A Creative Couple’s 420-Square-Foot Studio in Hell’s Kitchen

updated Apr 14, 2019
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(Image credit: Will Strawser )

Name: Will Strawser, Kate Brown
Location: Hells Kitchen, New York City
Size: 420 square feet
Years lived in: 2 weeks!, renting

I never get tired of seeing couples living in tiny quarters—and doing so not only stylishly, but in a way that actually functions. Will (an advertising and editorial portrait photographer) and Kate have fit in work areas, an inviting kitchen, comfy lounge space and even a place to make s’mores over an open fire, all in their cozy Hell’s Kitchen studio apartment in a pre-war building.

(Image credit: Will Strawser )

Will writes: “Kate and I fell in love with this typically iconic NYC loft apartment that we just moved into two weeks ago. There was just something so New York about the large nine-pane window overlooking a loft balcony, which floods with light and make us feel at home.”

(Image credit: Will Strawser )

“…The space leading from the kitchen into the bar area has a rather odd shape to it, and we scratched our head for a while trying to figure that space out. One day, I got a text from Kate saying ‘You need to get over to this smoke shop on 51st right away!’ I head over there to see Kate walking out of the shop with a garbage bag FULL of various cigar boxes. She had bartered with the owner of the shop, trading him a bunch of old magazines that she had collected from her job in publishing. So with free cigar boxes in hand we now saw the perfect opportunity to outfit that odd little space with eclectic shelving and a hiding area to hang up our keys and store my wallet.”

(Image credit: Submitted by Will)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Mid-Century, Timeless, Modern Eclectic

Inspiration: Although it’s hard to make the direct connection, we took a lot of inspiration from our weekend trips discovering the city over the past year, especially the historic and period rooms at the MET. The bedroom from the Sagredo Palace for instance is breathtaking and we will plan to take more “inspiration” from that room as we continue to work on the bedroom loft space. The warmth of the gold, greens, and salmon hues just feel so inviting and luxurious.

(Image credit: Will Strawser )

Favorite Element: My favorite area is definitely the bar area. It is very comfortable and relaxing to sit and enjoy a glass of wine and unwind together after a long day. My favorite element of the space in general is the large 13-foot windows. The light that pours in through this behemoth is undeniably beautiful, and during a thunderstorm it can be surreal to take in. Another cool thing that I love is that Kate recently got me a small indoor tabletop fireplace because I always talk about how much I miss having a real fireplace from my previous apartment. This little guy is made by ModaFlame and is really stylish and modern looking. We fill it up with a bit of ethanol fuel when the sun goes down and it creates a beautiful, safe, elegant atmosphere.

Biggest Challenge: I would say the biggest challenge we ran into when moving in was the fact that the walls had a lot of damage from previous tenants. From plastic wall sinkers that had just been puttied over, to large 3-4″ holes that had been poorly patched. There is nothing that can kill the look of a place more than shoddy basic construction. Luckily we found an amazing solution. I had always wanted to use reclaimed wood for a wall, and I ended up finding a great deal on a bunch of boards. It proved to be a quick, simple and cheap fix to hiding most of the horrible wall damage. In fact, it ended up being cheaper than painting.

What Friends Say: Since we just moved in and most of that time has been spent getting the place ready, it’s only been seen by a few. Everyone who has seen it can’t believe that we took the risk to put in the reclaimed walls, but after I explain that they’re tongue and groove design allowed me to mount with nothing more than roughly 20 small 1″ finishing nails they are astonished.

Biggest Embarrassment: We painted the front door of the kitchen 3 times… 3 different colors… before just painting back to the grey that we had done the entire kitchen in. I just couldn’t get on board with how basic that grey was until we had the awesome idea of painting all the hardware on the door gold. Now it’s got this cool “glamour bank vault” look to it.

Proudest DIY: 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!

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Biggest Indulgence: Overall we stayed fairly lean with our spending for this new move. As anyone in NYC will tell you, moving into a new place can set you back quite a bit initially with first, last months rent, security deposit, AND realtor broker fee. So basically you’re paying four months rent up front. OUCH. So most of our apartment is decked out in street finds, craigslist deals, online discounts, and flea market bargains. There was this one quirk though: The outdoor building buzzer requires a landline phone to operate, who has a landline phone anymore? So instead of getting some lame white touch-tone phone so we could actually let in the pizza delivery guy; we splurged and found this awesome reproduction period rotary phone to do the trick. It’s pretty awesome, When the old phone rings, I know I’m moments away from my tasty ramen.

Best Advice: Stay calm, fluid, and inspired. It’s so easy to go hunting online for inspiration, find exactly what you would LOVE to do, and then not be able to truly pull it off because of space restriction, time, or money. I feel like making a space a home is its own artistic expression. So as such, it needs to go through that process. Your ideas will change and grow, you will encounter problems every step of the way; but if you’re lucky you can get inspired by those challenges and find a solution that perhaps is even better than what was originally planned.

Dream Sources: This is a harder question to answer than it sounds… of course we would be happy just having an infinite budget at Restoration Hardware or Gracious Home. To be honest though, a true DREAM source would be a baroque collection at Sotheby’s or Christies. But alas, we will save those auctions for that dreamscape where we are rolling in the dough.


(Image credit: Will Strawser )

Thanks, Will and Kate! Find more of Will’s work on willtravels.com and willinmotion.com.

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