A 550-Square-Foot Studio Proves Life Is Too Short for Boring Apartments

updated Jan 21, 2020

A 550-Square-Foot Studio Proves Life Is Too Short for Boring Apartments

updated Jan 21, 2020
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Name: Isabelle Weiss
Location: Detroit, Michigan
Size: 550 square feet
Years lived in: 1 year, renting

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Isabelle Weiss fell in love with modernism and Mies van der Rohe back in college when she studied 20th century art/design history, which is also when she learned of the significance of the van der Rohe-designed Lafayette Park. “Being the design nerd I am, The Pavilion is very special to me; it was the first Mies van der Rohe apartment tower to go up in Detroit (in 1959) and has more of his original vision, like the floor-to-ceiling windows,” Isabella says. “I share all this because that is why I rent this small (but so efficient) studio, facing the treetops and Canada. This building means something, it represents a significant part of Detroit’s design legacy and at 550 square feet my own apartment is an embodiment of that timeless Mies dictum, ‘Less is more.'”

Isabelle is a contemporary art and design appraiser, curator, and the founder of NEXT:SPACE, Detroit’s sole contemporary design gallery and the only platform dedicated to Detroit-based furniture designers. She calls it a “living archive,” documenting and presenting the people, objects, and stories that drive Detroit’s furniture design legacy (think: American Modernism, Florence Knoll, and Charles and Ray Eames) to new and exciting territory fueled by today’s designers. “Together this building and this apartment make the perfect canvas for what I love and collect: vintage and bespoke furniture with a story,” she says. “So the story of my apartment is really that it is a story within a story—and all the stories are about Detroit design!”

About a year ago, Isabelle also founded a sister company, CollectorAnonymous, an agency specializing in comprehensive art and design collection services for corporate and private clients, because her “thirst for art/design research is apparently insatiable!”

“People always ask me if I dreamed of having a gallery one day, in fact I never had a desire to own a gallery or even become an entrepreneur!” she explains. “It really was my absolute obsession with furniture design, the fact that I saw a huge and growing void in our support for it, and that I could be the one steward of a new generation of this significant, world-renowned design legacy for a city very close to my heart–that is what pushed me to start NEXT:SPACE. Now look, my whole life is intertwined with Detroit design and I would not have it any other way!”

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Style: My style is really driven by collecting. I only bring in things that I feel imbue meaning into the space, and that make me think beyond pure aesthetics, so I think that naturally makes me very eclectic. Because of my profession, I am fortunate to have access to really wonderful pieces both old and new and my aesthetic is very much a mid-century/contemporary cocktail—shaken not stirred—I love to go bold with color, texture, pattern, and materials. I think right now there are at least eight distinct colors in my apartment and a lot of mixed metal action. But balance is important to me and I actually consider myself a minimalist. My walls are white! 

Inspiration: That’s a tough one. Because I try to learn everything when it comes to design and there are a million influences. But really I am inspired more by Detroit’s design legacy than anything; it changed the world and it’s been here all along. I grew up around it, I literally live in it now, and I hope to do my part in shaping its future. Also, if anyone has seen the film “Auntie Mame” with Rosalind Russell—that’s my ultimate style inspiration for all things in life including apartments. 

Favorite Element: I love the view, it is just at the top of the tree line so as the trees bud in spring or change in autumn I see the entire seasons unfold before me. And every morning I open my eyes to a giant swath of just sky. My entire wall of a window becomes this beautiful, changing landscape painting. 

Biggest Challenge: Staying organized is not an option but a necessity when you live in one room. And when you run your own business, let’s just say things can get messy very quickly. So the whole apartment has been designed around evenly dispersed and sometimes hidden storage. 

What Friends Say: They all love it! And I know some of them think I am a bit crazy with my love of patterns and color and investing all my money in furniture. But I think the pure joy I get in collecting and curating can be felt when you walk in and that just makes everyone happy to be here. And they love the view.

Biggest Embarrassment: Don’t tell anyone but sometimes I have to store things in the shower when I have parties! 

Proudest DIY: A table lamp I designed and assembled years ago with vintage glass, some brass washers, and a pipe cutter from Home Depot. I recently added a pale blue silk string shade to it, which makes it look even more pro! My mother and I also made my bed frame, specifically to be easily outfitted as a minimal sofa—I actually made it while I was in college and am finding it very handy for small space living.

Biggest Indulgence: Design. Other than my obsession with vintage lamps and chairs, over the years I have collected a dozen works from designers I represent—colleagues who have become friends and who mean the world to me. Some I have purchased, a few were gifts, but each piece represents the story of my work and, more importantly, the story of its designer. These are design artifacts of the future and I am so happy to make the investment now.

Best Advice: “Live, live, live.”—that’s some sage advice from “Auntie Mame” that I think is perfect for interiors. Furniture and design are built around living, so why not live exactly how you like and live to the fullest? Bring in things that meet your functional AND aesthetic needs. Use the colors that make you happy! Put art on the walls. And don’t be afraid to take a few risks. I believe these are basic tenets of good design—plus, life is too short for boring apartments.

