A “Nostalgia Meets Now” 495-Square-Foot Home

updated Apr 30, 2019

A “Nostalgia Meets Now” 495-Square-Foot Home

updated Apr 30, 2019
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Name: Irwin Gueco
Location: The General Scott — Washington, DC
Size: 495 square feet
Years lived in: Rented 6 years / Owned 2 years

“Your home should tell your story,” says Irwin. And everywhere you look in his home there is a good story, providing insight into Irwin’s personality. Filled to the brim with carefully selected mementos, artwork and furniture, his home feels like a lovingly curated museum. Which is fitting, because he spends his days at a museum.

Irwin is an accomplished architect and interior designer, currently working at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. His trained eye allows him to pick out gems at antique markets and collect distinguished, classic pieces. At the same time, he has a playful aesthetic that shines throughout his space. There’s also a great deal of sentiment to Irwin’s collections, and strong ties to his Filipino heritage.

Irwin’s apartment is only 495 square feet in size, but you wouldn’t guess it upon walking in. He has maximized every bit of space to create an efficient, welcoming environment. A coffee table in the living room doubles as a dining table. IKEA Sektion cabinets create a galley wall that houses the refrigerator and pantry, while also containing Irwin’s clothing closet and a pull-out desk. With a combination of flair and practicality, he’s repurposed a credenza to hide TV cables, turned a circuit breaker panel into a whiteboard, and even removed a wall to make movement through his apartment flow better.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Curated Eclectic. It’s about mixing and matching design classics with thrift store finds based on scale, line, color and texture to create a cohesive timeless look.

Inspiration: Nostalgia with a little bit of Now. “Downton Abbey” meets Mid-Century Modern. I’m currently infatuated with 1960s/’70s designs in plastic.

Favorite Element: The galley that was created when I removed the existing wall that separated the original kitchen and dressing room. The combined rooms allowed me to consolidate the kitchen, dressing and home office functions along one long cabinet. Removing the existing wall also improved circulation around my studio making it feel larger than 495 square feet.

Biggest Challenge: Curatorial Duties. As the adage goes, “bring something in, take something out.” My home is definitely a work in progress, which I don’t mind because curating is the fun part!

What Friends Say: My favorite, to paraphrase a friend after seeing my renovation. I’ve finally “made a small space feel a lot larger. It’s comfortable, inviting and efficient. But most importantly, everything in it is an amazing reflection of you.” and then he compared me to a Bowerbird. I’ll leave it at that!

Biggest Embarrassment: My apartment before I renovated. The kitchen had the original fixtures, appliances and linoleum floor from 1981 when my building went condo.

Proudest DIY: Incorporating the existing circuit breaker panel into the new kitchen design as moving it would have been cost prohibitive. I made a removable access panel using a leftover cabinet front, drawer pull, dry erase adhesive sheet and a picture frame kit. Heavy-duty Velcro strips hold the panel within the cutout of the quartz backsplash. The access panel is now used as a marker board for reminders, grocery lists etc. The drawer pull acts as a marker tray and a ledge to prop my tablet on to watch movies or access my recipes easily when cooking.

Biggest Indulgence: “Twin Towers: Window View” by Joan Cobb Marsh, a painting that I got in Provincetown in 2014. The painting reminded me of the current exhibit that the National Gallery of Art was having at the time on Andrew Wyeth “Looking Out, Looking In” that focused on his “Window” paintings. When I read the title of her piece, I was even more intrigued. Joan had participated in the Artist in Residency Program in the Twin Towers that provided emerging artists with studio space on floors 91 and 92 of the North Tower. During her 6-month residency, Joan painted views in and around the Twin Towers. “Twin Towers: Window View” was painted from her floor in the summer of 2000.

Best Advice: To quote Gloria Vanderbilt, “Decorating is Autobiography.” Design and accessorize your space with personal items that make you happy. Your home should tell your story and not be about pages from a catalog. Break the mold, be quirky and have fun! Design doesn’t have to be so cookie-cutter and serious.

Dream Sources: To be able to get inside the design minds of Kevin Walz, Thomas O’Brien and Chip Kidd! For now GoodWood, Miss Pixie’s, The Flea Market at Eastern Market in DC and auction sites like 1stdibs, Wright, Paddle8 are great resources for me. The auction sites are mainly for inspiration and to train my design eye. There’s nothing better than having an “Indiana Jones” moment when you find a piece from these sites at vintage stores, estate sales and flea markets at a lower price and sometimes even half-off the auction pricing.

Explore this style:

Further resources:


Planter — Modernica
Book Stand — The Container Store
Red Side Table — Kartell


Decorator’s White Paint — Benjamin Moore
Sektion Millwork/Cabinets — IKEA
Stove — IKEA
Dishwasher — Bosch
Refrigerator/Freezer — Blomberg
Counter/Backsplash — Caesarstone
Sink — Elkay
Faucet — Hansgrohe
Ceiling Lighting — Artemide
Flooring — Expanko


Ceiling Fan: The Modern Fan Co.


Decorator’s White Paint — Benjamin Moore
Storage Cabinet — Kartell
Faucet — Danze

Thanks, Irwin!

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