Michael & Shannon’s Mix of Tradition and Travel

published Aug 10, 2011
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Name: Michael and Shannon
Location: Upper West Side, New York
Size: 400 square feet one bedroom rental
Years Lived In: 5 years

“We’ve always had a thing for the relaxed library [look],” explains Michael, a travel photographer, as he gives me the grand tour of his and Shannon’s home. You may recognize this well-curated (small!) apartment as one of the ‘teeny-tiny’ category finalists in this year’s Small Cool Contest.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

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Standing in living room looking towards front door and bathroom door on right. (Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Michael and Shannon moved to New York City from Louisiana five years ago. They used to live in a large house with multiple bedrooms and a lot of furniture. They knew they’d have to shed some of their belongings in order to downsize to a one-bedroom, but they didn’t grasp this concept in full until they were standing in their 400 square foot apartment, had unpacked their stuff, and realized that they had five times as much as they needed!

Craigslist became Michael and Shannon’s savior — it allowed them to sell 90% of the furniture they had just trucked up from New Orleans, and then to buy more reasonably scaled objects for their new small- space world. In the end, they made money! Potential buyers engaged in bidding wars for the couple’s uniquely Southern-sourced vintage furniture.

Once they got the hang of what it took to live in such small quarters, Shannon and Michael started to thrive. They realized the importance of preserving as much open floor space as possible, so they only bought furniture with slender legs. No bulky pieces! They found a place for the belongings that were important to them, but they chose carefully. If one liked something and the other didn’t, they would share the reason why, and if the argument had weight, the piece stayed.

Instead of a large Southern wedding, Michael and Shannon spent the year prior to moving to NYC traveling the world. Since then, they’ve been on big international adventures twice a year. Rather than buy something that aspires to exoticism, but lacks resonance, at a Pottery Barn or West Elm, Shannon and Michael like to bring back the real thing from far flung places they visit together. It is more meaningful for them, and it turns their home into a rich and storied place. At every turn, there is a memory to share with one another or a guest.

Living in a ‘teeny-tiny’ home in New York City seems to be becoming for Shannon and Michael.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Apartment Therapy Survey

Style: I am not sure if there is an actual term to describe our style, but I would say that we have an eclectic taste that over time has become a collection of pieces that tell the story of our life…as lame as that may sound. Ha!

Inspiration: Whether it is the wood carved doors of Zanzibar, the batik wall hangings of Laos, or the handmade metal crosses of Ethiopia, we draw inspiration from indigenous artisanship and try to incorporate it in to our own space.

Favorite Element: Definitely our bookcase would be our favorite piece. It not only provides a lot of great space for our books, it also acts as a place to display small works of art and textiles. It functions as our wine rack and mini bar, as well.

Biggest Challenge: Our biggest challenge was creating the illusion of space in such a tight area. The frustrating part is that you can’t just throw things down when you walk in the door, or it suddenly feels cluttered. Everything has a designated place.

What Friends Say: It feels so cozy, airy, bright and spacious. Cohesive.

Biggest Embarrassment: We painted the entrance area to our apartment this really amazing blue color. Then when finished, we sat in our living room and realized that from across the room, it clashed with everything we had. So I tried – against my knowledge of painting – to paint over the blue with a taupe color without the use of a primer. Halfway through we looked over at what we had painted and it had turned a putrid lime green. Completely ruined our Thanksgiving weekend.

Proudest DIY: We have salvaged many pieces from flea markets and attics. We reupholstered the stool in our living room with a textile we bought in Laos. We refinished the coffee table by sanding off all of the old paint and staining it. We constructed our own headboard. But our biggest success in our eyes would be our bookshelf. It is a blend of designs from Mike’s Furniture Store on the Upper West Side. We told them the dimension and our vision, and they constructed it. We then stained it in our apartment to save money. Actually, that’s a funny story. It took our neighbor coming over and pointing out to us that we should open a window before we realized we were loopy from the fumes. Lesson: ventilation is important when working with stain!

Biggest Indulgence: Ah, the point of contention! Our brass side table by the leather wing back in the living room. I purchased it without consulting my wife. It was rather expensive, which is completely out of character for us. In the end, we both like it, but my wife every now and then makes a point of telling me that I spent more on the side table then we did on practically all of the furniture in our apartment combined. Oops!

Best Advice: Get furniture with raised, narrow legs. It provides an illusion of more floor space.

Dream Source: We don’t particularly love mass-produced goods, so it’s hard to say a particular store. So if I had to say a source and since we are dreaming, I’d say we’d love to retrace the Silk Road and purchase things along the way. Definitely!

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)


• Round dining table and unfinished bedroom lamp: Furnish Green
• Small sculpture on windowsill: William Ludwig Sculpture
• Afghan rug in living room: Leekan
• Textiles on bottom shelf of bookshelf and bed blanket: Anokhi
• Sofa pillows: Ock Pop Tok
• Textile on bedroom chair: Puch Kaperu
• Plants including air plant: NY Topiary (135 W. 28th St. (646) 380-6096
• Custom Shelving Unit: Mike’s Furniture Store (520 Amsterdam Ave. (212) 875-9403

Thanks, Michael & Shannon!

Images: Jill Slater

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