A Small-Space Design Bible

Author Kyle Schuneman talks interior design on the tiniest of budgets in his latest, The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces.

Image
Courtesy of Joe Schmelzer

Los Angeles-based interior designer Kyle Schuneman's new book, The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces, attempts to address that dilemma facing so many young city transplants: how to make a tiny space feel like home, with no stuff, no money, and tons of can'ts from the landlord.

For the book, Schuneman made-over ten urban starter apartments in places like Seattle (300 square feet), New York (425 square feet), and Chicago (600 square feet). He took some time out to chat with us about neighborhood-inspired design, double-duty furniture, and how to avoid the dreaded straight-from-the-Ikea-catalog box apartment. 

Especially in the New York and Seattle apartments, you take inspiration from the surrounding neighborhood. Why is this important for an indoor space? I think you have to have design rooted in where you live. ...There are inspiration points all around you — from your favorite store to bar to cobblestone street.

How do you accomplish this? For New York, we did a color scheme…whereas the Seattle apartment was more of a vibe.

Would you say neighborhoods or cities play a stronger influence on design? For some of these bigger cities, it's definitely the neighborhood. Capitol Hill in Seattle has a very different vibe than the Waterfront. ... I think young people have never had an interaction with a space like you would a neighborhood. The excitement for design really starts [when] you go to a flea market…[and] went with a friend, had to rent a Zipcar — there’s now a story to it.

Do you see regional trends as well? The East Coast has its own set of quirks — weird bathrooms, old niches, and layouts that are just strange....There's also a different way of life. [Here in L.A.], I covered my heater with wallpaper, but you couldn’t do that on the East Coast, because you need your heater.

One of your pieces of advice is to “be honest about how you live.” People will say, "We’ll put that stuff in the closet," but [they] won’t....We should address the way you live, not the way you want to live.

Biggest challenge in small spaces? Things really need to be proportionate. In a small space, you don’t want a lush, plush sofa. You may not realize it, but it is making the space uncomfortable.

In the book, you frequently use thrift stores and flea market finds, which take time and patience to acquire. What about for the transplant who moves with nothing but personal items? I'm still a proponent of that, even if you are only living in your space for a year. I'm 26, about to be 27 the day before the book comes out, and moved five times...You can sell [pieces] on Craigslist or on eBay, and then start a new journey.

You also talk about treating a floor as a “fifth wall” when landlords prevent painting. Any other cheap ways to splash with color? If you know starting out you can’t do anything with your walls, think about going bold with those bigger pieces…Painting furniture is another way if you want color [and] you can’t do walls.

Any last words? I did this book just to tell people to go for it. I think people are worried about making a mistake…enjoy [the] process.

Top image: Courtesy of Joe Schmelzer

About the Author