Before & After: This Renter Used Paint to Make Her 350-Square-Foot Studio Look Way Bigger
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Name: Angie Eng and Lola (dog)
Location: Brooklyn, New York City
Size: 350 square feet
Type of Home: Studio in carriage house
Years lived in: 5 months, renting
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was living with my then-partner, and since we essentially shared one large room, both working from home, our studio apartment quickly turned into a pressure cooker. With all of the compounding stress of the past year, the last thing I wanted to pile on was a complete upending of my living situation. However, I fully reject the idea of a breakup being synonymous with failure (I actually believe they should be celebrated — much like engagements/marriages, with splitting back up rent/belongings being even more of an appropriate reason for a registry, in my opinion). The reality of my situation was that, while having the entire idea of your idyllic future combust before your eyes is never something you necessarily wish upon yourself, COVID-times had surfaced what I was able to ignore before, and allowed me to see clearly that it was time to take back ownership of my life, space, and home.
It was important for me to find something for myself quickly, keeping space and budget in mind. I knew I wanted to stay in Brooklyn, close to my Pandemic Pod and preferably a park; I scoured listings online, and went from strategizing my exit plan to securing my pad in 24 hours. I looked at five units, all very run of the mill, but when I walked into the little studio tucked away in a rear carriage house with a front yard and privacy, I could tell I’d stumbled on something pretty special. I had some initial concerns — it was about half the size of my previous apartment, and the “bedroom” was really just a raised alcove with just enough space for a full-size mattress. However, I do think that home is a feeling, and I felt it — and I was determined to prove that downsizing did not have to mean downgrading. I looked at this space as a blank canvas, and I had the sage to burn and the time to kill to make it the fresh start and fun project that I needed. I applied on the spot and moved in two weeks later.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: While my personal style is a pretty basic neutral palette, my home style is much more colorful — my favorite description of what my interior design style has been called is “hygge-chic.” In the past year, comfort has taken priority in my life — that has manifested in my extensive, ever-growing loungewear collection, my refusal to part with my huge, velvet sectional, and lack of self control when it comes to fur-like throws and pillows (that all rather alarmingly resemble my dog…?)
Inspiration: An art book titled “a small and not ostentatious chamber with whose decorations no fault can be found” that my friend Tamar gifted me. It’s by the Museum of Longing and Failure and features Edgar Allan Poe’s essay “The Philosophy of Furniture,” where Poe describes his vision of a perfect room.
Favorite Element: Overall, I love that the space is lively and cozy at the same time — the sunlight, plants, and colors make it a space that sparks both joy and peace.
My favorite element is my gallery wall. It was one of the first projects I completed when I moved in because it was really cathartic to curate something that served as an ode to my friends and experiences; I have old family photos, my favorite vintage posters, art from my cousin’s origami exhibit, framed shoes that I didn’t have the heart to toss after serving as a friend’s dog’s chew toy, prints of work I love. I’ve rearranged and added to that space so much already; it’s constantly evolving with me, and unique to things I treasure.
Biggest Challenge: Budget, layout, and square footage were all hurdles. It was really important for me to take and keep my same furniture and art to save money, but completely recreate the space as my own somehow. I basically accessorized and re-merchandised — I layered rugs, used different throw blankets and pillows, reframed my art in different finishes, and even sourced additional pieces from my childhood bedroom to integrate into my gallery wall. Painting was a really budget-friendly way to elevate the space, helping to keep rooms aesthetically separate, but still fluid.
Proudest DIY: My kitchen! I spend a lot of time cooking and baking, so it was important for me to liven up that area. I knew I wanted to add color and dimension; I decided to go with a warm pink clay, free-hand painting an arch to separate it from the living space, herringbone sticky tiles for a backsplash, and installed gold square hardware. Also, the first thing I did when I moved in was put up my photos, articles, tchotchkes, and magnets on my fridge — I really think having a personality fridge is key to making a house a home.
Also, all of my additional painting projects. I warmed up the living space with a creamy off-white, added a warm mustard line through my entry wall, a deep green accent block to my productivity corner, and a geometric taupe to separate my bedroom from office space; Since it is a studio, I wanted to make sure the palette made sense together, while showing division between spaces in an interesting way.
Biggest Indulgence: I’ve been more money conscious this past year, but supporting the small businesses of my really talented network always feels worth it. My media console was custom made by my close friend, Stefano (@saxmetals). It was so much fun to work alongside a contractor, start to finish; I gave my budget and vision for the final piece and was able to work with him to pick materials and sign off on design. It feels like owning art.
Comfort and sleep have never been more important to me, so I bought luxury sheets from my other friend Alicia’s new company (@sheetstorm.co) — she sources her fabrics from a female-forward, family-owned, vertically integrated company (meaning less waste and less carbon emissions in the manufacturing process) and they feel like a dream (pun intended, sorry).
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? When I realized the “bedroom” wouldn’t fit my queen-size bed, I decided to switch up the layout: I placed my bed where the “office” was staged. I love waking up to the sunlight coming in through the windows instead of being tucked away — and turned the alcove into my “productivity platform.” It’s the perfect amount of space to have my little home office and gym area.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? My favorite pieces I purchased for this apartment are definitely the vintage finds; They feel really special and add a lot of character. With travel restrictions, my New Yorker pod and I have found a huge appreciation for safe getaways to Upstate NY. It’s the perfect escape from city life, and has the most amazing antique shops and yard sales with unreal prices. I love the Persian rug I bought for my home office space, the pink velvet chaise bench I snagged for my entryway, and the white rattan mirror for my gallery wall (for $1!)
I sourced my transformer console/table from Dobbin St. Co-op, my favorite local vintage furniture spot. It was absolutely worth it; it’s a great small, catch-all entryway piece, and it expands from a two- to a four- to a six-person dining table, it came with matching folding chairs as a set and even has a hidden compartment inside that stores them. I’m really big on hosting dinner parties, so this was a perfect find.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: Merchandising your things turns you into a stylish curator. I’m totally a maximalist — I love books, art, mirrors, plants, vases, shoes — I just display them in a way that looks nice to avoid having to throw anything away.
When I moved into a smaller apartment, I also repurposed what I could; bar stools became plant stands, my old studio’s open kitchen concept shelving became my office bookshelves, an extra bar cart became shoe storage. Think outside of your things’ initial or marketed purpose, and use them how they’d best work for you and your space.
What’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Do the work, and have fun with the process. From planning the layout, to picking your colors, to styling the space. Ask for advice, but trust your gut — start with how you want your space to make you feel, and work backwards from there.
PAINT & COLORS
This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.
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