small apartment ideas
June 2, 2005 5:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving into a new apartment this week, and it's pretty small by most standards. Does anyone have any decorating tips for tiny apartments (studios in particular), and suggestions for cheap places to get a new bed and other necessities?

My new apartment is a second floor walkup in a restored victorian mansion. It's a studio, but the kitchen is a seperate room with breakfast nook, and I have a small (6x6) private balcony.

I've seperated from my husband so I have very little in terms of posessions. I need ideas for better use of space, and some cheapcheapcheap shopping suggestions. The only Ikea within driving distance to me is in Canada, so shopping there would get me hit with duty, and may negate the value aspect. Online is good.

I loved the small apartment decorating contest, but I'm not really a minimalist (I would sooner die than part with my books), and I can't afford the budget most of those people had.

So I wanted to get ideas from those on AskMe who've lived in tiny spaces, and managed to make it comfortable on next to no budget.
posted by Kellydamnit to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
In college, I lived in one apartment where my bedroom was about the size of a closet - no joke. My key to living in such a small space and keeping my sanity was to get rid of all of the extra junk I didn't need and keep the place neat. If I wasn't using it and didn't plan on using it in the forseeable future, I got rid of it.

As for cheap furniture, I had friends in college that got couches and whatnot from the Salvation Army. Another good place to pick up cheap furniture is estate sales / yard sales / good friends. When I moved into my current apartment I had no furniture, but was lucky enough to have a beautiful desk and bed donated to me by some family friends. Ask around to see if any family or friends have extra furniture laying around that they're not using. Also, check with your local university. Often universities have surplus sales where you can good deals on office-type furniture.

If you're looking for really cheap retail place to buy furniture, Target and Wal-mart are the cheapest I've found. Not high quality usually, but cheap!
posted by geeky at 5:50 AM on June 2, 2005

This thread on the smallest, coolest apartment contest might give you some ideas.
posted by gd779 at 6:07 AM on June 2, 2005

There's ikea online. Are you in NY? I know that Ikea has tons of places in PA, it might be worth it for you to drive down.

Not to be an Ikea pimp, but they have some pretty well-built and super cheap loft beds (you assemble). I think Target online does too. If your ceilings are 8 ft or higher, definitely consider one. They have a few steel beds, and one or two wooden beds. You can put a sofa or a table and chairs or your computer (or lots of other things) under it - it really frees up a lot of space. Or if drawer/storage space is at a premium, you might consider what used to be (maybe still is) called a Captain's Bed - a mattress on a raised platform, in which the platform is made up of a bunch of drawers. Think "mattress on the bureau" and you get the idea. Also, lots and lots and lots of shelves - let your books and your albums and your other collectiongs be your decor. Your apartment sounds small, but charming!
posted by iconomy at 6:29 AM on June 2, 2005

Best answer: I lived with my partner, when we were first together, in a 350 sq ft space with no internal walls or doors (except the bathroom). Small space organizing is something that is dear to my heart. There are a few rules that seem stupidly obvious, but here we go:

1. Small apartments demand small furniture. This is not the fasion right now, so it can be difficult to find. If you can't get to an Ikea (which is not the be-all and end-all, but it is certainly a good place to start for cheap), you want to find places that do European design. I've found it very helpful to look at expensive design places to get a sense of what the possibilities are, and then look for sales or cheaper instances of a similar design.

2. You don't have to be a minimalist, but you can not buy anything unless you know where it will live before you get to the check-out counter. This includes everything from a lovely vase to a piece of furniture to a bulk tub of peanut butter. If you do not apply this rule, you will drown in clutter. If you do apply it, you will find that your house contains the things that you most love while you save money.

3. Wait. Think. Pay attention to your space and what you reach for, walk around, and want. Do not feel pressured to complete your space now. If there is something you can not wait for, try to find something at a garage sale that can be really temporary, or get something that will fill a different role later (ex, get folding deck furniture as your eating table and chairs while waiting to find the perfect permanent table: the deck furniture can go on the deck when you get your indoor furniture and can double as extra seating for the times you have more than x people in the house).

