Published on April 26, 2019

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A great layout can do so much more than simply look good. It dictates how you exist in your space, how you entertain, and how you wind down. In Room Tetris, we’re demystifying what differentiates an average furniture plan from a great one with the help of top interior design talent. Consider this your guide to a well-lived-in home.

How would you feel if your bed offered prime views of your stove? What if your entire house offered only one tiny closet for all your storage needs? How would you host dinner parties if your only eating surface was your coffee table and guests had to sit on your bed? Such are the dilemmas of many city dwellers.

Finding the perfect layout for any room in your house is a mind puzzle in its own right, but designing a studio apartment comes with a particular set of challenges. The ultimate open floor plan is typically smaller in size and often comes with very little storage space. Often, there is virtually no delineation between the living, dining, cooking, and sleeping areas.

If anyone is particularly well-positioned to solve such small-space woes, it’s New York–based interior designers. Having often lived in studio apartments of their own, they know firsthand the solutions that will make limited square footage feel more spacious, balanced, and functional. We reached out to three of them to share their best tips for creating the ultimate studio apartment layout plan. This is what they had to say.

If You Have Under 400 Square Feet

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Courtesy of Patrick McGrath

A couple of years ago, interior designer Patrick McGrath got the most special client of all: his sister, Elle. Having already lived in the same building on Lower Fifth Avenue near Washington Square with his boyfriend, architect Reinaldo Leandro of Ashe + Leandro, he knew every kink and corner well. The designer threw out the studio apartment rulebook, which often advises to keep spaces simple and pared back, in favor of a black floral Bill Blass rug that served as a jumping-off point for the entire space. He then paired it with a leopard-print sofa.

Because his sister loves to entertain, McGrath kept the layout simple with plenty of room to host an informal soiree with friends, keeping the kitchen separate from the main living space. The apartment’s biggest challenge was limited closet space.

McGrath’s 3 Tips for the Perfect Layout

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

Separate the Kitchen Space
A studio feels a lot better if there is a separate kitchen. Nobody wants to be in bed staring at a dishwasher. If this isn’t possible, replace a standard-size refrigerator with an under-the-counter option and upgrade the fixtures and appliances.

Make Your Furniture Work Overtime
Every piece of furniture has to do double-duty in a studio. Make sure it’s cool-looking, comfortable, and versatile.

Create Rooms Within the Room
In a studio apartment, it’s important to create distinct zones within the spaces or rooms within the rooms, if you will.

If You Have Around 500 Square Feet

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When interior designer Dan Mazzarini bought his 480-square-foot studio in Greenwich Village from his 95-year-old neighbor, it hadn’t been renovated in over 40 years. “The bathroom and closet were very narrow, so I increased them both by two feet,” he told Domino. “I moved the front door so that it was on axis with the windows to bring more light to the kitchen and bath and opened up the ceilings since half the space was dropped to eight feet.”

The result is a light-filled space with high ceilings and a blank canvas for the designer to work his magic. He used the newfound ceiling height to build up shelves for additional storage and create a gallery for his most treasured art pieces. Now an open and airy space, the designer can even host parties for up to 80 people.

Mazzarini’s 3 Tips for the Perfect Layout

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

Include Tons of Storage Space
Make sure you have plenty of storage. I tend to go vertical with storage and I make use of nooks and crannies. Closed storage is preferred, too, so you can be a little messier.

Consider How You’ll Use the Space
I love to entertain, but I rarely eat dinner at home, so I didn’t need a dining table. Instead, I move my TV for parties and turn the dresser into a bar. Eliminate the furniture that you won’t use.

Layer for the Look
Small spaces can still be warm and inviting. Artistic layers like varied textures of leather, wood, plaster, and wool (or layered art and decorations) can tell your story and warm up your space. Just don’t go too overboard (i.e., don’t be a Miss Havisham).

If You Have Over 700 Square Feet

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Courtesy of Jess Blumberg

Sometimes, a studio layout is more of a conscious choice than a design obstacle to overcome. In this bright Boerum Hill loft, interior designer Jess Blumberg of Dale Blumberg Interiors wanted to make the sweeping views the focus while maximizing function in her large (but open) space. “The biggest challenge with this layout was making sure the dining, living, and sleeping spaces felt separate enough without having any actual walls delineating them. I wanted to keep the space feeling as open as possible to keep the unobstructed flow from the front door to the large window wall, which has sweeping views of southern Brooklyn.”

Since the front of the apartment was on a raised platform, it was an obvious place to delineate the dining room. The bedroom, which needed to be in a discreet area, was tucked away between an exposed beam and the large windows.

Blumberg’s 3 Tips for the Perfect Layout

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

Highlight Your Architectural Details
One of my favorite parts of the apartment, which is a converted office building, is the large exposed steam pipe, sprinklers, and support columns. The steam pipe, by city code, is painted yellow. I decided to put the large antique map of West Africa beneath it to pull out the yellow and make the color belong.

Keep It Simple
Sometimes, all you need to make your bed feel separate from the rest of the living space is a couple of medium-size plants instead of a large bookcase or a floating wall that may obstruct the view or make the space feel more enclosed. I wanted to make sure I didn’t block the large window wall so that when you walked into the front door you could see the view immediately.

Limit Your Color Palette
Use a limited color scheme and similar materials throughout to tie the whole space together. In my studio, I kept a neutral palette of whites, grays, and blacks and I dotted warm-wood tones throughout.

Discover more small space tricks we love:
This Interior Designer Throws Parties for 80 People in His 480-Square-Foot Studio
This Petite Pink Bathroom Proves Size Doesn’t Matter
This Surf-Inspired Bachelor Pad Is a Master Class in Custom Renovations