Small Space Design Tips From NYC Pros

The dimensions of our apartments don't dictate our design dreams. We digest decor ideas like they're life sustaining, flipping through glossy mags with fresh furniture options from chaise lounges to indoor gyms. And, okay, sometimes they don't exactly fit our floor plans (or budgets), but our square footage doesn't mean we have to sacrifice style. Instead, we turned to three New Yorkers living in real, small apartments that pack major style heat to see how they fit so much sartorial goodness in with their shoe collections, mini stoves, and full-sized beds. Design tips, winter mood boards, and where to pick up your next home splurge? Yep, it's all ahead, so you can be somewhat cramped without having to cramp your style (sorry, we had to).
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
Danielle Arps, Interior Designer with Homepolish

Tell us about the experience of finding your apartment. How did you know it was "the one?"
"I searched for months and literally looked at over 100 places. I knew there were certain requirements that I had to have — not insane things, but for New York, finding a one bedroom and having it actually be a one bedroom and not one room (at a reasonable rent) was not an easy feat! I knew this was the perfect location, being right above the park and super close to trains. Once I viewed the exposed brick, I was sold."

Tell us about your home design aesthetic and how it intersects with your personal style.
"If I had to put it into a style, I'd say my aesthetic is 'eclectic industrial.' I love pattern and print but I also love the look of raw materials, especially in furniture pieces. I've acquired beautiful artwork and accessories from my parents that I refuse to put away, so I make them work with my newer more industrial furniture items, which then allows for unexpected and refreshing moments."

Elliatt Cape Blazer by Nasty Gal, Boots by Guess, Jeans by Cheap Monday.
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What are your favorite parts about your apartment? Anything you'd change having lived there?
"The striking exposed brick wall and high ceilings are what I love about the apartment. Although the square footage isn't huge, it certainly feels open and spacious! I honestly love the apartment as is, though my walls could be a little thicker — I'm always hearing certain sounds from my neighbors that I think I shouldn't be hearing."

What is one unforeseen issue you have had with your apartment and how did you deal?
"I think because I'm an interior designer and have dealt with designing for apartments in NYC, I knew what to look for in order to avoid major issues that most of us have, like ordering an amazing sofa only to realize it won't fit through the door or stairwell. A good tip is to always ask your neighbors about the building before you sign the lease. In my experience, they've always been very honest about what goes on there."

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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
Do you do any at-home DIYs? Tell us a bit about them.
"My favorite DIY item is the lamp hanging over my dining table — it's a $20 basket I purchased from Jamali Garden in the flower district and a basic light kit that you can get from Home Depot. I cut a hole in the center of the basket, fed the light bulb through and wrapped a metal chain around the top. Now I have this great looking custom piece that cost me less than $50!"

Give us a few unique tips for making a small space look bigger.
"Don't be sparse on the furniture: Having more and making sure it's laid out so you're not blocking the entrance when you first walk into a room will create the feeling of depth. I'd say a fun idea is to choose a dark or saturated color for the wall you put your sofa against — create a salon wall of art; it'll help distract from the actual depth of the wall, allowing it to feel more open than it is."

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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What's the best way to inject personality into your space?
"Artwork! This is what makes your space your own, because artwork is so ridiculously personal. My place is chock-full of art and kind of serves as a rotating gallery for my own line of prints that I'm working on with my amazingly talented friend and artist Billy Ruiz. It's called 'Femme and Fellow' and is launching next spring. It mixes the more masculine with the feminine and really will focus on finding that curated balance of the latter's space. This is one issue that seems to be a recurring concern with clients and friends, especially when they move in together."

Any tips or routines for cleaning and storage?
"If you designate a place for your items, it's much easier to keep organized. The Container Store has excellent storage systems that you can customize to your closet, no matter the size."

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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What about at-home entertaining: How does that work in a small space?
"In a small space you have to think about multi-functional furniture. You want a table that you can push up against a wall that can be used functionally when not set up to entertain. My dining table also serves as a work surface for my home office. Although it takes up space and looks pretty when I pull it out and set up to entertain, I'm constantly using it for other tasks throughout the week, like painting, drawing, spreading out fabric samples — it's an all use table not just for entertaining."

What are your favorite home stores in NYC?
"I love the prints and patterned pillows and bedding from John Robshaw (I have them throughout my place); Furnish Green has some great vintage items at amazing prices, Demolition Depot in Harlem, is an architectural salvage shop that I love, and ABC Home — I could spend hours and hours diving through the ridiculously cool and well-designed sofas."

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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What are you always restocking?
"Fresh flowers every week. I know it sounds very much the homemaker, but it really does put a smile a on my face to see colorful tulips or daisies on my coffee table — and for $15 bucks they smell great and add a different accent color to my space each week."

What will be your next big home splurge?
"I'm on the lookout for a new bed, and though this one has seen me through grad school and is actually a DIY itself (it used to be dark brown with a suede headboard), I think it's time for a new look!"
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
Paul Booth, Production Manager, Editorial Department at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Personal Trainer at Willspace

Tell us about your home design aesthetic and how it intersects with your personal style.
"I’ve chosen things for my apartment in the same way I choose what I wear. I gravitate towards simple things with a little twist. And I love color. Most items I’ve found on a budget, however it’s important to mix in investment pieces as well. I think if you collect things that speak to you, they’ll all jive with each other in the end."

