Before & After: A Tiny NYC Apartment Gets a Sophisticated DIY Budget Refresh

published Oct 12, 2020

Before & After: A Tiny NYC Apartment Gets a Sophisticated DIY Budget Refresh

published Oct 12, 2020
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Name: Carly Fuller and fiancé, Martin
Location: Hells Kitchen — New York City, New York
Size: 450 square feet
Years lived in: 6 years, renting

Carly Fuller‘s rental apartment might only be 450 square feet, but she’s absolutely made every single inch work for her and her fiancé, Martin. “I love it with all my heart for the memories it’s given me the last six-ish years,” she confesses. Technically a two-bedroom apartment, Carly first lived with a roommate when she moved in six years ago. When that roommate moved on and Martin moved in, it gave Carly the opportunity to reconfigure the entire apartment. “I turned my old tiny bedroom into the living room since this apartment doesn’t have one,” Carly describes. “It really is the smallest living room ever; I can’t fit a coffee table in, but I’m grateful to have one now. I actually enjoy that it is its own room so we can have friends and family stay with us when they visit the city!”

Credit: Carly Fuller

Like all small homes, each space in this rental had to take on double-duty functions. “The kitchen is more of the common room; it’s the everything room,” says Carly. “It’s the first room you walk into when you enter so it’s a bit of an entryway, and it is our dining room, too. The island table gets used for everything! We also have a chair in the corner, which is probably the most used seating in the whole place. I’m sitting on it now as I type this!”

Credit: Carly Fuller

Apartment Therapy toured Carly’s tiny NYC home a few years ago… bold black and white stripes dominated the kitchen’s decor, and the living room had a faux-wood wallpaper vibe. But I had noticed recently on her Instagram account, @mycityapartment, that nearly the whole space had changed since her last house tour. Her entire apartment is a great example of how a home evolves with you the longer you’re in it… and how to give your space a sophisticated glow up! And of course, it’s full of small space living advice and ideas, too.

Credit: Carly Fuller

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: After all these years I still am not sure. I love them all! In this apartment we have black-tiled floors in the kitchen and bathroom and so I always just embraced it and went with a sort of moody design with black accent walls. In the last year or so I’ve calmed down the decor in here, which was rather busy and is now more subtle and neutral, which I think is so sophisticated. My apartment style is aging with me lol! I love to add natural elements too, in the textiles, furniture and decorative objects. And something that I’ve always loved is pops of gold. The bedroom is different to the kitchen and living room though, it’s kind of young and girly and I’m just not ready to change it; I still love it.

Credit: Carly Fuller

Inspiration: Honestly, Instagram. I think this was my answer the last time, too, and I still feel silly saying that but I enjoy being able to see all the unique homes decorated so beautifully in all different styles across the world! I’m constantly learning new tricks and DIYs, and saving information for our (maybe?) future house.

I’d also like to acknowledge my grandparents’ home. The older I get the more I appreciate a proper handmade piece of wood furniture or an antique china set. They’ve given me so many little vintage treasures already and I love them.    

Credit: Carly Fuller

Favorite Element: I have a couple—something that came with the apartment are the skylights that really allow so much light in; I’m so grateful for them. Something I personally designed is the black wall with wood paneling in the living room. It’s something that seemed out of question to do in a rental apartment but we did it anyway and I’m so glad we did; it makes such a difference in there. It’s subtle but it stands out and adds visual interest. And I still do really like the exposed brick squares. I think I said that the last time, too. However I’ve lightly plastered over them now with full permission from the landlord!

Biggest Challenge: My answer used to be the five flights of stairs but I’ve gotten used to them now after six long years! Storage is now my biggest challenge but I’m quite  good now at getting rid of stuff. It’s crazy how much you think that you need when you really don’t. I get rid of clothes every summer and winter, as well as decoration bits. But of course in such a small apartment it still a bit of a struggle.

Credit: Carly Fuller

Proudest DIY: The black wood paneling wall, which I’ve mentioned already. And actually the pedestal in the living room corner, too. It doesn’t look like much but I can’t believe we made it ourselves and with amateur tools. Martin hand sawed the wood in our kitchen—like I said, the kitchen island gets used for all sorts of projects! It’s basically a workshop table, too.

Biggest Indulgence: Nothing in here was too crazy expensive. My answer will be the same one I gave last time and it’s the peel and stick wallpaper in the bedroom. I can’t actually remember the price but I know it was enough for me at the time to be hesitant towards buying it because it wouldn’t be something I’d be able to take with me to our next home. Of course it was worth it though!

Credit: Carly Fuller

What’s your best home secret? Well, if you’re living in a tiny apartment with little storage like me, I  suggest being mindful of each piece of furniture you buy. Choose nightstands, side tables, TV stand, coffee table, etc with drawers and/or height. I hide away so much stuff under my bed and couch. Also, don’t try and rush decorating your home, collect pieces over time that you absolutely love. One more thing, don’t let the fact that you’re “only renting” hold you back from all your interior design dreams! There are so many geniuses out there on social media or YouTube that have mastered the impossible in rental homes and share their tricks!


Credit: Carly Fuller


  • Benjamin Moore — “Pure white”
  • Benjamin Moore — “Black top”
  • Valspar — “Emery Board” for the bedroom
Credit: Carly Fuller


  • Coat hooks — Etsy and spray painted gold
  • Black shoe cabinet — Home Depot
  • Peel and stick wallpaper — Wayfair
  • Rug — RugsUSA
  • Gallery wall frames above shoe cabinet — Mostly IKEA or thrift store finds
  • Art — Either DIY painted or personal photo, which I printed on cardstock. One of the Hudson River I found on google and printed it.
Credit: Carly Fuller


  • Brittany futon — Novogratz
  • Couch cushions — H&M
  • Black and glass shelves — IKEA
  • Decorative objects on shelves — A mix of spray-painted things, thrifted, or gifts.
  • Rug — RugsUSA
Credit: Carly Fuller


  • Kitchen island — Bought second hand on Let Go but I think it can be found on Wayfair
  • Peel and stick contact paper on top — Amazon
  • Light fixture string tassel — DIY
Credit: Carly Fuller


  • Cabinet handles — Amazon
  • Drying rack — Amazon
  • Kitchen towel — A shop in Saugerties I can’t remember the name
  • Mugs — Mostly gifts, a couple from H&M
  • Cutting boards — HomeGoods
  • Black shelves and brackets — Home Depot
  • Apron — H&M
  • Planter — West Elm
  • Rattan chair — Wayfair
  • Rug — Overstock
  • Gold rectangle mirror — Vintage
  • Sconces — Restoration Hardware found on Facebook Marketplace
Credit: Carly Fuller


  • Bed — Overstock
  • Rug — Overstock
  • Duvet cover — West Elm
  • Cotton Sheets — HomeGoods
  • Black shelves — Amazon
  • Chest of drawers — Wayfair
  • Linen lumbar pillow cover — Etsy
  • Wallpaper — Etsy
  • Side tables — HomeGoods
  • Pendants — IKEA hack
  • Desk — Overstock
  • Desk chair — AllModern
  • Curtains — World Market
Credit: Carly Fuller


  • Plants —  Flower market in NYC
  • Silver shelf — HomeGoods
  • Shower curtain — Bed, Bath, & Beyond
  • White plant pot — HomeGoods

Thanks (Insert Name Here)!

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