Reader Intelligence Report: How To DIY in a Small Space

Reader Intelligence Report: How To DIY in a Small Space

Nancy Mitchell
Apr 12, 2016
(Image credit: Submitted by Helena)

A few weeks ago we asked you to weigh in on a particularly tricky question: how do you manage DIY projects in a small apartment? I figured that if anybody had ideas for how to pull off big projects while living in a little space, it would be the Apartment Therapy community, and sure enough, you guys came through, with all sorts of clever ideas, from working in the parking garage to doing mess projects in the bathtub. Here are some of the best solutions.

On the fire escape (very carefully):

vkthomason: When I spray paint, I do it on my fire escape. I lay down a drop cloth first.

kcharleton: I'm fortunate enough to have the bottom platform of the fire escape, so with the ladder not in my way I have lots of room for small projects. I've done some spray paint projects before. I put my projects inside large cardboard boxes to prevent the paint from being sprayed back on me by the wind, and so no one things I'm spray painting the building.

In the parking garage:

jesswess88: I use my parking garage for things when the weather is nice enough. I was just sanding some pallets in there a few days ago. I got some weird looks, but whatever! I just need to make sure it isn't a high-traffic time of day. But on evenings/weekends, I'm not at risk of getting run over or taking someone's spot!

In the bathtub (for small but dirty/messy projects):

Tiff B: I recently repotted some plants in my bathtub so I would make less of a mess.

LaVisioneer: In one apartment I used to sand raw pine in the bathtub, then spray down the tub with a filter in the drain and throw out the shavings.

In a cardboard box on the stoop:

ForfeitReality: For small projects, I have a cardboard box with a handle and two holes on opposite sides (for ventilation, although they can be easily covered up when I'm spray painting too). I put things inside that I want to spray paint, and then take it outside on the stoop in front of my building on a nice, not-too-windy, not-too-humid day. I hang out outside for a bit while the stuff dries, then bring it inside. Since my bathroom has no other ventilation, the window stays open 24/7, all year, so I put the box in there so any extra fumes can go back out the window.

On the roof:

jes04n: I have lived in micro apartments in both NYC and SF and have been restyling furniture for many years... if the roof is flat it is a great option, although it can get a little windy.

In the bathroom (or anywhere else with lots of windows open and lots of drop cloths):

jes04n: I have also cloaked the bathroom (only if it has a window) with drop cloths and sprayed in there. Be sure to wear a mask!

Use paints that don't offgas dangerous chemicals:

GreyTabbyCats: Anything being chalk painted can be done in a small apartment if you don't have cats investigating — it doesn't drip or smell, and it dries rapidly.

knitms: I managed to refinish a table and chair set roughly in the place it was going to be in my apartment anyway. The reason it worked is because I didn't use aerosols: I bought low VOC acrylic paint and mixed my own shellac. I picked these materials because they dry and cure fast, and are really easy to clean up after, in case of drips. Along with an extra large painting tarp, I placed a box fan in my window facing outward to suck the bad air out, but it was practically fumeless anyway.

Create a DIY workbench that stores when you don't need it:

FifteenQuarters: While eventually you can work your way up to a nice very small mobile workspace (like a cart) if you're just starting: a wooden board, tarp, and milk crates with a giant fan will get the job done. Store all the supplies in a stack in the milk crates — you can set the milk crates out and the wooden board on top with a tarp underneath.

Get the folks at the hardware store to do the heaving lifting for you:

LauraLK: My previous place didn't have a balcony, so when I built some plywood storage units, I got the pieces cut at the hardware store where I bought them.

Seek out a local maker space:

FifteenQuarters: The other thing you can do if you don't have a friend with a garage is go to a maker space. They really help if you don't want to pay a bunch of money for tools. There are a lot in the bay area and in New York, and they definitely have been expanding their presence.

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