Some details:

My couch is a click-clack, a design that might be very useful for you. It's sort of like a futon, but the mechanism is easier to use than most futons and the cushions are designed such that they aren't folded in the couch position, which makes it a more comfortable bed and a more comfortable couch. This is a particularly ugly example, but it also has a little diagram so you can see what I'm talking about.

Mounting things on the wall is also a great way to conserve floor space in small spaces. (think cd racks, cookbook shelves, etc)

There is a type of folding dining room table (example) that is great for small spaces. We just got an outdoor version of this from Ikea (for much cheaper!) that is going to double as deck furninture and dining furniture.

Don't forget lighting. Good lighting can define different areas in your space and give the feeling of "rooms" where there are none.

Hope that's helpful. Good luck with your new space.
posted by carmen at 6:56 AM on June 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Craigslist, Salvation Army and Goodwill have been my budget-friendly furniture options. If you need IKEA, someone will have an IKEA desk at half the cost already assembled with a scratch in it. Garage sales rock, especially if you're comfortable with paint.

If you've got Cost Plus in the neighborhood, they tend to sell a lot of foldable compact urban furniture for semi-cheap as well.

My smallest apartment was a tiny studio. I took a regular full bed and lined the back with pillows so it looked kinda like a couch. I got a thick, heavy bookcase thing through the classifieds that held all my books, my music, my tv, computer, booze and glassware (It was originally a horizontal bookcase, I just turned the damn thing vertical). I had a chest as a table (dining/living/blanket storage) and pulled it up right next to my couch/bed. I went vertical with everything and got rid of anything that didn't serve two purposes. (On the books, you can always stack 'em two deep on a deepish bookshelf.) The girl who was going to rent the place after me just stood in the middle of the room, turned around and said, "Oh my god, you have a lot of stuff." I shelved from floor to ceiling and it worked for me.

Good luck. Take it slow. And have fun with it. It's your own personal space. Sometimes it better to wait for exactly what you want and eat off a cardboard box in the meantime ;)
posted by Gucky at 8:43 AM on June 2, 2005

carmen is absolutely right: think upwards! mount lots of shelves on the walls. put things in boxes on top of bookshelves. anywhere you've got an unusual space in front of a wall, try putting a shelf, a cabinet, CD tree, or drawers there.

for example:

- my bathroom is very long and skinny so i've got a shelf in my bathroom that holds extra toilet paper and toiletries because nothing else would fit there. (but since you're a bookworm, i wouldn't suggest putting your beloved books in there.)
- or, there's a weird space between my sofa and my radiator, so i stuck a cabinet there.
- i've also got a private outside space and the person living there before me turned the stairs to the terrace into cubby holes.

also think under. under the desk. under the bed. under the couch. go to a home furnishings store like bed, bath, and beyond or the container store and buy containers. anything to help you get organized tends means you can put more stuff in a smaller space. plastic drawers for knick knacks. stacking shelves and plastic containers for the kitchen. becaise the shelves already built into your apartment can always be utilized better.
posted by kathryn at 8:45 AM on June 2, 2005

Craigslist's Buffalo furniture section might have some cheap deals.
I lived in a one-room studio for a few years and went with the Mary Richards sofa-bed route. You can keep it made up and still fold it away and I had a footlocker for a coffee table where I stashed the pillows and comforter in the morning.
posted by FreezBoy at 9:17 AM on June 2, 2005

Best answer: my place in la serena is bigger than a studio apartment, so i don't know how well this carries across, but here's what i did:

- keep the basic decoration simple. wooden/plain tiled floors, walls/ceiling painted in a single colour. it's going to be cluttered anyway, so any pattern or variation in the background will just make this worse.

- a table and a chair or two are critical. you need somewhere to eat and work (i lived without a table for a few months and it was really depressing - i was amazed at how much better i felt when i got one). my table is unpainted wood, actually some garden furniture, and the chairs fold up, so i can accomodate some extra visitors without losing space to empty chairs when i'm alone.

