Coffin Sweet Coffin
September 20, 2011 7:47 AM   Subscribe

I finally have a room of my own to decorate! ...And it's the size of a walk-in closet! Help me figure out how to make this tiny space into my home.

After a crazy year in which I lived in five different houses/apartments in four cities, I have finally found an apartment to settle down in. I plan to be there for at least a year, and I am beyond excited to FINALLY have a home base again. I can’t wait to decorate it, especially because I am allowed to paint and put whatever I want to on the walls. My tastes tend toward the colorful, busy, artsy and comfortable. I can't stop daydreaming about all the cool things I might be able to do with MY room...

The thing is… my bedroom is tiny. TINY. I’m in NYC, so it’s to be expected, but I have never attempted to live in, or decorate, such a small space. Imagine two queen beds next to each other- that is literally the amount of floor space I have to work with, here. There’s one small window on the wall opposite the door.

I have tried looking at decorating blog posts on small spaces, but they all seem to assume that your small room is an architecturally fascinating space with exposed brick and a huge bank of windows, and, further, that you have thousands of dollars to spend on furniture. (I'm looking at you, Apartment Therapy!) My room is a blank rectangle with one window, and if I had thousands of dollars to spend I wouldn’t be living in it in the first place.

I have high hopes for the space, but I’m just not sure how to proceed. If anyone here has decorated a coffin-sized NYC apartment, or can point me towards some blogs, I would very much appreciate it.
posted by showbiz_liz to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I think the smaller the space, the more simple and minimalist you should go. At the same time, maximizing storage. You want, probably, storage under the bed - if you have to, raise it on bricks and use bins underneath, and hide them with a bedskirt (which you may have to improvise because of the increased height, but thrift stores, sheets, there you go. You want to have a place to put everything *away* so that even though it's small, it doesn't look cluttered. Over door hooks are great, a shoe organizer for inside the closet, store things inside your suitcases, all the usual tricks.

You want texture and color to add interest, not *stuff*. One or two large framed prints; plants, maybe. Keep comfort in mind; a nice rug that feels good to bare feet and adds color, a bedside lamp, a snuggly throw in addition to your usual bedding. Coming home to a placid, uncluttered room would be much more restful than the reverse, to me.
posted by lemniskate at 7:56 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know AT posts often assume an awfully large budget, but a lot of the principles of small-space decoration hold true regardless of budget: You may not be able to build in a Murphy bed, for example, but you can still do things like storing as much stuff as possible underneath your bed; you may not be able to get a fancy room divider, but you can still string up a curtain to create a separate space and not feel like you're living on your bed all the time.

Also, though I'm a few years removed from dorm life, that's actually the resource I'd advise you to hunt down. Students tend to have boring, boxy places to live, rarely very much space, they usually can't do much to their walls like paint or shelves, and they usually operate on minimal budgets. I spent two years in a single dorm room smaller than yours, and I had a blast decorating and redecorating it every couple of semesters, and god knows my entire budget would be a rounding error on my Grownup Salary.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:59 AM on September 20, 2011

A curtain for your window could add something attractive to the room. You can choose a nice fabric you like from a place like Bed Bath and Beyond. The rod you hang it on you could get from a neigborhood hardware store--the tension rods that you unscrew to the appropriate width and that then hold themselves in place by tension. It's all very cheap and easy.
posted by Paquda at 8:03 AM on September 20, 2011

Hi, my first room fit a broken futon, a file cabinet and quite literally nothing else. The room I just moved out of was ever-so-slightly larger.

Make sure to paint it a brighter color. Not, like, neon, but dark colors close the room in making it look smaller than it already is.

Get a giant-ass mirror (they're not too expensive, second-hand) and put it somewhere. Maybe two. Mirrors really open up a room. If you want to decorate with posters or prints, get one or two really big ones rather than lots of little ones.

Do you have a closet? Does the apartment have storage space outside of your room? Take as much advantage of it as humanly possible. Get a coat rack and use it to free up closet space for other stuff. Then put that coat rack in the living room or hallway or whatever. Unused storage closet in the hallway? Throw your shirts in there and use your closet for other stuff. Need a bureau? See if you can get it into the living room or some other place as well. Basically, try to get as much of your stuff out of your room as is convenient for your roommates, assuming they're not dicks who will mess with your shit.

