Before & After: A 350-Square-Foot Studio’s Renter-Friendly Remodel Maximized Its Storage Potential
Can't-Miss House Tours Straight to Your Inbox
Keep up with our latest house tours each weekday with our House Tour of the Day newsletter
Name: Lisa Lu, and a 10-year-old Boston terrier/poodle mix, Stella
Location: Chelsea — Manhattan, New York City
Size: 350 square feet
Type of Home: Studio apartment
Years lived in: 8 years, renting
How I came to find this apartment is one of those quintessential New York stories. I was living in Brooklyn and was desperate to move out. In addition to growing tensions with my then roommate, the location, while incredibly cute, meant that any savings on rent were just being redistributed to cab fares. My ideal situation would have been to live on my own in Manhattan, but that seemed unlikely on my meager fashion salary at the time.
Then the real estate gods blessed me: my friend happened to have an appointment with her hairdresser, who told her he needed to move out from his rent-stabilized apartment, and was looking for someone to take over the lease. I saw it that night and agreed to move in right away. Though it’s a sixth floor walkup, being on the top floor, I have unbeatable Southern exposures, and I get A LOT of exercise. And while I can afford a larger space now (and I’d love an elevator), I have everything I need so I don’t feel any urge to upgrade at the moment. The apartment started as a blank white box with no character to speak of, not to mention I didn’t really know what I liked when it came to decor. I’ve gradually put my stamp on it over the years, and I’m really happy the result.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Modern, casual, Cali-cool, with touches of hip hop and streetwear culture layered in. It’s a little hard for me to pinpoint my style, and it’s ever evolving, but ultimately, I wanted to live in a space that feels very personal. The palette is colorful, but in subdued tones, so it still captures the calm that I seek when I’m at home.
Inspiration: Designers such as Tali Roth, Hovey Designs, Jen Talbot, and Alex P. White. Inspo accounts on Instagram such as @donotsitonthefurniture, @visuallyambiguous, and @designgek, and the accounts of vintage furniture and home goods stores such as @homeunion, @claudehome, and @aintvintage. And Apartment Therapy, of course.
Favorite Element: I think I’ve finally gotten my art to a really good place. I acquired some pieces during lockdown from Sarah Bahbah and photographer Tyler Mitchell, the proceeds of which went to great causes. I just purchased my first piece of “real” art (i.e. not a print), a painting by Brooklyn-based Carly Wilhelm. And my skate decks keep everything from being too serious, my favorite of which are a set depicting rapper Cam’ron in his infamous pink outfit, gifted to me by my sister.
Biggest Challenge: It might seem obvious, but my biggest challenge was the size of the space. On top of that, I have A LOT of things and had to find places for it all. I like to think I’ve gotten pretty savvy at maximizing the utility of my space.
I have two fairly decent sized closets (for New York), and I still needed to find more storage space for clothes. In addition to a wide dresser, on which my television sits, I also use a 3-drawer dresser as a nightstand. Most recently I mounted two IKEA BESTA cabinets on the wall near the ceiling. I’m pretty proud of that one as it uses what was otherwise dead space. I store all of my off-season clothes here.
Other storage solutions: a vintage trunk serves as my coffee table. It holds any number of things that don’t otherwise have a home: tools, tote bags (can never have enough tote bags), wrapping paper, etc. In one corner of the room, I have a stack of the beautiful marbleized boxes that MatchesFashion purchases arrive in. These hold beauty products that I hoard. I’m also obsessed with Hay color crates—they’re great catch-alls that are attractive enough to display, and they fold flat when not in use. Under my dresser, I have one that holds my weights and another where I stash my mail.
Proudest DIY: My kitchen and my bathroom. I completely overhauled both while NYC was in lockdown. They had always been my least favorite parts of the apartment, but I was never really motivated to do anything about that. When we went into lockdown, I figured if I was going to be spending all of this time in my apartment, I might as well make them more appealing to look at. Key updates to the kitchen: Covered the backsplash with peel and stick subway tile, covered the counters in marble contact paper, painted the cabinet doors, and added aged brass hardware to them. I also spent some time organizing the cabinets, which was deeply satisfying.
