A Compact, Narrow NYC Apartment Feels Much Larger Than 650 Square Feet
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“We found our apartment the way any New Yorker finds their apartment: scouring StreetEasy and Naked Apartments and Craigslist for weeks, looking at sad, overpriced, run-down apartments with no storage, or no windows, or child-sized ovens, then losing hope and saying ‘let’s look at just one more…’ and then… the right place magically finds you,” describes Grant Griglak, Director of Marketplace and Consumer Insights at Penguin Random House, of the apartment hunt he underwent with his fiancé, Gray Holubar, the Director of People Business Partnership at Artsy.
Grant says the couple loved the apartment’s location (near Central Park), and adored the terrace that’s “just big enough to serve dinner for four. It’s a narrow place and the open layout didn’t leave much room for imagination in terms of space planning, but we made it work. It was a blank slate — really just a beige rectangle looking for someone to put their stamp on it,” explains Grant.
“Our home is everything — where we cook, where Gray bakes, where we both work most of the time now, and a restful sanctuary for sleep. We also have a few great little nooks for reading, and a comfortable couch for nights with friends or catching up on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ just the two of us.”
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Bold, colorful, comfortable, with a touch of mid-century inspiration.
Inspiration: Bold colors and our favorite art and design objects, energizing color combinations, plants, and designers like Dusen Dusen and Cold Picnic.
Favorite Element: I think it’s the terrace. Even when we’re not using it, we keep our string lights on and enjoy the plants and greenery… It gives you a sense of home, that you can walk outside and still be in your own space. It’s also amazing for entertaining — just a friend or two for a casual dinner, or an afternoon of hanging out before we venture elsewhere. We’ve had lots of amazing memories on that little terrace.
Biggest Challenge: The apartment is very compact, leaving little room to imagine where things might fit — there’s pretty much only one way to lay it out. It was a really ugly beige with no interest or details when we moved in. We started by painting everything bright white (Benjamin Moore’s “Chantilly Lace”), which made an enormous difference.
We also worked really hard to figure out a layout that would help us live larger than the 650 square feet would typically allow. I pulled in some help from a friend, who happens to be a licensed architect, to help us sort out the flow. It turns out finding a couch that was the right width and depth was key, and her creative solution helped us get seating for five or more in the living space, dining for four or more, ample storage for the insane amount of books and art we have, plus a dedicated desk for working (who knew how essential that would become?).
The living room also gets very little natural light, despite having a big door wall to the terrace (we face north and into a courtyard). To combat this, we installed IKEA integrated lighting into any nook or cranny we could, and used a big mirror to make the dining room feel less like a cave in the corner.
Through COVID, we became very aware of just how small the kitchen is… it’s great for a pre-COVID NYC lifestyle, but cooking three meals a day for two people has been hard. We still haven’t solved that one, tbh.
Proudest DIY: We also had a really strange “bar” installed in our kitchen. It’s narrower than a dinner plate, so you can’t eat at it, and it cuts an already really narrow space in half. We measured the space a dozen times and luckily found some IKEA storage units (these are the BESTA) that we could install some practical storage in for wine glasses, serving dishes, and other fragile items in. There’s not much cabinet space, so this was essential. We added a chalkboard to the back to finish it off cleanly.
The most impactful thing we did visually was install floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. We again tapped my architect friend to find a shelving system that would be suitable for our needs, and custom cut the lengths to fit the asymmetrical space. It provides a lot of balance to the room, and is another great place to show off our book collection, art, and photos of family and friends.
Biggest Indulgence: Honestly, art. Even a plain Jane space can be saved with a great piece of art, and we’ve invested in some pieces over the years we are really happy to have in our collection.
The first piece(s) we ever got are from Clayton Skidmore, a surrealist artist who did a project on how most of our interior spaces are like sets in a play. They’re part painting, part sculpture, part house plant, and we love them. They’re in a place of distinction at the top of our workspace.
Gray works at the online art marketplace Artsy, so we’re often on the lookout for affordable finds. He fell in love with a giant print of a toad by Eric Avery (and won it in a benefit auction!), and I treated myself to a beautiful print by Miguel Ocampo that goes well with the calm, introspective mood in our bedroom. Gray also found this pink peace sign art from a Detroit artist, Caroline del Giudice. It was a really special Christmas gift for me because I’m from metro Detroit, and we’ll actually be moving back there later this year.
We also bought a lot of art over the course of the pandemic — fundraisers for frontline workers and to support Black Lives Matter — which are proudly displayed (alongside other collected art) over our bed. This gave us enough artwork to create a real gallery wall. It’s filled with treasures that include: Polaroids from my grandfather, art from our friend Lindsay Taylor, prints Grant picked up while studying abroad in Sydney, and a few cute things from West Elm for good measure.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? To be honest, our place is more “what you see is what you get.” We’ve since converted our dining room into a Mon-Fri office space (which we reclaim on the weekends to preserve our sanity), which is maybe the most ‘unique’ thing about the way we live.
We also remove a chair from our living room every year and put in a full-size, real Christmas tree every year. Our storage space above the bathroom is full of ornaments and more lights than is advisable to plug in at once, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? We are in love with our West Elm DeKalb couch. It’s the perfect mix of structured and cozy (it has memory foam cushions), so it’s perfect for lounging, but not so slouchy to take a Zoom call on.
