This Grad Student’s 350-Square-Foot Studio Is Stylishly Inspiring

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(Image credit: Zahra Clayborne)

Name: Zahra Clayborne, my cat, Tenny
Location: Ottawa — Ontario, Canada
Size: 350 square feet
Years lived in: 2 years, renting

I am a PhD candidate at the University of Ottawa, studying psychiatric epidemiology (that’s a mouthful!). I moved here two years ago from Calgary, and this is my first apartment. I knew I was going to be here a while (thanks grad school), so I wanted to make sure I had a space I was proud of, and that would be comforting after a long day in class or doing work. That sense of peace and comfort in one’s own home is especially important for me, as I struggle with depression (it’s why I’ve made mental health research my life’s work), and being in a space that is warm and inviting is very helpful. That, and having a pet helps too—I adopted my cat, Tenny, two months after I moved here! He leaves cat hair everywhere, but it wouldn’t be home without him.

(Image credit: Zahra Clayborne)

I grew up with three younger siblings and a single mom (who, by the way, is basically Superwoman)—obviously, home decor was not really a priority in our house. I remember spending hours online as a teenager dreaming of what my first apartment would be like (there was definitely a vision board or two), and what it would feel like once I got there. Well, I definitely got brought down to earth when I arrived in my very, very empty apartment in September 2016. A mix-up with my scholarship cheque and some poor planning on my part meant that I spent the first six weeks here with nothing but an air mattress (where I studied, slept, watched TV, and ate).

(Image credit: Zahra Clayborne)

My apartment represents two years of hard work, finding some extra cash here and there to add something new. I’m really proud of what it has become! My next project is helping my mom put together her dream home—she bought her first home a few years ago, but hasn’t really decorated it yet, and I want her to feel that same sense of comfort and accomplishment that I do every time I walk through my front door.

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Cozy, modern, and mostly monochromatic.

(Image credit: Zahra Clayborne)

What is your favorite room and why? It’s all one big room, but I am in love with the kitchen. It’s a rare find in a studio apartment of this size, but I love having a large, renovated kitchen since I’m an avid cook. There’s a little shelf by the window where my cat sits—he usually lounges there and watches me cook. I even have an entire cabinet dedicated to all my weird kitchen projects—I’ve got kombucha and kimchi fermenting in there right now!

(Image credit: Zahra Clayborne)

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? I bought a gray velvet chair for my desk from West Elm. It feels really indulgent, especially on my meager grad student stipend, but hey, I spend a lot of time at my desk, so I think it’s worth it (and I did get it for 40 percent off)!

(Image credit: Zahra Clayborne)

Any advice for creating a home you love? Create with intention. I think this is especially important with small space living—make sure every piece in your home is something that you love and have put thought into purchasing. I don’t necessarily buy into the need for every item in a small apartment to have multiple functions—for example, I have a large marble table in front of my couch. It’s not the most functional piece, but it is the centerpiece of my home, and every time I look at it, it makes me happy! Sure, I could get something with a lot of storage—but I don’t think it would make me feel the same way.

Thanks, Zahra!

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