40+ Plants Fill This Couple's 500-Square-Foot Studio

40+ Plants Fill This Couple's 500-Square-Foot Studio

(Image credit: Vanessa Combe)

Name: Vanessa Combe, my partner Blake, and our cat Marlon
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Size: 500 square feet
Years lived in: 2 years, renting

Apartment hunting in Toronto is a miserable affair. The city gets more expensive every year and the lack of housing—especially affordable housing—means that everyone is fighting tooth and nail for a place to call home. If you're hoping that "home" will be above ground, or have a "real" bedroom, or have any interest or originality or character to it, then you have to be ready to rise above all the other applicants and, most importantly, be ready to pay. And pay a lot.

That's why, after months and months of endless open houses, applications and desperate email exchanges with landlords, as well as some tough talks about what we could actually afford, I couldn't believe my luck when I walked into this amazing space that would soon become ours.


I am a chalk artist (@_vanessadraws), and my partner is the Toronto Director for Alveole (@alveolebuzz), an urban beekeeping company!


Five minutes after it was posted, I responded to a Craigslist ad listing a 500-square-foot open loft in a converted sewing factory "filled with artists." There were no pictures on the listing (usually a bad sign), and we had not initially been looking for a loft at all, but the location was great and the price was even better. Apparently not having a walled-off bedroom saves you hundreds of dollars in Toronto! I visited the loft alone the next day, and then a few hours later with Blake, and we signed the lease that same evening (which also happened to be our anniversary!)

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And so began the momentous task of moving in all our possessions (we are, as you can see, the opposite of minimalists!) At one point a neighbor, who had watched us pushing boxes into our place for weeks, exclaimed "Your place must be huge!" Little did he know...

Blake and I have similar impulses when it comes to decorating, but they manifest in their own ways that, we feel, still complement one another. We are both collectors (Blake collects small natural curiosities like fossils and insects, comic books, vintage toys and figurines and I collect blue and white ceramics and other dinnerware), we both love plants (I am bossy about where they are placed and he does an amazing job of actually caring for them), we both love antiquing and flea markets (I love spotting bigger pieces and he has an eye for the smaller detailed finds), and clearly we both very much ascribe to "more is more!"

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Our space is a mix of consignment, thrift store, and flea market finds, genuine antiques from dealers, things we literally find on the street, hand-me-downs, and, of course, my beloved IKEA. We both love beautiful things, but a home is meant to be lived in and so we are particularly drawn to pieces that have both form and function. An example of this would be the focal point of our apartment—the giant sloping IVAR storage system that provides not only a place to store and display all of our beloved books and discretely house our TV, but also acts as the room divider for our bedroom area without blocking the sight lines to the back of the apartment. I have always been obsessed with homes and decor since I was a child, but neither of us seek to emulate a particular "style"—we just pick what we like, sometimes "on trend" and sometimes not, and cram it in here and hope it works!

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Our home is not precious or formal, and it matters to us that it feels relaxing, inviting and easy. Most guests remark on how surprisingly cozy it is and wonder if it is hard to leave such a comfortable space and head out into the world. And the answer is, yes, it is! But the feeling of coming home to this every day is so worth it.

(Image credit: Vanessa Combe)

Our apartment is completely open (except for the washroom and a small walk-in closet), so it was important to us to delineate the space to have clear areas dedicated to sleeping, living, eating, as well as separate office areas for the both of us. We achieved this by dividing the space with particular placement of larger furniture, as well as plants of different sizes and colors, which help to break up the "rooms" without obstructing sight lines.

(Image credit: Vanessa Combe)

We are big thrifters and antique lovers, and this vintage Hoosier cabinet we found on consignment was the first thing we bought when we moved in together. It doubles as a bar, extended kitchen storage and also houses my blue and white ceramics collection. The '50s high chair was my mother's when she was a baby. One day we may use it for its intended purpose but, for now, it makes a great plant stand!

(Image credit: Vanessa Combe)

Blake's desk area is in an oddly shaped nook at the front of the apartment, so finding the right furniture that would look great and be functional was a challenge. We found the Quebec school desk at a local antique shop, and Blake got the 1940s schoolmaster chair off of Craigslist in exchange for some beer! The vintage toys and figurines have been regulated to his desk nook!

(Image credit: Vanessa Combe)

This is my desk area, all the way at the other end of the apartment from Blake's nook. It's nice to have our own spaces to work on creative projects, but still be able to peek at each other every now and again.

(Image credit: Vanessa Combe)

Let me be clear: The apartment did not look anything like it does now when we signed the lease—but we saw the potential. The walls were a dirty gray, the previous tenant had very little furniture that was placed (in my opinion) strangely, and the space was dominated by a huge—and I mean HUGE—ugly built-in island. Thankfully, we have an amazing landlord who allowed us to paint the walls white (including a giant chalkboard wall for my work), tear out the island as well as the equally ugly overhead cabinets in the kitchen, and put all the holes we wanted into the walls (it's common in Toronto leases for landlords to not allow even thumbtacks to hold up posters!)

(Image credit: Vanessa Combe)

Our cat Marlon has free roam of the space and loves living in a jungle. The table and chairs I found on the street in Montreal years ago and have dragged them with me to every apartment since university! The giant Monstera that we have been growing for the past two years provides a nice visual divide between our eating and living areas. Unfortunately Marlon has taken to climbing on it for attention, so it's a little straggly! In the background you can see the bookshelf that blocks out our bedroom area and, behind that, the giant chalkboard wall I use for my work.

(Image credit: Vanessa Combe)

The focal point of our apartment is our huge bookcase room divider (IVAR from IKEA), that we chose to have in a downward step pattern so that it wouldn't be too oppressive. I hate it when TVs draw too much focus in a room, but ours (out of frame to the left) blends in discretely amongst all the books. I love how much color the books bring to the space.

(Image credit: Vanessa Combe)

On the other side of the bookcase, it's a different story. Our style is definitely very busy and cluttered, but we wanted our bedroom area to remain restful. I love the calming neutral tones the backs of the books give to the sleeping area. These amazing doors I found in the stairwell of my old apartment building and quickly dragged them up several flights of stairs so no one would nab them before me!

Thanks, Vanessa!

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