In the bathroom, I painted the walls, shelves, and the door, which also got an update with a removable adhesive molding. I swapped out the ceiling light fixture, and while I wasn’t able to replace the fixture on the wall as I had intended since the base seemed to be permanently fixed, I replaced the shade with an opal glass globe and covered the base in antique gold Rub-n-Buff. I also covered the sad floor tiles with black removable floor decals with a star motif. The result is kind of a modern Turkish bath vibe.
Biggest Indulgence: I was actually able to furnish the apartment on a very reasonable budget. I didn’t want to invest a lot on furniture, because I assume when I finally move, it will be to a bigger space, so a lot of it may not necessarily go with me (I can’t wait to have a normal size sofa). However, I also wanted things that looked good. I don’t think anything in my apartment cost more than $600 (the settee/sofa). It’s proof that you can create a space that is rich in personality, without spending a fortune. In terms of indulgences though, I recently splurged on a pink 1980s post modern floor lamp with a pleated shade, sourced from a seller on Instagram. I couldn’t get it out of my head when I saw it, so I knew it had to be mine. Totally unnecessary and totally worth it.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? My dining nook is actually a multi-tasking space. I use this area as a dining space (obvious), home office, as well as an extension of the kitchen. I hunted down a marble top counter-height table for this purpose. It acts as my dining table and desk, and also serves as additional counter space, which is at a minimum in my kitchen.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? There are so many, but one of my favorites is the wall-mounted bar shelf in the dining nook. I wanted a bar cart but couldn’t give up valuable floor real estate, so I had been on the hunt for a wall-mounted solution for quite some time. I happened upon this one, which was not only the most attractive option that I’d seen, but it also happened to fit that odd little wall perfectly.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: When your square footage is already at a minimum, make sure you are using your wall space to your advantage. You can gain extra surface or storage space without using previous floor real estate. Exhibit A: My BESTA cabinets and my bar shelf. This includes your refrigerator as well. I love magnetic Yamazaki Home organizers, which create extra space to keep my oils and spices organized.
Also, look to the space under furniture for additional storage. I always choose furniture that is elevated if possible, rather than furniture that sits on or low to the floor (like a platform bed or a dresser without legs), so I can store things underneath them if I need to. It may not be the prettiest option (enter: those Hay crates to corral things) but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
What’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Even if you rent, there is still a lot you can do to make your space feel like a home. Take your time to seek out pieces you love, rather than filling your apartment with things that don’t excite you just so you can feel like it’s done. It will be worth the effort in the end when you have a space you actually enjoy coming home to.
PAINT & COLORS
- Streamline hooks – Anthropologie
- Elton Settee – West Elm (no longer available)
- Diamond Rug – Dash & Albert
- Patterned Pillows – Target (no longer available)
- Fringed pillow – Anthropologie (no longer available)
- Shelly round velvet pillow – Urban Outfitters
- Trunk – Vintage
- Frosta stool/side table – Ikea (no longer available)
- Lacquer tray – West Elm
- Brass wall Sconce – CB2
- Vases – H&M
- Artwork – Minted, Tyler Mitchell, Etsy, Karin Haas via Slowdown Studio, and Emma Currie via Spacey Studios
- Iron bed frame – IKEA (no longer available)
- Skate decks – Primitive Skate, Supreme, Dipset (no longer available)
- Belgian linen duvet cover and shams – West Elm
- Throw pillows – Anthropologie and H&M (no longer available)
- Rug – Studio McGee for Target
- Mid century low dresser – Vintage
- Tabitha arc floor mirror – Urban Outfitters
- Pink post modern floor lamp – Vintage
- Black ceramic table lamp – Vintage
- Besta cabinets – IKEA
- Vera ceramic side table – Urban Outfitters (no longer available)
- Mid century 3 drawer dresser – Wayfair
- Terrazzo hanging planter – Capra Designs
- Wall shelves and brackets – West Elm
- Art – Carly Wilhelm