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Americana-inspired wares, shiplap-covered walls, and mounted antique antlers are just a few things that might come to mind when someone tells you they live in Texas. But that’s not necessarily the case for Austin-based designer Sara Malek Barney, owner, and principal of BANDD DESIGN. Putting a modern spin on Southern stereotypes, one of her firm’s most recent projects, a pied-a-terre in downtown Austin, playfully combines flashes of Texan culture with a fresh color palette and contemporary patterns.

“When I first saw the space, it was literally a plain concrete apartment with very little personality,” Barney tells Domino. “I wanted to add a punch of color and pattern while maintaining a calm feeling throughout. Especially for a rental property in a city like Austin, it’s important to create spaces that really bring the vibe of the city in!”

Abound in varying shades of green, the one-bedroom rental—which was designed for Lyric, a company that creates inspired suites for travelers and short-term tenants, and is currently available for rent through Airbnb—proves you don’t have to sacrifice local soul for modern style.

Mastering the apartment’s fairly tiny floor plan (the unit spans 750-square-feet) was certainly a challenge, but it wasn’t her only obstacle. Designing and decorating a space that was well-suited for a constant flow of fleeting guests—each with their own needs, wants, and tastes—presented a unique problem.

“Everything had to be considered with longevity and durability in mind,” says the designer. “This place had to look as good the first day as it will in three to four years time. The most fragile pieces were used primarily on the wall and secured extremely well.”

Despite being a hub for out-of-towners, the space feels decidedly livable and familiar. By incorporating elements that many of us would hope to find in our own homes, including a killer

gallery wall

graphic wallpaper, and locally-sourced art, Barney and her team were able to impart the apartment with a sense of permanence.  

Giving a once-characterless room a much-need splash of personality, the designer introduced an instant sense of warmth to the muted green walls by installing an eclectic display of decorative art, textiles, and other small collectibles above the living room sofa. “I absolutely refuse to do a gallery wall with just one shape: rectangles. I love to break up a wall with round frames or other knick knacks. I play with all kinds of items and I think you should think of a gallery wall in less rigid terms,” she explains.

Her go-to tips for creating a display that’s both balanced and visually intriguing? “Just grab a handful of items and lay them out on the floor. Move them around and play with the balance and negative space. Then hang! I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s just so easy, but really the more you play around with different pieces, the more comfortable it becomes.”

While the gallery wall offered an opportunity to play with texture and dimension, the display also serves a functional purpose within the small space. Note how the mini wood shelf doubles as a bonus landing spot for plants and how the antique mirror adds depth to the room.

Elsewhere, teeny potted plants, metallic accents, and graphic ceramics bring the home to life, all the while making sure the apartment feels clean and renter-friendly.

In an effort to soften the unit’s inherent industrial nature, Barney opted for an earthy color palette comprised of soft greens, light blues, and hints of peach; hues, in particular, that reminded her of the surrounding rustic scenery.

“For me, thinking about the vast diversity of the Austin landscape, it was important to use woven patterns, geometric shapes with an urban touch, and home grown accessories that didn’t feel contrived. Using local photographers for the print work was a big part of that,” says Barney.

Seemingly in conversation with the black and white bull hanging in the dining area, the charming cacti print (which playfully picks up on the shades of green within the Hygge & West wallpaper) gives the serene dwelling a contemporary southern edge.

Making over a one-bedroom apartment is no simple undertaking. Luckily, awkward layouts and quirky spaces are something Barney and her team know all too well (BANDD DESIGN recently spearheaded the interiors of the first-ever 3D-printed home; a tiny marvel that took only 24-hours to create). So how do you ensure your space feels larger than it actually is? It all comes down to your ability to divide and conquer.

“Creating designated areas around a small space helps it feel bigger and gives more purpose to the different areas of a home,” suggests Barney. “By putting the accent chair in a spot that blocks off the living room from the rest of the main living areas, it helps define it a little bit more. I think if it all looked wide and open, you’d actually notice how small the space can feel.”

Suddenly in the mood for an impromptu trip to Austin? At least now you know where to stay.

Tour more tiny, stylish apartments:

Proof That 300 Square Feet Is Actually LivableA 265-Square-Foot Apartment With Room for a Chef’s KitchenThe Windows in This NYC Apartment Are a Rare Find

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