My brother and sister-in-law recently relocated from Los Angeles to Manhattan, and while apartment spaces aren’t huge in Los Angeles, they certainly dwarf your average Manhattanite’s dwelling. The interesting thing about a great old city like New York, though, is that there are a million little nooks and crannies in the form of coffee shops and cafés around every corner to set up your computer and work.
The only problem here is that with the advent of online shopping, in the age of the all-powerful internet, many up-and-coming entrepreneurs are working from home, and bottom line, sometimes you just want your own space.
To quote a quote...quoted in the New York Post:
...the average size of a studio apartment in Manhattan is 550 square feet and costs $2,300 a month...
So now imagine with me for a minute, not having the $2,300 a month for a studio with even that kind of minimal square footage. People get creative, and while roommates may be a common occurrence, newer concepts such as the Microapartment and the Coffin Apartment are on the rise.
With this newly researched information fresh in my mind, I'm writing this blog post for my brother and sister-in-law as they begin their hunt for the perfect New York City apartment to call their own. They run a small business (Song & Pen) out of their home and one of the biggest challenges they now face is creating adequate pint-sized work space that packs a punch.
A Cozy Little Home in Queens
My research led me far and wide through so many images of beautiful Tiny Houses and ultramodern high-rise studios until I magically stumbled upon the most adorable Instagram handle, Cozy Little Home in Queens and subsequently 'worm-holed' into their equally adorable website. The cozy little home in Queens that was pictured was real, lived-in, absolutely charming, and loved. It then struck me, what better insight into living and working in a small space, than from someone who does it every day.
Cozy Little Home in Queens graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions about what it was like living and working in a 430 sq ft space:
GLF: What are some of the challenges of decorating and furnishing a small work space?
CLHiQ: Storage. I feel like I could even live and work in a much smaller space if I had double its square footage in storage. We have to have a lot of vertical storage, and then try to cover it—the best example is in our living room. We put in floor-to- ceiling shelves as a closet, then hung curtains in front.
GLF: Do you feel like you have a work space that is functional and stylish or did you pick one over the other and for what reason?
CLHiQ: Where I work in our living room is stylish, but where my husband works in the bedroom we converted into his studio is functional. I can afford to be stylish as I make drawings, which is a very contained, tidy process. I like to keep fresh flowers near our living room window, and I love seeing them in my periphery as I draw. But sculpture is burly and messy, so my husband’s studio looks more like the interior of tiny Home Depot that’s been ransacked and covered in plaster. That would drive me crazy, but with all his tools and supplies right there, he’s happy and productive. A good trick we implemented: we have sawhorses, so when I need more work space, I can create a makeshift table in our living room (which we’ve used for entertaining as well; a true mixture of live/work space).
GLF: Did you go the DIY route?
CLHiQ: We went the DIY route and made the overwhelming majority of our furniture, so we didn’t look into furnishings too much. The biggest project was the Murphy bed my husband designed and we built that allows our living room/my studio to double as our bedroom. We have that large piece, and then the rest of our furniture is primarily supplemental to the bed. We knew the Murphy bed would take up a lot of visual space, so we had the goal of trying to keep baseboards visible everywhere else, if possible, to try and compensate. One of our implementations of that goal is a floating shelf (rather than a desk) for our computer, and it’s worked really well.
GLF: In what stores did you find your furnishings?
CLHiQ: We bought our supplemental pieces from IKEA. Their delivery is really convenient as we don’t have a car. We also got a lot of accessories on Amazon, such as the hooks we use for hanging up our bikes and plug-in track lighting (very renter friendly!). Then, to the literal nuts and bolts of it: we got a lot from a company called McMaster-Carr, which is a tool and industrial supplier that has next-day delivery to nearly everywhere. We got a lot of our hardware (especially for the Murphy bed) from them, and custom-fitting a rental apartment required a lot of specialty hardware.
GLF: How has living/working in such a small space changed your work and life?
CLHiQ: It’s made us a lot less wasteful with money, space, and material goods. We focus on having things we need as opposed to things we want. If we buy something new, we have to think about where it’s going before it ever enters the apartment. Is it replacing something? Do we already have one? If so, do we really need another? Those are simple questions that keep us budget-minded and prevent clutter. Granted, our studio is packed with art supplies, and we don’t skimp there; but we don’t have huge wardrobes or cabinets full of small kitchen appliances. In that regard, it also compels us to prioritize the work-space, and invest more of our resources into our studio practice. Oddly enough, people never believe us when we say that we still feel like we have too many things and could do with less, or how we feel that deliberation in how we channel our income and possessions has led to a higher quality of life.
Tips and Tricks
Armed with this new insight, I took again to researching some of the best ways to make the most out of a small work space.
Office in a Closet
One of the more common methods folks use is the ol' closet-as-an-office switcheroo. This allows for decent work space with minimal effort. Some people simply place a small desk in a closet and use curtains to cover their work space when needed, others go all out and paint and light the space to create an almost "built-in" feel. Either way, if you have a closet to spare, this is a cost-effective and potentially stylish route to take.
On the other hand, with storage space at a premium in already cramped quarters, a closet might not be available for such a conversion. Similarly, in a rental a conversion like this could easily be an impossibility.
In many instances, and as with the case of our good friends at Cozy Little Home in Queens, they needed to add closet space, as their apartment simply lacked storage. The closet office is a very elegant solution, however, (at least for most folks) it doesn't solve the Alton Brown conundrum of it all. Your closet becomes a uni-tasker. It is either an office or closet and when it does act as both, the results seem like they would be less than desirable.
If this is the route you are interested in taking and ready to flex your inner handyman, here are some step-by-step instructions.
The Mighty Sawhorse
The next item under investigation was the use of the sawhorse, also mentioned by Cozy Little Home in Queens. Apartment Therapy has a very lovely post (complete with Ikea Hack) about the DIY version of this, in case you are interested! If you are using sawhorses you can have a space that is flexible, and a sawhorse desk can easily become a sawhorse dining table. Then, when you need more floor space, the components of the work surface can easily be dismantled and stowed neatly for takeoff in your overhead compartment, or under your bed.
Fold or Float?
For those of you not keen on the DIY approach, there are many options online for floating desks and hinged desks that mount on the wall to save space or fold down flat when they aren't needed. I think that the choice to fold or float is truly dependent on your space, and whether you want to have a more permanent work space always visible. The great news is that these furnishings are available in just about every price range. So, let your fingers do some walking and explore the options!
Pressing the Envelope
I decided to get a little creative with this next idea and try something out for myself. Keeping the multi-tasker concept close to my heart, I investigated what item might serve a dual purpose. It then struck me. There is one uni-tasker that never fails to take up too much space and serves a very short-lived purpose (or an infrequent one, if you live in my house). The ironing board.
And, as it turns out, I think it worked pretty well (I'm sure I can't be the first person to have thought of this), and I ended up comfortably working from this spot for several hours after I set it up. The ironing board was purchased from Target for about $26 and they also have available several lovely covers to snazz up your quirky new work space. I paired it with a counter-height stool with a back (range between 24-27"). There are a myriad of height and design options depending on what is most comfortable for you, and there are also ironing boards of different widths and some that mount on a door. Vertical storage can be mounted on the wall above the ironing board or simply interesting artwork. Really, the possibilities are quite endless, but I'm sure you'll get it all ironed out.
Have a great space-saving office idea? Tried out the ironing board desk? Share in the comments below or send me a message at email@example.com!