Erin Boyle of Reading My Tea Leaves and Gardenista and her husband live together in seriously small quarters—a 240-square-foot studio, to be exact. She agreed to share her surprising tips about how to make it work (and not drive each other crazy)...
Erin's story: When my then-fiancé-now-husband James and I moved into a 240-square-foot apartment in Brooklyn Heights, we negotiated a six-month lease because we weren’t sure we’d be able to make it in such cramped quarters. (Our apartment is a studio with a ship’s ladder to a sleeping loft, plus one tiny bathroom.) Two and a half years later, we’re still in our very humble abode, and gearing up for a whole new adventure coming in 2014: a very tiny addition to the family headed our way this June.
1. Maximize your windows. Drape your windows in a way that allows for maximum light—I’d go for the bright white curtains—and try hanging a mirror nearby to reflect light into the room. Remembering to clean the windows helps, too!
2. Choose simple furniture. We’ve found that furniture with simple and spare lines makes a tiny apartment feel roomier. (Our couch is the tiny Elton Settee and it fits perfectly in our “living room.”)
3. Remove closet doors. Closet doors that swing into a room take up considerable floor space. Take the doors off and ask your landlord to store them. Then hang a simple curtain from a suspension rod to hide the inside of your closet instead.
4. Keep closets organized. Our old wooden hangers are, admittedly, wide and bulky; these huggable hangers would probably do the trick much better.
5. Play a romantic song. In the heat of an argument, you and your partner may both crave space—but in a small apartment, there’s nowhere to go. Here’s a trick: Play a love song. Emotional distance from the fight is more important than physical distance. It's really hard to keep your blood boiling when you’re listening to a song you love, with the person you love, about love. It's like putting on a lullaby to soothe a crying baby.
6. Give yourself permission to say no to overnight guests. Our apartment has just enough space for one guest to sleep on the floor, head wedged between the ladder to the loft where we sleep and our loveseat, feet reaching nearly into the bathroom. It's okay to explain that you don't have the space to accommodate overnight guests.
7. Streamline your music collection. Tragic though it might be, tiny apartments likely don’t have space for the entire vinyl discography of The Beatles. Swallow your pride and go digital. We’re total radio junkies so we have a Tivoli radio, which also plays the music from our iPhones.
8. Invest in beautiful cleaning supplies. No broom closet to be seen? Swap the plastic broom and dustpan for something pretty and you won’t mind looking at them hanging from a hook or propped in the corner. (Brook Farm General Store is my go-to stop for fancy brushes and dust pan, and we buy Common Good dishwashing liquid and cleaning spray in bulk.)
9. Tiny things matter, too. Move into a tiny apartment and expect an onslaught of tiny gifts. (Look! A mini muffin pan! Tiny spoons!) Try to spread the message to well-meaning friends that tiny things can be as difficult to store as large things. Ask for comestibles instead!
10. Use quick-drying towels. We're linen towel converts. Our tiny bathroom doesn’t get much ventilation, but linen towels dry so quickly that there's no musty smell to contend with. (We recently upgraded to these pretty linen chambray towels from Fog Linen.)
11. Use an absorbent hand towel as a bath mat. There are very few bathmats on the market that fit in a truly tiny bathroom. We use a quick-drying hand towel instead. (These white Hammam Hand Towels are absorbent enough to keep the floor from getting soaked and just the right size for the tiny bit of floor space we have. Bonus: they’re easier to drag to the laundromat!)
12. Keep bedding simple. We used to have a bright floral quilt, but it made our tiny loft feel tinier. We also experimented with darker sheets but returned to crisp whites. Simple bedding is easier on the eye and makes the apartment look bigger. (We love our Brahms Mount Ticking Stripe Blanket.)
13. Unpack suitcases right away. In our tiny apartment, an unpacked bag causes stubbed toes and violent bouts of cursing. Even if we return home from vacation in the wee hours of the morning, the first thing I do is to unpack my bag. There’s nothing more delicious than waking up in my own trusty bed knowing that everything's just where it should be.
14. Embrace under-the-bed storage. My sister manages to live in a 390-square-foot apartment with a baby and a husband and keep nothing under the bed. In case you’re not blessed with similar minimalist super powers, use the space under your bed to keep winter clothes, extra blankets, and that guitar you haul out three times a year. (Muji’s soft storage boxes have been a godsend for us.)
15. Treat the whole dang city like it's your living room. We sit on the church steps across the street for weekend lunches and after-dinner treats. And if there's a public park in this city, chances are that we've picnicked in it or strolled through it. A few numbers to help you understand why: Central Park: 843 acres; Prospect Park: 585 acres; Brooklyn Bridge Park: 85 acres; The High Line: 6.73 acres; Our apartment: 0.005509 acres.
Overall advice: Approach your tiny apartment joyfully. I get more notes than I could ever answer from people who are nervous about an upcoming move to a tinier place. Here's the one bit of advice I can offer universally: See it as an exciting challenge and not as an impending nightmare. It is what it is!
Thank you so much, Erin! (I especially liked the tip about playing a romantic song after an argument.) Any advice you would add? Read more of Erin's many tips on Reading My Tea Leaves. xoxo
P.S. A 500-square-foot apartment in San Francisco, and a great book about small spaces.
(Photos by Erin Boyle; the bedroom plant photo originally appeared on Gardenista)