Home Decor

A 355-Square-Foot Apartment That Makes the Most of Every Inch

How the owner of this studio apartment is living small—and loving it.

April 27, 2020
Photo by Weston Welles

When I set out to write The Little Book of Living Small, my book about small spaces, there were a few homes I knew I just had to photograph for the book. Among them, a studio apartment that I had seen in O at Home magazine (Oprah’s now-defunct decorating magazine). I’d saved the photos of this perfectly-designed studio apartment for more than a decade because I found them so inspiring. So, I was delighted when I was able to track down the owner, Alisa Regas, and was especially thrilled when I found out she still lived in the same studio all these years later—and she had barely changed a thing (talk about classic design choices!).

When Regas bought her West Village apartment nearly twenty years ago, she wasn’t the least bit worried about its size. Before the advent of tell-all-renovation blogs, Regas, like me, had been the kind of person who clipped space-saving ideas from magazines and books for years, and had even tracked down architects to ask them for their sources.

For her own renovation, she hired architect Kenny Payero, who helped her reimagine every inch of the 355 square feet into a one-bedroom, complete with a dining space and even a dressing “room.” Alisa also brought in an interior designer to help with the furnishing choices and layout. The collaborative effort resulted in a space that is as efficient as a ship’s cabin, but just as stylish as an expansive loft.

The apartment only began to feel small when John, Alisa’s boyfriend (now husband), came into the picture. In an only-in-New York story, a second, equally tiny studio in the building became available, and the couple snapped it up—even though it did not adjoin the original apartment. The extra space, referred to as “the parlor,” is used for entertaining and for visiting guests. Alisa is a performing arts producer, so she also lends the space to artists who have made the parlor their New York base while working on new projects. While it’s an unusual set-up, they’ve stayed in the studio because the neighborhood and their life there outweighed the appeal of a larger space. Here’s a glimpse inside Alisa and John’s small-but-stylish living space.

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Top Comment:
“Also, I am experiencing inhabiting a small space to be nurturing: it's like living inside a hug! Your article was just the inspiration I needed. Thank you! ”
— Olivia H.
Comment

The dining nook’s built-in banquette has storage beneath the cushioned seats: a space for linens on the left and filing drawers on the right. The transom window above the dining area lets light into the bathroom beyond. The Eames chairs and Saarenin tulip table are mid-century icons.

Photo by Weston Wells

Almost everything is miniature in Alisa’s kitchen: the sink measures twenty inches, the dishwasher eighteen inches, and the range twenty inches. Because the space is small, Alisa could afford custom cabinetry, cherrywood counters, and the faucets and fixtures on her dream wishlist—one of the many benefits of renovating a small space.

By opting for a now-discontinued eighteen-inch-wide refrigerator, Alisa was able to fit in a tiny pantry cabinet that keeps her small kitchen from getting overwhelmed with clutter. The metal front door acts as a memo board.

Photo by Weston Wells
Photo by Weston Wells

By opening up the walls, the architect found space to build in corner shelves for cookbooks and an alcove that holds a dozen wine bottles.

Photo by Weston Wells

Demolition revealed space behind the original medicine cabinet and Payero designed a new one that is a full foot deep. An all-white palette and a minimalist glass enclosure help make the bathroom feel spacious.

Photo by Weston Wells

A custom floor-to-ceiling bookcase, designed in collaboration with Brooklyn-based cabinet maker Patrick Weder, holds all of Alisa’s books and doubles as a bedside table. The built-in wardrobe separates the bed from the closet/dressing area. One of the closet doors unfolds to become a bi-fold mirror. The side of the wardrobe that faces the bed is solid, and the side that faces the closet has drawers and cabinets.

Photo by Weston Wells
Photo by Weston Wells

Carefully chosen furnishings give the small living room the feel of a grander space. Leaving the windows bare (Alisa lives on an upper floor on the garden side of her building) also expands the feeling of the room. With doors on two sides of the bedroom, Alisa was left with just a small stretch of wall that necessitated a custom sofa to fit the space. The two small cocktail tables offer more flexibility and take up less space than a traditional coffee table.

