Before and After: A Small Living Room Redo Makes the Most of a Tiny (70-Inch!) Space

published Jul 8, 2023
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About this before & after
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Before: Small living room with exposed brick
Credit: Paulina Brown

It’s easy to romanticize old New York apartments, with their tall windows, white walls, exposed brick, and (sometimes) fancy molding. But one thing that becomes a lot less romantic upon move-in is the small square footage that comes with any apartment in any city where people live practically stacked on top of one another. 

Credit: Paulina Brown

The Brooklyn apartment that Paulina Brown lives in has some of that classic NYC charm — it’s got arched windows, exposed brick, and glass French doors *insert a hundred or so heart-eye emojis* — but it’s also got that big-city small square footage. The entire place is just 275 square feet, and the TV and living room area is one tiny corner of it. 

Credit: Paulina Brown

“When I measured it to try and buy a couch, I was dismayed to discover that at its widest point, it measured less than 70 inches across,” Paulina says. Her room redo was all about “putting a premium on items that had multipurpose uses — particularly storage items.”

A few small-space ideas you can borrow from this small-but-chic living room? First, a loveseat will have to suffice for a sofa, and there are plenty of stylish ones to shop out there. Paulina’s is a secondhand find, a Victorian velvet sofa she bought in Bed-Stuy. She’s proud that her big furniture finds were sourced secondhand and each “from different corners of the city.”

Credit: Paulina Brown

“I think finding random things that one likes and finding a way for them to exist together is just the best,” she says. As for her orange sofa, Paulina says: “I admit that at first I did think it was a slightly noxious Dorito color of orange, but I have grown fond of it now.” So here comes the second tip: Bright colors work in small spaces, too. Don’t be worried that they’ll overwhelm. 

And third, Paulina says in a small space, you’ll have to make smart use of corners. “[My] building is built with a diagonal facade, so the corners of rooms in my apartment meet in bizarre acute angles instead of right angles, which definitely loses a lot of valuable space in already tight quarters,” she says. “It had never occurred to me that my apartment’s corners wouldn’t be right angles, but this was a hurdle when choosing what furniture would really be a functional winner in my apartment over another.” 

Credit: Paulina Brown

Normally, Paulina says, corners are where you might want rectangle-shaped things like bookshelves, dressers, or desks. “When two walls meet in a sharp ‘V,’ that’s just not possible,” she says. “I’ve tried to use the odd corners in other ways. They’ve become the homes of periodically used small pieces of furniture — magazine stands, ottomans, plant stands — that I can move around with ease if I need to and don’t take up any critically needed space.”

Other hardworking furniture in the space includes a trunk that doubles as storage and a side table, two footstools that function as a coffee table and extra seating, and a slim console-turned-TV stand. 

Lastly, Paulina hung artwork vertically to accentuate the tall ceilings in the small space and make the entire room feel larger. 

Credit: Paulina Brown

“I was able to take all my loose art items to Michael’s and get some frames and mats myself, and then used the Michael’s custom framing department for the few that needed custom mats and frames,” she says. “Getting to choose all the matting and frames to tie into the orange/red tones and gold accents of the other stuff in the room was a fun little artistic endeavor and an unexpected bit of artistic expression for me.” Her tip for fellow renters who love to hang artwork is to have a tube of nail-filler paste on hand always. 

Two more tips from Paulina for furnishing an eclectic, quintessential city apartment like this one? Comb through Craiglist religiously, and do “A LOT of measuring,” she says. Thanks for the tips, Paulina!