Small but Mighty: 9 Genius Design Ideas From Stylish Rental Studios

published Mar 18, 2017
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Short on square footage but big on good design. That’s what’s up in the nine studio apartments featured here to remind all of us that good things—including genius design ideas—really do come in small packages. Check them out!

Customizing is magical for personal style & function.

Will and Kate’s 420-square-foot rental studio is a lesson in how two people make a tiny space work as a couple, and how two people get creative to add function and style in unexpected ways. Their studio is filled with great design ideas, but my favorite (and their favorite, too) is the bar area that Will made. It just looks so damn cool and inviting—and serves such a useful purpose as a place to relax and enjoy a drink or meal together without taking up much space. It also looks perfect in context with their space, which is due to the fact that it was custom made by Will. There’s a magic that can happen when we bring a unique vision to life and it’s empowering to see how we can create something that is perfect for us and our space with a little imagination and hard work. Here’s a quote from Will describing the bar-making process:

“My proudest DIY is the bar that I constructed from found wood off the side of the street and some angle iron. The wood was in rough shape but was heavy, thick, and had character. After a lot of hand planing, sanding, and oiling, the surface started to look spectacular. I found some angle iron and used it for the legs. My original plan was to attach both pieces of the wood together with dowels, but after I started playing with the angle iron I realized I could make a ‘trough’ that wine glasses could be stored upside down in AND wine bottles could slide in and out of. It was a magical little Ahah moment!”

A limited color palette is a smart base for any room.

Amanda has 550-square-feet and an open floor plan to work with in her San Francisco studio apartment, but her space feels bright, airy, and looks incredibly pulled together. This is a great example of how being intentional with decisions like color help create a mood or tone in a room, as one of Amanda’s design tricks is using a few, select colors as her base for creating distinct “rooms” in a studio layout. Amanda states that her favorite element in her apartment is that “all the colors in each area of the apartment go together to create a relaxed vibe.”

Bold choices can yield beautiful results.

Kristy’s Hollywood studio is all around gorgeous (I think I’ve gone through the tour 10 times), but one of my favorite elements is the deep gray mantle (Sherwin Wiliams Cyberspace), which looks stately and elegant with her powerhouse artwork above it. Initially I thought Kristy simply painted an accent wall, which is bold enough in a studio, but nope, she bought and installed the mantle as well! I know! When you only have a limited space to work with, there can be a tendency to play it conservative (i.e., better safe than sorry), but if you have a vision that is bigger and bolder, don’t be shy about trying to make it happen. As Kristy notes, “I wanted a matte statement wall with a matching fireplace and I made it happen.”

Celebrate the art and beauty of everyday objects.

We are all about celebrating the beauty in useful objects on Apartment Therapy and Drew’s Texas studio is a great example of how something as straightforward as open shelving—which lets him store all his kitchen and dining tools for easy access, as well as show up his beautiful accessories—can work as a powerful aesthetic element when done with purpose. It’s this embrace of both style and usefulness that makes his simple and minimal style feel full and sophisticated and it’s also a nice reminder that it’s not what we have but how we put it all together that ultimately informs the look and feel of each room.

Think you don’t have enough space? Think again!

As a professional baker who loves experimenting in her home kitchen, Ursula’s very narrow kitchen was a challenge—but a challenge she was up for. She wanted a place to eat in the space (since it’s the only detached room in her studio) but also needed to move around when working, so rather than trying to force a proper table to work in this narrow footprint, Ursula installed a breakfast bar with seating underneath. It’s her proudest DIY and goes to show that, if we think about how we can make our home’s work for us (no matter how tricky), we can almost always find solutions. Here’s Ursula talking about her process:

I wanted somewhere to sit in my kitchen and finally decided to measure my dinner plates and find a shelf that was just wider than them. Then as I was scouring the IKEA website for bar stools, I noticed the wooden step-ladders (which came with wall mountings) and instantly geeked out over doubling them as seating.

*Her other words of wisdom: Don’t be afraid to drill holes! If you need to install something, go for it.

Double-duty furniture adds function and style.

Franke and Jason’s Chicago studio offered them stunning views, lots of light, and very little privacy. To remedy the latter, Franke and Jason got creative with their furniture, which is a very smart workaround. The above photo illustrates how they’ve added books and cream-colored fabric bins to elevate a substantial but inexpensive piece of furniture—the IKEA KALLAX shelf ($109)—into an elegant and functional privacy “wall” for their bedroom. A great example of how furniture can serve more than one purpose.

Non-traditional dining can look lovely.

Natasha and Rob have a 350-square-foot apartment that is small in size but huge in well-designed functionality. One of their ingenious solutions to lack of space for eating is the use of a coffee table that extends into a dining table (comfortably seats four). The addition of textiles, sleek candleholders, and lucite folding chairs creates a stylish dining setup that allows them to entertain. I think some of us feel like we need proper dining rooms or big kitchens to entertain, but all we really need to do is create an intentional dining experience using available resources—and remember—lovely textiles, interesting dishes, unique table and barware are the dining dream team and can help us turn non-traditional dining areas into something elegant and memorable.

An \Urban (Image credit: William Strawser)

Create mood by layering texture and pattern.

Amelia’s studio in Hell’s Kitchen is very well designed but it’s a process that didn’t happen overnight. Amelia notes that it wasn’t until she decided what she wanted the mood or vibe of her studio to be—warm, classic, welcoming like a boutique hotel—that things began clicking. She decided to keep her larger pieces neutral and then began layering color, pattern, and texture to create the cozy and classic mood that “feels like a warm hug,” according to one of her friends. I love layering as a low-commitment way to play with new design elements and because it allows us to alter the look and feel of a room quite easily. Through swapping out a few textiles and adding in a few decor items, voila, we can go from, for example, classic glam to happy modern in a weekend.

Good lighting FTW!

Kim’s studio apartment in West Hollywood is a vintage Parisian dream, and the romantic mood extends to her dining area, which is a mix of thrift store furniture, classic white dishes, and lovely string lights from World Market. A big fan of good lighting, Kim “declares that her studio transforms at night,” through simple but effective use of string lights and vintage lamps. And I believe her. Can’t you just picture how the area shown above—with the intimate glow of string lights and charming vintage furniture—would look like a quaint Parisian bistro at night? I can. And I want to go to there.