Photo by Weston Wells

And, for all of you that have been asking, here's a floor plan:

Photo by Kenny Payero

Which one of these space-saving tricks would you try out? Tell us in the comments below!

Photography by Weston Wells from The Little Book of Living Small by Laura Fenton. Reprinted by permission of Gibbs Smith.

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Laura Fenton

Written by: Laura Fenton

Laura Fenton is the A Full Plate columnist at Food52. The author of The Little Book of Living Small and the former lifestyle director at Parents magazine, she covers home, design, and sustainability. Laura lives in Jackson Heights, Queens in a 690-square foot apartment with her husband and son. You can follow her on Instagram @laura.alice.fenton.

77 Comments

Penny P. July 18, 2020
Any chance you could include rough dimensions on that floorplan? I'm having a hard time believing it's only 353 sq. ft. It's adorable, though!
 
Lauren B. July 18, 2020
I grew up in the Bronx and I drove through NYC earlier this week and it has become a disaster. All the good things that made it worth dealing with the not good parts have all been shut, banned, or gone out of business. The people who are running the place are lunatics. Until all this nonsense started I would still come every Sunday, go to the Met in AM and then Folk Dance in Central Park but it is ALL DONE! ☹️
 
Jennifer T. July 18, 2020
It's a cool little place, but I couldn't do it. That kitchen makes me feel like I'm trying to shove my foot in a shoe two sizes too small! I used to live in and just out of the city in my 20's, I loved the artists, the galleries, the vibe and that at any moment you could see and hear extremely talented singers, dancers, acrobats in a park, street corner or on the subway. NYC was full of life and possibility to a young 20-something, with reminders of those who were there before us. Yes it was dirty, it smelled, and it was crowded...but oh so cool! I moved away almost 20 years ago, and haven't been back in a while. I have an old friend still living in Williamsburg. She said the city has changed so much, it's been watered down considerably. Such a shame!
 
Katherine Z. July 18, 2020
Absolutely wonderful use of space. In a "SQUIRREL!!!" moment, I am hoping anyone reading the comments can answer this question:

What is the cookbook below "Plenty" on the shelf? (The cookbooks under the wine rack.) Thank you.
 
Katherine Z. July 18, 2020
Never mind; should have continued searching for three more minutes. Vefa's Kitchen.
 
Edward May 18, 2020
There are tremendous, almost irrepressible forces at work when it comes to real estate issues. There is such an overwhelmingly financial vested interest that is constantly trying to shape the landscape and maintain the market place of real estate, and the media is used constnatly to further these interest. One example is the newly ubiquitous diminution and putdown of tenants by calling them "renters." Tenants are legal, contracted residents who pay rent. Notice you never hear landlords or owners called "mortgagers," which is what they do and pay. We in New York City, one of the few regions of the country which responsibly mandates controls and regulations on housing, particularly rental housing, are very alert to and sensitive about the latest real estate industry and property developer pursuits of diminishing minimum residential unit size for ever increasing profits. We have laws establishing a minimum unit size requirement, and like any restriction or control for the benefit of the consumer, especially in a limited and largely monopolized marketplace, the industry is constantly chaffing and trying to subvert and manipulate this safeguard for greater profits. If they could, the real estate industry for maximum profits, would diminish, offer and hype apartments the size of refrigerators or coffins. All this to say that the glamorization, hyping or rationalization of smaller or tiny apartments is akin to selling us on the virtues of being poor or the glories of smaller budgets. If it is a personal choice in the wilderness, that maybe great, but in New York City it would be an insidious loophole for a rapacious industry that already strangles most aspects of life by cornering one of life's essential needs. Likewise, please notice in this time of Covid-19 when most of life and commerce is halted, only landlords and bankers seem to be held immune from the suffering and above real economic sacrifice or distress. So, your article on tiny apartments may be cute, but it is also dangerous for those of us trying to keep laws in place that protect people and society.
 
GigiR May 18, 2020
Its not cute in the derogatory sense. It is a practical demonstration of how to survive those very insidious market forces that reduce our living footprint to negligible. Few people have the resources to participate time-wise in the constant battle that is existence in NYC. There are those, like yourself who are brilliantly informed and are on the front-lines of protecting standards of life and dignity in this metropolis. Don’t be angry because tenants like these aren’t raging about square footage. Be content that there in the expert design of this apartment is happiness and contentment and a pattern for surviving these bilious times.
 
