Look through any shelter magazine and you’ll see palatial pads filled with custom furniture and pricey art. But many New Yorkers barely have room to fit both a couch and dining table.
That’s precisely why design site Apartment Therapy hosts a competition almost every year highlighting tiny spaces that are also big on style. “We get more reader emails asking us to bring back the Small/Cool Contest than we do about anything else combined,” Apartment Therapy editor-in-chief Laura Schocker tells The Post.
The coronavirus, though, added a whole new wrinkle. “We planned this contest before we were all stuck at home,” Schocker says. “So it was exciting to see how creative people were with their spaces.”
We chatted with some of the New York City finalists to learn how they made sub-300-square-foot apartments livable during lockdown.
Kim White, Bedford-Stuyvesant | 296 square feet
White has managed to make big items fit flawlessly in her cozy studio, which she rented after a breakup two years ago.
“I needed the space to be safe, tranquil and calm,” says White, a thirtysomething makeup artist. “But I also wanted it to be a reflection of who I am as a single person.”
The amateur designer uses a brass trunk as a coffee table and turned a closet into a home office. She bought a towering three-arched mirror for $250 on Facebook Marketplace that dominates the wall behind the couch.
“I’m not a huge trinket person,” White said. “I’m a big earring, big hair, big everything girl. So, having a big piece did not scare me at all.”
The couch is a pull-out bed, the coffee table hides small items, and the banquet is filled with hidden storage. Her Murphy-style bed folds up into the wall opposite the sofa.
“I have enough space to store my gym equipment, work supplies, nail polish, etc.,” White explains. “So, I don’t have to have a lot out in the open.”
And her chic tufted banquette, across from the couch, is actually a DIY hack using an Ikea Besta storage unit and Brady Tolbert’s tutorial for a tufted headboard. It just took some basic supplies like wood, foam and fabric.
White’s greatest DIY project, though, has to be the self-installed in-unit washer and dryer. “Since I was stuck inside during the pandemic, I gave myself a project to feel accomplished,” White says. “I rigged up a 16-inch washer and dryer that holds about a 10-pound load into the window of my bathroom. It helped me stay sane.”
Read more about White’s digs on Apartment Therapy.
KC Cibran, Upper East Side | 280 square feet
A Miami native, Cibran, 26, wanted to create a tropical getaway in her fourth-floor walk-up — and used just about every DIY trick to make it happen.
“I didn’t have a big budget,” says Cibran, an executive assistant. “So, my goal was to get as much as I could secondhand, on sale, or repurpose it.”
The gallery wall above the TV, for example, is made up of postcards, tiles, records and old birthday cards, while the baskets and crates used as storage were found at thrift shops. “One of my favorite pieces has to be the tea towel my aunt got in the ’60s during the women’s rights movement,” says Cibran. “I got it framed and turned it into art.”
Cibran has followed leads from a popular Instagram account, Stooping NYC, to scoop up items others have discarded — like a rattan chair that sits in a windowed corner. “I found this beautiful chair on the street, dragged it all the way home, and just added new cushions to it,” Cibran says. “It took effort, but it was free.”
She did splurge on one item. “I had been eyeing an Edison bulb lamp from All Modern for years now and I finally got it,” beams Cibran, who placed it between her bed and the window. “It warmed up the whole room and is definitely one of my favorite purchases ever.”
And while the living space has come together quickly in the short five months she’s lived there; it was the kitchen that posed the hardest problem. “It was just so bland,” adds Cibran. “I wanted to create a kitchen where I enjoyed cooking.”
One tiny silver lining of the coronavirus lockdown was that it provided the perfect opportunity to tackle the project. She used peel-and-stick tiles to make a fake backsplash. Then she removed the cabinet doors to create an open-concept kitchen and curated the shelves using shelf inserts, crates and baskets from Ikea. “I was terrified to do it,” Cibran says. “But it was an easy way to bring a lot of style to one space. Plus, the inserts added more storage.”
Read more about Cibran’s digs on Apartment Therapy. (Readers voted it No. 1 in the “tiny” category.)
Jenna Bissonnette, Park Slope | 250 square feet
After living in a converted three-bedroom apartment in Stuy Town for 10 years with roommates, the creative agency senior vice president was ready for a room of her own. So Bissonnette, 32, found a first-floor studio in a Brooklyn brownstone and worked to infuse the classic architecture with a summery vibe.
“I wanted it to feel like a luxury resort lobby on an Island,” says Bissonnette. “I’m from Rhode Island and spent a lot of time on Cape Cod, so my style is influenced by the beach and being by the water.”
To achieve that look, the renter highlighted the bay window by placing her bed in front of it. She added vintage maps she found at Brooklyn Flea. Palm tree prints, woven baskets from a small Cape Cod shop and mixed woods lend the apartment a cottage feel. The space is also anchored with a custom Sloan sofa from direct-to-consumer company Interior Define that cost $1,800.
It was worth the investment. “[The sofa] is just clean and timeless, so it works with everything in the apartment,” says Bissonnette.
But it’s the rattan bar cabinet from Target in the entry that gets the most attention. “People assume that it’s vintage,” she says. “That’s the first thing everyone comments on.” (The brown one Bissonnette has is currently out of stock, but a similar style is available in black for $229.99.)
In fact, the ocean lover relied mostly on wallet-friendly stores like CostPlus World Market, HomeGoods and thrift shops.
Her favorite budget hack? “Instead of spending money on expensive framed art prints, I used Ikea frames and paid for downloads on Etsy,” she reveals. “I probably saved hundreds and hundreds of dollars.”
Read more about Bissonnette’s digs on Apartment Therapy.
Kat Banzon, Upper West Side | 250 square feet
It was her biggest (and greenest) home decor investment that saved Banzon’s sanity while riding out the coronavirus outbreak in Manhattan.
“I spent more money on plants than anything else in my apartment,” says Banzon, a thirtysomething working in communications at NYU’s law school. “It really helped to create an oasis.”
Though her collection started with just one spider plant, the yogi piled on additional foliage over five years, and now nearly every corner of the 250-square-foot pad is covered — even the bathroom and kitchen. But, incredibly, it doesn’t feel overwhelming: There’s a dynamic mix of tropical and urban elements.
“I grew up in the Philippines, and a lot of our furniture resembled a beach house,” Banzon says. “So [the decor] just brings me back to my childhood.”
The key piece that pulls the space together is Anthropologie’s $128 Pari rattan chair. Then Banzon added couch cushions to make it comfortable to work from. “It was definitely a splurge purchase — and was a lot to carry up five flights of steps,” she says. “But, it’s perfect for my makeshift office by the window.” Banzon uses a tray and stand as a desk.
Her favorite multifunctional item, however, is the IKEA Forhoja birch kitchen cart, which retails for $109. “That kitchen island is an extension for food prep, and serves as a dining table and is sometimes my standing desk,” says Banzon. “It also has extra storage. It’s all about finding creative ways to make things fit.”
Read more about Banzon’s digs on Apartment Therapy.