- somewhere to sit and relax. i have a bean bag "pouffe" that i really like.

- i don't keep books there apart from what i'm reading (no heating so it gets damp in winter), but if you have lots of books, put shelves directly on the walls. the most flexible solution is metal runners that screw onto the wall vertically, with supports that clip on at various heights and take a plank of wood. you can buy these at a diy stall. you'll also need an electric drill if you don't have one (in my experience an electrical drill is pretty much critical if you're decorating yourself trying to save money). to get started you might need to find a friend with some diy skills.

- in the kitchen, i have room for one two-door cupboard. so i have a simple white cupboard that i store pans and pots in. it has tiles on top, giving me a working surface. and screwed to the wall above at head height are less deep cupboards where i store food like pasta, oil, etc. again, simple colours and design (the tiling on the work surface matches the terracota tiling on the floor).

- the bed was the cheapest i could find. and it's wonderfully comfortable (i prefer to it to our fancy handmade one-off designer bed thing in santiago). i am a firm believer that all sprung beds are pretty much the same. just turn the matress each time you change the sheets.

- a small hifi. i don't have a tv, but a small hifi ("micro system") is worth it for the company.

- i've got rid of the lights in the middle of the room for now. instead i have a desk lamp and halogen floodlight (like you see on building sites - cheap from the diy shop) that lights up a corner of the room. that's a cheap way of making the place look more interesting/cosy at night. a central light makes everywhere too uniform.

- generally, keep the amount of stuff you have down. in my case i'm lucky because i can leave my junk in santiago (the place in la serena is where i live while working shifts). in your case, you may need to throw stuff away. americans, in my experience, own an awful lot of useless stuff. get rid of silly trinkets except for one or two things you really like.

- plants on the balcony. i can't do this because i'm away too often (although i just bought a cactus, which will hopefully survive not being watered), but if you're living there "full time" with a balcony, take advantage of it. even if it's only a few pots at one end (and if you've got simple wooden fold-up chairs, you can take one out onto the balcony - no need for a separate special balcony chair that you can't re-use as necessary).

ps you can get beds with drawers in the base. there is no disadvantage to them, and it gets you a pile more room for storing bedding, towels, out-of-season clothes.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:24 AM on June 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Definitely go to a place like The Container Store, if there's one in your area...they have a ton of stuff that's just dedicated to saving space. (For example, they have these plastic, lidded bins that are made to slide exactly under a standard size bed--buy 3 or 4 of them and you can take advantage of andrew cooke's suggestion, even if you can't find a bed with drawers.)

Also, definitely look into a loft in a space like this--if you can make it work, you can have a roomy bed up top, and small workspace/office underneath. (I don't know if I'd trust Ikea for my loft, though. If you've got any friends that are handy, you can put one up pretty cheaply with lumber and plywood.)
posted by LairBob at 9:48 AM on June 2, 2005

Compact Appliance carries tiny appliances.
posted by jessemellon at 9:49 AM on June 2, 2005 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A few things:

I made my own space divider to keep my bed area seperate from the living area. This serves a couple purposes: it keeps your place looking neat, and also psychologically divides your space so you feel like you're living in unique areas, and not in your bedroom all day.

To this end, my divider consisted of two freestanding natural wood bookshelves from Target ~$40/each. Assembled, they gave me good functional space which was 18" deep, and 8' long by 6' high. I then hung a nice decorative piece of fabric from the third shelf that in effect hid the bottom two shelves from view on the "living" side. So on these shelves, I kept laundry and bedroom items that were in full view on the "bedroom" side of the shelf. The top two shelves housed books and collectibles that you could view on the "living" side. I also put in some undercabinet lighting to finish it off. Total cost, about $110.

It's probably hard to envision, so here's a photo:

Yes, it's a bad pic of me karaokeing in the foreground, but you can make out the bookshelf partition in the background on the left.

Also, another great tip is to divide spaces by color. I painted a small accent wall a bright green color where I had set up an office space. That, with some wall shelves, made an effective divide between office and bedroom space.

