Getting Organized in a Tiny Apartment



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The Fix | Small Spaces

CreditLinda Jaquez for The New York Times


As anyone who lives in a big city knows, space is a valuable commodity. Whether you’re in a minuscule studio or a Classic 6 with too few closets, there is rarely enough of it. Most of us try to make the best of what we’ve got, embracing our tiny kitchens and eking out storage where we can. But what do designers who specialize in small spaces — and those who have made an art form of living in them — know that the rest of us don’t? Below, some tips and tricks.

GET ORGANIZED “Having a place for everything is key,” said Lauren DeCaro, who moved from the large one-bedroom she shared with three roommates into a 550-square-foot studio in Brooklyn Heights that she bought for about $500,000 last winter. Working with a contractor she found through Sweeten, a free service that matches homeowners with vetted professionals, Ms. DeCaro, 28, who works in development for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, overhauled the apartment with special attention to where all her things would go.

“I knew I didn’t want a dresser taking up valuable floor space in my apartment, so I made sure to install drawers and shelving in the closet,” she said, noting that the $1,500 system from California Closets was custom made, taking into consideration everything from her height to the number of shoes she owns.

In the kitchen, $40 rolling cabinet inserts from the Container Store help corral her Tupperware and pots and pans. She installed her microwave in an under-counter cabinet (along with its own electrical outlet) to avoid taking up valuable counter space and added a linen closet in an awkwardly shaped wall niche in the bathroom. “Having a designated place for everything has allowed me to have a streamlined, uncluttered studio apartment,” she said.

IF YOU DON’T USE IT, LOSE IT “It’s all about the edit,” said David Bazner, 26, who lives in a 500-square-foot one-bedroom in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, and works as an interior designer at the Studio at One Kings Lane. “I spent a lot of time getting rid of things that held no emotional value. If something means nothing to you, then it can be categorized as clutter — and clutter is a small space’s worst enemy.”

Getting rid of things he didn’t love, he said, “allowed the pieces I really care about to take center stage” — an Afghan rug from his parents, an LC4 cowhide chaise, his favorite books. Mr. Bazner even did away with the headboard on his bed, stretching a tapestry he picked up for $20 from the ceiling to the floor along the full width of the bed, then pairing it with some cheetah-print throw pillows to make the whole thing seem more expensive.

GO VERTICAL “Opt for the tallest bookcase possible,” Mr. Bazner said. “The height will cue the eye to the top of the room, making your ceiling appear taller than it really is.”

James Tabb, 32, an interior designer for the online design service Laurel & Wolf, likes to add a floating shelf near the ceiling, along the perimeter of a room. The wraparound shelf not only frees up space below, but when filled with books or collectibles, he said, “creates an effect similar to crown molding,” drawing the eye upward and adding definition to a room.

The kitchen in his 600-square-foot one-bedroom in Los Angeles has about 80 square feet and only one drawer, so he installed a magnetic wall strip to hold knives and utensils.

He suggests using wall-mounted sconces instead of floor or table lamps whenever possible, because it “not only adds an interesting design feature to your space, but also serves a necessary, functional purpose.” To hide unsightly cords, he said, pick up some cord covers (about $14 for a five-foot length at Home Depot) and paint them the same color as the wall: “You won’t even know they’re there.”

LEAVE ROOM TO BREATHE “When you have a small apartment, it can be tempting to place furniture in corners to save space,” Mr. Tabb said. “However, this actually ends up making your space look and feel much smaller.” Leave “a little breathing room between your furniture pieces and walls, as this visually opens up your space.”

MAINTAIN VISUAL FLOW “Opt for sofas and credenzas with visible legs,” said Kimberly Winthrop, 35, a senior designer at Laurel & Wolf. “The little bit of negative space will help to keep your small apartment from feeling like it’s filled from wall to wall with furniture.”

Mr. Bazner of One Kings Lane recommends open-back club chairs with a seat height of about 20 inches to complement a sofa or settee. “Their skeletal nature maintains the visual flow of the room, while their height makes them appropriate to be used at a dining table in a pinch,” he said.

And if you’re struggling to find a coffee table that’s the right size, he added, try an arrangement of three smaller side tables: “It’s an idea perfect for today’s nomad, as the lack of bulk makes moving a breeze when the lease is up.”

BE FLEXIBLE Consider collapsible furniture, like a gateleg or drop-leaf table, as well as pieces that can do double duty, like an ottoman with hidden storage, Ms. Winthrop suggested.

That also goes for things like kitchen gadgets that can quickly crowd drawers or countertops. “If a tool or utensil doesn’t have at least two to three functions, I simply don’t buy it,” said Mr. Tabb, who does without a microwave to save space in his 80-square-foot kitchen. “It may sound weird, but you really don’t need one,” he said. “Popcorn is a bit more challenging to make on the stovetop, but the results are well worth the effort, and food reheated by stove or oven always tastes better.”

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