A 525-Square-Foot Harlem Studio Apartment Is a Case Study in Zero Wasted Space

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Living room with bed and sofa
Main Living Space

Name: Desiree Lilly, wife, 4-year-old daughter, and Airbnb community
Location: Harlem, New York, New York
Type of home: Condo
Size: 525 square feet
Years lived in: 6 months, owned

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Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: My wife and I bought this as a second home earlier this year. Our main home is in Atlanta, Georgia, but we both have tech jobs based out of New York. The top of the pandemic was met with a lot of uncertainty between being laid off and having to “flee” the city in 2020 to now owning two homes; I would say it’s nothing short of a miracle.

Wall bed Open

We chose this home because of its location. We rented an apartment in Harlem for five years and fell in love with neighborhood. So when we stumbled across this new condo conversion nearby, we knew we had to have it! The space was very nice when we moved in but almost immediately we swapped out the light fixtures in the foyer and bathroom then replaced the main light with a low profile ceiling fan. Just those changes alone completely changed the look and feel of the space.

We were able to bring in these three vintage suitcases that were originally my wife’s grand mothers’. They’ve aged beautifully and just the perfect pieces to bring into our space. We originally brought them with us from Atlanta, to our Harlem rental, to our South Bronx rental, and now back to Harlem. I feel we’ve finally found the perfect home for them.

Foyer + Closet Shot

We were lucky to have a proper foyer in this unit, my wife created a nice little nook with decals from Amazon, an Edison bulb light fixture and a couple accessories from IKEA to round out the space.

I don’t know how we got so lucky to have two closets in a New York studio but that was one of the first places we invested in renovating. We got two custom Elfa Shelf closets designed and installed by The Container Store. This has completely changed the way we are able to function in the space. We have a place for luggage when we travel, and drawers for our clothing and shelves for anything else. We were able to convert our smaller closet into a storage space that stays locked when we are hosting (toilet paper and paper towels for DAYS). We knew that this would be a short term rental during the times we weren’t in the city so as we were designing the space we knew it had to be intentional, functional, and beautiful.

Custom Closet Interior

We are mothers first so we knew the space had to function for a family. Our daughter has her own seating, toy/art cabinet, dining set, and Netflix profile. She travels with us into the city quite a bit so the space had to be functional for a growing jet setter. We are now pregnant with daughter #2 so we have kept some functional and collapsible baby pieces that we will have in this unit once our daughter arrives.

My wife is a graphic designer and has an eye for design. When we were finishing the space I knew I wanted to have some of her work displayed and I love the three custom pieces she came up with for our apartment!

Kitchen View

We’re in Harlem so we didn’t want to shy away from our Black and Hispanic heritage. I believe this is reflected in our monochromatic color palette, custom artwork, and accessories.

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Intentional, cozy, eclectic, BLACK, Harlem

Custom working desk + shelves

What is your favorite room and why? Well, we are in a studio so the entire apartment is my favorite room. I love our wall bed and custom working desk. When we got our wall unit installed we were discussing with the contractor what our plans for the space were. He drew this design on a piece of scratch paper and two weeks later it was installed. It works so well for us because we can use it for work and our daughter can use it for her artwork or during her screen time and it doesn’t take up any of the living space. We were gifted the two shelves above the desk and that’s worked beautifully to display our accessories.

Vintage suitcases + Lounge Chair from Article

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? We were nearing the tippy top of our budget for this apartment and found a cheap accent chair that broke soon after we bought it. Since our apartment would double as a short term rental we decided to go with a mid-priced and beautiful option from Article. It was the perfect piece to add to the space. Leather (easy to clean), black, and solid wood. It’s light enough to move around but sturdy enough to withstand multiple guests.

Bathroom w Door Storage

Any advice for creating a home you love? When dealing with a small space like ours we had to go with function first. We would have loved to bring in oversized pieces with ultra plush upholstery but it wouldn’t have fit our needs. We created an intentional space and then filled it with pieces we love. The feedback from our apartment has been so great; people see the work that went into creating a seamless place where you can work, relax, repeat. It’s been a blessing to be able to open up our home to guests from around the world.

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