Finally, a creative way to steal some storage space was to use the tons of dead space above my kitchen cabinets. Again, sorry for the photo (bachelor party). This was fashioned from a curtain rod hung from the ceiling and some cheap target curtains. Not only did it hide junk, but added some color to the kitchen.
posted by FearTormento at 10:26 AM on June 2, 2005 [2 favorites]

Second the loft idea; having lived in a succession of tiny rooms, I can't imagine wasting space on a normal bed anymore. If you have access to a few power tools and feel OK building things, making your own loft may be the way to go [easier to make one that will hold a large mattress, for example, or one that fits an odd space.] You may want to think about Murphy beds or other fold-out furniture as well.

You may want to check out the Smallest Coolest Apartment Contest [from this FPP] for ideas. Lots of impressively well-designed tiny spaces there.
posted by ubersturm at 10:36 AM on June 2, 2005

Buffalo FreeCycle is a very busy group. Check the Buffalo Craigslist and eBay. eBay can be good bargain hunting for large items of furniture if you have a way to pick them up, since many people list stuff for local pickup only and it'll go cheap. Check the thrifts too, I knew someone that got some neat furniture from the one on Main St. And if you have a free weekend (and a way to haul stuff) go out of Buffalo into the smaller towns south/east and check out consignment shops, estate sales, garage sales.... a lot of small college towns in upstate NY, a lot of old people with overflowing houses, and a lot of nice stuff goes quite cheaply. (I'd also say dumpster-dive around the colleges but school got out a little bit ago. Still, you can score some awesome finds at the dorms and around the student apts. during and just after exam week when the kids are going back home for the summer.)

You can use cinder blocks to raise the bed frame higher off the floor to store more underneath; you can build a loft; you can use a lot of pieces that do double-duty like a nightstand with drawers as an end table, a trunk as a coffee table, a table that folds out larger, a single bed with big pillows for a couch.

Our last apartment was small and I had to do a lot of tetrislike work to get everything to fit. Cinder blocks and four-foot pine planks have been my furniture friend since college (my husband hates moving the blocks). I painted them and have bookshelves and an "entertainment unit" built with them. Very very cheap, you can build them up to the ceiling, and deep shelves for books; you can stack them two-deep (you should see my shelves, they hold so much, and are always a focal point).
posted by Melinika at 11:40 AM on June 2, 2005

If you don't get a loft bed, simply putting your bed on risers will add a ton of storage space to your apartment. You'd be surprised!
posted by elisabeth r at 12:06 PM on June 2, 2005

Definitely paint at least one wall a bright cheery color you like. It makes a huge difference. You don't mention closet space, but if you have it then use it. I keep all my clothes, craft supplies, etc. in my closet so there's no dresser and it frees up a lot of visual space and makes the room seem much bigger.

I'm going to go against the previous advice and say that it is better to keep your furniture, bookcases, etc. lower to the ground unless you have very tall ceilings. You don't want to feel like your possesions are closing in on you. Do whatever you can to make the room lighter and brighter, like using sheers on the windows as long as the weather permits. And definitely guard against accumulation, the fewer things you have and the more organized they are the bigger your space will feel.
posted by cali at 12:11 PM on June 2, 2005

Cool bokk: The Portable Nest (or was it The Moveable Nest?

moveable nest

All kinds of non-permanent decorating ideas, hardware-oriented.
posted by mecran01 at 1:08 PM on June 2, 2005

In my experience a great way to save space is to consider furniture with curved edges rather than the typical 90 degree angles, for example, an oval coffee table or round dining table. Not necessarily a cheap option though. Often you can buy beds with storage underneath the base.
posted by Chimp at 1:45 PM on June 2, 2005

Neat thread! My only other tip from my years in tiny apartments is to figure what traditional furnishings you won't need and which you will. For example, I don't really need a desk -- I study and use my laptop in a chair or on a bed, so I never had desks. I did, however, need some extra kitchen storage and counterspace.
posted by climalene at 2:49 PM on June 2, 2005

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