Smart Small Apartment

Apartment Therapy founder Maxwell Ryan has made a career of teaching people to design beautiful, organized homes -- even in the tiniest footprints. Step inside his own apartment to see how he does it. The 1,000-square-foot apartment houses a dad, his 8-year-old, and dozens of space-savvy tricks.

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    Living Spaces

    Maxwell has a few tricks to keep rooms from closing in. First, he gives each space at least three sources of light. "The same space with more light in it will instantly feel bigger," he says. "You’ll get the feeling of all the room you actually have." Second, he stains floors dark -- coffee bean, espresso, or even black --  and paints walls white. "The contrast creates the illusion of more space, and then you have freedom to incorporate some color," he says. (He doesn’t go crazy with color, though. His general guideline: Use color on about 20 percent of the surfaces in a room.) Third, he removes as many doors as possible to create better flow. "Doors can make spaces feel confined and closed up," he says.

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    Right-Sized Furniture

    A space-smart demilune table, holds favorite pieces from family and friends.

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    Dial Up Drama

    Go big in a small room? Most definitely! In the dining room, Maxwell added drama with oversize light fixtures and a large mirror. Maxwell designed this plywood table after a display piece he saw at a show. See his tutorial ("How to Make a Simple Modern Table"): apartmenttherapy.com

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    Function and Style

    An avid cook, Maxwell remodeled his kitchen for efficiency. "I don't have anything in my kitchen that is only decorative," he says. "I keep it very organized and use every last thing." The space also shows Maxwell's design smarts. After removing upper cabinets, he painted the walls black and the lower cabinetry white for high contrast. He replaced the old laminate countertops with Carrara marble and used white subway tile left over from another project for a backsplash. A compact butcher-block island serves as command central. Maxwell believes in balancing budget finds with splurges. The moppable Swedish rug, which Maxwell calls "bulletproof"-- was a splurge. But the restaurant-style stainless-steel shelves, subway tile, and paint delivered big impact on a dime. 

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    The Right Mix

    An old crock filled with leafy branches is less fussy (and longer-lasting) than most cut flowers. It also reflects Maxwell’s "European modern" style. "In Europe, they’re good at mixing old and new so effortlessly," he says.

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    Keeping the Calm

    "Balance is so important when decorating, because symmetry and order help establish a sense of calm," says Maxwell. Furniture and art are his main ways to achieve that. In his bedroom, he placed tables, lamps, and his mom’s paintings on both sides of the bed. A grayish-purple feature wall was his shake-things-up surprise. "It’s calming and works with the other colors in the house," he says. An upholstered headboard provides a comfy backrest for reading in bed. "It’s also a powerful way to absorb sound and have a more quiet retreat," he says. "A room feels safe if it’s cozy and quiet."

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    Small-Space Living

    So is there an upside to living in such a small space? "The nice thing is that your whole life is literally at your fingertips," Maxwell Ryan says of his 1,000-squarefoot place -- his biggest ever.

  • Next Slideshow 26 Ideas to Steal for Your Apartment

    26 Ideas to Steal for Your Apartment

    Living in a small space is tough, especially when your decorating options are limited by rental rules and landlord laws. Let these ideas inspire you to make the home (and space) you want.
    Begin Slideshow »
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