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Name: Josie, partner Alec, and cat Izzie
Location: Lower East Side — New York City, New York
Size: 330 square feet
Type of Home: One-bedroom apartment
Years Lived In: 2 years, owned
Josie is a software engineer, professional dancer, and a self-proclaimed DIY and interior design enthusiast. But after designing and DIYing this incredibly stylish and functional 330-square-foot apartment, I think it’s safe to call her a DIY expert. Though she describes the space as a one-bedroom apartment, it’s barely that, really only being two small rooms divided by glass French doors. But it’s what Josie and her partner Alec did with those two small rooms that is so impressive.
“We were at first looking at larger apartments deep in Brooklyn, about an hour or so away from the middle of the city, because that was where our budget took us. We looked for almost a whole year and started to feel disillusioned as we went through all the listings, even previously sold listings, and felt like there was nothing that fit what we wanted for the price we wanted,” writes Josie. “Then just for fun, we started a search in Manhattan and found that there were options in our budget, but they were just really small studios. Our current place caught our eye because it was listed as a one-bedroom and wasn’t too far up Midtown.”
Josie describes seeing a mural on the brick wall across the street through the unit’s tall windows when they went to see the unit, and fell in love with the space and its views. “I convinced my partner that we could downsize and compromise on some requirements, and somehow he agreed. While the small size is not my favorite thing, I do like that it’s more manageable and super easy to heat up,” Josie reports. Though the mural was gone by the time they moved in, with the couple’s creative DIYing, it’s become a beautiful, functional home.
My Style: If I had to sum it up in two words, it would be eclectic and functional.
Eclectic, because I don’t always stick to one aesthetic style. I tend to first go with what makes me happy at a given time, or what catches my eye, and then later try to tie stylistic differences together with other things. I’ve got modern in the kitchen, industrial on the bed, and sort of boho on the couch. It kind of works, I think.
Functional, because practicality always comes first. Even if it’s the weirdest combination or arrangement of things, if it fits how we live and how we need to use things, then it must be that way, and everything else will be designed around it.
Inspiration: My inspiration comes from the needs and constraints of the space. For example, since the apartment is small with higher ceilings, and I wanted my sleeping area to be away from my cat, the idea for a loft bed came naturally. Another example was my pegboard of tools, which is something that usually might be found in a garage. Because we were collecting more and more tools for our projects, and had no space to put it, the solution for a storage pegboard to double as wall display came about. The idea that limitations breed creativity really fits here, as I have never gotten more ideas for a space than for this tiny apartment.
Favorite Element: The far corner of the couch, under the loft bed, is my favorite. It’s so therapeutic to be in that corner, especially during the warm seasons when the trees outside the window have leaves. I think it’s just the combination of the exposed wood from the loft bed, the indoor (faux) plants, and the closeness to the apartment’s only source of natural light.
Biggest Challenge: Because our building is old (built in 1920), nothing is level. Every wall and surface is slanted or warped. When we constructed our kitchen, all the cabinets had to be shimmed to be level. Every time we add anything new, like a piece of furniture or something hung on a wall, we have to take extra measures, like hiding a little piece of wood to bump out a side, or purposefully setting it slightly off-level so that it looks more cohesive with the room.
Also, drilling holes into walls is a huge challenge because our walls are plaster, with mostly masonry behind it. Usually walls are made of drywall with wood or metal studs behind, set at a regular distance apart, so it’s easy to hang heavy things once you find the studs. With plaster and masonry, we had to get a whole different set of drill bits, and it takes much more effort as well. And on the walls where we do have studs, not only are the studs irregular distances apart so it’s hard to find, but plaster makes it so that neither the knocking method nor stud finders would work. Whenever we hung heavy stuff like our kitchen and living room cabinets, we ended up drilling a series of tiny holes across the wall to see which one would hit wood, to determine where the studs were.
Proudest DIY: I had a hard time deciding on one, but a little project that I’m fond of (and which actually inspired me to start an Instagram account) was the dresser stand. We have two black IKEA Malm dressers, which always looked a little like the kind of thing you would put in a kids room in a rental without a lot of thought. I felt like it needed some kind of legs. I love the project partially because it was so simple to construct, and partially because despite the simplicity of construction, it came out looking really beautiful, with the raw wood color working perfectly with the black and both physically and metaphorically elevating the dressers.
Biggest Indulgence: Our fridge. When we built the kitchen, we considered other places for the fridge but ultimately decided to keep it in the middle of the room for a variety of reasons. And because it had to be there, we put a little extra money into getting a nice looking one that was not too wide and not too deep, but still had enough space (i.e. it had to be skinny and tall!). Now we love it so much we call it the MVP of the kitchen.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? We lofted our bed (or basically, the bedroom) so that what was supposed to be the bedroom could be our living room.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? I love my typewriter. I bought it on a whim in college when a random person showed up to our university center to sell old books and other things. I just have always liked how typewriters look and wanted to own one so when I saw the opportunity I just went for it. And then later I got a pink Lyft mustache from a job fair, and didn’t know where to put it, so I put it on top of the typewriter. Ever since then, these two have always been on display together.
I also love my maps. I bought two large maps at a paper fair and they were dated from when Russia was still the Soviet Union. I just love the way old maps look. I used to hang them without a frame but they started to get torn from moving so I got frames for them. The only problem was that large custom framing was super expensive so I got creative and cut them up for smaller frames.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: Make use of wall space, and find ways to make storage into display and decor. For example, I hung up my competition dresses on the walls because they would take up my entire closet if I put them in there, and they add a really nice splash of extra color to the room decor.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Never copy what you see someone else do in their home, no matter how much you like it, because it’s not going to feel as good in your home. You have to design for your needs and your space, which is always a unique combination.
This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.