Dream Sources: Unlimited funding to commission a wildly eccentric, super chic building to live and work in. Of course, from Detroit designers, maybe a few Italian designers, too.



  • Walls — Valspar’s Du Jour
  • Vent and other accents throughout the apartment — Scarlet Sun


  • White Lixhult Metal Cabinet — Ikea
  • Grant Czuj, “P1707_1823_029”, 2017. Acrylic painting on canvas — M Contemporary Art
  • Wave Cardholder — Copper by Nina Cho – Hugh
  • (I always need to have cards handy as I fly out the door and this is perfect! It’s the mini-version of the Floor Storage I use to hold books!)
  • Vintage Accessories from local antique malls.


  • Mid-Century Dresser — This came from a friend whom I believe got it from an estate sale.
  • “Isosceles” Mirror — Walnut by Alex Drew and No One – NEXT:SPACE
  • Wainting Fiber Sculpture — Paulaschubatis  
  • Robert Rukavina, “Flamingos”, 1963. Ink drawing on paper. — Stefek’s Auctions.
  • Framed photograph of a Nick Cave Sound Suit, 2011 — Gift
  • Rose Naimo “Ebb Tide 1”, 2014. Etched brass plate — From the artist.
  • After Mark Rothko, “Orange, Brown”, 1963. Poster print — Detroit Institute of Arts Shop 


  • Vintage Glass Dining Table — Habitat for Humanity Restore
  • Vintage Polish Café Chairs — Found and re-stained by hand to great postmodern/Memphis effect by my mother, Rose Naimo Weiss, who is a metal smith and phenomenal designer herself.
  • Lasso Light — Long Sconce by Chad Wentzel MADE – NEXT:SPACE
  • “Tiffany” Soft Sculpture by paulauschubatis — NEXT:SPACE
  • Zuckerhosen, Prototype from the “Thirty-two divided by four” series, 2016. Acrylic walnut and hydrocal sculpture — NEXT:SPACE
  • Susan Tuber, “Untitled:407”, 1987. Embossed woodcut print — Gift
  • Pair of Side Chairs After Hans Wegner, bent plywood with custom upholstery — Stefek’s Auctions
  • Pair of monoprints on paper. “Untitled 1” and “Untitled 2”, 2016 — Deborah Friedman
  • Acrylic painting on paper.“Untitled”, 2017 — Matt Eaton 
  • Custom Hand Painted Mirror — Gift from my mother, also made by my mother. 
  • Vintage Accessories from local antique shops.
  • Blue Lixhult Metal Cabinets — Ikea
  • Vintage Lucite Tulip Lamps, c. 1940 — Marketplace Antiques 
  • Vintage Brass “Bud” Lamp — Gift
  • “IT” Pillow by paulaschubatis — NEXT:SPACE 
  • Vintage Cardboard “Vase” — Salvation Army.


  • “STOP0X7B” hand woven rug by Paulaschubatis — NEXT:SPACE
  • Pair of “Wassily” chairs by Marcel Breuer, c.1970 — Marketplace Antiques
  • “Floor Storage” – Olive by Nina Cho — NEXT:SPACE
  • Mid Century Extendable Coffee Table — It’s seen some wear but this piece is so special to me, it is from my grandfather’s barbershop in Detroit and sat in his waiting room through the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I never met him as he passed away long before I was born and I feel that bringing the table into my space is a way I can honor his memory and connect with his spirit, I will never get it re-finished!
  • “WWJD” Soft Sculpture by paulaschubatis + Monolith Soft Sculpture (Black) by paulaschubatis. — NEXT:SPACE
  • Custom Low Bed frame — Made by myself and my mother.
  • “Rosanna” Soft Sculpture by paulaschubatis — NEXT:SPACE 
  • “Vincent’s Transformation” Lamp by zuckerhosen — NEXT:SPACE
  • Luke Mack, “Envy”, 2017. Acrylic painting on canvas — Galerie Camille
  • Rocky Lamp by Nicholas Tilma — NEXT:SPACE 
  • Pattern:Noise Object (Red) — Cody Norman 
  • Christina Fehan, “P.8”, 2018. Acrylic painting on canvas — CollectorAnonymous
  • “Green Divide” Mirror by Alanis McNier — NEXT:SPACE
  • “Isosceles Mirror” – Hydrangea by Alex Drew and No One — NEXT:SPACE
  • Custom Lamp with Silk String Shade — Cook’s Lampshader’s Company
  • Vintage Accessories from local antique shops.


  • Vintage Clock — Gift
  • Elysia Vandenbussche, “I could be a cup if I wanted to be”, 2018. Porcelain painting — Playground Detroit
  • Chad Wentzel, “Untitled”, 2018. Woodblock print — NEXT:SPACE
  • Framed postcard — Found


  • Original Vanity Mirror with Light — Mies van der Rohe 
  • Vintage Crystal Candle Holder — I can’t remember!

Thanks, Isabelle!