Good-bye, dark past as a garage. Hello, bright happy future as a getaway. A homeowner creates, and then checks herself into, a cozy 250-square-foot apartment.


Fifteen steps. That's all that separates Anna Forkum from her main home and her vacation retreat—formerly known as her two-car garage. The interior designer and magazine photo stylist created the sweet studio as a place to live while she rents out her primary Nashville residence on Airbnb. But she owes the transformation to two ambitious teens.

Anna had long toyed with the idea of converting the garage into an apartment, but her piles of vintage treasures stored there always deterred her ("I'm a junker," Anna confesses). When her daughter, Lyla, and Lyla's friend volunteered to take on the cleanup task because they wanted a place to hold a 13th birthday party, Anna took them up on it.

Anna's stand-alone garage featured a shed with a door that now serves as the apartment's entrance. The "Etc" adorning the wall says it all: The structure provides a place for miscellaneous activities—living, creating, and, yes, still for parking a car in an unfinished portion.


The girls sorted and sold (Anna gave them half of whatever they made on Craigslist), then painted walls and the floor white. "I don't know if this would exist without them doing that," says Anna, who sketched designs and worked with a contractor to revamp the space. A few months later, she had her oh-so-close-to-home retreat—along with a newfound appreciation for small-space living. "Editing my life for a small space really put into perspective what I need and what I don't," Anna says.

Anna fashioned an on-the-wall drop zone near her front door by spray-painting a piece of tree bark gold and outfitting it with teacup hooks to hold keys. A message board and mail holder round out the grouping, which unabashedly incorporates the light switch. 


Anna wanted the elements in her apartment to be whimsical. She set the stage in the living area with an oversize gilded sconce from an estate sale and a turquoise chandelier. "Hanging lights on walls and ceiling is a great way to save table space," Anna says. She was strategic about her furniture picks, opting for open-leg pieces that keep the eyes moving, which in turn helps visually stretch the room. The vintage wing chair, re-covered in silver vinyl, sparkles next to an antiques store mirror; both do their part to reflect light.


Anna didn't shy away from big pattern, even though it's often considered taboo in close quarters. She created an accent wall with random curvy brushstrokes done with metallic paint, keeping the pattern tone-on-tone to stop it from overwhelming the space. The free-form paint treatment helps mask a door leading to the unfinished part of the garage but is visually clean enough that Anna can have fun with lively and easy-to-change patterns on the daybed and floor.


Surprise! Some of the wooden art pieces above the daybed are actually doors for shallow cabinets built between studs. Anna gathered the wood trim and other scraps for the collages from job sites, then mounted them on boards. "I used whatever I could find for free," says Anna, noting that the sculptures and collages of artist Louise Nevelson inspired her pieces.


Downsized appliances—including a mini fridge housed in a cabinet with space for a coffeemaker on top and cubbies for towels on the side—pack plenty of function into the L-shape kitchen. Anna kept cabinetry costs down and avoided boxing in the small space by opting for open shelving. The skirt on the lower cabinetry adds a custom touch. Anna transferred a piece of artwork she found at an estate sale onto fabric.


Anna made a no-nonsense sink, faucet, and exposed pipes look chic by setting the elements off against a backdrop of gray-and-white patterned tile that cost $20 for a box of 18, above. She lucked into the glazed-steel sink on clearance after realizing a standard sink would jut out too far. (Anna's sink came from an online retailer, but for sinks similar in size, check out medical supply stores.) "It's little things (literally!) that you may not think of when you're planning a small space," she says. "There's such a domino effect. A small sink, for example, means a smaller faucet and even looking around for a small dish rack."


A platform outfitted with two storage drawers supports a queen bed within a pitched-roof alcove. Anna papered the ceiling with wallcovering samples she'd collected, using pushpins rather than adhesive for design flexibility. "I wanted the sleeping area to feel like a special little room, even though it's really just a bed," Anna says. "It's like looking at my own multicolored universe."


The compact bath is outfitted with a lipped wall-mount sink from a kitchen supply store and a vintage mirror Anna painted black for impact. Simple cubby-style boxes (with nails on one side to hold jewelry) stand in as an affordable option to standard cabinets. "I wanted to keep the space open," Anna says, "so I didn't let anything go all the way to the floor."


Anna cut a salvaged door—snagged for $95—down the middle and hinged both sides to the wall as a space-saving solution for entering the bath. Door knockers serve as handles. She maxed out hanging space in the nearby closet with a T-shape bar crafted from copper piping that accommodates hangers for clothes and S hooks for purses and accessories. Salvaged barnwood serves as shelves for shoes.


Art in the bath? "Why not?" says Anna, who spruced hers up with roiling waves depicted in a paint-by-numbers piece, above, found at a thrift store. She often treats drywall like a giant bulletin board, using pushpins to hang pieces. The pins mimic the look of a frame without overwhelming the recessed area. "I love the rawness of the scene," she says. A boat cleat on the adjacent wall serves as a towel hook. A small shelf squeezes in storage and a few decorative accents above the toilet.

Tips for Decorating on a Budget

bathroom shower tile sink white mirror

Anna dug into her stash of vintage finds and leftovers from previous design projects to decorate her apartment. She shares tips for decorating smartly on a budget.

  • Rely on Paint: Whether you use it on walls or cabinets, paint gives you the biggest bang for your buck, Anna says. Floor to ceiling white streamlines her apartment. "White really opens up a small space and allows you to do more with the decor," she says.
  • Be Thrifty: Scour thrift stores, estate sales, and Craigslist for bargain castoffs. They give a home personality and are easily spiffed up. Anna's desk chair is an old outdoor teak piece that she padded and upholstered to give it an all new look.
  • Rethink the Obvious: Look for unexpected uses for everyday or utilitarian items. Anna used boat cleats as towel hooks (more interesting than standard hooks and more space-saving than a towel bar), turned plumbing pipes into curtain rods, and sewed a tea towel into a pillow cover.

Comments (1)

Better Homes & Gardens Member
September 12, 2018
I was wanting to do the same thing. This article helped immensely! One hint: put the paragraph BEFORE the pic. I kept having to scroll up to see what it was referring to. I really enjoy BHG!