This 290-Square-Foot NYC Studio Apartment Uses Every Small Space Storage Trick in the Book (Plus Some Unconventional Ideas, Too)
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Name: Lucy Goldberg
Location: Alphabet City — New York, New York
Size: 290 square feet
Type of Home: Studio Apartment
Years Lived In: 1.5 years, renting
“I had already put a deposit on another apartment in my old Brooklyn neighborhood when I saw this place,” begins Lucy Goldberg, who is an art director, visual stylist, and set decorator. “It was smaller by half, but my first ever apartment was in the East Village and I knew that I wanted to be back in Manhattan. Plus, a year into a global pandemic, having a private outdoor space really tipped the scales. Since I already had another apartment on the line (and I was signing these leases before anyone had returned to the city) I was able to negotiate the price wayyyy down on this studio to land within my budget. This is the first apartment I’ve had entirely to myself, and I couldn’t be happier!”
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Eclectic yet modern
Inspiration: My grandmother’s impeccable adherence to Modernism, bright patterns, bold colors
Favorite Element: I got lucky that I was able to find an apartment with SO many things I love, but the best part is absolutely the balcony. It overlooks the roof garden of the Lower East Side Girl’s Club, so there are green things to look at and a community to get involved in!
Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge is how small this studio is. I had a full on panic attack when I got the keys, noticing for the first time just how low the ceilings are. After living in a two-story house in Brooklyn, the thought of downsizing was definitely terrifying. I didn’t realize how much smaller things would have to be in order to fit without being overwhelming or making the space feel overcrowded. I wanted to maintain a feeling of coming home to a light and airy sanctuary. I did have to get all new bakeware and sheet pans. The oven is so small my 9×13 pans didn’t fit!
The first thing I did to make sure I could fit into the space was to make a floor plan and lay out all of my essential furniture pieces to make sure they would fit before signing the lease. Once I moved in I was able to sell off the pieces that no longer fit, assess what kind of storage and decor items I wanted, and accumulate new things that serve the space better.
The next challenge was actually covering the windows. Although rental law usually states that some sort of shade or blind must be included for privacy, this unit had nothing. I priced out getting shades made at Lowe’s, but none of their pre-fab sizes were long enough to also cover the door out to the balcony, and while not as expensive for truly custom shades, was still more than what I wanted to spend on something that should have already been there. I hunted around for a solution and landed on getting a track system from IKEA that allowed me to install sheers and blackout curtains. The first crack of dawn wakes me up without fail so proper blackout curtains are essential for weekend sleep-ins.
Proudest DIY: I had some wallpaper leftover from a shoot and decided to put it up in my bathroom. Once I took that first step a whole vision of a pop-art bathroom popped into my head and so I went to work laying down new floors, painting a custom rainbow trim, and upgrading the decor. It’s all put on with removable adhesives so it’s renter friendly, and the bathroom is now a fun place to get ready in the morning or relax with a bubble bath at night!
Before I did the bathroom project, my favorite item was a little acrylic waterfall table, again left over from a shoot. It’s truly a micro size and perfect as a coffee table, but since it was clear I kept tripping over it. I had some paint markers laying around and one day just started writing some lyrics that were stuck in my head on the table. I kept going until the table was covered, and now it’s a fun (and visible) art piece.
Budget: I didn’t really set a budget for the decor as 75 percent of my items were found on the street or given to me after a shoot. This means I had a lot more financial wiggle room for specific purchases that fit the space and my needs, like my skinny dresser or the under-sink garbage cans.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? I’ve definitely had to get a little creative with storage, even though this apartment has two entire closets and a ton of cabinet space. When I moved in the closets were NOT functional; they definitely looked like they had been hung to accommodate pants and jackets only, with no space for long dresses. I rehung both of them to make them super functional, and split the second closet to house both my shoe collection and my on-set kit. I also have an abundance of art supplies, hardware, power tools, and all sorts of ephemera one needs in the art department, so I’ve actually dedicated a section of kitchen cabinets to all that stuff as well. Since the shoes were a tight squeeze as well, I decided to leave my most fun platforms out and use them as bookends — partially because they deserve to be seen instead of tucked away in a closet, and partially because the shelf I happened to already have and fit my space best is really an etagere, so my books were falling all over the place. Before I went into film full-time, I installed window displays and sometimes I still find myself merchandising or styling little moments around the apartment.
Since the space is essentially one big rectangle, I knew that to keep it organized I wanted to create zones — an entryway zone, a kitchen/dining zone, a living room area, a sleeping area, and even a little office area. I managed to do this by seeking out things that fit the space, rather than going out and buying, say an entryway rack meant for a full-size house. Most things in my apartment are microsized by necessity! For example, I had moved in with a four-person kitchen table that was way too big. By chance I found my current skinny table on the street, and knew it would be perfect for creating the look of a full eat-in kitchen without eating up all that space. To fit enough seating around the table, I opted for a bench on one side, which has a much smaller footprint than a set of dining chairs. In the entryway I made a little nook for hanging things with a wall hook, and used a side table (also salvaged from the street) as a landing place for my bags. It’s also a great way to stash masks, umbrellas, and all those little things you might need to grab before running out the door.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have:
- Get garbage cans that stow away under your sink, space providing. The ones I have are from Simplehuman, and they were definitely a splurge after paying the security deposit, rent, and fees but they were the first and best thing I bought.
- Spend time thinking about what you need to store and how accessible you need it to be. I designated my closet for in-season clothes, and got underbed storage bins for season-specific things like bathing suits and sweaters that I can swap as the weather changes.
- An old roommate taught me a valuable lesson about living alone, which is that really and truly you only need one or two of everything. Storage is a lot easier when you have less stuff!
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? I personally like a bit of mis-match, so my strategy when shopping for home decor is really just choosing things that speak to me. I also tend to make lists of the exact specific thing I need for a certain function or to fill a space. For example, I had already picked up a West Elm media console before I moved in, so when I saw the matching desk for sale at a flea market, grabbing it was a no-brainer. Finding one or two items to really anchor a color palette around helps when selecting items ad hoc as well. In my instance, I let the rug I picked up from a shoot dictate what colors I was going to build on in the rest of the house. It has a subtle pattern and muted colors, so it was easy to use that as a jumping-off point to layer in more bold and contrasting colors.
- Side table with drawers — Stooped
- Wall hook/shelf made of old forks — Vermont flea market find
- DUX sofa — Inherited, but re-upholstered by the amazing Natalia Levitt
- Media console — Stooped, but originally from West Elm
- Desk — Found at the 14th st flea market, originally from West Elm
- Glass schoolhouse side table — West Elm, but discontinued
- Track curtains — IKEA and the track set
- Pink Throw pillows — IKEA
- Elephant throw pillows — Gift from family in Thailand
- Etagere — IKEA
- Light fixtures — West Elm
- Kitchen table — Stooped
- Chair — Remix Market LIC
- Bench — Home Goods
This tour’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.
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