Mary Lee’s Life in 300 Square Feet

published Mar 6, 2013
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Name: Mary Lee
Location: Austin, Texas
Size: 300 square feet
Years lived in: 8 months

That’s not a typo. Mary Lee’s Austin studio is only 300 square feet, yet it somehow seems so spacious, so open, and so comfortable. Come on in, take a peek and let Mary Lee show you that living in 300 square feet is not only possible, but it’s perhaps all the room you really need.

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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Mary Lee likes a challenge, and when she came across a cramped studio space in Austin she jumped at the chance to completely renovate it, making it all her own. You have to be inventive to live in such a small space and have room for all the interests Mary Lee has (she’s an artist, and often works from home as a UI designer). So you’ll quickly notice that almost everything inside the studio is on wheels, allowing the space to be configured according to the day’s demands.

You’ll feel surprisingly relaxed and at ease in the studio thanks to some old interior design tricks — the mirrored finish of her dresser and closet cabinets make them seemingly disappear, while drawing the eye beyond the walls of the studio. The white finish of the shelves and desks along the long edge of the studio makes them blend right into the white walls they’re anchored onto.

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She even put a lot of forethought into the furniture she acquired — the dimensions of her sofa bed allow for it to completely fold out from just about any corner of the living area. Mary Lee doesn’t mind living small, because it leads you to simplify your life and focus on what you really need. Which is why one look at Mary Lee’s place is all it takes to know immediately what’s important to her — art, inspiration (lined on the walls of her kitchen), and versatility. Don’t miss the tour gallery filled with lots of Mary Lee’s great ideas for maximizing a space.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Eclectic Tailored Glam.

Inspiration: Tuxedos, Living etc. magazine, Dark Botanical, Mid Century Modern, New York, StudioTen25 blog , Street Art, industrial, fashion.

Favorite Element: Accent pillows I made from the fabric I bought in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey. Fabric — The best souvenir!

Biggest Challenge: Space, and I loved this challenge. I’m a huge fan of efficiency and multifunctioning design. Combine limited space and a limited budget and you can get real creative and have much less waste generally. This challenge demands thoughtful design. Before I started, I imagined how I wanted to use the space and what its purpose was. From there, I started to make a list of components that would work in many scenarios, like painting, entertaining, sleeping, or sewing. For example, the gray studded stools fit snugly under my multipurpose desk/table for extra seating, but also can be a side table and used for storage.

What Friends Say: “This is so Mary.” “I want to live here.” “The perfect place for a single lady.” “Crash pad when you want to get away and ignore the world and create something awesome.” “Feels big considering it’s actually insanely small.”

Biggest Embarrassment: Construction Noise. My poor neighbors had to deal with the noise and were amazing about it. Thank you for being patient sweet neighbors. Luckily we got in there and got out in under 2 months with the major stuff.

Proudest DIY: I think it’s a tie between my door window bulletin board coat rack complete with a peephole and my multifunctioning bar top display cubbies.

For some reason there is a large glass window in the one door to my place. Since most of my light comes from the window on the other side of my place and there is little light coming from the alley where you enter, I felt the window unnecessary and not very safe. For the bulletin board cover, I had plywood cut to the size of the window, painted it white on the outside facing, covered the inside with cork, added a white frame, drilled in a few hooks and a peep hole, then drilled it into the inside of the window. Now I can stick a grocery list on it, hang my purse and coat, and have a more secure entry.

My multifunctioning bar top display cubbies: I removed the older bar top, and instead of replacing it with pricey countertops, I created a space that would extend the counter space by doubling the surface. Now there is storage for documents while working on your laptop at the bar or maybe just a good place for my keys to land when I walk in the door. I love how it can also act as a display and store beautiful little nostalgic trinkets for safe keeping. In order to create this, all you need to do is create a basic framework and add a piece of glass on top of some grippers.

Biggest Indulgence: The Sofa Bed. I was looking for simple but stylish sleeper sofa option that was small enough for the space as well as COMFORTABLE for a daily bed. I did a lot of research before I decided on this couch. From what I found, American Leather company was one of the top sleeper sofas out there. Instead of a traditional built in spring mattress, it folds out to a plank and is a memory foam mattress. Also it takes up the smallest width and length to fit perfectly in a number of places in the small space if I get bored of the layout.

Best Advice: The scene from An American in Paris where Gene Kelly is moving around this tiny Paris studio and doing a number of activities in a very small square footage is inspirational to me. Buy things that have a purpose in your life. If it is not functional or doesn’t evoke a valuable emotion, like inspiration or nostalgia, then it’s not necessary. Don’t clutter your space with stuff, supply it with purpose. Don’t think of it so much as decorating but more of curating a collection over time that best tells the story of you.

Dream Sources: If I could create my space to be entirely green, that would be ideal. Instead I try to contribute by not buying completely new things unless I have to, and repurposing things that are lightly used or vintage, or using materials that are scraps from larger jobs that would just get thrown away otherwise. I enjoy sifting the thrift stores and Etsy shops to find the unique gems. It also cuts down on the buildup of stuff when you are highly selective.

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Resources of Note:


    • Blank canvas neutrals is what I’ve found is the best solution for me with my ever changing color preferences. For all of the large pieces and components, walls, curtains, shelves, cabinets, countertops couch, floors, I chose black, metallics, whites, browns, grays, and taupe. I tried to make them invisiblelike to help give an illusion of more space. But also lets the color I do choose shine!
    • I find I save money when I add the color through accessory items. They are less expensive to change then a couch or the floors.
    • I wanted to add a happy yet earthy chic character throughout the place and I love the classic tailored look of black and white paired with botanical dark green and pops of yellow, cyan, and hot pink.



    • Pendent light above bar: Lights Fantastic, Austin, TX
    • Counter Top Remnants: Top Surface, Austin, TX
    • Subway Tile: The Tile Guy, Austin, TX
    • Nespresso
    • Bar chairs: etsy shop Modern Hindsight MCM



    • “You look great” wood letters: custom made by etsy shop Oh Dier Living
    • Other items from Goodwill, and garage sales



(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Thanks so much, Mary Lee!

(Images: Chris Perez)

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