Welcome to The Shoebox, Refinery29's small space advice column. With the help of Homepolish interior designer Emma Beryl, we'll tackle all your cramped living woes — from where to store your stuff to how to make 500 square feet feel as open and unique as you are.
We're answering two questions that regularly leave small space dwellers scratching their heads. The first comes from someone trying to make a tiny apartment feel sophisticated, because as much as we all love IKEA's affordable storage hacks, we also want our apartments to seem as adult as we (sometimes) are. The second comes from someone already anticipating their next big move — hey, we've all been there — and wanting to craft a space that feels like home but won't be too hard to pack up in a few months.
Question: How can I make a studio feel bigger without it feeling juvenile? Like, yeah, I can use that IKEA cube unit, but I feel like that accentuates the fact that this is my first apartment...
Emma's Answer: As a designer used to working in New York City, as well as someone who lives in an apartment myself, maximizing small spaces is an issue I am all too familiar with. The best thing you can do to combat a small apartment is to think like a minimalist: Less is more in a smaller space. Get organized and make sure to only fill your home with items that you absolutely need and/or that truly bring you joy. After you decide what to hang onto, hidden storage is the answer. Take advantage of closet and cabinet space, under bed storage, space behind doors, etc. For items that you need to stash “in plain sight” choosing visually appealing storage pieces like beautiful, natural lidded baskets instead of cheap plastic bins is an investment that will go a long way and make your small space appear so much more sophisticated.
Zoning is another great strategy! For example, when you’re planning your layout think "this is where I eat," "this is where I watch tv," "this is where I sleep," etc. Thinking like this allows you to design each zone according to what it’s main function is instead of trying to clutter too many different things into one small area.
When you’re shopping for your new place, opt for open, lighter looking furniture. This could mean a sofa with legs instead of something chunky that sits directly on the floor or an accent chair without arms. Neutral colors are easiest for the eye to digest, so choosing a calm palate will create less visual crowding on the eye.
Lastly, mirrors! The oldest trick in the book. Mirrors will always open up a tight space, so consider using this trick to your advantage. These small choices will make a big impact in your little studio.
Question: How can I furnish and decorate in a way that makes moving out easier? I don’t want to buy a lot of pieces that are heavy and take up space in a moving van, or that won’t work in a different space eventually.
Emma's Answer: It is so easy to want to buy anything and everything for your new place but check yourself and make sure what you’re buying is not only something you love and actually need, but something you won’t quickly get tired of. When I moved into my apartment I made a Pinterest board with all of the furniture I wanted in it so that I could see it all together before actually buying anything. It’s also best to wait a few days and sleep on big furniture decisions before making purchases, it can be a lot more complicated to return furniture than it is to return clothing etc.
There are a couple of companies that come to mind who specialize in stylish, affordable furniture that is easy to assemble and to move. Burrow sells beautiful furniture that is well-made, shockingly easy to assemble (trust me, if I can do it—you can do it), and super lightweight upholstered items like sofas and chairs. Another new company, called BOOP, is legitimately furniture Built Out Of Paper. Their stuff is durable, ridiculously lightweight, attractive, and comes at a price-point where you won’t feel guilty if you decide to recycle it at the end of your lease. Bonus points that both of these vendors place a strong emphasis on sustainability.
Another tip I often tell my clients who aren’t planning to stay in their apartment forever is to avoid sectional sofas as they are often so large that they may not fit properly in your next space and are usually one of the more expensive items you’ll purchase for your home.
Overall, think ahead when you’re out shopping for furniture. Ask yourself questions like will I love this in a year from now? If not, is it affordable for the time being? How easy is this for me to assemble? Also, make sure to consider the size not only of the room where your furniture is going but the elevator, stairwell, and doorway the furniture needs to get through to get to your space. Moving is stressful enough without needing to "origami" your mattress to get it into an elevator. Keep these questions in mind and your next move will be a breeze.