Danielle Rago’s family pied-à-terre was typical of New York City: dark, cramped (it spans merely 500 square feet), and dated. “We’ve had it for more than a decade,” she recalls. “It was ripe for a transformation.” So when her sister—who had been living there for the past six years—moved out in 2018, Rago leapt at the opportunity to make it her own haven.

She not only longed for a place to stay while in transit—although based in Los Angeles, the cofounder of THIS X THAT, a strategic agency for up-and-coming architects, often traveled to the East Coast prior to the pandemic—but an office to meet clients and a salon to host future work events. Squeezing all three functions into one space (the unit is a studio) was a tall order, but trusted business partners (and friends), designers Ivi Diamantopoulou and Jaffer Kolb of New Affiliates, were up for the challenge. A year later they made Rago’s dream—including a dinner party–worthy, full-size Miele range—a reality.

Take a Hands-Off Approach to Stay on Budget

Rather than launch into a full gut job—just two closets made it on the demo list—the duo zeroed in on optimizing the current layout. “I don’t think we’ve ever worked on a project we’ve redesigned so many times,” says Diamantopoulou, laughing. She and Kolb went to work covering up the heating and cooling system with built-in storage cabinets, installing inconspicuous shelving in the kitchen, and playing with proportions by extending the doorframes to the ceiling.

“Renovating isn’t just about switching up finishes; it’s rethinking how a space performs,” she continues. Plus by leaving more permanent fixtures—like the plumbing and wiring—in place, the designers were able to pursue their most-wanted big-ticket item: not the kitchen cabinetry but a custom wall.

Lose Space to Gain Space

Proposing to build out a wall at the expense of nearly 40 square feet of hallway space may sound counterintuitive, but it absorbed the pantry, storage, and a queen-size Murphy bed. “It’s a perceptual trade-off,” says Kolb, who lovingly refers to it as the Swiss Army knife of the unit. By simply folding up the mattress, the bedroom zone transitions into a workstation with extra seating. The custom millwork, which connects the foyer to the living area, also doubles as a visual cue to navigate the space. “If you look at the old plan, the apartment was divided into two parts,” adds Diamantopoulou. “The wall helps them coexist more happily.”  

Paint It White to Make It Bright

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As if concealing all that clutter wasn’t enough, the pleated hallway also helps reflect light in the one-window studio. To underline the effect, New Affiliates stuck to a neutral color scheme. Everything from the walls (painted in Decorator’s White by Benjamin Moore) to the furniture (such as the Hem Design Studio modular sofa in chalk) is intentionally muted. Even the lacquered cabinetry color (Benjamin Moore’s Palest Pistachio) was chosen with light in mind—it bounces the few rays the space does get around the rest of the room.

Choose Multifunctional Materials

The Murphy bed isn’t the only chameleon detail. By mirroring the kitchen backsplash in the office nook, the Caesarstone counters play the role of desk and dining table, as well as meal-prep space. Similarly most of the furniture is lightweight enough to rearrange or small enough to stow away. Rago uses stackable Aalto stools interchangeably as additional seating and storage under the bathroom’s wall-mounted sink—or even as a nightstand. “When the space is tight, especially when you’re in and out of it, you want to be able to put everything away and disappear,” says Diamantopoulou. 

Spaciousness Comes in Small Packages

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New Affiliates relied on an optical illusion when it came to the floor, turning a blind eye to trendy wide planks and opting instead for 3-inch-wide engineered wood. “You feel like a giant when you hold something small,” explains Kolb. “So we picked the smallest plank we could get to make the space seem more expansive.”

Almost everything in the studio is undersized, from the bare-bulb Schoolhouse sconces in the hallway to the 2-inch-square ceramic tiles in the bathroom. Thinking small made the apartment feel so much bigger that Rago’s sister has moved back in with her dog—a 70-pound Lab mix—and Rago is glad the apartment is occupied as she shelters in place across the country. One day, though, she can’t wait to reclaim it to enjoy with friends, family, and colleagues—all of whom will fit comfortably.

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