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How to Get the Most out of Studio Apartment Living, According to Expert Designers

A guide to storage and decorating a small, modern studio apartment in the city

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By House & Garden | June 3, 2024 | Travel Leisure

While few people probably dream of living in a studio flat, they do serve a very good purpose for city dwellers around the world. They may be the smallest living spaces you can buy or rent, but a studio is still a home and as with any house, should be optimised to make life there as easy and enjoyable as possible. Far from thoughts of bashing into furniture, tiptoeing around tight corners or sleeping by the fridge, there are plenty of ways to live well in a studio flat so we've canvassed designers with experience living in or designing studios for their top tips.

Interior designer Sally Wilkinson is American-born but London-based, and splits her time between a spacious flat in the UK and a studio in Atlanta, given the transatlantic nature of her clients. That studio is a high-ceilinged, bright, airy and extremely well thought out space, which makes her time spent there a pleasure and not a chore. Who better to speak to the question of how to design a studio than an interior designer with the most personal experience there is?

Furniture selections are crucial for a studio; with limited space, everything has to work hard and still be aesthetically pleasing. Image courtesy of &Drape.

Make Sure Everything Serves a Purpose

“Living in a studio, it is important to make sure everything has a clear purpose (or two). Just like with any project, I would recommend starting with a scaled furniture plan. For our studio, I wanted to be able to both live comfortably and work there, so I needed to be very intentional and use pieces that could convert appropriately. Furniture selections are crucial for a studio; with limited space, everything has to work hard and still be aesthetically pleasing. Several of the pieces I selected have dual uses. For example, our dining table also serves as the desk I work from. Once you decide what size and type of furniture piece will serve the space best, focus on its appearance I used several antique or vintage pieces to add interest and balance the cleaner, more modern architectural style of the studio.

Once you decide what size and type of furniture piece will serve the space best, focus on its appearance. Image courtesy of Audo.

“It is important to think outside the box. I knew a traditional living room setup with a large sofa and chairs would take up a lot of square footage. Instead, I have a few smaller seating areas sprinkled throughout, creating defined spaces. These pieces can also easily be moved around, providing ultimate flexibility. The larger storage pieces and the kitchen cabinetry are positioned along the perimeter, anchoring the entire layout. In terms of the amount of furniture, I would say less is more. Although it is tempting to fill every corner to make up for a lack of space, staying more minimal will help the space feel more open and relaxed.”

Set a Clear Intention for Each Space

Parisian interior designer Marianne Evennou has a wealth of experience when it comes to dealing with seriously small spaces (Paris is full of studio apartments and it's much more common to live in a really small flat there than it is in the UK). She's designed studios as small as 11m2 and done so with real style.

Whereas most studios are one room, Marianne says she is a great believer in creating a number of distinct zones, “I find you have a much greater sensation of space that way. You have the impression of moving around, rather than being stuck in a box. Plus, it’s more cosy.” There is one area she always tries to reduce to a minimum – the bathroom – and another that she always tries to integrate, even in the tiniest studio – an entrance hall. “A hall creates a transition between the outside world and your private sphere,” she explains. “And it gives you somewhere to place your belongings out of sight, so they don’t overwhelm you.”

In a tiny studio flat, less is more. Image courtesy of Muuto.

With these different small rooms in mind, Marianne often installs atelier-style windows between them: “For me, they are just as important as the windows to the outside; I don’t think they are used often enough.” Not only do they allow light to circulate more easily, they also allow the eye and the mind to travel. “That way, you don’t feel imprisoned in a room. And there is something poetic about them,” she adds. “Your imagination can move from one world to another.”

When it comes to studios, you have to think outside the box a bit and this is where Marianne comes into her own. In one tiny Parisian apartment she designer, Marianne had perhaps her most ingenious idea in the way that she has incorporated a washing machine into the corner cupboard of the L-shaped kitchen. In most kitchens, this area would be more or less a dead space, but she was able to fit the machine here and create novel access to it by placing its door at the rear in the tiny entrance hall. That, plus the fact that she advocates underfloor heating as a way to avoid having to install cumbersome radiators, show just how much you need to think beyond the normal solution to things.

In a studio flat, it’s best to stick to furniture that is mobile and flexible, like this trolly table. Image courtesy of Muuto.

As for furniture, “you often need to move things around in small spaces,” observes Marianne. “So it’s best to stick to furniture that is mobile and flexible.” One thing which Marianne integrates into many of the small flats she decorates is a built-in desk. “They take up less space and are also practical. Plus, they create a separate workspace, which enriches even the smallest apartment with another distinct zone.”

Utilise Screens and Internal Curtains

If constricted to a one-room flat, there is every chance you will want to screen certain sections off for privacy or for cosiness, such as a living snug or bedroom. Internal curtains are a perfect way to do this. They are easy to install and to move: far less of a commitment than other options such as a stud wall or crittal windows, and they easily open up to make the space feel bigger when they are not needed.

What’s more, in a modern, small apartment, it can be best to avoid curtains on the actual windows. Very simple windows are a key architectural feature, and curtains can suffocate them, masking their clean lines and eating too much into the size of the room. Roller blinds in bold colours can be a smart choice.

Internal curtains are a perfect way to create space and section off specific spaces in a studio flat. Image courtesy of FERM Living.

People so often presume that space-saving furniture is a modern invention, and therefore only think to look at twentieth century or contemporary design. This is a mistake; Georgian furniture often has quite narrow proportions (such as the Georgian-inspired high-backed sofa in this scheme’s living room) and could be brilliantly utilitarian at times.

The kitchen in a small apartment is one of the hardest things to keep streamlined, and a dish draining board is a serious waste of surface space. In Finland, the plate-drying closet is a long-established phenomenon; a cupboard which opens to reveal a slatted rack-style plate and cup storage system which allows water to drip straight through, and does away with the distinction between drying and storing.

Furniture with built-in storages take up less space and are also practical. Image courtesy of FERM Living.

This story originally appeared on House & Garden UK.