Before and After: A 500-Square-Foot Studio Looks Completely New Thanks to a Mantel, Molding, and More

published Mar 16, 2022

Before and After: A 500-Square-Foot Studio Looks Completely New Thanks to a Mantel, Molding, and More

published Mar 16, 2022
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Name: Nicole Arruda and beagle mix mutt, Jack!
Location: Upper East Side, New York, NY
Size: 500 square feet
Type of Home: Studio apartment
Years lived in: 1 year, renting

Originally from Canada, Nicole Arruda moved to New York City four years ago to pursue her “dreams of becoming an interior designer,” she writes. “After working alongside huge talent here in the city I ventured off on my own and opened up Nicole Alexandra Design Studio in 2020.”

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“Interior design is not only what I do for a living, but a true purpose and something I’ve been in love with for my entire life. Creating spaces that are effortlessly beautiful, functional, and truly reflective of the people who live there is the goal for every project, my apartment was no different,” Nicole explains.

When it came to decorating the small studio apartment on the Upper East Side she’s been renting for a year, the challenge was creating a home out of one single big room. “I needed to love it ALL and I can confidently say I really do!” she says. Some of the biggest visual impacts she added to the space were decorative picture molding she added to many of the walls, and the vintage faux fireplace mantel she painted black and had installed on a wall, creating a gorgeous centerpiece to the entire space. Complemented by layers of texture and a few furniture splurges, the entire space feels airy, rejuvenating, and sophisticated.

“If you LOVE it, GET it,” Nicole advises. “Often we get so wrapped up in that final image, or maybe something we saw on Pinterest, or from a favorite designer on Instagram. Fall in love with something and build off of it. Maybe it’s a lamp, dining chairs, artwork, anything! So long as it’s something you could not live without.”

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Tricky question! I gravitate towards traditional with unexpected nods to modernism. I have such an appreciation for both classic and contemporary. I’m really all about how a place feels just as much as how a place looks. I love layering different materials, playing with contrast, mixing old with new, creating my own artwork that feels personal, and editing a space until it feels good.

Inspiration: I can be inspired by everything from a bodega sign to a window display. When I find anything, literally anything that makes me excited I take a photo and store it. An eye-catching color palette, interesting use of materials, juxtaposition of styles, artwork! It’s everywhere.

Design is really all about story telling told through textures, colors, patterns, and all things that make the soul happy. Each client I have is another opportunity to tell a new story that fits in their world; they too are my inspiration!

Favorite Element: I really love the fireplace addition; it brings the charm I was hoping to find in my apartment search. Finding a space that checked off all my boxes was challenging with my budget so I made it happen with a little elbow grease and a lot of Facebook Marketplace scrolling. This specific zone is such a bold focal point, which works well in such a small, neutral setting.

I also really love the big black framed south-facing windows; they wash my apartment with the most beautiful light and just feel happy. This was the first thing I loved when I first saw my apartment; I immediately imagined framing them with drapery.

Biggest Challenge: It’s a studio and there’s no way around it but I wanted to make it feel more than just a bedroom in the kitchen! Creating a flow that made sense and felt right took some editing but getting super clear on how I wanted to utilize the space made it easier. For example, I came to the realization that I really didn’t need a sofa/TV setup. Instead, I opted for a dining area and a work station, which I found to be more useful. I wanted to steer away from a sofa literally in my kitchen so this just felt more natural, the extra counterspace doesn’t hurt either! Finding multifunctioning pieces was the key.

Proudest DIY: The fireplace for sure! This was a vision from the very start and I knew it was something I wanted to incorporate, just didn’t quite know how. Finally found the mantel from Facebook Marketplace and hired a TaskRabbit to go pick it up from the Hamptons straight to my apartment. I gave it a good sand down and a fresh coat of “Black Satin” by Benjamin Moore and it was exactly what I wanted!

Biggest Indulgence: My desk and entry chair. Yes! I love them, the high backs make them super comfy and add the softness I was looking for.

Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? I use my entry console as a dresser/nightstand, my dining table as additional counter space, and my desktop computer as a TV! When you’re working with a smaller space it’s important to find function in most things rather than cluttering the space with pieces that aren’t here or there.

What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? I love my blue chair! It was the very first piece of furniture I bought for my very first New York Apartment a few years ago. It’s so chic and adds a playful element in my space. Mixing contemporary and classic is my favorite and this is the perfect piece to do that with!

Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: Multifunctioning pieces, larger furniture rather than smaller. Keep some negative space — not every wall needs something. Before you start making purchases, zone your space and think about how you’ll be using every corner. And getting a bed that allows for storage underneath is a life saver!

Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Don’t fall into a trend or a photo on Pinterest! Reach for the pieces that make you happy and edit as you go. Your space needs to be one you love, that is the most important thing. Don’t be afraid to mix your metals, layer different light sources, and play with textures! This will bring the interest and make your space feel thoughtfully curated. Lastly! Always think about how you will be using space, this will prevent you from buying items just to fill the space.



  • Walls — “Simple White” BM
  • Fireplace — “Black Satin” BM


Thanks Nicole!

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