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10 Ways To Make a Tiny Apartment Feel Bigger & Cozier

February  3, 2017

Two summers ago, my couple friends Jason and Tyler moved in together, and within barely a month of being in their new spot it felt cozier than all my past apartments combined (so typical of nesting lovebirds). You might remember the space below—we shot it to talk about how they merged their two styles into one, and ran the piece after profiling Jason's apartment as the "before." 

For cozying up or grabbing on the way to a picnic in nearby Tompkins Square Park, this Turkish Cotton throw (available in the Food52 shop!) adds a soft touch.

In the spirit of the new year (which always makes me want to freshen up my own space), we're bringing you the story again—this time with all the good ideas spelled out clearly so you can pick out the ones you like and set some apartment goals for 2017. 

Turning a Tiny Second Bedroom Into a Den

When Jason and Tyler told me they were going to turn the smaller bedroom in their new 2-bedroom apartment into a living room (the result above), I worried it would, being just 5 feet across in some places, feel cramped—and therefore not at all a place they'd want to hang out. But a good window gave it plenty of light, and they took care to maximize every inch without cluttering it. How?

Shop the Story

Moving In Together: Jason & Tyler  Moving in Together Jason & Tyler

  • Add homey accents: Reclaimed wood shelves from Build it Green! NYC, a tiny ornate rug Jason swiped from his parents for softness underfoot, a good blanky, and a stack of vintage trunks lend plenty of creature comforts that make you want to slip right out of your shoes when you walk in.
  • Use the nook. By hanging their TV in the most recessed width of wall space, Jason and Tyler gained an extra foot in distance between the screen and the couch. An added chair for setting things on or sitting in makes it feel curated—adding valuable purpose rather than just taking up space. Vintage trunks that form the TV stand double as hidden storage. 
Moving In Together Jason & Tyler
Jason's "beloved Eames chair," which he found in a trash heap and will never let go of, reflected in their mirror-plated credenza. 

  • Maximize the natural light: On top of the fact that they wanted to make this the TV room, they also needed to house a whole wardrobe in it. By inching the couch close to the window—exactly where you'd want to be for reading or snuggling—and selecting a mirror-plated wardrobe (which reflects what's coming in from the window), every seat in the room gets plenty of sunshine. 

"We were able to fit two of our biggest pieces without the area feeling constrained," Tyler reports—but the hidden storage and the enhanced lighting are the real victories here.

Open Shelving 3 Ways in the Bedroom

Moving In Together Jason & Tyler
A fuzzy fleece blanket, jersey laundry hamper, and pale, creamy sheets create a range of neutrals—our favorite color scheme. 

One of the reasons the couple sprang for this apartment was the light; there's at least one window in every room—that's not guaranteed in NYC!—and two tall, south-facing ones in the bedroom. To keep things crisp and sunny, they went with cool white walls in the bedroom, graphic accents, and open shelving three different ways. And if you're wondering about that quilt above, which is soft and fluffy right out of the bag, we sell here it in the Shop! (Full disclosure: I brought it with me for the shoot because I wasn't sure they had a comforter.)

Moving In Together Jason & Tyler  Moving In Together Jason & Tyler
If you can't find storage boxes this pretty and sturdy, try wrapping a regular shoe box in paper you love.

  • Graphic accents: An old American flag, printed boxes, a vintage-inspired speaker, and a charcoal ceramic holder for their shared sunglasses addiction are all impactful—with clean lines that don't clutter. 
Moving In Together Jason & Tyler  Moving In Together Jason & Tyler
Our photographer, Mark Weinberg, and I were captivated and delighted by Jason and Tyler's overflowing sunglasses collection.   
  • Open shelves for display: Between the windows, the duo hung shelves that matched the ones in their living room (the brackets they sourced from a hardware store), and decked them out with things that look good: plants, old bottles, pictures, and a camera. "There's a good amount of greenery outside the window," Tyler said, which they played off of with hits of moss and olive on the shelves, "and easy access to the fire escape outside for enjoying a beer (don't tell our super)." Relegating some shelves for pure and simple display—and not strictly storage—keeps even a small space from feeling like a cell.
Moving In Together Jason & Tyler  Moving In Together Jason & Tyler
Their terrarium, complete with little figurines in a mossy landscape, was a favor given to guests at a wedding they attended prior to moving.
  • Open shelves for sweaters: Their bedroom does have a real closet, but to house the overflow that would normally go in a dresser, they're instead using an open bookshelf (see left image below). If you're proud enough of your sweater collection, it's a genius move: In the same way that open shelves in a kitchen keep things feeling airy, so do they make more sense for a small space than a bulky dresser—and there's the added bonus that they force you to be neater(A few smartly placed wall hooks give their hoodies a home in a hurry.)
  • A tall, narrow stack of books: Instead of adding more horizontal shelves for their books—or cramming them into the ones between the windows—the pair added an invisible vertical bookshelf beside the sweater holder. It's graphic, an art-piece as much as a holder, and a tidy way to keep their favorite titles on hand. 
Moving In Together Jason & Tyler  Moving In Together Jason & Tyler
An invisible bookshelf and diamond-shaped Japanese Wall Hooks (that you can find in our Shop) create storage out of thin air.

A Little Warmth In a Rental Kitchen

In a rental apartment when you're on a budget, the style of the kitchen cabinets is not likely going to be something that makes or breaks the deal—they wouldn't have chosen this finish, or this countertop, if it were up to them. But a lot of good light and plenty of space (there's actually another wall of cabinets and a countertop that faces this one) sold them on this kitchen as a place they would be happy to cook regularly.   

