Styling by Elaina Sullivan

Published on March 21, 2019

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Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

Trying to transform a dark, tiny guest room into something that’s actually inviting and open is always challenge. There’s not much you can do when square footage and natural light are nowhere to be found, and since you’re not going to use it often, giving it a makeover almost seems silly. Well, not for interior designer Ariel Okin. Her guest room is a lot nicer than some of our apartments, TBH.

“I wanted the guest bedroom to feel like a serene oasis where family or friends from out of town could enjoy a bit of a respite from the busy energy of NYC,” Okin says. In fact, transforming a teeny-tiny guest room in NYC into an airy space that feels straight outta California is possible—it just takes some smart planning.

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Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

Okin is renting her three-bedroom apartment in Manhattan’s Upper East Side with her husband, but she still chose to do what most renters fear—paint the walls. But instead of choosing a splashy color that would be difficult to design around or become outdated in a year or two, she went with Farrow & Ball in School House White, a classic off-white shade in an eggshell finish.

“I wanted something that would pair easily and serve as a blank, neutral palette for any furniture I put with it,” says the designer, who’s worked on projects for goop and Maisonette. “The room is pretty small and doesn’t get a ton of natural light, so I wanted something that would make the room lighter, but not busy. The original color was a hideous gray—not a pretty color. When we saw the transformation after we painted the room and without furniture, it felt like you could breathe a lot better.”  

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Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

The walls are in School House White, but the ceiling and crown molding are painted in All White for a slight contrast that actually opens up the room even more. The colors were an easy choice for Okin, who’s used the brand before with clients and in her own home. There’s Cabbage White in her bedroom and All White again in her living room, and she unabashedly admits that she brings a big binder of paint swatches when meeting clients. “It’s always my first choice for paint, so it was a natural choice for my own home,” she says. “It’s also well-edited, so when you pick a color, you know it’s the best of the category. Like it’s the best bright yellow or the best navy blue.”

To make the small room feel even airier, Okin added lots of natural fibers and similar textures with a woven seagrass and oak console, round rattan lamp, cane and wood chair, and water hyacinth nightstand all from Serena & Lily. Flat Roman shades in a pinstripe suiting pattern from The Shade Store created the illusion of more vertical space while also giving a nod to the woven decor. This way, the room looks cohesive without being so matchy-matchy.

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Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

Additional furniture and decor include a mint green–and-white skirted daybed, potted succulents and plants, and shadow box artwork featuring butterflies. By incorporating accessories with organic movement, the room feels more outdoorsy and laid-back compared to the rest of Okin’s apartment, which has a more buttoned-up “Old World–meets-contemporary” vibe. “The room still has traditional elements that are in line with the design aesthetic from the rest of our apartment,” says Okin. “But it feels a bit more playful and fun in there, which was my intention.”

Learn more about ­Farrow & Ball’s new colors and how to use them in your home.

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Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

See more colorful interiors here:

Now This Is How You Decorate With Color

How Downsizing Actually Helped This Family Create the Space of Their Dreams

Peek Inside This Textile Company’s Colorful LA Studio

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