A 615-Square-Foot Portland Rental Is Full of DIYs and Clever Rental Hacks
Can't-Miss House Tours Straight to Your Inbox
Keep up with our latest house tours each weekday with our House Tour of the Day newsletter
Name: Gretchen Raguse
Location: SE Portland, Oregon
Size: 615 square feet
Type of Home: One-bedroom Apartment
Years Lived In: 3 years, renting
“I fell in love with my apartment the second I saw it,” admits Gretchen Raguse, who’s been renting this 615-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in Southeast Portland for three years. “Growing up in Portland, I feel the most connected with the character of the Eastside. I stumbled upon this spot during my daily Craigslist scroll and realized it was exactly where I wanted to be in the city. It checked all my boxes; it’s walking distance to my favorite park, close to great places to eat and shop, and it had the charm I was looking for.”
Gretchen says she loves the architectural details like hardwood floors, arches, and the 1920s-era elements, but the apartment’s layout and large amounts of storage were also big selling points. “It has its quirks, but I enjoy making the most of the ‘landlord special’ and I’ve been grateful to give this blank canvas my personal touch,” describes Gretchen. Some of those changes have been small DIYs like renter-friendly fabric wallpaper accent walls, to significant add-ons to the small kitchen to make it much more functional.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Eclectic, Curated, Repurposed, Functional, Maximalist
Inspiration: I draw inspiration from DIY enthusiasts and influencers — people who tackle all kinds of creative projects and encourage me to do the same, like Hannah Lee Duggan, Drew Scott, and Cynthia Moreno. I’m driven by designers like Amber Lewis, Kelly Wearstler, Nate Berkus, and Jeremiah Brent, but a lot of my inspiration comes from the objects I find or that have been passed down to me.
Favorite Element: I love using vintage fabric as wallpaper. I came across this idea on Apartment Therapy a few years ago, and knew I needed to try it out in my own space. For me, the application is much easier and more affordable than that of traditional wallpaper or peel and stick. The added texture of the fabric feels high-end, contemporary, and gives the space a unique personality.
I started with an accent wall in my kitchen, meant to visually divide the area for my office. Repurposing a dress my mom made in the ’70s, I cut and pasted the fabric together to form a repeating pattern. I only had enough to cover a small section, so I added trim and beadboard to fill out the wall.
Fabric as wallpaper quickly became an obsession of mine and made its way through my apartment. After the accent wall, I added it to my hallway ceiling and bedroom. Even my friend’s place got a fabric makeover!
Biggest Challenge: Incorporating my ugly 1950s brown, beat-up, floor-to-ceiling wall heater was definitely my biggest challenge. As soon as I moved in, I knew I needed to get creative with how I would conceal this eyesore. I contracted a friend of mine to build a custom heater cover, complete with three raw-edge walnut shelves.
I envisioned this design to resemble a mantel, providing space for decor and other seasonal tchotchkes, while still factoring in the functionality of the heater behind it. Once the cover was built, I painted the main structure to blend in with my apartment walls. I’m very pleased with how it turned out and it’s been a wonderful solution to an unsightly problem.
Proudest DIY: The kitchen was lackluster to begin with. The original cupboards and countertops only lined one side of the room, leaving just a stove and a small set of recessed shelves on the opposite wall. I wanted the stove to feel more integrated and needed more storage in general, so I built a series of freestanding kitchen cabinets and counters using mostly secondhand materials.
I rehabilitated a discarded lower cabinet to function as my coffee bar, food prep area, and home for my microwave. This floor unit is tucked into the right side corner and gives the stove a built-in feel.
On the left side of the stove, I sourced an old dining room buffet, which I purchased at an estate sale. By turning this piece sideways, and aligning it to the recessed wall shelves, I created a small kitchen peninsula. This added counter space and divided the kitchen into a cooking area on the right and a small office area on the left.
Unfortunately, this orientation exposed the buffet’s unfinished backside near the stove and required extensive cosmetic work. When finished, this gave me a convenient place to hang my cutting boards.
The front side of the buffet has two doors giving me easy access to ample storage for office supplies. With a little more effort, I also replaced the top and added lift-up hinges to create an optional standing desk.
To complete the kitchen design, I repurposed an old bathroom storage cupboard, salvaged from a remodel, and secured it to the wall directly above the stove. It was shallow enough to allow room for cooking to happen underneath, and its extra height mimicked the original built-ins. I then used a variety of open air shelving to fill out the remaining wall space.
With all of these upgrades, my kitchen now shines and the space feels functional, dual-purpose, and complete.
Budget: I’m a frugal girl, so budget is always a priority when decorating. I’m also a thrifting expert and pride myself on finding killer deals. For instance, I found the round, blue corner chair in my living room online for just $20. This same chair is often listed at upwards of $2k. Finding deals like this is part of my process and it’s how I furnished my apartment while keeping my budget incredibly low.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? Apart from an office in the kitchen, I’ve carved out a number of dual-purpose spots in my home by utilizing a strategic layout and every inch of storage available. I worked hard to maximize my square footage through creating intentional and inventive solutions to make my space multifunctional.
I have a makeshift yoga studio stored in my living room credenza. When the motivation strikes, I can easily grab what I need to work out and set up in front of the mirror I installed on the back of my bathroom door. In my main closet, I have a fold-down ironing board and drying rack attached to the inside of each door.
When they’re open, my laundry station is ready to go. In my front doorway I added an eye hook to hang a hammock chair on nice days. It captures the feeling of having a sunroom and extends my living space into a shared courtyard. All of this easily tucks away, but gives me options, and makes my small home more enjoyable!
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: Buy a label maker and get obsessed with it! It’s my favorite way to create order in the home. Other than that, the rest comes with a lot of trial and error. I have moved the dishes in my kitchen from one cabinet to another, too many times to count. I keep going until I have a system in place that functions smoothly with my lifestyle and makes the most sense spatially.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? ABT. Always Be Thrifting. Most everything can be sourced secondhand or made yourself. Thrift often and think outside the box. Check out resale and secondhand shops, online marketplaces, estate sales, and friends’ throwaways.
Then, take your time making the space feel good for you. Start with the things you love, and see what develops. Don’t be constrained to a certain style or design, because sometimes the best solutions are discovered in the process. The worth becomes what you create from what you find. Best of all, you save a lot of money!
This tour’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.
Share Your Style: House Tour & House Call Submission Form