Lauren B. May 18, 2020
Maybe u r right concerning the bankers but the landlords? They still have to fix everything that breaks in their properties and I will bet they can’t evict anybody for who knows how long, due to this crisis. If people weren’t willing to pay ridiculous $ for the micro apartments, or if nobody would move into them then landlords wouldn’t make them. NYC got too overpriced for me and the schools suck so I left and am thankful that I did. I do agree with you about the dehumanizing terminology - noticed it also in the ACA where instead of patients, we, the “little people” are referred to as UNITS!
 
Edward May 18, 2020
Ah, the landlords' endless responsiblities and expenses... Well, they are fully entitled to claim repair expenses. But upkeep and maintenance shoud be a part of their running costs. As soon as the city allowed an extra consideration for what were called Major Capital Improvements, ALL maintenance essentially ended until the project became worthy of, you guessed it, a MCI! One maintenance upkeep in my building qualified for a 40% rental increase not just until the expenses were repaid-- but forever! Trump himself set up a dummy business to buy landlord supplies wholesale and to sell the same things back to Trump companies for extreme profits. Son-in-law Jared Kushner, like his own jailed father is another manipulater and cheater at the landlord business. One other syndrome to be wary of: the Mom and Pop landlords, who like the Mom and Pop family farmers, are aways trotted out like poster children to win the hearts and sympathy in any economic battle, but these battles, as 60 Minutes recently exposed about Farm subsidies, actually are driven by, lobbied for and benefit huge landlords and farming corporations, and, they let huge international real estate investors and agri-businesses reap even greater profits at public expense. Give help from the public larder where it is needed with income ceilings and not handed out to huge profitable businesses.
 
Lauren B. May 18, 2020
One of my kids and fam live in a rental apartment in Queens and whatever needs to be done by the landlord gets done, and fast. Yes, that is anecdotal. If you dislike what is going on then I say leave. I do not regret abandoning the city I used to love. NYC is so corrupt and it is unrealistic to think you can change that. You will make yourself sick from being angry. You make cortisol and this promotes all kinds of disease.
 
Edward May 18, 2020
Thank you so very much for your kind words and concern. I am not a lawyer although I have had several judges tell me I should have been one. It all started in 1974 in Washington DC where i was lucky to get into an old, small (52) apartment building in the posh Georgetown. Two hot shot lawyers came along and saw a real estate inverstment they couldn't resist, bought my building and gave us tremendous rent increases, and when that didn't work we got notice to leave. The entire building was retired teachers and nurses except for six of us young ones. I went to court, the DC Rent Control Commission and ultimately had the "longest case in their history," won your rights and saved all of us over $600,000 and our right to live there. It taught me that greedy bullies could and should be fought with everything one could muster. Alas, you are right, there is no end of this sort of thing, but running away would be like giving up on America and leaving it to be despoiled, plundered and ravaged by Trump and his cronies. We are in sad times!
 
Lauren B. May 19, 2020
Occasionally in the news I read about somebody who is in their 80’s + or minus, who has just earned a juris prudence degree (but of course I have no idea about your age) but if you want to do this then you should pursue it if it will make you happy. That’s very nice that you beat the system in Georgetown. I moved to upstate NY. I see bald eagles from my windows and yesterday a male Baltimore Oriole. (😡I’m a Yanks fan) This girl from the south Bronx has a veg garden now and am picking arugula, spinach, radishes, etc. Yes there is corruption, wheeling and dealing here, I am sure, but it’s not so in my face. It’s better to have your health than angrily try to shovel out the ocean with a teaspoon. And you need to include deBlasio, Cuomo, and their cronies in the list of New Yorkers who are doing any despoiling. Let’s talk about recipes now. I have a great vegan muffin recipe.
 
Linda H. July 18, 2020
Thank you for your insight and especially for taking on the thugs.
 
GigiR May 18, 2020
Thank you for the floor plan. Orientation is everything. Terrific use of every inch: bravo!
 
