This designer’s 500-square-foot NYC apartment ditches the traditional studio layout


New Yorkers have found many clever solutions for their quirky small spaces. But something most of them still have in common with the rest of the world is a sofa – well, most except the 29-year-old Nicole Arruda. “If I were to fit a sofa in my apartment, it would be the first thing you would see when you entered the space,” says the Ontario-born homeowner. Nicole Alexandra Design Studio, who recently moved into a 500 square foot studio on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “It would pretty much be in my kitchen, too, and that’s exactly what I was trying to avoid.” So Arruda took a look at her to-do list and decided it was better if she didn’t have a couch (and not even a TV!). “My computer does the work at the end of the day,” she laughs.

So what do Arruda prioritize? A place to sleep (a no-brainer), a dining nook where she can entertain small groups of friends, a desk (since she branched out in 2020, she works full-time from home) and a focal point in the form of a fake fireplace.

“I started by zoning the areas that seemed to me the most logical, explains the designer. The area closest to the kitchen would be its dining room; the fireplace nook would be the lounging area (look at her chic blue armchair); the piece of wall space near the front door would be his hearth, and so on. “When you look at your space this way, it becomes more digestible and helps you stay organized in a smaller setting,” she adds. Below, she shares some tips for living in a tiny space like a pro.

Buy less artwork and more moldings

molding plan

Courtesy of Nicole Arruda

While the fact that the apartment was freshly renovated was a selling point for Arruda (the kitchen features new cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling), it meant the designer had to add doses of old character herself. An easy way to achieve charm? Install moldings on the walls.

After measuring each surface IRL, Arruda visually played with the thickness and placement of the finish work in AutoCAD. (Psst: she notes you can perform similar tests with blue painter’s tape.) Then she went to Home Depot, bought the cheapest trim she could find, and drilled through the thin wood slabs. in the wall before painting everything. Sinvolving Benjamin Moore’s White. “It breathed new life into the walls and also brought warmth and complemented the rich floors beautifully,” she says.

Add your own architecture

An apartment with a quirky fireplace wasn’t originally in Arruda’s budget, but when she noticed this studio had a 5-foot-long protrusion on the main wall, she knew she could create. functionality from scratch. She scoured Facebook Marketplace and found a beat-up $70 coat. A TaskRabbit picked it up in the Hamptons and delivered it right to his front door. “After a bit of sanding and a lot of Benjamin Moore Black Satin in a high gloss finish, it was a showstopper,” says the designer. The luminaire is simply attached to the wall with four screws.

To finish, Arruda designed a fake “hearth” by placing samples of honed 12-by-24-inch statuary marble tiles left over from another project on the floor. She gathered her favorite books and stacked them inside the niche to give the illusion of depth.

Lighten things up

The existing fixtures, as Arruda puts it, were “very meh — nothing too bad, but nothing too good either,” she explains. So she called in another TaskRabbit to swap the one in the main living room for a semi-flush chandelier with a medallion and place a simple milk glass globe in the kitchen area.

The addition of linen curtains on a ceiling track system softened the windows and further accentuated the height of the ceiling. (The treatments are just enough to provide privacy from the street below, while still letting in light.) “Curtains can really help shape and frame any space,” she says.

Throw away the furniture rulebook

Rather than cluttering the studio with a ton of furniture, Arruda designates several functions to each piece. His hall table, for example, is also his chest of drawers and his bedside table; her dining table serves as both a kitchen prep space and a dining surface. “And beds with open space underneath are a great way to add hidden storage space with simple plastic containers,” she adds.

Not all elements need to have a strong visual presence; Arruda mainly focused on white and wood tones. “Too many finishes and materials in a smaller space can start to look like a hodgepodge very quickly and make your home look smaller than it is,” she points out.

Lay the foundation for a furry friend

Aesthetically, near-black floors were a draw for Arruda when she first moved in, but they didn’t prove to be the most functional option with her beagle-mix rescue dog, Jack, around. “There’s a misconception that dark floors are forgiving,” she says – Jack’s white hair is very evident against the rich background. So she opted for a large rug to help minimize the mess. the the affordable flooring is a blend of cotton and juteso it’s easy to clean…and when it hasn’t been vacuumed in a minute, you can’t tell.


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