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Small-Space Living: A 400-Square-Foot NYC Apartment with Thoughtful Storage

Living Area in West Village Apartment by Studio Ames, Photograph by Alan Tansey

Here’s one to watch: Daisy Ames, a tennis player-turned-architect, who toured Europe playing professionally before graduating from the Yale School of Architecture, then launching a studio of her own, New York-based Studio Ames, last year. Among the firm’s first projects: a 400-square-foot one-bedroom on the second floor of a townhouse in New York’s West Village. “The building was, at one point, a single-room-occupancy dwelling for sailors who would dock along the Hudson River a few blocks away,” says Ames, who also teaches at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

The project was, she explains, “a prototypical renovation for my small, young office, with a marriage between historical elements and contemporary elements.” Ames focused on complementing the three existing textures in the space—a Carrara marble fireplace, wood floors, and white walls—to create a streamlined, light-filled space with plenty of storage for books. An added bonus: a small terrace with a view into the private gardens of the West Village. Here’s a glimpse inside.

Photography by Alan Tansey, courtesy of Studio Ames. (Follow Studio Ames on Instagram @studioames.)

Living Area in West Village Apartment by Studio Ames, Photograph by Alan Tansey
Above: The open living and dining room, with the kitchen behind. “A goal was to allow the apartment to seem as spacious as possible,” Ames says.

The key to the apartment’s success: attention to existing historical detail. Ames built in added storage elements, including a chest of drawers (at left) and shelving for books (at right), but ensured it fit with the “existing material palette” of marble, white, and brushed nickel finishes, and the scale of the “windowsill, fireplace mantel, and thresholds,” she says. Ames also relocated the closet, shown here at left, to allow for more space in the bedroom, which is on the other side of the wall. To add to the feeling of spaciousness, the walls throughout are painted a “super white.” The hardwood shelving on either side of the fireplace is also painted in a proprietary semi-gloss super white.

The kitchen required the least amount of work: “All we did was repaint the cabinet faces,” Ames says. They also added small-space appliances: a 24″ oven from Wolf, 18″ Built-In Refrigerator from Northland, and an 18″ Slimline Dishwasher by Miele. “It’s a very small space at the entry, so only the smallest appliances fit,” she says. (For more on appliances for small spaces, consult our Small Kitchen Appliances Resource Guide.)

Living Area in West Village Apartment by Studio Ames, Photograph by Alan Tansey
Above: The one-room living and dining room feels larger than it is thanks to a large custom mirror over the fireplace and a rug cut to fit by The Perfect Rug. “It helps frame the living space and create an axis from the entry to the terrace,” Ames says.

The high/low furnishings were sourced on a budget: “To balance the wood floors, we recommended Marcel Breuer’s 1928 Cesca Chairs to go with a white Melltorp Ikea table,” Ames says. The couch is a section from one of Restoration Hardware’s Cloud Modular Sofas. A low ledge, built into the shelving, also serves as a desk.

Built-Ins in West Village Apartment by Studio Ames, Photograph by Alan Tansey
Above: Looking towards the new, built-in chest of drawers (topped with marble) and the relocated storage closet. At left, glass doors open onto the terrace.

The apartment faces south and is washed in light all day long. To complement the natural light, Studio Ames opted for a “subtle lighting scheme,” with “a custom-designed ‘light trough,’ with LED linear lighting strips directed towards the ceiling, for a glowing, even, washed effect along the ceiling,” Ames says. (It’s visible in the top right corner of this photograph, just below the ceiling.) They’re dim-able and “located along the northernmost wall of each room, allowing the light to be adjusted as the sun sets.”

Stool in West Village Apartment by Studio Ames, Photograph by Alan Tansey
Above: “Classic, soft” materials, chosen with care. “The gray Carrara countertop on the chest of drawers has a custom curve detail to ease the transition from the bedroom into the living room,” Ames notes. (Read more about Carrara in Remodeling 101: The Difference Between Carrara, Calacatta, and Statuary Marble.)
Built-Ins in West Village Apartment by Studio Ames, Photograph by Alan Tansey
Above: A sliding barn door leads into the bedroom.
Living Area, Kitchen, Dining Room in West Village Apartment by Studio Ames, Photograph by Alan Tansey
Above: Looking into the bedroom. Note how the negative space left by the carpet creates a sort of pathway of its own, from the bedroom to the kitchen.
Bedroom in West Village Apartment by Studio Ames, Photograph by Alan Tansey
Above: Ames made the bedroom slightly larger by shifting the location of the closet on the other side. It made all the difference in the tiny bedroom: now, she notes, the bed can be accessed from both sides.

The slim shelf above the bed is made of the same hardwood as the shelving in the living room, and is a solution to an awkward problem. “The existing townhouse support column protrudes into the space, and the shelf allows this irregularity to become useful. The height aligns with the height of the fireplace in the living room,” Ames says. The bed is Ikea’s Malm frame, which has storage drawers underneath.

Bedroom in West Village Apartment by Studio Ames, Photograph by Alan Tansey
Above: The bathroom floor and three sides of the shower are tiled in small penny tile from Daltile. (The grout is Silver Shadow grout from Laticrete.) A clear shower curtain—not for the modest—makes the room feel lighter and more open.

N.B.: This post is an update; it was first published on June 15, 2018.

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