This Couple’s 433-Square-Foot Apartment Was Renovated and Furnished on a Budget

updated Dec 10, 2019
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Credit: Alexis Klein

Tell us your name: Alexis and Kaleb
Location: New Orleans, LA
Size: 433 square feet
Type of home? 1 apartment inside of our 5-plex home that we own
Years lived in: 8 months, owned

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Alexis and Kaleb originally planned on building a double shotgun house in New Orleans. “It seemed natural to us to build something that could make us residual income,” Alexis writes. “But the week we were breaking ground, we got a phone call about a property (a five-plex!) for sale on the exact same street Kaleb grew up on as a kid. Sight unseen, Kaleb and I said, ‘We’ll take it!’ Back in the ’90s, Kaleb’s dad and mom renovated a dilapidated house with their kids. To this day, whether it’s the UPS man or the elderly lady down the street, the longtime people on our block come by to chat with Kaleb and me to share old stories and new memories.”

They have been tirelessly renovated the five-plex since purchasing it and currently live in this small unit, just 433 square feet big. All of the other units are rented, with the exception of the one they’re currently finishing, which will be for an Airbnb rental! And while the small home they’ve made in this one-bedroom apartment is just perfect for them right now, it won’t be their forever home. “We’ve basically made up our minds that renovating and building homes will be our lifelong side hustle,” Alexis admits. “So while we absolutely love the five-plex and plan to keep it forever, the Kleins aren’t bent on staying in the same place for too long. But who knows what the future holds!” 

Credit: Alexis Klein

My style: In our world, dirt and diesel follow Kaleb home every single day. So while my personal style is eclectic and curated, Kaleb’s style is functionality over everything. Most days we’re trying to find a middle ground where he can come home and just relax and where I don’t have to obsessively clean dirt off every pillow or cabinet. But back to being eclectic… two of my favorite pieces in our home include my grandmother’s antique golden headboard and one of her antique French chairs in our bedroom. From furniture to knick-knacks, Kaleb and I both have a love for repurposing vintage things. I can’t even tell you how many times he’s found some super old, cool something from one of his demolition jobs. 

Credit: Alexis Klein

My Inspiration: From walking around our neighborhood filled with historic New Orleans homes to stumbling upon original features of this house as we bring our five-plex back to life, inspiration surrounds us. One time in our attic, we found hand-written music from the late 1800s and ledgers from what seems like a German-owned local grocery store in the early 1900s! It’s really something to pick up on this house where someone else’s hands left off. It feels like somehow we’re carrying on their legacy in some small way. 

Credit: Alexis Klein

Favorite element: It’s a tie. We LOVE the exposed brick fireplace that accents our kitchen and our bathroom. It’s a piece of history that’s stood the test of time, and getting to bring it back to life was the most fulfilling thing ever. I am also a sucker for our cozy reading nook where I can meditate on whatever I’m reading in my Bible that day or something useful I learned from my Enneagram description (any fives in the house?). Something about the old school lamp in that tiny nook… it takes me back to the old New Orleans street corners with gas-burning lanterns lighting the way home and the sounds of a local street musician floating through the air. Kaleb and I have a thing for nostalgia and both the bricks and the reading nook elicit that for us. 

Biggest indulgence: Our Sleep Number bed. We’re old souls… so it’s only fitting that we were most interested in buying a bed that would give us strong back support and high quality of sleep. But seriously, we used nearly all of our furniture budget to buy this bed because we wanted options when it came to mattress firmness, back support, and an adjustable base that lets us sit upright, lie flat, or something in between. Renovation work is hard on your body, people! 

Credit: Alexis Klein

Proudest DIY: Does every square inch of our apartment count? But really, it’s so cool to wake up in the morning and marvel together at all of our hard work. I’m most proud of how great the brick fireplace turned out, after I spent six hours just chiseling plaster off of it. I’m also pretty proud of the four paintings over our couch. I really like this brand Loloi Rugs and when they introduced their textile wall art, I fell in love. But I thought it would be more fun (and budget friendly) to make my own version! I love those little things. Kaleb’s proudest DIY is definitely a tie between building our custom closet and creating our custom shower. He’s ridiculously creative and capable, so it’s really fun watching his ideas come to life. 

Biggest challenge: Forever and always, storage. Four hundred square feet can fill up real quick if you’re not on your toes about keeping only the essentials. But with a husband who owns a heavy construction company, the essentials include saws, hammers, diesel fuel, dump trucks, and so on. It’s pretty typical that on any given day I pull into our driveway next to a giant machine or dump truck. Other than storage, it’s definitely got to be what I mentioned earlier about functionality and design. The gray couch, the black cabinet knobs… those are little accents I threw into our home to relieve the pressures of having an all-white interior.

Credit: Alexis Klein

Best advice: Every couple and every family is different. Allow yourself the time and space to really learn your spouse or your kids, their habits and interests, the things that fill their life with joy and meaning. From that understanding, you can continue to create a space where it’s comfortable to just be and where you’re free to relax and unwind. Also, get yourself on a budget. I cannot tell you how much stress we’ve saved ourselves from going through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class and learning how to work as a team when it comes to finances. We could buy (or forego) certain elements in our house from a place of peace and patience because we were both on board with our budget! 

Credit: Alexis Klein

Thanks Alexis and Kaleb! This interview’s responses were edited for length and clarity.

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