home — that's really my ultimate interior paradise."
Vase from Jonathan Adler, Tom Ford Neroli Portofino, available at Neimain Marcus; Wallpaper* city guides, available at Phaidon, John Derian paperweight, Printemps book tin, Oscar de la Renta playing cards, Tobias Wong "The Times Of New York" candle.
Seth Howard, Style Director
Tell us about finding your apartment in the first place — do you have any tips for apartment hunting in NYC?
"I have little to no patience for apartment searching. It's fun for a couple of days, but after weeks...not so much. I have a friend whose apartment I really liked, so I got his broker's information and gave her a call. She didn't have anything right then, but called me back a couple of weeks later. The apartment's tenant had just given her 30 days notice and I was the first person to see it (the only person as it turns out). I submitted the application and payment the following day."Alton Lane pants and button-down, Ben Sherman sweater, American Apparel socks.
How would you describe your interior design aesthetic?
"I like a mix of polished and clean lines with more rustic and vintage pieces. I don't like to have too much of any one thing. What's the adage? Too much of a good thing may kill you, or something like that. So mixing it up is definitely important for me."
What are your tips for small-space design? Any ways of making small spaces look bigger?
"Keeping clutter to a minimum. Everything has to stay in place (not that it always does in my apartment) And, make the most use of your space — accentuate what you have. In my studio, there are extremely high ceilings, so hanging artwork all the way up makes you notice that and causes the small space to seem much larger. Also, using things with double functions is important. The trunk in my place makes a great coffee table and also allows for extra storage."
Antique trunk, Counterfeit Studio pillows.
Any tips for at-home entertaining, especially when the bedroom is not behind closed doors?
"Coming from the South, entertaining is important. Everything needs to (again) be tidy. If the bed is exposed, it should be made. Most importantly, always have plenty of booze on hand. And, a few tasty nibbles."
The lofted bed seems like a big plus!
"I wasn't really interested in a lofted bed. Most of the ones I've seen in NYC are very cramped and you're basically breathing on the ceiling. It works here, though, because there's still about five feet of space up there. It gets tricky for me because I can't sleep when it's hot — heat rises, it gets warm — but I've managed so far."
ABC Carpet & Home bar cart.
What is your favorite part about your apartment, and one thing you wish you could change?
"The best part is (finally) living alone in NYC, after eight years. It's also very conveniently located. If I could change anything, I would update the kitchen and create more space. I love to cook, but there's no prep space really. And, I'd have a dish washer. And maybe a nice walk-in closet."
How do you make use of your non-working fireplace?
"I keep flowers in these Missoni x Pellegrino water bottles, and a few large candles which came in handy a few weeks ago during Hurricane Sandy. And, there are also a few small pieces of art in there that didn't really belong on the wall."
Are there any at-home DIYs you'd recommend?
"I ripped out the original wooden bar in the closet (actually, it fell out of the wall from me having too many things hanging on it). I got an Elfa shelving system that I designed at The Container Store and installed it myself. Other than that, I didn't really need to do too many projects."
What is your favorite store for home design in NYC?
"ABC Carpet & Home is great. There are so many different brands and aesthetics, it's a great place to walk around for inspiration."