Don’t let a small area hold you back – you can still have an efficient workspace.
The rising cost of living, including rent, is making shared apartments and cozy units (such as small studio apartments) a more affordable choice for graduate students.
Since some students who live in shared apartments often live there for the duration of their studies (one to four years, sometimes longer), it is imperative to think about the design and use of their personal space.
We decided to approach this challenge a little differently: by showing you how to maximize the efficiency of your small space. For reference, all of the photos below are from one of my clients.
1. Measure your space
First measure the length and width of your room, which you can then sketch on paper. The measured dimensions can be in centimeters or in feet and inches, whichever you are most comfortable with. Pro tip: you can even download a digital tape measure app that matches your camera and does the measurements for you.
[Use the arrows to scroll through the photos.]
Photo 1A: empty apartment.
Photo 1B: Empty apartment, view of the kitchen. The apartment lacks a space for working from home, which became a design challenge.
Photo 1C: Measuring horizontal dimensions.
Photo 1D: A rough sketch of the floor plan on a piece of cardboard.
2. Optimize verticality
Sometimes we get so caught up in horizontal space that we forget that vertical space is just as important. Measure the height(s) of the room(s) as vertical gaps can be useful for hanging wall shelves, hooks for hats, book storage, art or even hanging plants, all of which help to optimize space.
Photo 2A: A tall vertical plant like a bird of paradise adds vertical height to a space. Thanks to its verticality, it can structure the living/dining area and at the same time preserve the spatial openness.
Photo 2B: Use green tape to mark placement of vertical elements. Designing a work space for a work-from-home situation.
Photo 2C: Last temporary workplace area. Optimize vertical heights to create a (new) workspace and shelf – spaces that didn’t exist before!
Photo 2D: Placing plants on the kitchen island helps draw the eye toward the ceiling, making the space feel much higher and larger than it actually is.
Photo 2E: A vertical trellis above the TV to add even more visual interest and height to the living room.
Photo 2F: Another element that contributes to the verticality of the space – a climbing pothos plant placed on top of the fridge.
Photo 2G: Hanging picture frames and a larger vertical mirror bring verticality and visual rhythm to the hallway.
Photo 2H: Floating hooks with hanging clothes add vertical interest to the entryway. Also, a 10-foot curtain separating the hallway from the bedroom further accentuates the height of the room.
3. Develop a plan and budget
Let’s start with the plan. Are you planning to stay in the same place for a while? If so, it might be worth spending a little more for a comfortable mattress, which would ultimately increase your budget. Second, money matters. Find a good balance of not overextending your finances while also finding a budget that makes sense for your length of stay, especially if you don’t plan on keeping all the items.
Photo 3A: The kitchen island was an essential element, but also not an element that will be needed in future homes depending on the kitchen layout. A medium-priced kitchen island was therefore sufficient for this apartment.
Photo 3B: The living room sofa can be a relatively expensive purchase. Choosing to buy a more expensive, modular sofa (like the one shown here) gives you the flexibility to expand it for a future, larger space.
Photo 3C: How often would you like to buy a TV? What will you use it for? how big should it be These are just a few parameters that dictated the decision to (hopefully) spend a little more for this one-time purchase.
4. Visualize your space
Create a mood board with images, images, and materials for the feel you want to create for your space. This mood board serves as an artistic compass for your design direction. The power of having everything in front of you is that you can visually communicate your ideas to others while everyone is on the same page (if you have roommates).
5. It’s time for some online window shopping
Now that you’ve completed steps 1 through 4, it’s time for some online window shopping! Use your personal intuition and taste to find items that fit your budget and interest you. Next, look at your list of elements together and imagine how they would come together compositionally. In this order of priority, eliminate items that:
- not physically fit in your space;
- not part of your overall mood/design direction; and
- don’t fit into your budget and plan.
With your remaining items, you can make a final run through which items would go well together compositionally in your space. This last list contains the items you should buy!
Photo 5A: View of the final kitchen/dining/workspace/living room area.
Photo 5B: View of the last living room.
Photo 5C: View from the hallway at night.
Let us know your ideas and how you plan to redesign your living spaces for the coming semesters in the comments below.