Welcome to Amplified Apartments, a blog series about apartment hackers who’ve made strides against the mother of all renter dilemmas: square footage.
Our first Amplified Apartments takes us to Peachtree St., Atlanta, Georgia. There, from a dull husk of a space totaling 800 sq. ft., Marie, a young media professional, has built herself an editorial-ready enclave. Her solutions for an optimized apartment come ten-fold, with a hallmark principle guiding them all: stay positive and realistic. Square footage can bog you down, or with the right guidelines, spark your creativity.
Sharpening her design and DIY skill set, Marie began molding her trim one bedroom apartment with minor cosmetic decisions—paint color, furniture size, and varied textures. The success of her crafty innovations speaks for itself. Rooms are decorated to the fullest, but always with function in mind. Drawers act as bedside tables. Table tops are left bare giving the illusion of space. Nearly every vanity – accents, lights, and artwork—is done with purpose.
Read on for the full interview with the enterprising amateur designer—detailed images, shopping tips, and inspirations included.
What was the potential you saw in this apartment before making renovations? What was the process like getting it to this level?
When I first looked at my place, it was brown. I mean everything was brown. The walls, the trim, the questionable stain on the carpet—brown. But the location was amazing. My apartment is situated in central Midtown Atlanta. I’m walking distance to restaurants, bars, grocery stores, parks, etc. I was willing to take on a challenge for a great location, but luckily the necessary changes were mainly cosmetic.
I would say the process of getting it to this level is continuous. I have been there for 3 years, and I change something about it every weekend. I love design, decorating, and DIY-ing.
What were your must-haves when designing the space? Did you have to make any compromises?
My only must-haves were that the space needed to be organized, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing. When you live in such a small amount of space, you do just that: you live in it—in every square inch of it. In my space, all of the seating surfaces are comfortable and plush. All of the carpets feel amazing on your feet. It’s warm retreat from the city elements outside. There are no bold, colorful patterns that distract or grab your eye. It’s just a serene little place.
Compromises? Personally, I feel there are no compromises in design, only creative opportunities and realistic limitations such as budget and space. Purchase what you can afford and use the space you have efficiently. Done and done. Everything else is free game.
Where did you splurge and where did you cut corners?
I’d say that my biggest splurges were the living room rug and all of the light fixtures. I wouldn’t say that I cut corners, but I do enjoy the thrill of DIY. I like to customize, so I will buy raw wood in order to play. The dressers next to the bed and the dresser in the dining area were all raw wood before I painted them. I wanted my place to look cohesive. Expensive and cheap should not stand out in your decor. They should be juxtaposed to blend.
What was your inspiration for the wooden panel wall?
This is a focal wall that the sofa stares at so I wanted it to be exciting. I knew I wanted to put chairs in front of that wall so people could communicate face to face, instead of one party staring straight at a TV. The idea of wallpaper was tossed on the table, but it was not “manly” enough for our shared space. Rustic wood was pitched and completely received by the man of the house.
I liked the way the beams on the table looked so I thought I would mirror it on a wall. The wall is now textured, interesting, gender neutral, and classic. There are only 9 holes in the wall for this project. That was my max. All of the boards that you see are attached to 3 wooden anchors that span the width of the space. Making the least amount of holes in the wall as possible is crucial for apartments, and I assume for maintaining the integrity of the drywall.
How did you make your communal space appear open?
Well the communal space is probably only 500 sq. ft. max. My only option was open. Open, yet cozy. I struggled with the placement of the ottoman. Does it hinder walking? Is it cramped? However, living in the space, I feel it adds a necessary barrier. I like to have defined areas, but still be able to see and access everything. I use rugs for that rather than walls. Adam (the man) likes to see a lot of the floor. I, however, like to know that when I am standing on this rug under the table, it’s time to eat.
I also think the key to open concept is to use size-appropriate furniture. There is a limited amount of space within four walls, so something has to give. If it’s important for you to have a lot of walking space in order to not feel suffocated, then you need to scale down the size of your furniture. Trust me, if I could fill the entire bedroom with a King bed, I would be all over it. Work with what you have, and embrace it.
How do you toe the line between clutter and decor?
I probably dance all over this line. I take comfort in small, cozy spaces. My husband would probably say we are “cluttered,” but I would beg to differ. Because my space is only 800 sq. ft., even my decorative elements have a purpose. The metal stool in front of the amazing wall of wood is an actual stool. I swivel it up to be a table, and then I swivel it down to fit at the dinner table when I need more seating. I put decor on it to make it look purposeful. That’s right; it’s a side table because it has a plant on it.
I also am not a huge fan of pictures. The gallery wall in the living room is the only place where you will see the loves of my life. I think it’s important to allow people to imagine themselves in your space, and that is a little difficult with your face all over it. Because I’m not huge on picture frames on surfaces, you will see that most of my surfaces are without them. I try to leave most of the dressers clear so that the light can reflect off of them giving the perception of more space.
Where did you find your accent pieces? Any secret vintage stores that should be on our radar?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to antique shop or flea market hunt. My usual go to locations include: TJ Maxx, HomeGoods, and IKEA. I also will meander into Goodwill sometimes. The two lamps in my bedroom started out as a putrid green color. When I saw a lamp pair at Goodwill, I knew I should probably grab them. I cleaned them up, wrapped them in twine, and voila, customized lamps just for me.
I don’t have any particular antique stores to suggest, but I do know a few good websites. One in particular is www.shadesoflight.com. They have great prices and interesting pieces. I also suggest keeping your eye out for art that you like. Complementary art can be difficult to find. Some of my accent pieces are three of the same image, except I framed them from different vantage points. This again adds a cohesive element without being super matchy.
What’s your number one tip for solving the small space problem?
If you need it, and can’t find it, make it. Sometimes the things you find in stores are designed with another person’s needs in mind. When working in a small space, there is no room for riff raff. I need everything to have a purpose, fit its purpose, and fit its space.
In the image of the microwave, you can see this put into action. Placing the microwave directly on the counter would have been fine, but then I would have so much wasted space above it. To solve this issue, I built a butcher block shelf (the same material and stain as the counter) to raise the microwave up. I can now store my books and other essentials under the microwave. No sense wasting a precious drawer for my cutting board or oven mitt.
Another example. I needed a table. I wanted a Farmhouse table. Not an option. Those are huge—and expensive. So I built one. It serves its purpose and fulfills my need (and want). Don’t always feel that you have to settle for what’s out there. Just think, the person who made the very piece you are about to purchase at your local store had to sit down and design that piece to fulfill a need.
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