How To Make Your Tiny Space Feel HUGE

At the age of 33, I finally decided it was time to live alone. Up until now, I've lived with parents, best friends, ex-husband, and one awesome Craigslist dude, it was time to shed my companion crutch and go out on my own.
One ridiculously expensive broker's fee later (good-bye, new A.P.C. fall wardrobe — I guess I never could afford you anyway), I secured a teeny-tiny (380 square feet!) rent-stabilized studio on a most pristine block in Brooklyn Heights. It was small, but it felt like me. Fast-forward two months later, and I was still surrounded by unhung artwork, a giant pile of shoes at the bottom of my closet, and a bed in the middle of my room. Overwhelmed by the task of decorating an entire — albeit small — apartment, I was frozen by the enormity of it all. I had the tools, some ideas, and the stuff to fill it with, but where was I supposed to put it all?
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Step in Refinery29 EIC Christene Barberich, who also happens to be an interiors genius with tons of experience making small spaces livable (check out her own beautiful, tiny apartment on Tales of Endearment). Help also came from small-space guru Gunnar Larson, whose own apartment I admired and bookmarked for inspiration. Together, the two transformed my cramped space into a veritable palace that's efficient, cozy, and completely me. Click through to see how they did it and the 23 tips you can steal for your own place.
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Photographed by Alexandra R. Gavillet.
The raw space

Here's my apartment when I first moved in. I saw the fireplace and bay windows and took it on the spot — figuring I'd deal with the space situation after move-in. The rest of the place consists of the other half of the studio as well as a kitchen and closet area divided by a low, but incredibly useful, half-wall.
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Photographed by Alexandra R. Gavillet.
I told Gunnar I was going for a vibe "reminiscent of my childhood spent between Brooklyn and the Berkshires, something that feels cozy, like fall, but fun. Perhaps, a bit of a heritage throw-back, but not crafty-like — like a Wes Anderson movie, but, ugh, maybe not? Oh! And, I tend to go more masculine but am not opposed to girlier things."

Somehow, Gunnar was still excited to work on this with me.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
1. Paint as a room divider

Gunnar's first assignment for me was to paint the center wall. I chose a cool gray, aptly named Dior Gray by Benjamin Moore. A single painted accent wall is not only a way to add a bit of color, but it also separated the room into two living spaces: sleeping area and living/entertaining area.

Benjamin Moore Dior Gray Ben Interior Paint, $36.99, available at Benjamin Moore stores; Pendleton Brave Star Hooked Pillow, $98, available at Pendleton; Sleep Studio Mohair Mauve With Stitching Throw Blanket, $450, available at Sleep Studio.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
2. Get an apartment sofa — it's a thing

Sized between a love seat and a full-on couch lives a wonderful thing called an "apartment sofa." I never knew this until I went hunting for something compact that didn't look like an overstuffed doll-house couch.

Cobble Hill Apartment Sofa, $1,200, available at ABC Carpet & Home Warehouse Outlet.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
3. DIY your own drapery ties

Instead of investing in hardware and taking the risk of damaging window moldings, use ribbon or a scarf as a center tie for curtains. "You're also saving money on drapery by only purchasing one panel," says Gunnar.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
4. Look to kids' shops for rugs

I pinned, searched, bookmarked, and scoured the shops, but couldn't find a rug that was colorful but not crazy (in terms of pattern or price). An amazing tip for all you fellow tiny-apartment renters and owners out there — check out children's home stores. Not only are the options more affordable, but there are also tons of smaller size options.

Land of Nod Color Static Rug, $229, available at Land of Nod; John Derian Rag Rug Pillow, $85, available at John Derian stores.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
5. Mixed multiuse surfaces

Instead of one big coffee table that takes up a lot of space, go for assorted surfaces like a low Moroccan pouf or a wooden pedestal. Both have multipurpose functions that serve as a place to rest wayward limbs as well as food and drinks. Plus, you can move them around and tuck them away when needed.


Imports From Marrakesh White Moroccan Pouf, $250, available at Pure Home; Andrew Yes Light Green Linen PillowBall, $285, available at Andrew Yes; Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co. Brahms Mount Cotton Herringbone Throw, $235, available at Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co.; West Elem Industrial Task Floor Lamp, $169, available at West Elm; Wooden Pedestal available at ABC Carpet & Home Warehouse Outlet; John Derian Glass Heart Coaster, $48, available at John Derian stores.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
6. Let a credenza be your major investment piece

After years of going through cheaper dressers made of compacted wood and assembled by yours truly, just to be thrown out three years later when it broke in a move, I finally took the plunge and purchased a walnut midcentury credenza. I needed the storage that a larger piece of furniture offered and felt good about this quality piece being front and center in my living space.

