Rustic, calming, and personal are all words that come to mind when looking at this 265-square-foot apartment in New York City’s East Village. Though according to homeowner Lauren Gerrie, who lives in the tiny space with her partner Daniel Plenge, this finished look couldn’t be more different from what the apartment looked like when they moved in.
“Daniel and I have lived in our pre-war apartment for the past 11 years,” says Gerrie, who was previously Marc Jacob's private chef and co-owns the Manhattan-based private chef service bigLITTLE Get Together. “As [he] walked me up the six floors to see our soon-to-be apartment, he prefaced by saying 'I need you to think of the potential.' My dad is a designer, and I grew up in construction sites witnessing the evolution of a space, so this didn’t scare me. Let’s just say that the apartment was not filled [with] love or any attempt at decoration. A man had been living there for the past 20 years, and [it] at one point had been used as a lookout point for the police to monitor our drug lord neighbors.”
Despite the less-than-savory origin story, Gerrie and Plenge (who owns a marketing studio called PLURAL) remained undeterred. They dove straight into what ended up being a pretty lengthy renovation, especially for a New York apartment: Raising ceilings and exposing beams in the bedroom, exposing the brick walls, remodeling the kitchen, customizing furniture, and even incorporating a new living room window. And they’re not done yet. According to Gerrie, the couple’s next project is the bathroom.
Much of the style inspiration for the cozy apartment lies in Gerrie’s personality. “I would say my personal style is based around a uniform. At 34, I have found the styles and colors that look best on me and make me feel confident and beautiful—I definitely apply this to my home. I like clean lines and mixed textures of wood, glass, steel, copper, marble… I think it’s important to have a home that people instantly feel comfortable in and want to lay around in,” she explains. “I oftentimes find myself sitting on the floor or the kitchen counter; to me, that is ease. Nothing is precious, but everything has value.”
That simple, laid-back approach to decor blends with functionality (Plenge’s approach to decorating) for a home that’s both filled with personality and pared back. It may be small, but you might not guess that from looking at photos.
Their main tip for making a tiny apartment look big? Styling up. Lots of tall plants, cabinets, and shelves that climb up the wall, and eye-catching lighting make the small space feel bigger than it actually is. After that, it’s all about multifunctionality and intentional decorating, to ensure the only pieces in the apartment are absolutely meant to be there.
“Our biggest challenge is space and storage, so pretty much every piece of furniture doubles as a holding container,” says Gerrie. “Living in a small space is a gift, in my opinion, because everything is special. You have to choose what matters most, what makes the most sense, what feels the best. Therefore, our home is exactly what we need it to be without the extra crap.”
We spoke to Gerrie to learn more about her intentional approach to decor—plus, how to hack a chef’s kitchen in a small space.
Can you tell us about the custom pieces in your home that have special meaning?
Our captain’s couch was made by our dear friend Ben McBrien who owns his own furniture studio in Philly called Farmhaus. When I first started dating Daniel, he and Ben were in a band together called The Body Politic; that first summer, the three of us were inseparable and we have continued to love and support each other over the past decade. Having a piece of him in our home is the coolest thing ever, and I love that his piece is the first thing you see when you enter our home.
Lighting and artwork are key design components. My dad designs light fixtures, so he had made us lamps and a chandelier for our bedroom. Also in our bedroom, we have a watercolor painting done by my very talented friend Emily Klass, who also designed a tattoo for me based around the constellation for Leo, my sign. There are photographs by friends and family—one of my favorites is by Walter Urie who is my dad’s best friend and like a father to me.
I also have a hand-stitched piece by one of my closest and oldest friends, Mia Harkins. We have known one another since preschool and were in Brownies together; she stitched a line from a song that we used to sing in our troop: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.”
What is your favorite place to find unique-looking pieces for the home?
I find stuff for my home all over the place! I love the Rose Bowl Flea Market in LA; when I go home, I always try to schedule my visit around the Sunday that it’s held. All my plates are by Jono Pandolfi, and I love going to his studio sales because he always has other fun ceramic pieces, like beautiful earrings and cool pipes.
How did the fact that you’re a chef influence the way you designed your kitchen?
Honestly, I would do this kitchen so differently now. That being said, we are lucky to have a large amount of counter space, which is always key. I ultimately think that kitchens are more about organization—functionality of where things are placed based on when you would need them. All of our shelves and storage are exposed which I like visually, but [they’re] a pain to keep clean.
I think perhaps my favorite feature is having a window over the sink. I love washing dishes and zoning out while I look out at this amazing city.
Do you have any kitchen wishlist items?
I would love a new stove and fridge. The ones I want are very expensive and [are] heavy as fuck, which is an issue because we live in a sixth floor walk up. I can cook in any kitchen; it’s not about the kitchen, it’s about what you’re making and who it’s for.
Were there any concessions you had to make in your kitchen because you live in an apartment? What are your tips for designing a small kitchen?
We have zero ventilation because of where the gas line is. So whenever I cook on the stove using my cast irons, I have to open all the windows and have the fans blasting. [But] I’d say make sure to have a lot of storage. And make it your own—invest in high quality pots, pans, and knives, then get creative with the rest.
How do you store all of your various kitchen equipment—any organizational tips you can share?
I tend to lean towards a restaurant kitchen approach rather than a home cook approach. I buy a lot of stainless steel containers. Restaurant supply stores are a great source, which might seem obvious, but I think more people should utilize an industrial look.
Do you have a favorite part of the home?
My bed. We used to have a really high bed, and we would store a tone of stuff underneath it. A year ago, we got a puppy [named] Boot. She’s a maniac and is small, so she can basically get into everything. We had to rethink function in the bedroom with our new little addition, so we sold or gave away all the vintage furniture that we had collected over the years.
I redecorated with the clean white aesthetic of Ikea. We bought two dressers and stacked them on top of each other to make a really tall chest of drawers. Then we swapped out the high bed for a low bed with four sliding drawers underneath. A fresh coat of paint, and our bedroom became an oasis.
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