transformation month

Before and After: A 450-Square-Foot Studio’s Mirrored Closet Was Converted into a Clever Bed Alcove

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Franco Cheng works as a macroeconomist, but had training in architecture and design in university. That training came in handy when he purchased this small studio apartment in Toronto.

Name: Franco Cheng
Location: Toronto, Canada
Size: 450 square feet
Type of Home: Studio Apartment
Years lived in: 1 year, owned

I purchased this apartment in the summer of 2020. With Toronto’s sky-high home price, a studio apartment was all I could afford and it posed an interesting challenge for design and  renovation. The 36-story building was constructed in the late ’70s, making it one of the first high-rise condos in the city. Unlike newer, liberally-glazed condos, mine was built primarily of poured-in concrete and laid-on bricks — characteristic of residential high rises of that era. This provides solid enclosures and superb soundproofing for my apartment still with lots of fresh air and natural light.

Credit: Franco Cheng

The building is located in the Gay Village, a vibrant community I identify and interact daily with. While it sits in a quiet residential quarter, a bustling restaurant and nightlife scene is just steps away. I’m also able to walk to just about all my daily needs, from my office and my doctor to food and entertainment. The building also supports a small community with its many shared facilities. One of my favorite things to do is fold laundry on the large tables in the communal washing room while getting to know a new neighbor. My balcony faces a large green space flanked by other mid-rise residential buildings. This blocks out the noise coming from a nearby thoroughfare and offers a valuable nature refuge. I have been waking up to the sounds of chirping birds early in the morning and it feels great for a spot in downtown Toronto.

Credit: Franco Cheng

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: I’d describe my style as clean, smart, and — in my friend Ralph’s words — “unapologetically cozy.”

Inspiration: I’m inspired by lumber-laden wintry cabins (plenty can be found in Canada), buzzing industries like transportation, and imaginary sunny vacations on a Greek island. They all have manifestations in this tiny apartment.

Credit: Franco Cheng

Favorite Element: The floating shelf just below the ceiling runs the full length of the room. It serves as a bookshelf and a surface for hanging other objects (heating coils were embedded in the ceiling so drilling into the ceiling is a last resort). This frees the floor space that would otherwise be occupied by a freestanding bookcase, makes the room appear larger by emphasizing the longitudinal dimension, and sets the wood tone that repeats in other elements of the apartment.

A close second is a small portable projector I bought in lieu of a TV. I installed two suspended screens for the projector: one in front of the couch and the other at the foot of my bed. In the summer months, however, I project directly onto the balcony wall and watch while sunken in the beanbag.

Credit: Franco Cheng

Biggest Challenge: To save money and learn how renovations work, I decided to be my own project manager. The pandemic brought about labor shortages and rising costs in 2020, both affecting my renovation. Booking tradespeople took much longer than I had anticipated and project quotes often exceeded my budget. For a while I lived in a construction site, sleeping on a mattress on the floor while cooking with a mini fridge and camping stove. I’m grateful for having a support network that helped me a great deal through the construction phase. My friends Ko Ann and Ralph generously offered their living room for me to crash in for weeks on end while Derek and my colleague Franco (yes, another one!) offered valuable DIY tips to reduce costs. Ko Ann used to say “It’ll all be worth the while once it’s done” and she was absolutely right.

Credit: Franco Cheng

Proudest DIY: I saw a lamp mimicking an airport runway sign at a house party a few years ago and thought it would make the perfect bedside table / floor lamp for my apartment. With leftover under-cabinet lights from IKEA and MDF boards bought and cut at Home Depot, I built the frame (12 x 12 x 42 inches) and electrical guts for my runway table / light. I designed the sign and had a commercial vendor print it on vinyl and mount it to a sheet of plexiglass. Thanks to the IKEA Home system, the light can be dimmed and controlled on my phone. Facing it, you are required to perform a mandatory hold on runway K in front of an intersecting runway F to your left. The numbers tell you that runway F is unconventional since it is not straight — and that was intentional.

Biggest Indulgence: I indulged in every aspect of the bathroom and kitchen renovation, opting for premium fixtures and appliances. I see these as durable investments that are a luxury for daily use and cost-effective in the long run. It’s definitely worth it.

Credit: Franco Cheng
An "in progress" photo of Franco's apartment renovation.

Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? I tore down a built-in wardrobe near the door and set up an alcove bed in that space. I then installed a series of half-height, hand-stained louvers, helping to strike the balance between enclosure and visibility at the short entryway. Floor-to-ceiling curtains filter some light out and provide privacy in absence of an actual bedroom. With the bed tucked away, I was able to fit proper living and work spaces in the rest of the apartment.

Credit: Franco Cheng

What’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Small space requires foresight and planning to maximize its potential. My advice is to take stock of your storage needs and take advantage of wall space and multi-purpose furniture to have your needs met. Large mirrors also help increase visual perception of the room. However, this won’t work if you just leave the mirror leaning against the wall on the floor as your eyes will quickly catch the slightest slant in the reflection before your brain proceeds to understand it as just a mirror.  To create the illusion of an extension of the space, you will have to mount the mirror flat on the wall.

Resources

Credit: Franco Cheng

MAIN AREA

  • Wall colour — Benjamin Chantilly Lace OC-65
  • Holden Blue Velvet Tufted Right Arm Loveseat — CB2
  • Go Cart White Rolling Desk — CB2 (with a ¾-inch DIY edge-banded plywood fixed on top to soften the look and feel of the metal)
  • Odyssey Brass/Wood Dining Table — CB2
  • Custom-made plywood sideboard
  • Nordli Platform Bed — IKEA (with DIY headboard made of edge-banded plywood fixed onto the wall)
  • Drumawillin Side Chairs — Corrigan Studio / Wayfair
  • Holden Blue Velvet Tufted Right Arm Loveseat — CB2
Credit: Franco Cheng

KITCHEN

  • ASKERSUND and VÅRSTA cabinet fronts — IKEA
  • Solid wood countertop — Knottys.ca
  • Moen Arbor Touchless Faucet  — Though more expensive than a traditional faucet, the touchless feature comes very handy when my fingers are sticky or oily while cooking. I almost exclusively use the touchless feature and it’s totally worth the extra cost.
  • Kraus 23 Inch Undermount Single Bowl 16 gauge Stainless Steel Kitchen Sink. Solid quality and comes with a handy draining grill.
  • Bosch 500 Series, 24″ Pull-Out Undercabinet hood — Bosch
  • Bosch 800 Series 18″ 44dB Built-In Dishwasher with Stainless Steel Tub — Best Buy
Credit: Franco Cheng

BATHROOM

  • Quad Ceramic Rectangular Vessel Bathroom Sink with Overflow — Wayfair
  • TOTO Aquia toilet — TOTO
  • Alcove/Tile in Soaking Acrylic Bathtub — Wayfair
  • TOTO Aquia toilet — TOTO
Credit: Franco Cheng

BALCONY

  • Fuf Standard Memory Foam Lounger — Big Joe / Wayfair
  • Outdoor Metal Loveseat With Seat Cushions — Wade Logan / Wayfair

Thanks Franco!

This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.

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