You may be tempted to get a futon to get more space out of your room. This is a good idea if you have a good back and get plenty of exercise. If not, stay away from futons.

Curtains, curtains, curtains. Put nice curtains on your window. Then put one on your closet door if you have one. Maybe even your entrance door.

Garbage and assorted crap goes with you as you come out of the room. Is there something that doesn't need to be in your room when you get up for a drink of water or to use the bathroom? It goes with you. Don't keep a garbage can in your room. Never, ever keep food in your room for longer than it takes you to eat it.

If you're going to get any sort of scent-stuff, get it mild. A small room holds smells a lot better than an open space. In that vein, Febreeze is awesome. Febreeze shit down once in a while as a person sweating in a tiny room will make it smell, even though you won't be able to detect it. Get a fan and air out the room regularly. Try to keep the door closed as little as possible (curtains on the entrance door help with this w/r/t privacy.)

Don't smoke in your room. You will never get the smell out.
posted by griphus at 8:07 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh! Keep your bookshelf/DVD collection/whatever in the living room if you can. A full bookshelf makes a room look cramped. I used to keep a curtain over mine.
posted by griphus at 8:09 AM on September 20, 2011

I lived in a 7x10 room in NYC. I had a twin bed, a little computer desk/workstation, and a dresser. (I also had a closet for some storage. Do you have that?)

The place I lived in had a separate living room and kitchen. If you need living room-type space or you want a TV or other lounging or a larger workspace, I would strongly recommend you look into a loft bed so you can put either your desk or your couch underneath. If I had lived there long-term, that's probably what I would have done, and that's what I will do if I find myself in a similar situation in the future.

I totally agree with the dorm room suggestion. You can trick it out, seriously. :)

Congrats on the new digs!
posted by pupstocks at 8:11 AM on September 20, 2011

Just want to add about the dorm room thing, etc -- what you will see over and over again is the concept of using the vertical space as much as possible. You have very limited floor space, so you're not going to get a lot of furniture in there, obviously, but you CAN put in shelves all the way up or a really tall dresser with stuff on top, etc. In a space that small, you really have to think about function first, then dress it up with whatever decorative stuff you want. If your space isn't functional, you won't be able to maintain it and enjoy your design elements.

So think about what you will be doing in there and how you can do that most efficiently and easily, THEN think about colors, fabrics, artwork, etc.
posted by pupstocks at 8:15 AM on September 20, 2011

I think one of my kids lived in your apartment! Painted white with pale blue/gray ceiling. Platform double bed with matching drawers underneath. (Gothic Cabinets makes there, but you could probably get one from Craigslist.) Double-duty tiny dresser/bedside table. Simple shelves along one wall, big graphic on the other. Big round white paper shade if you have an overhead light.

Here are some AT really small bedrooms. The first one--white/gray resembles my kids' former bedroom. But if you like funkier, the third one painted that green looks good.
posted by Elsie at 8:16 AM on September 20, 2011

Absolutely, dorm room design is a good thing to check out. But if this is your apartment, not just your bedroom, don't get too bogged down in the idea of turning the room into a fits-everything mini-studio apartment - that's what the rest of the apartment is for!
It was truly astonishing to me the first time I had no roommates, when I realized that I could put my offseason clothes in the coat closet, keep my jewelry in the bathroom, put the entire library in the living room, set up my computer in the living room, fill the apartment's basement storage with just my stuff and it wasn't a big deal to go down there to get it whenever I wanted. It made a lot more space in the bedroom when I wasn't trying to do anything more than sleep and dress there.
posted by aimedwander at 8:17 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Inspirational video
posted by leigh1 at 8:45 AM on September 20, 2011

Definitely use your vertical space! Don't forget that doors can store a lot of stuff too. I had to get one of those hanging shoe racks to keep my shoes away from my dog - I wasn't crazy about it aesthetically but it really cleared out my closet floor.

The dorm suggestions are spot-on. When I lived in a dorm, I was able to raise my bed super-high and put a ton of stuff underneath. Like huge Rubbermaid tubs worth. Bed, Bath and Beyond and Target probably have all the dorm-type stuff on sale right now.
posted by radioamy at 8:50 AM on September 20, 2011

Seconding loft beds (for instance). My local Ikea store has what they say is a copy of an actual tiny tiny apartment, with one small room that quadrupled as bedroom, kitchen, living room and dining room. I took detailed photos I could upload somewhere tonight, if there's interest.
posted by bentley at 9:05 AM on September 20, 2011

Look at Flickr pools for ideas and inspiration. Search for "small apartment bedroom" or "small NYC apartment" or the like. Apartment Therapy has some NYC Flickr pools that will probably be helpful.