Olivia H. May 16, 2020
I recently down-sized from a 1,700 square foot loft space in Santa Fe, to a 495 square foot studio in Seattle. I have not lived in a space this tiny since a pied de terre I occupied in Paris in what now seems a lifetime ago. At first, I resisted letting go of so many things, and struggled with how I might make my new space feel like a home. In no time, I am finding that I love it here! I appreciate the simplicity it affords, and that I am living only with those things I truly enjoy and use. Also, I am experiencing inhabiting a small space to be nurturing: it's like living inside a hug! Your article was just the inspiration I needed. Thank you!
 
Arati M. May 16, 2020
Thank you for sharing that, Olivia. I love the idea of making our homes feel like a warm hug—nurturing, comforting, and fostering a sense of well-being.
 
Kim S. September 20, 2020
It does help to think of your space as a pied de terre. You don't store things for a lifetime in that living arrangement, you simply live your present-day life. All pied de terres are in a city, so nearly all of your entertaining is done at nearby establishments, and I also notice there is no in-unit laundry in this footprint. That's 2 hours minimum in a laundromat each week, or the expense of a service.
 
Suse May 15, 2020
https://kennypayero.com/project/west-village-apartment/
Found this hope the link works
 
KS May 15, 2020
I remember this apartment from many years ago--it was always one of my favorites, and I was so happy to see it again. Thanks for reprinting it. There was a floor plan in an earlier article. Everything the architect did to maximize the use of this space was perfect--clever and gorgeous. I'm not surprised to hear the owner is still there. Of course, I would only want to live there alone--but then, I'd rather live anywhere alone!
 
Corin May 15, 2020
Moved from a 3000 sq ft house to 1000 sq ft apt with my husband and teen son. Didn’t know how it would work as we gifted friends and non profits with 15 years worth of household goods & furniture. Paring down was hard but we did it. After just a few months in our new smaller space, we love the sense of psychological freedom from “stuff,” the new found time (takes 1 hr to clean weekly), and best of all we spend more quality time together as a family. We didn’t realize it until after the move but we all had our own spaces in the big house which meant we spent a lot of time apart. It’s not tiny house worthy, but our family made a conscious decision about what we wanted to surround ourselves with. We learned that we value people and experiences much more than things.
 
Arati M. May 15, 2020
Thank you for this delightful comment. Here's to your new home and all the wonderful memories you will continue to make in it.
 
Trishington May 15, 2020
I want to go to there. And stay forever. <3
 
Lauren B. May 14, 2020
I wonder how this is all working out during the lockdown since during normal times I always see everybody sitting for extended periods in Starbucks and other places because they need to get out of their small spaces.
 
GigiR May 14, 2020
Its called rising to the challenge. You suppress your irritation for the cause of the greater good.
 
Alexandra G. May 16, 2020
How do you know the reason people are sitting in starbucks? lol I liked to use the coffee shop up the street because I didn't want to pay for internet, not because my condo was small.
 
GC May 14, 2020
My husband and I moved into a tiny house, 425 sq. ft, in Mt. Washington area of Los Angeles, a year ago. We wanted to be in the area because of the open canyon, two patios on the property and dog-friendly neighborhood. We didn’t think we could do it after living in a 100sq. ft home on .33 acres in Michigan but we did. Decorating and innovating involved evaluating need vs want and valuing what we keep in our tiny space. We can’t imagine living anywhere else and like Alisa and John, are settling in and loving the neighborhood community.
 
GC May 14, 2020
I meant 1000 sq. ft
 
Suse May 14, 2020
I would love to see a floor plan
 
Arati M. May 18, 2020
It's now added :)
 
David R. May 14, 2020
It's a great apartment, but the size isn't exactly mind-boggling. You want to see small living spaces used well, look at Japan, especially Tokyo. My first Tokyo apartment was 170 square feet and it was a very comfortable place to live, though I admit I had to be creative with how I used the space. Since then, I've moved in with my SO just outside Tokyo, where we have about 400 square feet, and it's both a completely reasonable amount of space for two people and very comfortable. Bedroom, living room, kitchen, toilet, and bath.

