A Tiny NYC Apartment Packed With History

Unless you were born a Rockefeller, invested heavily in Google, ride the rent-control train, or still crash at your parent's house, you've experienced the whole NYC cramped living situation. But sometimes good things come in small packages, as evidenced by Ce Ce Chin, whose Chinatown studio is tiny but still packs a huge punch. The designer and founder of cult shoe line 80%20, Chin not only knows how to work the space smart, she's residing in a slice of her own history. The apartment has been in her family for over 60 years, as evidenced by knick-knacks from her grandparents' time—one corner houses a pencil sharpener, another an Acme safe Chin has hijacked into a makeshift fireplace. Our favorite hand-me-down? A bright red cabinet that's ditched her grandmother's pots and pans for Chin's not insignificant collection of shoes. Vintage isn't just relegated to the pad: The designer models her mother's old pieces she's perfectly incorporated into her Tina Chow goes to Shanghai look. Of course, we got the low-down—Chin shares her tips on dwelling and minuscule style, while dishing out one history lesson that'll actually have you taking you notes.
Click through for dreamy shots of Chin's world, complete with her musings, tips, and must-copy signature style.
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"This is the apartment when I first inherited it in 2002. The kitchen sink and electricity were the same as they were when the apartment was first rented—in 1947! Check out that leaking ceiling!" Enlarge Image
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"This is my Coco Chanel look. The pearls are vintage Kenneth Jay Lane, the dress is BCBG, and the shoes and earrings are Chanel. I'm in the kitchen, and my red cabinet cabinet is behind me."
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"My computer space, with an inspiration board above. Tina Chow, a model from the '80s, has been a big style icon for me, especially since I cut my hair!"
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"Below, is the pencil sharpener my father used as a child. Above, there's a mercury thermometer that still works! "
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"The dresser in the living room is vintage and from Hong Kong, and the birds are inlaid with mother of pearl. I bought it a couple years ago, and I see it as something my grandmother would have loved."
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"The large mirror makes my sleeping alcove look so much bigger. I'm wearing all vintage clothing and my shoes are the Nory Small Giraffe from 80%20 fall 2010."
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"Two silly monkeys! The bedding is from Anthropologie—I love their housewares."
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"Putting on my pearls."
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"The inside of the 'Acme Safe.' I can only imagine what was hidden inside it a long time ago!"
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"I'm on the fire escape outside my bedroom window. The cape was my mother's in the '60s, the Fair Isle sweater is from Stella Dallas vintage in Brooklyn—totally a neo-preppie look."
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"My shoe closet...my grandparents kept their dishes and pots and pans here. It houses the pairs I wear most often and I change the selection each season (I have even more even shoes tucked away in storage and at my design studio). There's everything from Louis Vuitton to Andre Herschovitz and of course tons of my own brand 80%20."
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"That picture frame has old pharmaceuticals I found when I inherited the apartment—they must have been my grandmother's. The jewelry box houses my collection of pearls from Chanel, Slow and Steads Wins the Race, Kenneth Jay Lane, and tons of vintage. In the past year I started wearing the pearl earrings and necklaces that my parents gave me for my Sweet Sixteen."
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"Walking on the street outside my apartment. I purchased this Blackwatch plaid coat recently on a trip to Shanghai. The designers there are interpreting the Preppie Americana trend in a very feminine and almost French way."