A Stylish 420-Square-Foot Chicago Studio Shows How to Use Every Bit of Space Wisely

updated Dec 19, 2019

A Stylish 420-Square-Foot Chicago Studio Shows How to Use Every Bit of Space Wisely

updated Dec 19, 2019
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Name: Jonathan Black
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Size: 420 square feet
Years lived in: Rent, 3 years

Graphic designer Jonathan Black’s small Chicago studio is a lesson in how to make the most out of a teeny space. Though just 420 square feet—and despite it being a rental—he’s made smart style choices to transform a constraining space into a custom home. His closet, for instance, took up too much space the way it was, so Jonathan removed shelves, added curtains and lighting, and turned the area into a dressing room. But while the practical elements of his home are worth highlighting, his art collection deserves a special shout out. From the hot dog-themed mix in the bathroom, to the DIY art above the sofa, Jonathan’s studio apartment is also an example of how to create a personality-packed home in not a lot of square feet.

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Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Cozy and curated. I love establishing the perfect balance between vintage and modern pieces—something my Dad shared with me at a young age from his travels in Switzerland. Displayed around the apartment are an assortment of nice objects, family heirlooms, and found oddities. I try to have fun with it by hiding little surprises for people to find.

Inspiration: I’ve always been impressed by how people style smaller spaces to fit their lifestyle and immediate needs. I have this vision of building out and owning my own camper van one day, so seeing how people utilize every bit of space to their advantage is fascinating. 

Favorite Element: My closet used to take up the entire room next to the bathroom. The wire shelving was an eyesore, so I reclaimed most of the space in favor of a dressing room. I took down the shelves, hid the remaining closet space behind floor-to-ceiling curtains, installed dimmer switches, added a custom fixture, and painted an organic pattern on the back wall. The resulting space feels cohesive and peaceful.

Biggest Challenge: The kitchen is a great size for one person, especially since it’s separated from the rest of the studio. I would have a very hard time in an apartment where I could see my dishes in the sink from bed. When it comes to hosting dinner parties, I hate turning my back to guests while making drinks or preparing dinner. Since there’s not really a way around that, I’ve worked to integrate color and plants from the dining room into the kitchen, so that the spaces flow seamlessly together. The gray countertops and espresso cabinetry aren’t the greatest, but that’s the reality of renting. I have a few future projects up my sleeve to address these.

What Friends Say: “Okay, I’ve heard about this bathroom of yours. I need to see it for myself.”  I’ve spent the past few years curating a very specific gallery wall in my bathroom. In a space where you typically have a captive audience, you might as well have fun with your decor choices. It’s a safe space to be a little weird. Submissions are now closed. 

Biggest Embarrassment: My western-facing windows are a wonderful asset to the space. I receive tons of afternoon light, my plants are usually happy, but my view partially looks out into a dumpster. Luckily it’s not a garbage dumpster—it seems to be for random junk people need to get rid of. My question is: How does everyone know about this thing? Is there an archive of community dumpsters I don’t know about? I see people drop things off or jump in to find treasures ALL THE TIME. Needless to say, I’ve started embracing its presence as free entertainment.

Proudest DIY: Last year, I participated in The 100 Day Project, a global community of creatives that commit to a personal project every day for 100 days. Being a bit of a perfectionist, I established a project that allowed me to embrace unexpected mistakes by drawing blind contours of friends, family, and people I met. I referenced a photo they posted of themselves online, and drew them without ever looking at the paper. The results were sometimes spot on, while others turned out incredibly bizarre. Due to other engagements kicking off, I opted to finish the project after 50 days.

The idea to incorporate these drawings into my apartment came about after reading that a gallery wall of oil portraits feels like a bunch of friends having a conversation. Loving that concept, I mapped out how the pieces would look in a perfect 5 x 10 grid above my sofa (that wall was begging for some attention). After a session of extreme measuring, nailing, binder clipping, and mounting, I had a personal gallery of kooky-looking friends. To this day, I still find myself stopping and laughing.

