Before & After: This Cleverly Rearranged One-Bedroom Is Everything Apartment Therapy Stands For

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(Image credit: Jenny Davis)

Name: Jenny Davis, Cory Davis, and our 2-year old son
Location: Upper East Side — New York, New York
Size: 850 square feet
Years Lived In: 12 years, renting

This is rerun of Jenny Davis’ amazing small home that, when first published, showcased how she was able to fit herself, her husband, and their 2-year-old son comfortably in a compact NYC rental apartment. Since this tour first published, they’ve grown their family by two: the couple welcomed twins! And while you might think that would have precipitated a move to a larger home, that’s simply not the case! Stay tuned to Apartment Therapy; Jenny will be sharing even more looks into her small apartment that’s now home to five people!

We found this apartment by chance after the apartment my then boyfriend (now husband) and I were supposed to move into fell through. We were both born and raised in New York City, but nothing could prepare us for the madness that was NYC apartment hunting. Cory’s lease was up in September and everything on the market was going fast. We could barely look at an apartment before it would be rented, and the options were… let’s just say we probably wouldn’t still be together if we ended up at some of those places.

((Image credit: Jenny Davis)

When we finally found an okay place, we jumped on it, but it was a co-op that required board approval. The owners missed the crucial board meeting and we suddenly found ourselves back at square one—with just 10 days to find another apartment. As if the options weren’t bad enough before, we were now scraping the bottom of the barrel. Then, Cory got a call from a doorman we met at a building we really liked. We asked him to let us know if anything opens up, and sure enough, he said that a nice one-bedroom was unexpectedly available after the tenant broke their lease.

(Image credit: Jenny Davis)

When we saw it, we could hear the angels sing! It was perfect—a million times better than any other option we’d considered and at the best price. It was a top-floor corner, sun-drenched apartment with sturdy pre-war construction, tons of storage, it was close to transportation, and the building had character and a sense of community. Within a day, it was ours. That was 12 years ago, and we now have a 2-year-old and feel like this apartment (after a couple years of growing pains) once again fits our family perfectly.

(Image credit: Jenny Davis)

I recently redecorated to create separate usable spaces in what used to be an open room. A large dining table (inherited from my husband’s grandma) now separates our living room from a large playroom, and the alcove has become my son’s bedroom.

(Image credit: Jenny Davis)
(Image credit: Jenny Davis)

A common misconception about family living in a small home is that everything and everyone is on top of each other and you can’t have your own space. We felt a lot of pressure to move into a bigger apartment when I was pregnant, but two people who raised kids in one-bedrooms in our building said that the pressure is not real. One mom gave her son the bedroom and pretended the living room was a studio. They lived there until her son went to college. The other mom moved to the suburbs and hated it. She immediately regretted leaving the neighborhood, realizing they could have made it work in a one-bedroom.

The living room corner became the playroom in the newly rearranged one-bedroom apartment. (Image credit: Jenny Davis)
(Image credit: Jenny Davis)

So we stayed put and with the new layout feel like we have all the space we need, and it doesn’t feel like one big children’s room. Even though there are no formal doors or walls separating our living room, dining room, playroom, and son’s room, each area feels like a contained, usable space. (We installed foldable accordion doors in the alcove that we close when my son’s sleeping.) Design elements link the spaces so it doesn’t feel fragmented, but you can move from one area to another and feel like you’re in a different room.

(Image credit: Jenny Davis) This alcove was used as a small home office and TV spot, but now has been transformed into the baby’s bedroom.

Everyone tells me our apartment feels so much bigger, but what I love the most is that each area has sentimental pieces and feels like a separate, contained room. I once was President Clinton’s speechwriter, and now all my friends are saying I should be a decorating consultant for families living in small spaces. What a career change that would be! I’m tempted.

(Image credit: Jenny Davis)

Favorite Element: Our apartment has open southern views that let in the most dreamy natural light. I grew up in a dark basement apartment so I don’t take this for granted. Not only is it nice in-and-of itself, but the direct sunlight enables me to have interesting exotic plants like a blue cactus that charges during the day and pops with color at night, and a Brazilian Rain Tree whose leaves open and close with the sun. I love plants and can’t have enough.

(Image credit: Jenny Davis)
(Image credit: Jenny Davis)

Biggest Challenge: Finding a place for all our mementos. My husband and I are both sentimental and we collect things that remind us of past experiences or people. We used to keep most of it tucked away in closets and under our bed where it felt like clutter. I recently embraced floating shelves to display the mementos, and we now enjoy the things that are special to us. Contrary to what I thought, floating shelves can really make a space feel bigger by adding depth and texture.

