When Eve Trester-Wilson and Skylar Johnson moved into their West Sixth Street apartment as college students in 2001, they were mainly attracted to the place’s vintage charm, easy access to school and walkable neighborhood. They shared the space with other roommates who came and went throughout the years. Today, the now married couple remain in the same two-bedroom apartment that’s just more than 1,000 square feet, but it’s no longer a college hangout.
The apartment, like the pair, has evolved. It has become a small but hip space fit for a young married couple. In order for the apartment to fit their lifestyle, they constantly find creative solutions that balance functionality and design.
Living in a smaller space such as a condo or an apartment means making the most out of every square foot. Getting organized while letting your home reflect your personality is the key in making life in cozier spaces more comfortable.
For Trester-Wilson and Johnson, being strategic about storage has helped them keep their home organized. “It’s really easy to set something down on a surface and then a pile starts growing and growing,” says Trester-Wilson who is co-owner of the laser cutter co-op MakeATX. “If you don’t address it and figure out a place for those papers, then it can get overwhelming quickly.”
Some of their quick storage solutions have included installing a kitchen shelf for cookbooks, which has freed up pantry space, adding corner shelves for paperwork and putting a shoe cubby in their entryway because closet space is precious.
At one point, houseplants overwhelmed their space. The couple’s collection grew as people gave Johnson, who has a green thumb, plants they couldn’t take care of anymore. Soon plants were on every surface, and the couple decided to take advantage of their home office’s large double-hung windows and install shelves on them that would consolidate the plants and offer plenty of sunshine.
“Ideally I would like some kind of garden,” Johnson says. “That would be really satisfying, but all we have is a parking lot.”
Professional organizer Leslie Byer Rosner of Found Space Organizing says she helps clients zone different spaces in their house so there’s a specific place to put things like manuals or files. Once there’s a plan, people have to commit to it and that, she says, takes discipline.
“The key to organizing is looking at functionality — What do you really use the space for?” Byer Rosner says. “It’s OK to have what you want as long as it is really what you want.” For people who love to read and collect books but don’t have the space for them, Byer Rosner says she suggests alternatives such as using the library, electronic readers or turning to vertical storage space, especially in condos with high ceilings.
With more people working from home in recent years and spending more time than just sleeping and eating at home, Byer Rosner says staying organized has become crucial for modern lifestyles.
Bring out your style
Living in a small space doesn’t mean there’s no room for your style. Whether you are a moving into your first place or downsizing from a larger home, be open to rethinking everyday pieces to match the scale of the space, says interior designer Stacy Paulson. She’s worked with empty nesters who have moved into downtown Austin condos and dealt with the daunting task of consolidating their belongings. Picking and choosing pieces that have sentimental value but that are also appropriate for the space, Paulson says, is important to working with the design of a new, smaller home.
First-time condo owner Sarah Meredith contacted Paulson when the design of her new home grew overwhelming. Meredith combined a 740-square-foot condo with another one to create a roomier two-bedroom condo of less than 1,500 square feet. Meredith’s parents offered her some of their furniture, but merging her shabby chic style with her parent’s more traditional taste was challenging for her. Paulson helped her find her own voice in the space by reupholstering some of the old pieces and bringing the color and sparkle that she likes in her accent pieces.
At Trester-Wilson and Johnson’s apartment, their minimalist mid-century modern style comes through with the few key pieces they choose to display. Trester-Wilson enjoys building furniture, and she’s made most of the furniture in their apartment including the couple’s favorite piece — a laser-cut media cabinet customized for the pair’s electronics. The couple’s dining area also features a vintage chandelier and clock, which both belonged to Trester-Wilson’s grandparents.
Don’t be afraid to put holes in the wall
Just because you are renting an apartment or condo doesn’t necessarily mean you should never pick up a hammer to hang picture frames on your wall. “I think it’s bizarre how people get hyper-focused on their deposit,” Johnson says. “I’ve met people who are terrified of (not getting their full) deposit.”
Holes on the walls from frames and other home decor are considered normal wear and tear, says Paulson, the interior designer, and they are easy to patch up. If you’re renting a place, she suggests learning about your rights as tenants instead of living with a fear that prevents you from making your apartment feel like home.
“Don’t be afraid to let go of things that you don’t absolutely love,” organizer Byer Rosner says. To live comfortably in a smaller space, Johnson, Trester-Wilson and Meredith all say that they have to be extra vigilant about what they bring into their homes and make sure they are constantly getting rid of items they are not using.
Paulson says she goes through a “negotiable versus non-negotiable” process with her clients. “If they say ‘I have to have that,’ I always ask why,” she says. Most of the time, Paulson says, they agree they don’t need it.
Byer Rosner says if a client really wants to keep something, “maybe we’ll find a nice box and put it in the back of a shelf,” she says. “If a client has lost a parent and has kept all the furniture, then I ask ‘What things feel most important? Is it having the memory of the furniture or maybe we can take a picture?’”
Trester-Wilson says it took her a long time to feel settled in that apartment, but the couple has gradually replaced their older Craigslist finds with her handmade furniture pieces that have helped give their small space some big style.
“You just have to be a little bit more creative,” she says. “Finding pieces of furniture and accessories that you like and that speak to you does wonders in making a space feel like your own — it doesn’t have to be expensive either.”
What can you do with your extra stuff?
Living in small spaces requires regular checks of household items to keep or give away. Here are some places Found Space Organizing recommends for recycling or donating items:
- Wire hangers — Return to any dry cleaner
CFL light bulbs (burned out) — The Home Depot or IKEA
Paint/household chemicals — Austin’s household hazardous waste facility