Before and After: 280 Square Feet Never Looked So Good

published Apr 23, 2018
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(Image credit: Kate Walter)

When I saw this photo, I thought, “Ah yes, the classic teeny studio, how I have loved/hated you. Not much to do but save up for a fold-out couch, add a tall-as-possible shelf, find a table that can double as a desk, and spend lots of time out of the apartment.” Oh, how wrong I was!

(Image credit: Kate Walter)

This is glorious. I would never have guessed it was the same space, and I would NEVER have guessed you can fit a sofa, dresser, table and chairs, music station, floor lamp, lush plants, bedside tables, and a canopy bed in 280 square feet, all without it feeling crowded or chaotic. Kate Walter is responsible for this daring and dramatic transformation, and the bar for studio apartments has officially been raised.

(Image credit: Kate Walter)

The story of how Kate came to obtain this apartment has a bit of its own drama:

Back in mid-February my apartment building in Little Italy burned down and I needed to find a new home ASAP. Luckily no one was hurt, but the fire damage was extensive throughout the building and every tenant was forced to move out immediately. After weeks of hotel-hopping, couch-hopping, and apartment hunting (during which time I was also combating the flu- definitely a low point in my life), I found this East Village studio apartment in early March. It needed some TLC, but was only a few blocks from my old place, was available immediately, and was a decent size for a Manhattan studio (approx 280 sq ft) for the price. Having my own place in Manhattan has always been a goal of mine- sometimes the universe works in mysterious ways.

I took the “before” photos the first day my lease began as I was starting to tape and clean the place before I began painting.

It’s nice that the kitchen is separated from the rest of the living space by the peninsula. The hue of the cabinetry is perhaps not ideal, but it looks like all of the finishes are in great shape.

(Image credit: Kate Walter)

Impressively, Kate has created a real dining room, delineated by art, a rug, and a pendant. The sparkly new ceiling light is a major improvement over what I assume was a typical apartment boob light, and the clear chairs take up no visual space.

It’s hard to believe such a thorough look could have been put together so quickly:

I moved in on March 14th and gave myself 30 days to totally revamp the place. I knew I wanted to replace my fire damaged items as quickly as I could so that I could get that sense of “home” back that I had been missing. The amount of gratitude I have for this home after being without one in New York City for almost a month is indescribable. Because of the fire, I was given the opportunity to essentially start from scratch and find pieces that fit the space instead of making previously purchased items work. It was a daunting task, but exciting. I had never painted a room before, but I knew the only way I could live happily with the not-great cherry cabinets/tan granite countertops combo would be if there was a dark color on the walls. Everyone I told my plan to paint my new studio “essentially black” warned me strongly against it- but I obviously didn’t listen. I painted the place myself after watching a YouTube video on “How to Paint a Room”. I sat in the empty space and played with different layouts using painter’s tape on the floor to represent furniture, visualized different color schemes, different ways to display the artwork I had painted over the years, etc. I hired a handy man to hang my TV, 2 mirrors, the shelf, and my chandelier. Aside from that I did the work 100% myself (including lugging the table, chairs, rugs, etc up the 4 flights of stairs- no elevator in my building!).

What I’ve learned from this is: 1) that painter’s tape trick is brilliant; and 2) Kate is a force to be reckoned with. (Side note: seeing the need to replace all one’s possessions as an “opportunity” is remarkable.) It is incredible how wonderful the cabinets look with the wall paint; the look is rich and elegant, and while the lighting is certainly better, the change is impressive. Has any of you been able to improve (or neutralize) subpar cabinetry just by painting the walls around them?

(Image credit: Kate Walter)

I believe that’s a closet in the back left corner, but it doesn’t look very accommodating. That floor, however, if gorgeous!

(Image credit: Kate Walter)

That couch is really indulgent—plenty of seating for parties in this studio—and I love an extra-high bookshelf. The books can still be admired without intruding on usable space.

I wouldn’t do anything differently- I love every detail of the apartment. It is all incredibly intentional.The black furniture fades into the dark wall and makes the room feel larger. I created separation of “bedroom,” “living room,” and “dining room” with the use of rugs. I painted the back wall from the original cream color to a bright white to trick the eye into thinking the entire wall is a light source. Not only that- the entire apartment really represents me as a person. From my personal artwork on the walls, to the books on the shelves, to the PS4 with only 1 corresponding game (Guitar Hero, of course), to the 6 boxes of cereal in the cabinet labeled “Kate’s Cereal Station”- everything reflects who I am and what I love. Most importantly, not only is it good looking (if I do say so myself), it is fully functional. The black under-the-bed boxes store my shoes, extra books, and purses. The grey settee is perfectly measured to be able to push in for easy access to the cabinet under the island (where I keep “hobbies & games”). Extra sweaters & coats are stored under the couch- everything has a place and is incredibly organized.

I would like Kate to invent a time machine, then use it to travel back in time and makeover all of my studio apartments. They were always completely cobbled together—mostly due to lack of funds, but I definitely never possessed the clear vision that Kate has. That one-white-wall thing is a great trick for apartments of any size. I didn’t even notice it was white, it just read as bright and sunny.

(Image credit: Kate Walter)

The television looks so good above the dresser—elegant, even—the large mirror above the bed is a nice touch, and the hanging plants add levels of interest. I can’t imagine having had room for a full-sized globe in any of my studios, but Kate’s fits into the limited space perfectly. Here’s some post-makeover advice for anyone considering dark walls:

Don’t be scared of dark paint! Especially in smalls spaces- contrary to popular belief, dark paint makes small spaces feel larger. It blurs the line of where the wall starts and stops. It also acts as a neutral- so is easy to decorate around and really makes colors POP. Also, I’ll say it once I’ll say it 1000 times- the key to making ANY space cozy are BOOKS, RUGS, PLANTS, and LAMPS. If you have those 4 things- no matter what your space will be lovely.

That is great advice for all of us, and I never thought of it in such plain, helpful terms!

Thank you, Kate Walter!