Also look at There will be large rooms, but as the name suggests, the photos are from people's own homes around the world.
posted by jgirl at 9:14 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your bedroom sounds just like most of the rooms I've lived in during my time in New York.

My tips:

Have less stuff. Living in a small space in New York, you just don't get to have dozens of pairs of shoes, five winter coats, a handbag/comic collection, a well-worn costco membership, garage full of childhood mementos, etc etc etc. Under-bed and back-of-the-door storage solutions are great. But at a certain point you still deal with a lack of space. Unless you want your bedroom to be basically a closet/storage unit you sleep in, you have to maintain control of the sheer amount of STUFF the average person tends to amass.

Keep the decor simple, but have fun with it! Especially if your place didn't come with any exciting "bones" to speak of. I think curtains have already been mentioned, but textiles in general are great here. If your bed takes up most of the room, make the bed gorgeous. If you have 5x7 feet of open floor space, invest in an awesome rug. Paint takes up ZERO square footage, so use it to your advantage. Same for art that can be hung on a wall, especially if you're lucky enough to have drywall rather than plaster or cinderblock.

You can find beautiful art for dirt cheap almost anywhere in the city. I guess those "make a creative frameable thing for almost no money" craft projects you see in design magazines and on HGTV are great in the 'burbs where people have thousands and thousands of feet of wall to cover and nothing but a Hobby Lobby to do it with. But here in the city beautiful imagery is almost free for the taking. Grab a few cheap Ikea frames and you should have no trouble hiding the fact that your apartment is not architecturally interesting.
posted by Sara C. at 9:33 AM on September 20, 2011

You can't paint, hang up pictures or stick posters to walls in pretty much any rented room I've ever lived in (I'm in the UK and it's common) so check you can do this first.

If you go underbed, get good, strong storage containers - you may need to hoik them in and out a lot, and you'll use them when you move.
posted by mippy at 9:33 AM on September 20, 2011

You can't paint, hang up pictures or stick posters to walls in pretty much any rented room I've ever lived in (I'm in the UK and it's common) so check you can do this first.

My landlord couldn't care less, fortunately! The other girls have painted their rooms already.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:36 AM on September 20, 2011

Oh, and I'm going to go against the tide on the whole "dark colors make a room look smaller" thing. The room is small. Everyone who sees the room is going to know it's small. If you're a homeowner thinking about curb appeal, sure, yeah, paint it white, maximize the perceived amount of space. But you live there. Paint it whatever color you want - it's not going to actually make the room hold less stuff.
posted by Sara C. at 9:45 AM on September 20, 2011

I would second lemniskate on the texture thing. Your space is tiny; it will never be open and sweeping and airy. Play to your strengths and go for cozy and colorful and soft. Think...

> bright curtains to frame your window
> a squishy soft rug (coordinated with the curtains of course)
> floor pillows and regular pillow pillows (that also coordinate) - floor pillows are ready-made seating for impromptu lounge sessions with friends
> a mirror - the reflection will make the space seem (somewhat) bigger and will catch the light from the window as well
> art
> DIY shelves so you can make them as thin and high as you need 'em!

Just relax and start with one color, or one pillow, or just one thing you love that you can coordinate everything with, pull colors from, vibe off of, ya know?

Good luck!
posted by jay.eye.elle.elle. at 12:09 PM on September 20, 2011

Okay. I uploaded the photos of the tiny Ikea display apartment I mentioned. Flickr set.
posted by bentley at 4:01 PM on September 20, 2011

One thing that I've learned from apartment living is to be creative with furniture. Look in kids department, bathroom department, etc for smaller-scale furniture that you might be able to use. I once had a nightstand that was actually supposed to be a towel-holder in a bathroom. Right now our bedroom is too narrow for full-sized nightstands, but we have Target Itso cubes stacked (along with Target stick lamps which are small too).
posted by radioamy at 4:49 PM on September 20, 2011

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