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Credit: Courtesy of Rosie Knight

My Hacked-Together Outdoor Living Space Helped Expand My 425-Square-Foot Studio Apartment (For $0)

published Aug 4, 2020
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Twenty stories of objects and areas in people’s homes that nourish their souls more than their social feeds. Read them all here throughout August.

I’ve been self-isolating with my husband since March, in a 425-square-foot studio apartment in Long Beach, California. I adore our home—it’s essentially a cute beach shack with surprisingly high ceilings and a lot of natural light that somehow costs less than what I paid for a room in a shared house back in my hometown of London. With all of that said, being functionally stuck in our tiny home has been challenging as each of us navigate how to live and work in the limited space—while also maintaining a level of happiness and quality of life without any of the excursions, work trips, and mountain drives that we valued so much. 

But I am nothing if not resourceful. Throughout my 30-plus years on the planet, I’ve become rather adept at creating comfort in unusual spaces. I built dens for me and my sister on the balcony of my dad’s old tenement block when we wanted to escape. I used sheets to create separate rooms in an old warehouse in East London after some of the inhabitants decided that they needed a little privacy. And I’m still the one who builds forts for my nephews and nieces out of blankets and string lights whenever they visit. Turns out my deft hand at reimagining the boring and often small places where I’ve lived has become a lifesaver during the COVID-19 crisis.  

Our apartment building is two levels. We’re on the second floor, which means that to get to our home you have to climb a flight of stairs and walk along a small landing. Due to our proximity to the beach, I’d rarely used the space for anything other than getting to and from my front door in the past. However, as I found myself recently longing for some time in the sun, I devised a plan. I wanted somewhere that I could work and potentially relax with a good book that would offer up some variety from my usual bed-and-sofa combination. Gone were the days of working in coffee shops or driving to some pretty location and finding a bench to perch on; now I just had the contents of my apartment, the landing, and my own imagination. 

I scoured the studio thinking of what I could use. An old sheet was a simple answer but didn’t offer much comfort. A low mesh beach chair was okay but quickly ended up wreaking havoc on my tender joints. An accumulation of pillows and blankets was a little too hot to be fully comfortable. Then it hit me: My IKEA sofa was predominantly made up of two huge detachable cushions. So I swept the stair landing and placed the two cushions out there… and it began to come together. Next, I took a houseplant that my mom had bought me as a gift and positioned it to offer me some shade from the sun. Then I finished my little haven off with a mix of smaller cushions. Suddenly, I had a place where I could relax, read, and even at the right time of day work on my laptop. 

Credit: Courtesy of Rosie Knight

The stair landing soon became my favorite place in the apartment. I’d wake up early to beat the heat of the late morning sun and eat my breakfast out there. I’d set up a little shady spot under a leaf-shaped umbrella and settle in to do my work, and when the heat got a little too much I dragged out an old hammock that I’d bought on a whim in a sale and got to work hanging it from the sturdy railing. Aside from creating a new space to enjoy during a time where that very thing has become a rare commodity, it also gave me some control over my days and workflow during an incredibly unstable time. I know that not everyone has the privilege of having even a little bit of outdoor space, but whether or not you do, try to take the time to do something new with your home. It made a world of difference to me and I want as many people as possible to share that comforting experience in this wild year.