The phrase “neutral-hued 300-square-foot apartment” might not exactly inspire immediate design envy. After all, practicality has to prevent complete creativity at some point, right? Plus, how many ways are there to make neutrals feel modern and fresh?
You might well think all that, but that’s before you saw this Upper East Side studio apartment. Designed by Meagan Camp, this temporary home feels anything but—and it’s all thanks to a mix of traditional and contemporary.
“Between living in NYC and working a high-stress job, [the client] desired a space that felt like a mini-escape from the city with soothing neutral colors. It was important for her to have a no-fuss, relaxing, and stress-free environment that felt feminine but not overly girly,” explains Camp of the inspiration, which sees the 1930s pre-war building’s classic neighborhood roots blended with modern elements.
To start, Camp says the most important thing—especially when dealing with a rental—was giving the apartment a fresh coat of white paint and a deep clean. The new backdrop provided ample opportunity to bring in decorative touches that truly reflected the homeowner’s style, which is much easier to do when you don’t have to work around dated walls or dirty corners.
“I prefer to work in a neutral color palette because then it becomes about texture, shapes, and lines. Every item we brought in to this apartment had depth—whether it’s the texture in the jute rug, the sheepskin throw, or the patina on the antique medicine cart used as a side table,” says Camp. According to the designer, a neutral palette is also the best for a small space because it feels calming and flows better—at least, compared to the “stop-and-go of contrast” that makes a room feel small.
“Neutrals are classic and timeless, and can lean traditional or modern depending on how they’re used,” she continues. “I like to create a traditional shell and mix in trend-driven items. This way, you can easily mix in new pieces as trends come and go, rather than needing to re-do [the] entire space.”
Evidence of this old and new balance is seen largely in the furniture, which errs more on the side of classic. The antique-looking desk and dresser, for example, play off more mod features like the light fixtures and circular mirror.
And while you wouldn’t know it from looking at the expertly designed studio, there were definitely challenges associated with designing a 300-square-foot space.
“In a very small footprint, every piece [needs] to fit like a puzzle. In this project, the sofa couldn’t be longer than 74”, which didn’t leave many options. The coffee table needed to leave enough room for a walkway, but have enough surface space to have a meal,” says Camp.
In the end, she overcame any logistical obstacles to create a space that feels cozy, but not cramped. Want to know how she did it? Below, Camp’s best tips for dealing with a small space.
HOW DO YOU…
Work out storage and organization in a small space?
Purge! I tell all my clients to be ruthless and to get rid of anything they don’t need. I’ll sometimes connect my clients with an organizational expert to help with this task. Most of my clients and projects are in NYC, and with space being a premium, they appreciate someone helping them with this very daunting task.
In this project, every piece of furniture needed to have some kind of storage capacity, or a means of hiding storage. For example, the bed skirt hides a collection of rolling storage boxes for off-season items, while all the side tables and the desk have at least one drawer. We brought in a Ikea’s infamous PAX storage system to double to closet space, which [we] accessorized with handmade leather pulls.
Make the space feel bigger than it actually is?
Mirrors are your best friends in small spaces. Put one directly across from a window to bounce the natural light, in between two windows to make the windows feel larger, or behind a table or floor lamp to double the amount of illumination when that fixture is on. You don’t need to be able to look in a mirror for it to be effective. In addition to using a mirror to apply your lipstick, use them to bounce both natural and artificial lighting throughout a space. Mirrors are like magic.
Create a space that feels homey and lived-in, but not cluttered?
Antiques and vintage pieces are a great way to add some lived-in character. When every piece is new, it often creates a flat and lifeless space. When pieces are a bit beat-up, it makes newer pieces less precious (while newer pieces elevate the grit of an older piece). Even the most glamorous and high-end rooms need a bit of character.
Avoid scrimping on style because of square footage?
This space is a great example of quality over quantity. In a smaller space, each piece needs to be aesthetically pleasing as it’ll be one of a limited number of pieces in that room. As smaller spaces have less real estate to work with, you want every square inch to be visually beautiful.
Add personality to a small space?
I think every space needs a bit of grit—just as every wardrobe needs a pair of perfectly worn in jeans, throw in some rust or something really beat up and you have the equivalent of your favorite denim.
In this space, I sourced an antique medicine cart and vintage stool to act as a side table. Both of these pieces have great patina and layers of old paint that gives a really cool look. We topped the table with a new white marble tray, which all sits under a sculptural light fixture. It’s this combination of styles that adds an interesting, layered dynamic.
Heighten your ceiling?
You’ll notice in this space how we hung the drapes all the way to the ceiling to fill up either side of the windows. This is my favorite design trick. It makes the windows appear much larger (always a plus) and visually heightens the space. Anything you can do to bring your eyes up in a small space will make that room feel exponentially larger.
Photography by Rikki Snyder.
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Tour a Zen Austin Home with its Own Meditation Room
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