So yeah, this apartment is nice and all, but let's not pretend that living in that amount of space is anything radical.
 
Ellen P. May 14, 2020
For all the people who are feeling inadequate, a New York friend of mine recently confided that many New Yorkers rent “u-store-it” space, for their seasonal clothing, decorations, party ware and mementoes. Rotate what’s in your apartment as needed. Secret’s out of the bag! The teeny apartment is lovely.
 
Arati M. May 14, 2020
Haha our skeletons are out of our (storage rental) closets!
 
Lauren B. May 14, 2020
Yes, everybody I know who lives in Manhattan has a storage unit.
 
Christopher B. May 14, 2020
Living in such a small space you will have to keep busy keeping the place neat. You'll never be able to relax. And you won't have room for all your things. Very few people are this organized or minimalist or should be. Why has minimalism become a virtue? I like having a lot of things.
 
Arati M. May 14, 2020
I’m no minimalist either, but I dare say there’s room for us both and a happy middle that I endeavor to inhabit! I also love Alisa’s apartment because despite its size, it doesn’t feel minimal, it feels like it’s filled with so many things they love and enjoy! I would never have guessed it’s size!
 
Lauren B. May 14, 2020
I also like “stuff.” Plus if you do things with your hands like art, stained glass, etc then this just doesn’t work. Also, whoever was talking about how you don’t need a big kitchen with lots of gadgets, yeah, but it sure is a lot of FUN! (Depends on what kind of gadgets, right?😉)
 
Alexandra G. May 16, 2020
Wen I lived in a tiny home in Canada and a very small apartment in Colorado It took me no more than 1/2 hr to clean and everything already had it's place which left me plenty of time to enjoy my life... It was literally the exact opposite of never being able to relax.
 
Jessica May 14, 2020
Oh Food52 if you are getting into the interior design world then you need to know that we designaholics crave to know sources. Please name names like that sink and even though discontinued the fridge! We are a resourceful bunch and a few clues are usually all that's needed.
 
Arati M. May 14, 2020
Noted, Jessica! :)
 
Patricia S. May 14, 2020
Great use of space....except for the placement of spices, herbs, oils, and grains right by or above a heat source. The best way to have them either go rancid, lose their potency and flavor quickly and cost you a lot of money that was unnecessary to spend if you had placed them away from heat, preferably in a dark, cooler place, like a cabinet. I know the goal was efficient use of space but I'm also pragmatic about not wanting to waste food that could have been used but was stored without thinking about the effects of heat on those items. Not easy for anyone and yes, that includes me, to get it all right, any day, any time, with limited space and resources or even with every resource one may dream of having.
The main thing is that no one needs a giant kitchen with a million gadgets to create great food and I am sure you have helped a lot of people understand that by sharing your ideas!
 
GigiR May 14, 2020
What would be lovely is a floor plan to accompany the photos. Really well thought out.
 
Rosalind R. May 14, 2020
I agree. The photos are pretty useless for depicting things in relation to each other. I'm struggling to understand why - in a space that is only 355 square feet - one would cordon off a "dressing area." Seems a bit nuts. It might make sense if one could see it but, sadly, no.
 
mdelgatty May 14, 2020
I always want a floor plan! I have pretty good spacial relationship skills, but I'm also compulsive about wanting to see patterns and how things fit together, and I spend way more time than I like figuring out floor plans from limited clues in the photos!
 
Tamera H. May 14, 2020
I think they did that to give a sense of privacy since the windows are left bare to allow for a more spacious look...
 
jane D. May 14, 2020
how is publishing a floorplan going to mess with their privacy?
their full names are given... and the article says that the windows are, basically, "not visible" from outside...
plus photos of almost every inch of space in the apartment...
 
some1105 May 14, 2020
The privacy is for the person getting dressed in the dressing area, which provides a shield from the windows.
 
Author Comment
Laura F. May 15, 2020
Sorry that wasn't clear from the text: The divided layout in the bedroom allows them to have a large dresser in a room that wouldn't normally be able to accommodate both a dresser and a bed. The bed is pressed right up against the back side of the dresser.
 
Arati M. May 18, 2020
Hi GiGi. We've now added one :)