Moving In Together Jason & Tyler
Shop their tea towels (flour sack and striped) in our Shop

  • Decorate naturally, instead of all at once: With time, the kitchen is a place that automatically gets homier, as it's prone to accumulatingc one version or another of "fridge art" (signs of life, that is) over time—here: a piece of art, a card, plants, ceramics, soft rumpled linens, and a brass bottle opener. Sometimes the coziest rooms are the ones you don't decorate, but instead sit back and observe as they gather artifacts from your life over time. 

An Expandable Place To Eat

Moving In Together Jason & Tyler  Moving In Together Jason & Tyler
The ceramic vase and glossy votive holders (that double as condiment bowls) can be found in our Shop. 

Right when you enter Jason & Tyler's apartment, you're greeted by a table and chairs backed by a tall, leaning mirror that seems to double the size of the room—this is where they eat, and I loved that it was the first space you encounter ("We really like how it's the central point in the apartment," Jason says). Better still, it's expandable without feeling fold-up: 

  • Seating can double: A few wooden folding chairs leaned against a nearby wall, and those—coupled with that Eames chair from the living room—would allow as many as six or seven to gather around this compact table if you pulled it out from the wall.
  • Continuity between rooms: One more reclaimed wood shelf was placed high above the tall mirror, making it the third room that has one. Each set of those shelves is different, but it's a control amongst the variables—something that makes all the decor, however minimal, feels part of a whole as you travel through the rooms. It's the perfect home for Jason's bottle collection, featuring the same blues, greens, and toasty browns from other rooms. 

Moving In Together Jason & tyler

This post originally ran as in 2015 as "Moving In Together: Finishing Touches for a Small Space" last summer, but we brought it back because apartments have resolutions, too.

Photos by Mark Weinberg 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ericka Barbara
    Ericka Barbara
  • Debra Dawson
    Debra Dawson
  • Izzy Sanchez-Mendoza
    Izzy Sanchez-Mendoza
  • PJ
  • Smaug
Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


Ericka B. August 14, 2018
Where is this table from?! I absolutely love it!
Debra D. October 9, 2017
Where can I find the dining chairs? Thanks for reposting article! So many great ideas!
Izzy S. February 5, 2017
I'm loving the interior design posts :)
PJ February 5, 2017
I lived in an earthquake state for over 15 years with open shelves, etc. “Earthquake glue” held many treasures, large and small, firmly in place.
Lots of interesting ideas for small spaces!
Smaug February 6, 2017
Significant earthquakes tend to be further apart than that. You can use sticky wax for some stuff and it helps, but certainly not potted plants. Looks like the shelves are just held by gravity, too- pipe fittings seem to be chic in New York these days, but have limited practicality. Then again, my local Safeway has wine bottles standing all the way to the edge of their wooden shelves, 6 feet off the floor; maybe they know something- like that earthquakes are obsolete.
Smaug February 3, 2017
Well, they do warn you- I wonder how many of us are actually neat enough to get away with all those open shelves? Being a resident of earthquake country, they're out of the question anyway.
Dawn R. February 15, 2016
I think, what they have done is very nice & personal.
I also think that people who cannot help putting negative comments as some have put should not be shown, as they do not deserve to have people's time wasted on their negative opinions.
Smaug February 3, 2017
Some might think that if you can't find the courtesy to respect other peoples' opinions, there's no reason for them to respect yours.
Carolyn K. January 30, 2016
The best storage trick I have learned is storing quilts and comforters. Switch out comforters and blankets and store them in between your box spring and mattress. They take up ZERO room and make your bed softer.
Carolyn K. January 30, 2016
This place is a dump. Their shoes are just piled in the floor. The flag is hanging on the wall. Invisible bookcase? Really? It just looks like a pile of books. That sweater rack is hedious. Why not get a small tasteful cabinet for the sweaters and arrange the books on top? That framed picture above the stove is a greasy mess after about a minute.
Smaug February 3, 2017
I think that's the idea with the invisible bookshelf, but I'd like to know what's back there.
Taylor R. January 6, 2016
Ugh, those hooks, those towels, everything about this apartment is gold! I espectially love the idea of turning a bedroom into a cozy sitting room. #decoratinggoals
Tom October 1, 2015
Where did you get the hamper??
Leslie S. August 5, 2015
I love the dining nook! And such a beautiful flower arrangement! Makes me want to run home and re-do my own!
Hannah W. July 31, 2015
I want this apartment! Also, glad to hear that it's okay to keep shoeboxes out.. I need help organizing my apartment, Amanda!
SMSF July 30, 2015
Nice look - leaning mirror and glass bottle collection perched above it. Couldn't do that here in earthquake country! Cute place.
Horto July 29, 2015
Flag is hanging the wrong way.
Facing the flag stars on left as your hand over your heart
SMSF July 30, 2015
Yep, first thing I noticed, too.
AntoniaJames July 29, 2015
My sons really like the hanging canvas shoe bags with stacked compartments, similar to these: I bought them a heavier, khaki version when they went away to school . . . . not sure where; they hold 8 pairs of their (large!) shoes.
More floor space for this tiny apartment! ;o)
Kenzi W. July 29, 2015
I stole so many ideas from this apartment just now, so thank you for that.
AntoniaJames July 29, 2015
Someone, please, remove that framed object over the sink / immediately adjacent to the stove at once. Even with a hood (which I don't see), it's going to have a film of grease on it within a week, assuming that the occupants of that kitchen actually cook. Yikes. ;o)
amysarah July 29, 2015
Beyond a greasy film on the glass, heat, moisture condensation and grease will degrade and discolor the paper the print is on over time. So, if it's a piece you want to preserve, you might want to rethink putting it so close to your stove top. But cute apt! Like the molded Eames chairs!