Maximizing A Minimal Space

By Eric Christensen

April 17, 2013 5 min read

A studio apartment presents tricky design problems. Too much furniture and you feel claustrophobic. Position your furniture incorrectly and your apartment will look cluttered. But you can avoid these issues and make the most of a studio apartment's minimal space.

First, consider how the apartment will be used. Shax Riegler, articles editor of interior decorating magazine House Beautiful, says you should "think in terms of zones -- working, sleeping, relaxing, dining." Similarly, Julie Goos, interior designer at Urban Essentials, says: "You need to sit somewhere. You need to sleep somewhere. And you need to eat somewhere." Ask yourself what pieces of furniture are necessary to accomplish those actions -- a table and chairs, a sofa, and a bed, for example -- and purchase them first. And "don't be afraid of big," Riegler says. These fundamental pieces should grab your attention and define a zone. Goos says, "Even in a small space, you can get one really massive piece and build the room around it. Use that as a focal point."

Next, take a moment to consider how these fundamental pieces of furniture can perform double duty, and if a piece of furniture can perform a function in two zones, use that piece to connect zones. For example, Goos suggests buying chairs for a sitting area that are of dining height so they can be used as additional seating around your dining area table. A desk can serve as both a workspace and a serving station during a party. Riegler suggests buying chairs and tables on casters "so it's easier to move around when you need to shift things."

Goos says that a common mistake is to put pieces of furniture up against walls. Instead, consider pushing your furniture to the center of the room. To decide when and where this is appropriate, determine whether your zones will be loud or quiet areas. Goos' rule of thumb is that a conversation will carry for approximately 10 feet. Therefore, furniture in a zone where people will gather should be placed within that 10-foot area. Furniture for a quiet area should be placed outside of this radius. Riegler says, "This can leave the walls open for more storage pieces, like shelves or cabinets." Alternatively, Goos suggests using this space as a pass-through to avoid forcing people to walk through the middle of a common area.

It is vital that you take every opportunity to increase storage in a studio apartment. For example, an ottoman that serves as a chair in two neighboring zones can also contain "a secret hiding place," Riegler says. Even small spaces can be missed storage opportunities. Riegler says: "If you've got a hallway, put it to use rather than just leaving it a pass-through. If it's wide enough, install bookshelves. Don't forget the space under the bed. You can lift the bed on risers to give it a few more inches of space." That space can be filled with trays and baskets, which Riegler says are "attractive ways to keep little things corralled and tidy." And don't overlook vertical storage spaces. Riegler advises buying tall cabinets and installing shelving "straight up to the ceiling" or taking advantage of any space you have between the cabinets and the ceiling.

Finally, use accessories to add color and character. Goos says: "The eye wants to see things that repeat and make sense. So a good design will use harmony and repetition in a way that makes you feel like everything in the room is for a reason. So you want to balance things being similar with enough contrast to make it interesting. Keep the eyes entertained but not dizzy." Accordingly, choose pillows, art or rugs that have similar, but not the same, colors. Subtle variations in color can also help you define and separate your zones. Riegler also suggests considering varying textures. "Even if a room has a limited palette, introducing elements that are rough, smooth, shiny, dull, metallic or reflective can make a space feel dynamic and alive."

If you first determine how your studio apartment will be used, you can build out from fundamental pieces and finish with the right accessories. This will help you transform a potentially cramped space into a clean, chic and comfortable home.

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