Christene introduced me to a plethora of gorgeous antique shops along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, but advised I search eBay and home-sale sites first, now that I was familiar with different styles and quality. Advice taken and put into practice. One Kings Lane totally pulled through on this one.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
7. Camouflage your television set

Gunnar took my gallery wall one step further and did a little trick with the placement, which I thought was quite clever. He off-centered the television and tucked it below one of the hanging pieces, so it fits as another addition to the gallery wall, not quite hiding it but not putting the spotlight on it either. There's no reason for me to have my television smack-dab in the middle, and it's in the perfect spot now to view it from my bed or couch when I finally get around to plugging it in.

Select artwork from left to right: Shirley Katz Parlor Room monotype, $200, available at Shirley Katz; Methane Studios Andrew Bird Boats by Robert Lee, $25, available at Methane Studios; Sara Rabin Georgia May Jagger Screenprint, print available on request, Saratonin; Jason Polan Dinosaurs at The American Museum of Natural History, print available on request at Jason Polan.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
8. Mixed metals — not just for jewelry anymore

It seems so obvious, but mixing metals in your home works just as well as it does with jewelry in an outfit. I would never have thought to do this and love the look so much. Also, yes — the growing scotch collection does need a spotlight, thank you.

Land of Nod Modern Clip Lamp in Gold, $59, Land of Nod; Dot & Bo Silver Rim Whiskey Glasses, Set of Two, $24.99, available at Dot & Bo.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
9. Sleep outside the box

Gunnar moved my bed from its original location, centered by and blocking the bay windows where the couch now sits, to the cozy nook next to the fireplace. While I sacrificed having the two open sides of the bed, it opened the room up in a major way.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
10. Put your pillows to work

A daybed is defined as a couch that can be turned into a bed, but here is my bed, turned into a couch. The use of piled-high throw pillows adds height and a back perfect for extra seating space when I have friends over — it also conquers my fear of color when it comes to bedding. More on that in a bit...

Pillows from left to right: West Elm Faribault Wool Pillow Cover - Allover Stripe, $39, available at West Elm; Pendleton Rio Concho Pillow, $68, available at Pendleton; John Derian Rag Rug Pillow, $85, available at John Derian; Cynthia Rowley Chevron Pillow, similar styles available at Home Goods; West Elm Faribault Wool Pillow Cover - Allover Stripe, $39, available at West Elm stores.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
11. Mix and match patterns

Mixing colorful striped and patterned pillows to my all-white bedding added texture and comfort to a stark sleeping nook. While I'm not looking to spend big on new linen sets, and I do still like the look of an all-white bed, I do welcome the warmth that the pile of bold pillows adds to my apartment. It's also a great lazy-girl styling trick as none of these guys need to match, and you don't have to buy them all at once.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
12. Work with what you have to create "tables"

Here's what I have a ton of: books. Here's what I don't have: room for bookshelves. Most of my books are stored above my kitchen cabinets, but there were a sizable amount on the floor, hiding behind my bed, and stacked along the window ledges. Creating this nifty, thrifty nightstand was a 10-second DIY that is totally practical, too. To secure the stack, I used an old Gucci belt pillaged from my dad's closet.

Simply Vera Vera Wang Whisper Quilted Coverlet, $68, available at Kohl's; Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co. Camp Blanket, $165, available at Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
13. Don't skip the bedskirt

Dismissed (by me, at least) as an old-fashioned, girly bed accessory, the bed skirt is a great way to hide clutter for small spaces. Before, I was engaging in a daily wrestling match with my flat sheet to perfectly cover the all-important, tiny-apartment storage area that is the under-belly of the bed. I have fought my last fight. Look how neat my place looks! I am forever indebted to this box-pleat bed ruffle.

Smoothweave Tailored Bed Skirt, $24.99, available at Bed Bath & Beyond.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
14. Use inventive lighting solutions

This Edison-bulb lamp is certainly both inventive and practical. It sits comfortably on all kinds of surfaces, meaning I don't have to drill any holes into the wall to install sconces, and they can easily be moved around if I ever decide to change up the layout. Design-wise, it's one of my favorite additions to the apartment and gives off an incredibly warm, inviting glow.

Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co. Brass Ion Lamp - Box Set, $129, available at Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co.; Dwell Studio Pair of Metal Peacocks, $88, available at Dwell Studio.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
15. The big ol' mirror trick

Christene came over to my apartment, took one look at the mantle, and said, "You need a large round mirror." And, guess what? She was right. The oversized circular mirror is the reflective surface I needed to bounce off tons of extra light, and it's a welcome organic shape in a angular studio. A round peg in a square hole, if you will!

Antique mirror purchased at Holler & Squall, similar mirrors available.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
16. Hide tech in plain sight

This speaker is one of my favorite products that's especially handy for small-apartment living. There are some great wireless speakers out there from the likes of Jawbone, JBL, and more, but I really like this audio pillar from Stellé. It's from its collaboration with DwellStudio, and it fits right in on the mantle — and stands out in a good way.

DwellStudio for Stellé Audio Pillar - Matte Black With Triangle Metallic Gold Print, $399, available at Stellé Audio>.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
17. Be creative with fireplace spaces

Chalkboard paint in tow, Gunnar went for the fireplace. This registered as a one on the renter-risk scale, as the backsplash wall was already painted black. Bringing my record player and collection down to the floor around my newly chalkboard-ified hearth makes the space feel cozy and childlike in a wonderful way. There's something peacefully satisfying about the simplicity of sitting on the floor and going through your music library.

Rust-Oleum 30-oz. Flat Black Chalkboard Paint, $9.67, available at Home Depot.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
18. Go for a round table

Unlike a square table, a round one can be pulled out and accommodate as many people as you can squeeze around it. It rests comfortably in the corner without feeling like a jammed-in puzzle piece.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
19. Use wallpaper as decoration

I use my kitchen as both a dining area and a dressing room. The panel of wallpaper separates the two spaces and creates a little designated dining spot. It's also a way to add pattern for commitment-phobes, or renters, like me. That wallpaper is attached with removable double-sided tape and hasn't budged.

Cole & Son Fornasetti Corallo Wallpaper, Lee Jofa; West Elm Wood Slice Charger, $19, available at West Elm; West Elm Twig Flatware Sets, $49, available at West Elm; Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co. Full Color Table Napkin, $10, Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
20. Use pillowcases as chair covers

Just like on Thanksgiving, a good way to avoid extra bulk is to hold back on the stuffing. Same thing goes for my itty-bitty kitchen — really! I wanted to add more color to the space without the weight of more pillows on the chairs, so I skipped the actual pillow part and cut the bottom of the pillow cover to fit over the chair back. This is also an easy way to gussy up standard folding chairs.

Nine Space Savanna Pillow Cover, $38, Nine Space.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
21. Build a walk-out closet

I'm sure many women living in NYC and other tree-house-sized spaces have the same walk-in closet fantasies as I do. To make do, try building out the area around the closet, so that it's an extension of the space. With the right organizational pieces, it hardly looks cluttered.

IKEA BISSA Shoe Cabinet, $24.99, available at IKEA.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
22. Week at a glance

Once I made the decision to create the dressing area, I wasn't sure if I should purchase a small garment rack or not. I had been eyeing a super-narrow one from Target that Christene keeps behind her desk, but even that looked like it might take up too much space in my apartment. On suggestion from Gunnar, I ended up purchasing two wall-mount hanger holders from The Container Store. This handy hanging tool has officially changed my life. I plan my outfits out on Sunday night, and Monday morning through Friday, I can now get dressed with competence even when I'm running late. The best part is, they fold up flush against the wall when you don't want to use them and don't take up precious floor space.

The Container Store Wall-Mount Hanger Holder, $5.99, available at The Container Store.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
23. Dress up your display cases

While I used to tend to hide everything away behind closed doors, I've learned that blank, empty spaces don't always correlate to a cleaner, bigger look. Take this example of glass storage boxes. I used to have a large jewelry box that would turn into a giant mess every time I went digging for something to wear. By placing glass cases on floating shelves, my jewelry becomes part of the landscape of my apartment and is easy to sift through as well as pretty to look at.

The Container Store Deco Wall-Mounted Shelf, $24.99, available at The Container Store; West Elm Glass Shadow Boxes, $69, available at West Elm.
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Photographed by Gunnar Larson.
My new orderly space feels exceptionally gratifying to come home to, hence the mega-grin on my face. The end result was the culmination of the meeting of some pretty rad minds, some strategic shopping, and the willingness to move around some furniture, toss the pieces that weren't working, and think outside of the (380 square-foot) box.
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