Published on February 14, 2019

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photography by cody guilfoyle

Navigating a pint-size bathroom seems doable when your only roommates are a thriving fiddle-leaf fig and a pesky kitchen mouse. But add a significant other into the mix and suddenly your medicine cabinet is bursting at the seams.

When it comes to making the most of tight quarters, city-dwelling couples have the divide and conquer game down and they’re not adhering to the ordinary laws of small-space living. They’re playing by the rulebook of love.  

Compromise, creativity, and compact storage are just a few ways NYC couples maintain a sense of privacy. To get the scoop on what’s really going on behind closed (well, sometimes open) doors, we asked four down-to-earth couples how they make it work. Newfound loves, take note.

Samantha Litt and Dan Juda’s Boerum Hill abode is the epitome of ease, and the bathroom is no exception. Opting for a crisp, neutral color palette, the first thing you’ll notice in the duo’s bathroom is a graphic black-and-white print by Dan Hobday Art. What you won’t see right away is that the piece is, in fact, supported by a hinge that cleverly hides the medicine cabinet.

How have you and your S.O. decided to divvy up storage?

Litt: We each have our own basket under the sink, and medicine cabinets are mostly shared space. For the most part, we haven’t had any issues.

Juda: We can throw everything in there and just pull things out onto the countertop as needed.

What clever tidying hacks have you learned along the way?

Litt: The medicine cabinets can get a bit cluttered, and it always feels like things are precariously balanced against each other. Dan got me some organizers for my makeup (for our anniversary), which have helped a lot. We also use a corner caddy in our shower, which I love.

Quirks aside, what do you love most about your bathroom?

Litt: Our sink was previously floating out from the wall, so we built a wood counter underneath, and the extra horizontal space has been life-changing.

Juda: The two highlights are definitely the skylight and heated floors. The heated floors make getting up a lot easier in the winter, and the skylight is amazing in the summer.

What’s the most important courtesy lesson you’ve learned from sharing a bathroom with your S.O.?

Juda: Half an hour of hands-and-knees bathroom bleaching can be a one-way ticket out of the dog house. Keep that in your back pocket.

Litt: I want to say replacing the toilet paper when it’s out, but if I’m being totally honest, I stink at that. But I’m the one who always closes the shower curtain.

The takeaway? Keep day-to-day items out of sight and bring in double-duty decorative objects for a zen space that can also function seamlessly.

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photography by meghan mcneer

For Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza, sharing is an ever-evolving practice. “How we store things has changed many times since moving in together,” says Chiao. “Our best advice is not to begrudge any house chore and rather see each cleaning moment as an opportunity to improve our living environment.”

Being creatives at heart, the pair isn’t opposed to a little DIY when it comes to maximizing storage in their artful Brooklyn apartment.

What’s the most important courtesy lesson you’ve learned from sharing a bathroom with loved ones?

Chiao: We are lucky to be able to cohabitate in the bathroom and dance around each other while we take care of our bathroom business. We have a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and sometimes, all three of us are doing different things in the bathroom while our cat is also taking care of his business in the same small room.

Frezza: We just try to keep it light and enjoy sharing the space. That said, we find it important to react almost like a bullfighter and make sure to yield to each other as we all get ourselves ready for the day.

Are there any space-saving hacks you’ve come across that help?

Chiao: We are continually blown away that we keep finding ways to refine our environment. The biggest “hack” is making the time to daydream about how things could be different, having the patience to think through and create a plan of action, and the perseverance to follow through and make changes happen.

Any words of wisdom for couples who are going to be living together for the first time?

Chiao: Take care of yourself as best you can and help each other out whenever you notice the opportunity to make life a little easier.

Frezza: It’s a team effort. Finding a rhythm that works seems to take a lot of patience and practice. Making every day a little more fun helps us appreciate having each other around that much more.

Their takeaway? Imagination and cohabitation are one and the same.

Becky and Jake Shea of Becky Shea Design might get to come home to a bathroom that’s large by NYC standards (there’s a vanity, recessed medicine cabinet, and tub), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t without its kinks. “Our vanity light fixture has a ghost controlling it. The globes covering the bulbs will randomly fall off and smash… fun times!” laughs Jake. “Oh, and to completely stop the shower, you have to shut it off and then ever-so-slightly turn it back the other way to avoid persistent drips.”

What has your strategy been for dividing space in the medicine cabinet?

Becky: The bottom shelf is our everyday shared things (i.e., face wash, toothpaste, floss, and toothbrushes), and the second shelf is my stuff, which is really just my deodorant, Glossier’s rosewater mist, and Boscia’s charcoal mask. The third shelf is all of Jake’s stuff. I’m too short to reach that high, so he was designated to that location.

Jake: Becky’s a Virgo, and with that comes an intrinsic drive to organize (which I love). Let’s just say I go along for the ride and find my things wherever she decides they belong.

Are there any space-saving hacks you’ve come across that help keep your space looking tidy?

Becky: Clear storage bins. They’re easy to stack and slide out and keep all your goodies consolidated versus all over the place.

Jake: We’ve also added labels to them so they’re categorized.  

Any words of wisdom for couples who are going to be living together for the first time?

Jake: You’ll find your routine to cohabitate pretty quickly after moving in. The most important piece is to be patient, listen to each other’s needs, and strike a compromise.  

Becky: Be mindful of each other’s needs and figure out ways to share product. We share the same face wash, toothpaste, floss, shampoo, conditioner, and bodywash. It reduces the amount of clutter, and who really needs to have that many products?

The takeaway? Sharing bath and beauty goods will save you space (and money).

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY CODY GUILFOYLE

After getting rid of the dated molding and blue tiles that once covered their ultra-chic bathroom, Laura Lane and Nic Rad transformed the space with soothing grays and bold art. “My favorite part of the bathroom is a giant painting that my husband created. Everyone asks if it is going to get ruined from humidity, but so far, it still looks good,” says Lane.

Any words of wisdom for couples who are going to be living together for the first time?

Lane: Combining aesthetics can be a touchy thing. It’s hard to tell someone you don’t like some of their furniture, but you want the place to feel like both of yours. Give each other veto power over items you both don’t like and don’t take offense. Even if you both have everything you need after you combine households, go out and buy one piece of furniture together to celebrate.

What do you love most about your bathroom?

Lane: The sinks are giant metal bowls, which look cool and are also great for catching water because I’m a pretty messy face washer.

What’s the most important courtesy lesson you’ve learned from sharing a bathroom with your S.O?

Lane: We have separate medicine cabinets and separate sinks, which is a helpful luxury. In terms of courtesy, after nine years together, we still knock when someone is in the bathroom. No one wants to see me staring at every pore in the mirror or plucking my eyebrows—a little mystery is good!

The takeaway? Search for compromise in shared interests. Oh, and don’t forget to knock.

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