Big Ideas for a Small City Apartment: An Interior Decorator Tells All
BY KYLE SCHUNEMAN // PHOTOS BY JOE SCHMELZER
City living has its perks, but a spacious apartment is not one of them. Many urban dwellers have small studios or share a space with several roommates, requiring us to be economical with our furniture, and creative in finding storage. Facing some design challenges in your, uh, “cozy” apartment? Kyle Schuneman, expert interior decorator and author of “The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces,” has answers.
Balance out plain walls with fabric-lined bookshelves and bright accessories. (Pro tip: Choose shades from opposing sides of the color wheel, like coral and blue.)
Situation: I’m not allowed to paint my walls. Solution: If you rent, you may feel limited by your landlord and the rules in the contract. Moving into a space that has drab white walls can really bring the mood down, but there are other ways to bring in color. Think of the floor as the fifth wall and use an area rug to create a palette for a space. Pull a color (or two) from your rug and choose matching drapes. (Pro tip: Hang them as close to the ceiling as possible, to maximize height.) Having those two elements will dramatically uplift your space without making any permanent changes. Still craving a DIY project? Upgrade an old dresser with a fun color, or line a generic bookcase with a chic fabric for a big statement that won’t bust the lease.
Avoid a radiator versus couch kerfuffle by mapping out the immobile pieces of your space before arranging furniture.
Situation: I have a tricky floorplan. Solution: When you’re living in a small space, you have to start with the function first. Identify the immobile pieces – like windows, doorways, and radiators – and then plan the big furniture – maybe your bed, couch, and dining table – to work around them. If you need a desk and a bed in the same room, but don’t have the wall space, think about putting the desk at the foot of the bed to double as a footboard, while also functioning as a workspace. You might be pushed to place furniture away from the walls and towards the middle of the room, which feels counterintuitive, but can create a more inviting floor plan.
To expand a room, try incorporating different textures, like wood, glass, and suede.
Situation: I want my apartment to have personality without being cluttered. Solution: One of the most important elements in good design is layering. When you’re in a collected home, it feels cozy, full of stories, and really speaks to the person who lives there. To get the look, you don’t always have to layer crazy colors – try combining textures instead. Woods, metals, glass, and fabrics are just as important to incorporate in your home. No, you don’t have to match all metals, and no, your wood tones don’t all have to be the same. A room with a multitude of pieces that coordinate without matching is key. If you’re going to layer patterns, keep them from clashing by choosing types with different scales and try to keep color tones similar.
If you’re not quite ready to purchase a Monet, make your own art by transforming a wall or showcasing printed Instagram photos.
Situation: My budget for artwork isn’t exactly Picasso-worthy. Solution: Art can be expensive, but the cheap stuff feels like you’ve seen it in all your friends’ houses. Why not make your own? Companies like Canvas On Demand blow up your photos onto beautiful quality canvases, and Canvas Pop turns your Instagrams into an enviable collage, so there’s no reason why your artwork can’t be yours. You can shoot a grouping of tree silhouettes and filter them to black and white to make it feel very high end.
Co-livin’ la vida loca? Instead of meeting halfway on style decisions, try incorporating both tastes for a complementary look.
Situation: My roommate and I don’t exactly see eye to eye. Solution: Living with a roommate or a significant other can be tricky, especially if your decorating tastes differ. I always think both parties need to be represented so there isn’t resentment building up, but that doesn’t mean you have to compromise. It’s all about give and take. For example, if one wants red and one wants blue, then purple isn’t the answer. Sure, it’s a mix of what each person wants, but it isn’t really what anyone wanted to begin with. So get a navy sofa but scarlet armchairs and throw pillows. These decorating challenges can bring a more interesting design in the end.
Underwhelmed by retro tiles? Play off the color in a modern way or add chic accessories to bring it to a new era.
Situation: Help! The bathroom is straight out of the 1950s. Solution: Besides the un-paintable walls that come with apartment rentals, there are also the inherited kitchen and bathroom tiles that you get to admire every day. Similar to the immobile pieces like the radiator, it’s something you can’t fight. So if you get pink bathroom tiles, look for a shower curtain that can incorporate that color while introducing other colors, like your favorite shade of purple. That will lead you to be able to decorate with towels and some accessories that feel more like you.
Want to avoid an empty table and an empty wallet? Skip fresh flowers and try a collection of interesting items, like painted bottles or a bowl of fruit.
Situation: All the design photos on Pinterest have fresh flowers on the table. What’s a more budget-friendly and sustainable decoration? Solution: Centerpieces can be expensive (and a total buzzkill when you buy flowers, only to have them last for a couple days). But having a collection or object in the center of the table can work just as well with a lot less maintenance. Pull together a bunch of random bottles that have interesting shapes and paint them all the same color — or a slight shade variance different – and use that as your centerpiece décor. You can throw flowers in the bottles when you have some, but they look equally beautiful by themselves – no watering or maintenance required.
About the Author:
Designer Kyle Schuneman; photographer Joe Schmelzer.
At 29, Kyle Schuneman is already ranked as one of House Beautiful's “Next Wave of Top 20 Designers,” a “Tastemaker” by Los Angeles Magazine, and part of the “30 Under 30” list by Refinery29. He writes a column for the Los Angeles Times called “The Apt. Life” and often contributes to Real Simple. His work has been featured in Esquire, Dwell, Cosmopolitan, This Old House, Redbook, Sunset, L'Uomo Vogue, The Chicago Tribune, CA Home + Design, Angeleno Interiors.