((Image credit: Jenny Davis)
((Image credit: Jenny Davis)

Proudest DIY: The bookcase I pulled from the trash on a rainy day and completely renovated. It was in terrible shape… the wood was a little rotten in places, it was missing pieces, and it was really nicked up. But it had such a unique shape and size that I had to try to fix it. I was still living with my parents at the time and my dad was the superintendent of our building, so I used tools from his workshop to take the whole thing apart, sand it down, paint it, and replace the missing pieces. It was really a labor of love because I had never done anything like that before and I had no clue how it would turn out. But it all came together beautifully and I get compliments on it all the time. It’s the boldest piece we own.

(Image credit: Jenny Davis)
(Image credit: Jenny Davis)

Staying organized: Make sure that everything has a place to live and keep it there. Don’t let things pile up on tables or countertops. I’m getting better about this, but right now I’m looking at a mess of things on my dresser in the foyer and feeling anxious about it. It’s crazy how much stuff you accumulate when you have a kid, so I’m constantly going through drawers and cupboards and making sure to store or donate things we don’t use anymore to make room for the new things we need. When I have a place for everything, I can better control the clutter and find what I need.

((Image credit: Jenny Davis)
(Image credit: Jenny Davis)

Biggest Do’s: Get creative with lighting because it can really transform a space. We don’t have hardwired overhead light in our main room so we used to just have three floor lamps that didn’t look nice and made the lighting dim and uneven. We now have a plug-in hanging light over the dining table, wall sconces, a puck light in my son’s play kitchen set, and string lights in the alcove. These varied light sources are great decorative pieces and really illuminate the space much better than the standing lamps did. They also help to compartmentalize and define each area in the open room.

((Image credit: Jenny Davis)
(Image credit: Jenny Davis)

Biggest Don’ts: Don’t react too quickly to a change you might not like at first. If you’re decluttering or moving furniture around and are hesitant, live with it a little before you undo it. When I redid the layout of our apartment, I was reluctant because everything had been the way it was for 11 years. But I knew we had to adapt to make this place work with a toddler. At first, we hated it. Then, as we lived in the changes and saw how much better life flowed around the new layout, it grew on us. And I started decorating the space and changing the lighting and it made a big difference. Everyone says the place looks great and feels twice as big. I no longer have a desire to move to a house or a larger apartment, and we get to stay in the neighborhood we love.

Jenny’s proudest DIY is this bookcase she salvaged. (Image credit: Jenny Davis)

Biggest indulgence: Most of our furniture was either given to us by family and friends, or found in the trash. Of the new stuff we have; Etsy is my weak spot.

(Image credit: Jenny Davis)

Best Advice: Sometimes, more is more. I used to think that you should only have small furniture in a small apartment, and that shelves and other wall decor just close up a space. But that’s not true. You can have a full-sized dining table, or a big couch—you just have to balance it out with the other furniture. Before we were parents, we had a 55-inch deep couch and the dining table was tucked away. Now it’s the reverse: We have a smaller reclining sofa and opened up the dining table so we can have family dinners. We also now have more wall decor and the place feels bigger than ever. So don’t be afraid to go big in a small space.

My best advice for a kid’s play room, especially if it’s in a shared space, is to only keep a small portion of the toys out. About 80 percent of Asher’s toys are in my closet and I rotate what goes on the shelves. With this routine he gets excited by the change, plays much longer and creatively with each toy, and is better about playing independently. Win-win, because there’s never a big mess and I get to have design fun with the toy arrangements.

(Image credit: Jenny Davis)

Small Task: I try to make sure that I don’t wake up to things I hate. I hate doing dishes, so I make sure to do them before I go to bed. I also try to make sure that the playroom toys are put away, that the stroller gets folded and goes back in the closet where I keep it, and everything else goes back in its place at night. That way I wake to a clean and tidy apartment, and it helps me set the right mood for the day.


Table — Cory’s grandparents
Chairs — West Elm
Light Pendant — Etsy
Table Runner — Symbology clothing
Mirror —Vintage Drexel from an antique store
Marble-top Nightstands —Vintage given to us by a friend

Floating Shelves — Hurd and Honey
Earth-toned Wood-fired Pottery Glasses — Jordan Becker on Etsy
Rustic Wall Sconce — Etsy
Alma Pillow — Almond: The Citizenry
Pictures —Minted

Foam Play Mat — Little Nomad
DUKTIG Play Kitchen — IKEA
Bookcase/Toy Shelf — Wayfair
Tall Plant Stand — Found in the trash
Vintage Toy Cars — Candy Lab Toy

Divya Rug — Lulu & Georgia
Loveseat — Jennifer Convertibles
Flying Whale Wallpaper — Etsy

Jute Rug — Serena & Lily
Dresser —Vintage Drexel from Antique Shop
Mirror — Found in the trash
Bookcase — Found in the trash
Flamingo Print — Lulu & Georgia
Vintage Flamingo Vase — Etsy
Wallpaper — Anthropologie Helena Mural

Thank you, Jenny!

*4/10/19 Edited to add more information from the renter about the children’s bedroom alcove.