The first thing Abigail Stone did upon arriving to her West Village apartment was hang artwork.
“I moved in when I was 26—three years ago exactly—and I wanted it to feel like the perfect representation of myself as a twenty-something living in NYC. No seashells, not too French, not too cute,” says Stone. “[I wanted] the space to feel “grown up”; like a real apartment. No superfluous furniture, and definitely no over-the-door racks of any kind.”
Given Stone’s background—she used to be an art buyer at Ralph Lauren—the “perfect representation” of herself includes lots and lots of artwork. Her apartment came with some serious logistic restrictions, given the fact that it measures in at 262 square feet, but you wouldn’t guess the size from its bold style.
Following a few minor renovations, such as swapping out lighting and removing the bedroom door, Stone set about turning every small-space living cliché swiftly on its head. Whereas most decor rules would have you believe that the key to making a tiny home feel bigger is keeping everything neutral, uncluttered, and as open as possible, she went the complete opposite route and proved that sometimes, more really is more.
“I knew the more artwork on the walls the better. My mom always suggested building the room around a piece of art—find a piece you love and design out from there, pulling inspiration from the colors, textures, and memories the piece evokes,” she explains.
Stone’s passion for art and collected pieces is clear in every corner of the apartment. What’s more, she proves you don’t have to splurge for good style: Several of the pieces came from street fairs, Etsy, and even Craigslist. That same passion for affordable creativity serves as the cornerstone tenet for Stone’s newly-launched trendy candle company Otherland, which features luxe-looking candles at attainable price points.
We spoke to the art buyer-turned-business owner to get the scoop on small-space decorating, tips on finding affordable art and how to navigate Craigslist. Decorating your dream home is about to get a lot more budget-friendly.
Were there any challenges with decorating such a tiny apartment?
Yes, everything! I tried to convince myself the small space was actually a blessing for decorating since it’s more manageable; easier to nail one room than 10, right?
Storage is a nightmare. There’s only one closet, and the available dresser nook in the bedroom is a perennially-frustrating 29.5” wide—which means the “small” 30” wide dressers will not fit, leaving me to cope with either a tall skinny lingerie chest with shallow drawers of a glorified nightstand. I chose the latter.
Do you have any top tips for designing a small space?
Something as small as a candle can transform the space with almost no effort, which was the inspiration behind my company Otherland. Lucite and acrylic furniture, like my CB2 coffee table and faux-Ghost chairs/stools provide function while still giving the illusion of space.
Mirrors are your best friend but can be expensive. Find a cool frame—try an antique market or see if your frame store has any old, discarded ones—and bring to your local frame store to have a mirror put in. Ask the framer to add a bevel for a more high-end look. Three out of four of my mirrors were created this way.
Also, have art on the walls: The more you can add, the larger the room will look! And try a “leaner”—a large piece of framed artwork resting on the floor or a smaller one atop your desk. Use the wall to lean pieces up for a chic, layered look that adds depth to the space.
Speaking about art, what’s the story behind your art collection?
My mom always said, “you only need two pieces to have a “collection” of something”, so I embraced the idea of starting small and growing my art collection. My first real piece was the landscape drawing in pencil by American Impressionist Walter Parsons Shaw Griffin. I was in college and was interning over the summer at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and bought this at the silent auction. I blew my summer savings on it, but I’m obsessed with drawings and I love it!
The other items have been collected over the years from all sorts of places. I had to get creative on my limited budget. There’s a framed postcard up there, and even the front of a greeting card I tore off—freebies! The cool Mose Tolliver print up there is from Young Folk, the young patrons group of the American Folk Art Museum that I co-founded. On a recent trip to Iceland in business school, I got this fun cartoon of someone in the blue lagoon by Ran Flygenring, a local artist. It’s good to have a mission to seek out a piece of art, even if [it’s] small, from your travels.
Is there one piece that is particularly significant to you?
Hard to pick! There’s a framed bag from Colette, featuring a playful illustration by Kevin Lyons, which I brought home from a special trip to Paris with my mom back when I was buying the art for Ralph Lauren stores. It was my first time at Colette, which became a major personal obsession and the inspiration for Otherland in creating consumable art and design experiences. They had an amazing selection of candles, some of which were under their own label and featured limited-edition artwork, which is a strategy we’ve adopted as well (our first artist edition launches in April).
Given that you have quite the collection, how do you find affordable or one-of-a-kind pieces? Where do you source your artwork?
Go for the good stuff to start; get a couple of great pieces you really love and care about. You can get creative, swapping in “real” artwork as you’re able to as you grow your collection. Framing is a big part of it. A lot of these frames came from places like Housing Works or the Antiques Garage in Chelsea for a few bucks, and then I retro-fitted them with “artwork”. Ask for an 8-ply mat for a more luxe finish.
Try ordering a wallpaper sample and having it nicely framed. Have it floated with spacers, not matted, to acknowledge that it’s a sample in a cool way. I got my Scalamandre zebra sample for about $7.
Look in unexpected places for designs you love, even when they are consumable or intended to be thrown away. For instance, there’s even a framed gift bag up there from my favorite store. Illustrators and hand-letter painters have really awesome work. On a smaller scale, postcards from gallery shows and limited edition shopping bags or packaging can also look chic when nicely framed.
This is not really kosher, but I think it’s okay when you’re just starting out, as long as you support artists’ original work when you can. Slice a page out from your favorite coffee table book (the larger the better) and have it professionally framed. Remember to add a mat! This is especially good for photography.
In terms of finding furniture from Craigslist, why do you opt for that over buying new?
On Craigslist, I can get the design and quality I want, it just takes more time and extra effort. Plus the thrill of the hunt can be really fun and some of the more gorgeous apartments I’ve ever been in have been through Craigslist pickups.
What are the red flags to look out for when you’re buying from Craigslist?
Stock photography—everyone has a phone on their camera now so showing the real thing should be a requisite. Also, the tone of the seller when you reach out to them. Their response should be prompt, friendly, and accommodating.
Can you share some tips for finding the best furniture or decor on Craigslist?
I’m the Queen of Craigslist! It may take a couple months, but the most gorgeous furniture I own is from there. It’s all about the search terms: Create your wishlist of furniture pieces to figure out the search terms and study what they look like so you know exactly what you’re looking for. Then download the Craigslist app that allows you to create alerts.
Always bring a friend with you, and don’t forget to negotiate.
How would you describe the style of your apartment in a few words?
Collected, colorful, maximalist. Minimalism is a bore!
Do you have a favorite part of your home?
Well, at 262-square-feet there aren’t too many parts to choose from, but I do love how the gallery wall has developed and expanded. And the focal point of the Juju hat is so fun!
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