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Small Space Living: 7 Ideas to Steal from a 200-Square-Foot Studio (DIY Closet Included)

Katie Hovland Studio Apartment

When this teeny-tiny apartment appeared on my Instagram feed, the first thing that caught my attention was its airiness and abundant light. The second thing was the kitchen. Beyond the thoughtful layout and fittings, just barely viewable in the background, was the average rental kitchenette, the kind that comes with so many New York apartments, familiar to anyone who’s ever lived in one.

Despite standard-fare rental bones, Katie Hovland’s second-floor walk-up in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn feels far more spacious than it is (it’s 200 square feet, counting that kitchen and the bath). But it almost wasn’t that way. “I found my studio via Facebook Marketplace,” Katie says. “I was looking for somewhere with very affordable rent and lots of light.” The apartment, when she viewed it, felt “very claustrophobic, cluttered, and grey,” she remembers, though it had high ceilings and big windows. “Once moved in I felt very discouraged and had a bit of mover’s remorse since the apartment seemed smaller than I remembered.”

Fortunately, after a few small tweaks, simple furniture shifts, and a coat of white paint (thanks to a helpful landlord), the space feels considered, bright, and livable. Plus, Katie, a senior designer at Laura Mercier, managed to DIY the only essential missing: a closet, inspired by boutique dressing rooms and ringing in at $300.

Here are seven lessons to learn from Katie’s average-no-more apartment.

Photography by Katie Hovland.

1. Add a fresh coat of paint.

Katie Hovland Studio Apartment
Above: A fresh coat of paint, particularly in a rental, spruces things up. Katie’s landlord agreed to paint the full space in a bright shade of Benjamin Moore. The Breuer chairs are from Seats and Stools.

2. Choose key pieces carefully.

Katie Hovland Studio Apartment
Above: I didn’t have a budget for my space, but I knew I didn’t want to spend a ton of money and kept everything under $2,000,” Katie says. “I needed furniture that could store a lot of stuff and not take up a ton of space.” The white storage unit at the end of the bed is from Ikea, and the bed—with room for storage beneath—is by Thuma.

3. Finesse the layout.

A functional layout is key to making a small space livable. “I took measurements of the space and drew everything up in Adobe Illustrator, like an interior design floor plan,” Katie says. “I moved furniture around until I found something I liked and then tried it in real life.” Now there’s a (petite) zone for the essentials: sleeping, eating, dressing, and even a landing pad for Katie’s dog, Mickey.

4. Don’t overcrowd.

Katie Hovland Studio Apartment
Above: No need for a side table when a radiator makes a perfect spot for a vase; the fireplace acts as a natural space divider. The linen duvet set and the throw pillows are from Zara Home.

5. Double your windows.

Katie Hovland Studio Apartment
Above: It bears repeating: Hanging a mirror by a window is a simple way to bring in much, much more light. This one is from Umbra.

6. Don’t underestimate subtle shifts.

Katie Hovland Studio Apartment
Above: A subtle but impactful change: Moving the fridge next to the kitchen freed up wall space for another mirror (from Target) and made the fridge more accessible while cooking. Closed bins above it add extra storage.

7. DIY a closet.

Katie Hovland Studio Apartment DIY Closet in Brooklyn
Above: The big project: the closet.

“I only had one clothing bar hanging on the wall when moved in,” Katie says. “I searched for months for a wardrobe. Most were out of stock or too deep for my space, but they were around $300 so I had that in mind. I got inspired when I came across retail corner dressing rooms.”

Katie Hovland Studio Apartment DIY Closet in Brooklyn
Above: Katie’s DIY closet. “There are two clothing rods—one for heavy coats and jackets and another for shirts—and a shoe rack,” Katie says. Track curtains would be tricky because of the ceiling molding, so a curved bar proved the perfect solution. “I took photos of the space and Photoshopped the curtains to find the right color and fabric I wanted,” Katie adds. “I didn’t want my closet to look like a shower with rings, so I pinned the linen curtain over the rod instead. Now it functions just like a dressing room, and I can pull the curtain all the way to the left or right.”
Katie Hovland Studio Apartment
Above: “The closet cost $300, including the handyman I hired to hang the curtain rod,” Katie says. The curtain itself is from Solino Home (as are the window curtains).

Before

Katie Hovland Studio Apartment Before
Above: The apartment has tall ceilings and original molding.
Katie Hovland Studio Apartment Before
Above: Before, cluttered and painted grey.
Katie Hovland Studio Apartment Before
Above: A grainy listing photo shows the kitchen and bath before the fridge was moved.
Katie Hovland Studio Apartment
Above: And the ad-hoc closet in progress.

Katie’s take on the space now: “I wish the apartment was larger and the refrigerator was not in the living space, but I love my apartment for its natural light. It is very cozy and has a calming energy.” Next up, she says: subtle changes to upgrade the rental kitchen and bath.

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