DIY Projects Totally Transformed a 600-Square-Foot NYC Rental Apartment

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Glass pedant hangs over marble dining table.
Credit: Natalie Wong

Natalie Wong has been renting this two-bedroom apartment for three years: I found this wonderful apartment in Manhattan’s East Village during the depths of 2020 and snagged a rent-stabilized deal (which is the dream of every New Yorker). My home is, and always has been, my safe space and blank canvas to explore design and color, and create. It’s full of pieces with a story (20-year-old pieces from Hong Kong that I’ve brought and lived with from Toronto to Montreal to New York), vintage pieces that I thrifted from my favorite shops in the city or even off the streets of New York, and lots of art (photos I’ve taken, photos my friends have taken, and art from artists I admire from Hong Kong to Korea to New York).

Credit: Natalie Wong

My home is a colorful oasis of everything I love. I have always gravitated toward primary colors (navy blues, deep reds), but found myself leaning toward pastels too in recent years. I was torn between which colors to choose for my apartment (it felt like I had to choose one or another), but I’ve found a way to integrate all of the above seamlessly. I started with one green accent wall in my apartment, which has since evolved into seven different paint colors in my tiny apartment.

Credit: Natalie Wong

I’ve also done a lot of DIY aside from just painting. My entire kitchen looks vastly different from when I moved in — from backsplash, peel-and-stick countertops, and new cabinet handles. I’m also a big fan of lighting and the impact it has on small spaces, and have replaced all the boring boob lights in my unit with fun pendants that have completely changed the feel of the space!

Credit: Natalie Wong

I’ve decorated my apartment with beautiful pieces of furniture and decor that I’ve collected over the years — whether it’s pieces from my childhood home, pottery, linens from Japan, or art pieces from up-and-coming female artists that I admire. I also have a giant plant collection — 30+ and counting!

Describe your home’s style in five words or fewer: Cozy, colorful, inspiring, green.

Credit: Natalie Wong

What is your favorite room and why? My living room is the room that still makes me feel inspired and in awe every time I sit down. It’s the brightest room in my north-facing apartment, so my plants thrive the best there. It’s also the space that I’ve exercised the least restraint with regards to color, and while I was initially worried that I would get bored of a pink room, the color grows on me every day. I’ve even painted the trims to enhance the colors. Every corner I look at and every wall has something that inspires me, and it is super cozy. Guests are always inspired by that room when they come.

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? Anthropologie lamp by Matilda Goad and a Scalloped light pendant.

Credit: Natalie Wong

Any advice for creating a home you love? Take your time. Live in the space for a few weeks, months, or years to see how you move through it, before investing a lot of money on pieces that might not make sense in the longer term. Fill it with interesting pieces that make you feel happy — whether it’s connected to a memory, a feeling, or a story that resonates with you. Trendy basic pieces fade over time and it’s always worth taking more time to find that one piece that makes your space yours. Alter the lighting so it suits the mood you want — good lighting can change the entire feeling of a space. And experiment! Try different paint colors — you can always repaint.

Thanks, Natalie!

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