Last fall, I experienced the joy and challenge of moving into my first NYC apartment. Located in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood, a slice of the island known for its delightfully distinct culture and environment, my apartment is a recently renovated, affordable, one-bedroom unicorn. While the six flights of stairs to the door initially gave me pause, as soon I stepped through the threshold, it was love at first sight.
Now when I say ‘one-bedroom,’ one must understand that in NYC this phrase is used quite loosely. Due to some bewildering decisions on the part of the architect, my apartment floor plan looks like a long rectangle that’s been in a fender-bender (see the illustration above for the resulting abundance of oddly angled walls). Taking a tour, you’ll find a pocket-door bathroom and hybrid entry-dining area to your left, flowing into an unusually wide kitchen, capped by a modest bedroom at your far right.
A few days before move-in, my building superintendent let me into my newly vacant abode to inspect the new buttercream paint job (believe me, I fought for “Chantilly Lace”). Taking in each completely empty room left me with a few thorny realizations. The most daunting of these was recognizing I’d somehow overlooked the complete absence of a “living-room” space. Where was I to relax and/or entertain guests out of breath from climbing to my ‘penthouse’ locale? What type of furniture would maximize the utility of my limited square footage?
Given I’m a visual creature, solutions often present themselves in the form of imagery. Solving my living-space conundrum was no exception. In the days after that initial inspection, I looked for answers from the decorator’s oracle: Pinterest. After a few hours of putting my scrolling muscles to the test, the answer appeared with the click of an image:
This magical group of pixels depicts the ‘pied à terre’ apartment of Anki Linde and Pierre Saalburg, the husband and wife duo behind the innovative European architecture firm, LSL Architects.
Intent on crafting every inch of the space, Linde and Saalburg completely refurbished this Parisian apartment-turned-showroom, down to the custom furniture. While hiring LSL to refurbish my space would have been a teeny bit over budget, I knew that breaking down this inspiration from essence to practical guidelines could solve my Chinatown predicament.
Months later, having made it to the other side of furniture-search-purgatory, I want to share the single tip I found most essential: build a single visual plane of low furniture to make your small space feel more expansive and harmonious. Let me explain.
When one’s square footage is modest, too much variety in furniture height can produce a perception of clutter, causing visual space to shrink even further. Given that my sofa and bed were to share the same room, I modeled the scale of my selections on the dual daybeds of the Linde-Saalburg pied à terre.
These daybeds sit at a single seat height, with the coffee table surface floating a few inches below, so as not to obfuscate any sight-lines. By replicating this consistently low stature (in seat height, table height, and bed height), I laid a stabilizing foundation to build upon.
As I soon came to learn, it can be demanding to find furniture at a diminutive height, as most brands build their pieces around a more traditional ‘standard’ height. Regardless, I’m here to tell you that taking the time to shift your roomscape down in elevation will pay off in a high-impact way. Don’t know where to get started? Check out my low-center-of-gravity selects below:
Lower your sofa: Given that your sofa will likely be the largest piece of furniture in your space, it’s vital that you select one that establishes a low profile.
Ground the space (with a solid rug): placing an area rug is the simplest way to define a space and assemble your furniture into a cohesive collection. While I have nothing against patterned rugs, the busyness of these styles can make a space with multiple pieces of furniture feel even more crowded and hectic.
Stretch your surfaces: In order to elongate your room, try a narrow, rectangular (or oval) shaped coffee table. To make for comfortable usage while seated, the height of your table should be no lower than 4” below the seat height of your sofa, and no taller.
Fill in (but keep it low): Depending on your space, you may want to sprinkle in a side table or nightstand for added surface area. When bringing these into your room, focus on simple, non-bulky shapes that are within 2-4” of the seat height you’ve established for the room. While all this measuring may sound tricky, it pays off in the long run by forming an impression of proportionate, deliberate, calm.