A Stair-Landing Shoe Drawer Is a Must When You Live in 430 Square Feet With a Toddler

Plaster walls and IKEA lights keep things airy.

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woman standing on mezzanine

London-based interior designer Louise Glynn is used to living in unusually small spaces. The cofounder of Studio 29 Architects called a tiny, 300-square-foot studio apartment home for 12 years before moving into a converted factory where the mezzanine floor is the bedroom. “A lot of people are always looking to go somewhere that’s bigger, but I won’t compromise on location,” she explains. At 430 square feet, her new place is still petite by most people’s standards, but it fulfilled her desire for “something a bit different” and is within walking distance of the iconic Tower Bridge. “It helps that I moved from somewhere smaller, but I’m good at clearing things out, and I’m not sentimental about my belongings,” she says of her outlook on “stuff.”

wood kitchen cabinets
white bathroom sink with wood cabinet

Glynn, who discovered she was expecting her son, Samuel (now 2), a month after getting the keys in March 2020, was sold on the apartment having its own private entrance and wall of original Crittall windows that date back to the 1930s. The fact that it had zero storage (aside from an under-stairs cupboard) and bland, gray decor were minor issues she relished solving. Here’s how she set about utilizing every inch.

Plaster, But Don’t Paint

under lit stairs

The apartment’s north-facing orientation means it is bright, but it doesn’t get direct sunlight, so Glynn left the freshly replastered walls bare with just a matte sealant for protection. “I couldn’t live in a white box. Raw plaster gives quite a simple, organic feel,” she explains. She intentionally continued the wall treatment throughout (bar the tiled bathroom) because “the overall effect is quite busy, and if you choose too many finishes, it makes a space feel smaller,” she adds. She then picked a harmonizing shade of chocolate to cover anything that was previously gray, giving exposed metal beams and industrial-feeling metalwork a soft makeover. 

Splurge on Millwork

drawer and cabinet fronts open in bench and shoe cubby

Glynn allocated a large part of her budget to custom cabinetry, favoring plywood for its simplicity (and because it was easy to source during the pandemic, when the space was renovated). Using the same material for the wardrobes and the kitchen fronts creates a sense of cohesion, but most hardworking of all is an extra-long sideboard in the dining area that doubles as a bench and a radiator cover. “I use it for table linens, and when I had a housewarming, everyone was able to sit there and enjoy a cocktail,” she says. She also had her carpenter create a small, elevated landing to separate the entryway from the sunken living area. Underneath the step she ingeniously conceived a pull-out drawer so her and Samuel’s shoes can be stashed out of sight.

Choose Multifunctional Lighting

apartment with grid windows from the outside

The cluster of paper lanterns from IKEA are arguably the standout feature of the apartment. “People regularly stare in; I suppose it looks a little like a shop front,” says Glynn, laughing. They hang from a metal mesh plate covering the ceiling (itself a clever disguise for unsightly bulkheads and imperfections) and create privacy between the mezzanine bedroom and prying eyes outside. “It’s quite relaxing when the windows are open and they blow around in the breeze,” she notes. She hangs seasonal decorations off of them, too, from bats to snowflakes.

Make Room Dividers Small and Mighty

mezzanine bedroom
woman pushing folding screen
bedroom mezzanine screen closed

Sharing a small home (and smaller bedroom) with a toddler presents unique challenges, but getting Samuel to sleep, even on the lightest of summer evenings, is no issue thanks to the sliding panels that separate the mezzanine from the living space below. “I wanted that screen because if someone comes to stay or I have friends over, it blacks out the bedroom and acts as a sound barrier, too,” explains Glynn. She knows her days of bunking in with Samuel are numbered, which means so is their time in the apartment. But she’s all about the small wins, literally: “The housewarming was the first time I’ve been able to host a party at any house I’ve ever lived in, so that was a nice moment.”

Olivia Lidbury is a freelance writer based in the U.K. She has been regularly contributing to Domino since 2021, pitching charming British houses, whimsical apartments and must-see vacation stays. Olivia also regularly writes for a number of national U.K. titles such as The Times and The Sunday Times Style magazine. She lives just outside of London in Kent.