Biggest Indulgence: The leather chair in the corner of my living room from Article. I searched for months for something to fill that space, but kept coming back to this one. I love sitting there to read at the end of the day when the sun is setting.

Best Advice: Incorporating secondary lighting is going to add lots of visual interest and dimension into your space. Choose lighting that casts light in specific directions, or has an interesting shape to its base or shade. By ditching overhead lighting as your primary, you can establish a mood that will instantly transform any intimate gathering.

Dream Sources: Book stores, flea markets, all the Andersonville antique stores in Chicago, bathrooms at nice restaurants, Josh Young Design House, and various styling books.



  • Colors — Gray, mustard, soft blue, blush
  • Metals — Black steel, walnut, gold, chrome
  • Front door paint — BEHR Rice Curry
  • Blue wall paint — Benjamin Moore Evening Dove


  • Gray sofa — Domicile Furniture
  • Madewell orange throw — Found resale, made by Madewell
  • Triangular pillow — The Sweden Shop
  • Coffee table top — Family heirloom
    Coffee table base — Kane County Flea Market (reclaimed wood from fallen tree in Thailand)
  • Table top bowl w/ wooden stand — Modernica 
  • Wool dryer balls — Food52
  • Yellow abacus — Edgewater Antique Mall
  • “Let’s Go Do Something Impossible’ print — Design Museum of Chicago
  • ‘O Kingdom’ black framed screen print — illustration by me
  • Black adjustable wall sconce — Urban Outfitters
  • White & orange candles — Cowboys & Astronauts 
  • Stone-top side table — Wrightwood Furniture
  • Bait Shop Sign — Vintage family heirloom
  • Nord leather chair — Article
  • Black ottoman — SharkGravy
  • F U throw pillow — San Junipero Textile Studio
  • Telephone stand — Craigslist find
  • Antique telephone — Family heirloom
  • Wall lamp with shelf — Humanhome
  • Linen curtains — HomeGoods
  • Recycled leather area rug — CB2 floor model
  • Blue plant stand — District Chicago
  • Wooden hutch — District Chicago
  • Accordion lamp — Lumio
  • Pineapple hors d’oeuvres holder — Etsy
  • Snake print — Cast Iron Design
  • Walnut wall hooks — RawOriginals
  • Blue entry shelf — West Elm
Credit: Minette Hand



  • Abstract painting — Ponnopozz
  • Floral embroidery — Family heirloom
  • Triangular catchall — Tramake
  • Ceramic mugs — Passed down from my mother
  • Canvas Planter — Good Company Wares
  • Trash can — SimpleHuman
  • Magnetic Knife Rack — IKEA
  • Metal bread box — pulled from my parent’s house before they renovated their kitchen
  • Oil lamp — family heirloom
Credit: Minette Hand


  • YPPERLIG bench — IKEA
  • Bed frame — West Elm
  • Charcoal chunky knit throw — CB2
  • Gray euro shams — West Elm
  • Yellow throw pillow — HomeGoods
  • Gray bedding — Target 
  • Black floating shelf — Craigslist
  • Letter board — Three Potato Four
  • Watercolor print — Kim Knoll
  • Shelf clamp lamp — IKEA


  • Round mirror — IKEA
  • Vintage dresser — Craigslist
  • Washable paper laundry hamper — Norcross & Scott
  • Gray closet curtains — Craiglist / IKEA
  • Sphere pendant lamp — West Elm


  • Turkish shower curtain — Parachute 
  • Illustration above toilet — Geoff McFetridge – Mohawk Maker Quarterly Issue #4
  • Black floating shelf — Craigslist
  • Yellow Dansk tapers and base — Edgewater Antique Mall
  • Good Thing Frank Tray — West Elm
  • Drippings container — LBFinds on Instagram
  • Hot dog wall — A self-curated gallery of whimsical, yet tasteful hot dog-related pieces from greeting cards, hot dog holder sleeves, vintage advertisements, silkscreens, to metal signs.

Thanks, Jonathan!

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