Moving into your very first post-college apartment is a big deal, but it feels especially momentous when you come from a family of seven kids like Tallulah Novogratz, one of the daughters of design duo Cortney and Robert Novogratz. “I never really had my own space,” says Tallulah, who graduated from Bennington College in the spring of 2021 and started hunting for a rental in New York City shortly thereafter. Luckily, the twenty-something’s must-have list was simple: “I wanted good light,” she says. She used the rental search platform Zumper to help narrow down the options.

After touring a place on 14th Street that had a line out the door and a few other dingy spots that were more fitting for frat bros, she came across a large studio apartment in SoHo that turned out to be two blocks away from work (she’s a teacher for students with special needs) and only 10 minutes away from Mom and Dad. The only catch was, Tallulah wanted a roommate. “We weren’t sure at first how we were going to turn it into a two-bedroom, but we made it work,” says Cortney, who, naturally, served as her daughter’s interior designer—free of charge, of course. 

Phase 1: Peace and Privacy

The perk of having a seasoned designer for a mother is that she can work magic with drywall. After having a conversation with Tallulah’s landlord, who was, in Cortney’s words, “pretty much open to anything” as the apartment had long been neglected, mom had her go-to contractor come in and construct sturdy walls with real metal studs, effectively turning the studio into a two-bedroom. “Every inch mattered,” recalls the designer, who meticulously mapped out and measured everything. Two inches off, and Tallulah’s roommate’s bedroom door would block the refrigerator in the kitchen.

Phase 2: Accents That Only Look Permanent

Photography Courtesy of Zumper

Whether you’re in a rental for six months or two years, Cortney’s philosophy is to own your space through your style. “You change your outfits and spend money on your clothes,” she notes. “I’ve always thought home is just as important.” While the bedroom walls were a permanent upgrade, the mother-daughter duo made temporary alterations to the existing ones. The Basil Green accent wall, which Tallulah helped paint herself, can be changed back to white whenever she moves out.

Likewise, the crane wallpaper (a Novogratz design) is peel-and-stick. “I really wanted the zebra print at first, but my mom thought it would look like Christmas with the red brick and green paint,” notes Tallulah. A mother’s intuition is a very real thing. Tallulah’s twin sister, Bellamy, who lives in Los Angeles, also chimed in over text and FaceTime, so really the project was a family affair. “She had extra opinions for sure, but of course I probably won more,” says Cortney with a laugh. Luckily the bathroom and kitchen didn’t need much sprucing up: just fresh cabinet hardware, shades from The Shade Store, and new lighting. 

Phase 3: Seating for Two

Photography Courtesy of Zumper

Choosing a sofa with low arms—or none at all—is Cortney’s top tip for any small-space dweller. “It makes the room feel airy and light,” she says. The pair opted for a sectional so that Tallulah and her roommate can spread out comfortably on movie nights. The Novogratzes’ Magnolia style comes with a tool kit and instructions, so any first-time DIYers can put it together themselves without hiring a TaskRabbit. 

Tallulah waited until the transformation was complete (it only took a week!) before posting the space on a Facebook group for women in NYC looking for roommates. Offering a place that was already furnished (you can shop all of her selections from the Zumper x Novogratz collaboration here and get a discount if you use the code ZUMPER15) was a big draw. 

Phase 4: A Cozy Bed for One

While a canopy bed might seem like overkill in a tiny bedroom, for Tallulah it’s like a cozy cocoon. “I slept on a twin bed for four years in college, so I made sure we could fit a full-size mattress in here,” she notes. The top rails come in handy when she’s packing for a trip, planning the week’s outfits, or air-drying laundry—she can just drape and hang things over the bars. 

Phase 5: Welcome Home

With no room to carve out a coat closet, Cortney had her contractor mount extra-large wall hooks onto wood planks in the front hallway. By situating the drop zone in the recessed brick niches, winter coats and tote bags are always tucked out of the way. “It was a week of getting our hands dirty,” recalls Cortney, and the pair made countless trips to the hardware store even after the construction was over. “I had a mirror on my head, Tallulah had four or five cans of paint…it was not the prettiest sight,” she continues. “But we made the space better.” That’s what parents are for, right? 

Photography Courtesy of Zumper
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