Before and After: Making Room For Two in 440 Square Feet Isn't Easy

This post is especially for those of us who have lived in 400-ish-square-foot homes, and with a loved one we’d like to keep loving. We can relate to the limited storage, style compromises (there’s zero “me” space), multi-multi-use rooms, and eccentric bed positioning. This studio, shared by a married couple, is an inspiring small space, both pre- and post-renovation.

This dreamy decor was designed and executed by Kate Lemmon of Kate L Photography. The subtle shades of white and grey create a feeling of being in a cloud, while all that reflected light highlights the beauty of the wood floor. The various area rugs create distinct “rooms” — a luxury in a studio apartment. And, while there is indeed a preponderance of white in this renovation, look at all of the interesting textures and materials: sheepskin, distressed wood, gathered and gauzy duvet, glass and fabric lampshades, sheer curtains, woven rugs, tufted headboard, fur throw, and marble tabletops. It’s a lot of white, but the overall look is anything but plain and sterile.

The apartment used to be all about contrast, with white furnishings standing out against the saturated walls.

When I first moved into our tiny 440-square-foot apartment, I never imagined that I would eventually share the space with my husband (I hadn’t even met him yet!). So naturally, I turned it into the most girly space possible, complete with pink, peach, and purple walls. As a grad student all alone in a new city, I wanted the space to be really colorful and cheerful. I lovingly called it my “easter egg apartment.”

This living room might be petite but it has all the essentials: comfy couch, cozy rugs, reading light, a helpful side table, and a fascinating gallery wall. The gallery wall allows them to display a large and interesting variety of art, without dotting pieces on every single wall in the place. This one stretches pleasingly across the entire wall, avoiding the awkwardness that another configuration might present: would you center a larger work above the sofa, with a smaller one in the dining room portion of the wall, or center a single large piece on the wall as a whole? This gallery avoids those issues while adding ton of visual interest, with the neutrality of the rest of the home acting as the perfect canvas.

Let’s hear what completing this makeover—especially the gallery wall—was like:

We completed the project bit by bit over the course of a couple of months and spent $8K to replace practically everything, including a new couch, tables, bed, rugs, lamps, ceiling fan, shades, paint, frames, artwork, etc.

Set your budget. Then triple that amount, and you’ll have an actual, realistic budget. I made the mistake of thinking I was capable of just changing a few things, but it quickly turned into a full-blown project. However, I’m glad that we made the decision to invest in quality furniture that will last us for years instead of needing to be replaced almost immediately.

The biggest hurdle was planning and hanging the gallery wall…it was definitely a labor of love!! I designed the layout digitally and then ordered the frames and artwork to fit the space. It took quite a bit of research and trial/error to find pieces that worked well with each other.

To hang the frames without a million accidental holes, I traced each frame onto brown craft paper, cut out the frame shapes, marked the hole placement, then hung the paper on the wall with painter’s tape. I’m SO glad I took the time for this extra step, because it turned out that the layout didn’t quite fit and I had to make adjustments before finalizing the nail placements.

The photographs are mostly from our honeymoon to Italy. We didn’t want our faces on the wall, so we included a shot of the flowers from our wedding instead. I also made the “mucho” print myself (it’s a word that has special meaning to us).

That’s a pretty reasonable total for so much new furniture, and I love the “triple your budget” tip, which will help you avoid getting into financial issues. If you can only afford $1,000 and you predict that the project in question will cost exactly $1,000, perhaps wait until you can afford $3,000 or cut back on your plans.

This little bedroom is the opposite of my style, and I love it. It looks like a theater set! It’s so sweet and unique, and I love that salmon paint, but I could see being ready for a change after five years:

After my husband eventually moved in with me, I wanted the space to be OURS, not just mine. He was so very patient with all the pink, but I wanted it to reflect our marriage and become a place that Emmanuel could proudly call his home. So after almost 5 years of the Easter Egg, I decided it was time to move on.

It’s funny how attached you can become to paint colors. I was on the verge of tears the day E and I started painting the walls white. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much life had changed since I first walked into this space with the realtor and knew in a split second that it felt like home. This is where I made it through grad school, through the tough “start-up” months of going full-time with my business, and through long-distance with my husband. Painting the walls white felt so very symbolic – like opening a new chapter together.

Originally we didn’t plan to change this much, but one improvement would get me itching to fix something else, and before we knew it, we were changing the shades, ceiling fan, and everything in between. Lesson learned…do not paint the apartment unless you’re ready for a full-blown makeover!?

Agreed. Painting is such a liminal activity, done when moving in, moving out, after a breakup, and at other times of hope, mourning, optimism, and reminiscing.

This is such creative bed placement, and it could potentially add additional seating to the living room during parties, perhaps with a sturdy throw to protect the duvet. The arrangement keeps the bedroom from feeling claustrophobic (if a bed would even fit in that nook) and leaves space for the essential dresser and bedside table. When you live in a studio, feeling like you’re sleeping in a separate space—even if it’s barely separate—can feel very important.

I never knew that picking a shade of white paint could be so difficult! We settled on Benjamin Moore’s Cloud White, which is pretty close to true white with just a tiny hint of yellow. It’s nice and neutral without being too stark.

The final detail we added was the bedroom wallpaper. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out what to put there. With the tall headboard, it felt awkward to hang something above it, but a pure white wall felt too empty. Then I found some amazing removable wallpaper from Tempaper Designs. It’s basically like glorified contact paper and really easy to use. We were able to hang the entire wall in a couple of hours, with zero messy paste involved. I love that it ties together the gray and gold accents from the rest of the apartment.

A wallpapered wall in a couple of hours is inspiring indeed.

I’d like to congratulate Jessica and Emmanuel for working with the challenges of small-space living to create a home that works for both of them. It’s no small feat, and it shows that living within a reduced footprint is possible—and beautiful:

Almost a year later, I’m still thrilled with our apartment revamp. It’s such a peaceful and calm space to come home to, and I’m surprised at how much brighter our apartment seems with the addition of the white walls. The minimalist vibe helps inspire me to keep our place organized and clutter-free. And I was worried that the white would feel too unwelcoming in the wintertime, but the layered textures add warmth and make it feel so cozy!

Thank you, Kate L Photography!

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