What are your favorite parts about your apartment? Anything you'd change having lived there?
"I love having so many windows in a small space. They make the apartment feel bright and airy and great too that the view is of the garden. And while the overall layout of the space is pretty efficient, I would still take more storage!"

T-shirt by Alexander McQueen, jeans by Levi’s, shoes by Nike.
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What is one unforeseen issue you have had with your apartment and how did you deal?
"It’s been pretty smooth sailing here. I once had a leak in my closet, a pitfall of living on the top floor I guess. A little repair to the roof and it was a goner."

Do you do any at-home DIYs? Tell us a bit about them.
"I’m about nine months into a year of weekly drawings. I create them in my studio, also known as my kitchen counter! No matter what is going on at work, or in life, I always make time to get them done and post to my Instagram."

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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
Give us a few unique tips for making a small space look bigger.
"My ceilings are fairly low so I tried to find furniture that wasn’t too tall to keep everything in scale. I also opted for things to be elevated. Being able to see under large pieces, like the couch or platform bed, creates the illusion of more space."
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What's the best way to inject personality into your space?
"I have a lot of artwork on the walls. Some things I’ve bought, some I’ve made, and some were gifts from artist friends or trades I’ve made with them. All of them have a little story and bring some unique personality to my space."

Any tips or routines for cleaning and storage?
"I regularly purge. Anything that I haven’t worn or used in awhile I toss out, give away, or donate. It’s nice to free up the space and it feels good to know that another person can get some use out of the stuff."

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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What about at-home entertaining: How does that work in a small space?
"I usually don’t entertain for more than four people at a time. It starts to feel a little cramped over that and my kitchen can’t accommodate preparing for a bigger party either."

What are your favorite home stores in NYC?
"The Future Perfect, ABC Home, and Design Within Reach are all favorites. I also like the flea market on 25th Street and 6th Avenue and am always amazed what you can find on NYC sidewalks. It’s true what they say: One man’s trash is another’s treasure."

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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What are you always restocking?
"Paper towels! I’m a junkie; I don’t know how I go through them so quickly but can never have enough of the Brawny Man around!"

What will be your next big home splurge?
"I would love to get a big new bookshelf. While I like the piles of books all around my place it would also be great to consolidate (and make room for the others that are bound to come)."
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
Cleo Davis Urman, Co-founder and Director of Creative Relations at Tinker Tailor

Tell us about the experience of finding your apartment. How did you know it was "the one?"
"I found my perfect apartment when I was 6,000 miles away. I was on a business trip in Israel, spending yet another evening trolling the internet for apartments, when I saw a vacancy in one of my favorite buildings on Central Park South. The following day I went directly from the airport to the apartment and took it on the spot, so I guess you could say it was love at first flight!"

Tell us about your home design aesthetic and how it intersects with your personal style.
"Whether I'm dressing myself or my home, for me it's all about curating. New, vintage, highbrow, lowbrow, bold, subtle, big, small, or in-between — I think a room has to have the power to surprise, or you stop looking at it."

Dress by Christopher Kane.
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What are your favorite parts about your apartment? Anything you'd change having lived there?
"My favorite part of my apartment is my wall of collectibles since it is the greatest expression of my aesthetic. It has everything from a wedding sketch of my mother by my father, treasures from my childhood, even a fashion photograph from Arthur Elgort. If you want to know me, look at my wall. As for any changes, my apartment is always a work in progress, but I love the process."

What is one unforeseen issue you have had with your apartment and how did you deal?
"One whole wall is mirrored, which presented a challenge for hanging art, but I got creative and managed to hang a painting in front of it by suspending it from the ceiling on wires. On the plus side, the mirrored wall is good for selfies!"

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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
Do you do any at-home DIYs? Tell us a bit about them.
"My apartment is essentially one big DIY. From the wallpapered accent wall that was (somewhat comically) hung by my father and myself, to the Warhol-inspired shoes (also made by my dad, who is the "D" in DIY) that dance across my closet doors."

Give us a few unique tips for making a small space look bigger.
"Think big! When I first moved in I bought small pieces because the space was so small, but they seemed to float. It was only when I replaced the small pieces with larger ones that the room felt grounded. The more I put into it, the bigger it looks, whether it's people or things!"

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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What's the best way to inject personality into your space?
"Get personal! Bring in treasures from your past, souvenirs from trips, objects that have meaning to you. If it's something I love, I make it fit in."

Any tips or routines for cleaning and storage?
"In a small space, tidiness is key. I always leave the apartment in a state that is suitable for company. Not only does this make for a nice homecoming at the end of each day, it also makes it possible for impromptu visits from friends or family members."
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What about at-home entertaining: How does that work in a small space?
"I love to entertain so I was initially apprehensive about studio living. However, the small space has forced me to be creative as a hostess. I have a playful, casual approach and tend to serve a lot of small plates (e.g., baked potatoes with caviar and flatbread pizzas) instead of a proper sit-down dinner. So, whenever people come over to eat, whether it's two or 10, it always feels like a party!"

What are your favorite home stores in NYC?
"Most of my apartment is furnished with vintage finds but I can always count on Lee's Art Shop, ABC Carpet, and the 7th floor of Bergdorf Goodman for unique home furnishings."

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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What are you always restocking?
"Candy for my vintage jars. Not only are these convenient for a quick sugar fix, but when filled to the brim with an assortment of colorful confections, they make a great addition to the kitchen."

What will be your next big home splurge?
"A John Derian hot pink, paper mache Flamingo Head."
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