My favorite thing we own is our bedding. A great friend of mine let me stay with her in her incredible home in Boulder (shout out Kate!) and she had linen sheets and I knew my life would never be the same. I was able to find a set that didn’t break the bank, and they are a game-changer. We also are in love with our Dusen Dusen coverlet, which kinda completes the cloud-like feel in our bedroom.
I may have also gone behind Gray’s back and splurged on the Dusen Dusen pillow covers for our living room, but they’re really what gives the space its personality, and they bring me so much joy, I feel they’re worth every penny.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: An obvious one, but measure twice and buy once. We did a lot of prep to find things that “felt like they have always been there” like our storage solutions, book shelves, or even the desk, but they took a bit of planning and open-mindedness. Our “coffee table” is technically a marble-topped bench from Target.
Also — a big leaning mirror is a great place to hide your WFH gear. Our dining room is my work from home space, and it’s nice to not feel like I’m living in my office on the weekends, so we tuck it all away neatly behind our leaning mirror.
Billy bookcases are your best friend. I know Apartment Therapy readers are all over this one, but we added three to the side of our living room and they serve as pantry, hall closet, and linen closet. They blend in and hardly take up any space, but it’s like we have a bonus mud room.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? I think about the intersection of cost-per-use and uniqueness a lot. Some things don’t need to be high end: IKEA Billy bookcases are a classic for a reason; don’t overthink it. Are there cooler bookshelves out there than the ones we got from a big box store? Absolutely. But we got nine linear feet of storage installed for less than $250, and what’s *on* the shelves is the star of the show anyways.
However, things like a couch, or bedding, or a dining table that will become your home-away-from-home during the pandemic, should be sturdy pieces of enough quality that a little bit of you doesn’t get chipped away every time you sit and hear a creak or feel a wobble.
PAINT & COLORS
- Benjamin Moore — “Chantilly Lace” (most everywhere)
- Benjamin Moore — “Ice Palace” (bedroom)
- Billy Bookcase(s) — IKEA
- TINY’s matchbook print — Charles Ryan Clarke (NOTE: Grant and Gray had their first date at Tiny’s… This print was a gift Grant gave Gray a few years ago).
- Tiny’s print — Etsy (gifted from a dear friend; shout out Sophia!)
- Pot — Pigeon Toe
- Key catch-all — The Painted Pot (hand painted by Grant!)
- DeKalb Sofa — West Elm
- Marble Coffee Table — Target
- Media console — Wayfair
- Reading Chair — All Modern
- Wassily-look chair — All Modern
- Yellow blanket — Cold Picnic
- Pink blanket — Hem
- Side tables — Thrifted
- Pillows (assorted) — Dusen Dusen
- Pottery — Group Partner, Pigeon Toe
- Prints above TV — Margo Selby for West Elm
- Desk & Chair — West Elm
- Rug — Etsy (vintage)
- Small lamp — Etsy (Honey & Ivy)
- Reading lamp — Target
- Desk lamp — Target
- Art on shelves — Bobby Dougherty, COVID benefit auction; Kimchi Juice, Artsy; unknown artist, thrift store in Beacon NY (blue print); Caroline del Giudice, PLAYGROUND DETROIT; Eric Avery, Artsy; Linda Litteral, Artsy; Lindsay Taylor, benefit for Black Lives Matter; and AAA Sign Company, Boise
- Chairs — Misc., collected over time
- Table — OfferUp (manufacturer unknown)
- Pottery on table — Thrifted
- Pottery on shelf — Handmade by ME (top shelf), or my friend Sally (bottom shelf)
- Mirror — IKEA
- Storage unit — IKEA
- Candles — Dusen Dusen
- Art — Emily Trueblood, Artsy; unknown artist, Bankside Gallery (tiny seascape print); unknown artist, vintage shop in Savannah, Georgia (orange print); and prints from National Palace Museum, Taipei
- Teapot — Le Creuset
- Dutch oven — Lodge
- Tile — Pewabic
- Ceramics — Pigeon Toe
- Storage Cart — Wayfair
- Storage Bins — HAY
- Art — Francine Alvez, Artsy
- Tile — San Juan Old Town tourist shop (to commemorate our engagement in San Juan)
- Rug — Cold Picnic
- Tea Towels — HAY
- Chests of drawers — Gemini, West Elm
- Bed frame — Novogratz (Wayfair)
- Shoe storage — IKEA
- Art on gallery wall — Kibong Rhee, Artsy; Tyler Mitchell, COVID benefit auction: Scandebergs, COVID benefit auction; Jimmy Marble, COVID benefit auction; Lindsay Taylor, direct purchase; Polaroids from Grant’s grandfather; West Elm; Ed Hughes; Miguel Ocampo, Artsy; and Lindsay Taylor, benefit for Black Lives Matter
- Prints above dressers — Vintage, from Japan (gifted by Grant’s grandmother)
- Rug — Family gift from Gray’s parents
- Shower curtain — Quiet Town
- Artwork — Zumbador Foto (run by our friends Isa & Enrique; they actually took this shot with a drone at the exact spot we got engaged.)
- Bath mat — Cold Picnic
- Tiles — Pewabic
- David Hockney print — Etsy
- Chairs — NY stoop finds!
- Storage unit & Bar cart — IKEA
- Table — All Modern
Thanks Grant and Gray!
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