Survival Guide: Life in a Tiny Apartment, Brooklyn Edition

When we first moved into our tiny Brooklyn Heights apartment, my husband, James (then fiancé), and I negotiated a six-month lease because we weren’t sure we could survive more time than that in such a cramped space. More than two and a half years later, we’ve gotten so accustomed to our tiny abode that it’s hard to imagine we’ll be leaving it behind when we welcome a new addition to the family in June.

Photographs by Erin Boyle for Remodelista.

Above: In many ways, our tiny apartment is the anti-remodel. Save a fresh coat of paint given to the ship’s ladder a year and a half after we moved in, we’ve never made any improvements to the place.

It’s not that it’s perfect the way it is, but it’s a costly rental studio and we honestly couldn’t stomach pouring more of our own resources into the space. More than that, like so many renters, we didn’t have permission from our landlord to make the changes we would have dived into wholehog if this were an apartment we owned.

For me, renting a tiny apartment has been a lesson in acceptance. Instead of focusing on making too many improvements to the place itself, James and I have focused our energies on filling it with furniture and objects that we love. I’d rather put a little elbow grease into modifying a table that I can take with me to my next apartment than worry about installing window trim (though wouldn’t that be nice?).

Above: Bits from our mismatched furniture collection (not to mention James’s eight-foot surfboard). See it from another angle in A Huge Vase of Cherry Blossoms in a Tiny Space.

This dresser (and its mate which we keep in the loft where we sleep) were Craigslist finds from our days in North Carolina (same goes for the kitchen chairs and the surfboard). We paid $75 for the pair that happen to match an antique headboard I’d rescued from my parents’ attic. The smaller dresser has an antique mirror that attaches to the back. The mirror and headboard are currently in “storage” at my parents’ house in Connecticut and I’m looking forward to giving the set a facelift when we move to a new apartment next month (fingers crossed).

Above: Necessary even in a tiny apartment, our kitchen table.

On the day we moved into our apartment, we realized that the wooden table I’d lovingly painted a deep coal blue for our first apartment was several inches too wide to be practical in our new space. We put it out on the curb and the same day we stumbled upon this table, left curbside just a block away from our house. We hoisted it down the street together and directly into our new apartment. Finders keepers.

Above: The ship’s ladder to our sleeping loft.

I hesitated to hang this wedding gift–an original Stow Wengenroth drawing of New England sand dunes–in such an awkward spot at the top of the ladder, but I ended up accepting the odd little corner and embracing its quirkiness.

Above: The sleeping loft (crouching room only: the ceiling is a mere five feet).

We toyed repeatedly with painting our loft, but decided to keep it bright white instead. The space is confined, we figured it needed to be kept as light as possible (bedding included).

Above: Our sofa, bird’s-eye view.

The West Elm Elton Settee is the only piece of furniture we purchased specifically for the apartment. At 57.5 inches wide, it fits perfectly into the tiny space between our closet and window.

Above: A view of the kitchen from the ladder.

Particle board oak cabinets and faux granite Formica aren’t my idea of kitchen beauty, but rather than try to hide them, I’ve opted to just keep our accessories simple.

Above: Our curtained closet and a DIY Mounted Staghorn Fern.

The closet that James and I share (thankfully, there’s another for coats, the vacuum, and aspirational camping gear padlocked in our building’s hallway) sits under the ship’s ladder. We opted to remove its sliding doors and replace them with a curtain to allow for better access to the tiny space.

Above: Apartment-cum-DIY studio.

Our found kitchen table serves as the staging area for many a Gardenista-DIY. To take advantage of the one window in our apartment, I drag the table across the floor for photo shoots.

Above: Wintery flowers.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my favorite way to make life in tiny apartment tolerable is the addition of fresh flowers. There’s always room for a stem or three.

Stay tuned for Erin’s small-space living tips later this week. Erin’s Gardenista posts are a daily source of inspiration and we’re all avid followers of her apartment tales–and her inspired photography–at Reading My Tea Leaves. For more rental ideas, see Meredith’s Rental Rehab: Small Kitchen Makeover.

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