A 400-Square-Foot Studio Apartment Shows How to Fit a Lot of Color in a Small Space

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The epic snoozing-and-pillow-collecting area

Name: Claire Thomas
Location: West End — Vancouver, Canada
Type of home: Studio Apartment
Size: 400 square feet
Years lived in: 10 months, renting

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: I am 23 and live in a 400-square-foot studio apartment in the “West End” (English Bay Beach) built in the ’60s. I live on the top floor on the northwest corner so I have an endless supply of natural light all day. Since moving to Vancouver at 18, I have studied everything from engineering to fashion to graphic design. I am settling in now with an undergrad and a masters in clinical psychology. I’ve been living a semi-nomadic lifestyle since I moved here and have moved apartments several times and this is the first place that’s really felt like home. It’s actually the first place I’ve ever fully unpacked (I always had at least three cardboard boxes full of stuff to “deal with later” at every other apartment that was never touched).

The "Good Place"-binging, chilling, and miscellaneous dance area.

A normal night in the house always includes a cup of tea or a beer, a record, a bougie-rich-housewife silk kimono, and enough candles to burn down a small village. The space has mostly been put together from thrift stores, Facebook Marketplace, and stuff from traveling—especially to Tofino and Portland. I also worked as a housewares manager at Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters for about three years and collected a lot of decor pieces or old window display art creations over the time I worked there. I love to fill my home with every avenue of creativity I think of. Books on architecture, a typewriter for poetry, a piano, empty canvases for painting (badly, but still), and hopefully soon a sewing machine and a guitar (I want to learn both).

The "Let's pretend this counter is like a food truck" area.

I also took a lot of time when placing things to make sure the pictures/art/tchotchkes were put in places that were in line with the energy I wanted to feel in each area. Pictures that reminded me of fun, lively nights out I put in areas where I want to feel energized. Pictures of my favorite lake trips or places I feel peaceful I put in places I want to relax. Either way I like to be surrounded by as many memories as possible. I look at style and home as an ever-changing self-portrait that I can keep adding to. There’s nothing I like less than a blank wall; in other words minimalism is NOT my thing.

The 3am spaghetti office headquarters.

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Colorful, Collected, ’70s-Bohemian, Graphic-Arty

The "Owning candlesticks makes me an adult right?" area.

What is your favorite room and why? Living in a studio, everything is more or less one room but my favorite area in my house is my dresser vignette. I purposely filled it with everything that emotes a sense of calm, spirituality, and earthiness and stuff that brings me joy (I see you Marie Kondo!). On my dresser I have some of my favorite art prints, my favorite photo book that features overgrown abandoned buildings, my Harry Potter wand, pictures from my favorite camping spots, candles, crystals, and a few of my favorite knick knacks! I also love it because it sort of came together by accident and every time I walk by it I’m hit with a taste of self-validation in the form of a “I’m a chill Pacific Northwest hippie and this is proof” vibe. Never underestimate the power of a random pinecone on a table for no apparent reason.

The "I woke up one day and decided this room needed to be pink" bathroom.

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? There is a fantastic little vintage gift shop in West Kitsilano with the friendliest owners that I stalk on a monthly basis called Stepback. I’ve picked up everything from old bottles, steamer trunks, typewriters, buttons, and old scrabble letters. My latest finds, which are a collection of old cloth-bound books I’ve used with these invisible shelves to create some pizazz and extra storage in my bathroom!

The makeshift runway hallway.

Any advice for creating a home you love? Small Sentimental Place Manifesto:

  1. If you can, paint it! It makes all the difference between a rental feeling like your home as opposed to a place you’re staying. You can always paint it back before you move out. If you need further motivation to do this, listen to Painting (Masterpiece) by Lewis Del Mar.
  2. Make the most significant items to you (whether because of frequent use or sentimental value) the most centrally located/displayed in your home.
  3. If you live in a small space, try to get two-purpose furniture when you can and find pieces that can be used as extra seating when need be. Ex. A stool as a nightstand.
  4. Things I learned the hard way: If you’re naturally messy, set up your space to cater to eliminating your bad habits/dislikes. If you always leave clothes on the floor of the bathroom, put your laundry basket in there. If you hate having to go under the sink to put your garbage away, find a cute small garbage can to keep on top of the counter near your food-prep area. And if you’re like me and sometimes need to make yourself spaghetti at 3 a.m., make sure there’s a tray next to your bed that will make it to the kitchen the next morning.
  5. Your style and needs will change with time and your home should change along with it and be your perfect oasis! And if you see something you like when you’re out, just get it. Your stuff can be in a constant state of turnover as long as your space is always filled with things that represent where you’re at right now and feels relevant to you.
The "I still can't believe this apartment has a walk-in" closet.

This submission’s responses were edited for length and clarity.