“Tiny but terrific”

The News & Observer "Tiny but terrific" with Nicole Alvarez 1

Over a month ago I got an email from Stacy, a reporter for our regional newspaper The News & Observer, asking if we could chat about small spaces and my blog. I’m always excited to talk about small spaces, so we met that very weekend. Fast forward to this Saturday’s front cover of the Home & Garden section, and there I was! A huge picture of me in my new apartment filled up most of the space above the fold, with the article continuing onto a second page. There was even a headline on the newspaper’s cover directing to the article!

The News & Observer "Tiny but terrific" with Nicole Alvarez 2

The community support has been overwhelming! People reached out from all parts of my life, from my parents’ church friends, to my middle and high school teachers, to my grandmother. It meant so much to me. Thank you!

A special thanks to Stacy for doing such a lovely job writing the article. You can read the full article here:

The News & Observer "Tiny but terrific" with Nicole Alvarez 3

Shannon’s 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 01

  • size: 770 sqft
  • type: 1-bedroom apartment
  • location: Chelsea, NYC
  • inhabitants: Shannon Curran, her husband, and two cats

Shannon Curran Plans

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 03

Describe your place:

I had the pleasure of meeting “Aunt Shannon” in December while visiting her niece, my good friend Elizabeth. I had heard about this loft many times… including rumors of a previous resident, Cindi Lauper. As I toured the first Manhattan apartment I had ever visited, I was bursting with excitement. The most clever use of small space comes out of necessity and intent. This petite, 3-story apartment, is amazing!

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 06

What do you love about your space?:

“The fireplace, roof garden, 1/2 moon window in the dining room, and all the textures.”

Her fireplace is a work of art in itself, with detailed brickwork stretching the full height of the double story living space. Two levels of spiral stairs lead to a private rooftop terrace overlooking Chelsea. The warm wood floors, walls, and planters, contrast against the urban surroundings. One of the planters on the terrace disguises three low windows that cleverly bring light into the bedroom below. It was the rooftop that sold her on the apartment, back when the neighborhood wasn’t as sought after as today. In the dining room, the large 1/2 moon window tilts open so she can tend to her planter, while a long low window below is the perfect place for her cats to perch.

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 05

How would you improve your space?:

“I would widen the circular staircase and cover the wood panelling in the living room.”

Shannon has been working on the apartment gradually, having recently renovated the kitchen. She carved space out from under the spiral stair to create a pantry and provide for extra storage. Custom cabinets fill the excess space in the refrigerator nook. She was most excited about the glass tile brightening the space, and the smooth concrete counter with a deep backsplash as a ledge to keep her counters clear. She’s working on renovating the bathrooms next.

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What do you like best about small living?:

“Less to do!”

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Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

“When renovating, steal ideas from yachting magazines. Great creative ideas can be drawn from their designs.”

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Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 13

more pictures:

I’ve Moved!

It was so hard to leave my Lovely Studio Apartment! If you know me, you know how obsessed I was with that place. I mean, heck, I started a blog because of it!

But… I do have a greater love in my life: my boyfriend! So when Matt and I decided to move in together, we set out to find a new place to make our home. I had one condition, I couldn’t move unless we found a place that was absolutely amazing and equally as inspiring.

Nicole Alvarez and Matt Tomasulo

We found it! You may recognize the space from a previous post. Yes, it’s larger than anywhere either of us has ever lived, but it’s also right in downtown Raleigh, in a renovated department store, with a lively community, it’s super walkable … and we have our own terrace! We absolutely love it!

Nonetheless, my 300-sqft apartment will always have a special place in my heart. It has forever influenced the way I think about space and life – encouraging me to cut out the excess to leave room for only what matters.

Cheers to you, my Lovely Studio Apartment, and to our many memories:

Window Frame Display

Here’s a super simple way to clear your desk, create a display space, and decorate!

Window Frame Display 01

This window frame is from the local flea market. It was in great shape, so I didn’t have to refinish it at all. I leaned it up against the wall, like a headboard for my desk, to add some interest to an otherwise blank wall. As a renter, I try to minimize the number of holes I add to the walls.

Window Frame Display 02

The window frame makes a great display board. This window has two horizontal panes of glass, making a perfect ledge for double-stacking postcards, cards, and family pictures. The collection can get cluttered, but will always appear organized since it’s captured behind the framed glass. I also add fun sticky notes to remind me of my long-term tasks.

Window Frame Display 03 Window Frame Display 04

I would love to see pictures if you try it at your place!

Window Frame Display 05

Lighting a Small Space

Lighting can make all the difference in how a space makes you feel. The Danes know this well. Difficult to translate directly into English, the Danish word “hyggelig” embodies a feeling and atmosphere in a space – coziness, warmth, low lights, candles, delight, in good company.

Rather than defaulting to overhead lights at night, I turn on a few lights depending on what I am doing, from preparing dinner to reading in bed. This is how I have lit my studio apartment:

Lighting a Small Space - Year Round White Christmas Lights

Year Round Christmas Lights: This long string of white Christmas lights is enough to light my entire studio apartment at night, stretching from the kitchen to my bed. It’s my favorite way of lighting a space. I especially love that in England they call these Fairy Lights when it’s not Christmas time.

Lighting a Small Space - Kitchen Task Lighting and Paper Lantern Pendant

Kitchen Task Lighting and Paper Lantern Pendant: The most useful lighting I have is a simple string of Christmas/garden lights in the kitchen that provides under-cabinet lighting. I hung a paper lantern above my dining table for the main source of light in the kitchen. Functional decoration!

Lighting a Small Space - Candles

Candles: You can never have enough, and you can always find some on sale! I love working on my blog and sipping a warm cup of tea alongside flickering candles.

Lighting a Small Space - Accent Lamps

Accent Lamps: A lamp is an obvious way to decorate and light your space. It took me a while before I found the perfect lamp for this corner.

Lighting a Small Space - Accent Lamps for Reading

Accent Lamps for Reading: I directed a bright yellow IKEA desk lamp to the back wall at my bed to provide an ambient light for reading. It also dramatically lights a special work of art made by my boyfriend.

One trip to IKEA provided for most of my special lights. They have a great selection of affordable lights that look great and are energy efficient. I use CFL or LED lights whenever possible, keeping my electricity bill low.

When lighting your small space, strive for a hyggelig atmosphere!

Holly’s 495 sqft Airbnb Baltimore Studio

  • size: 495 sqft
  • type: studio apartment
  • location: Mount Vernon, Baltimore, MD
  • inhabitants: Holly Jackson
  • pets: none, somday I’ll have many though…
  • Airbnb rental site: Adorable Studio-Loft

Describe your place:

I have a small studio located in Baltimore’s cultural district, Mount Vernon. I love it here. I’m in short walking distance from all the best bars and restaurants, multiple theatres, an art museum, an opera house, and my campus.

What do you love about your space?:

I love that everything I own has a very specific spot. When working with a small apartment, you have to learn to hide things. For example, my printer sits on the floor behind my couch. No one ever sees it though, since the back of my house faces a window. If you ask me where anything is, I can tell you instantly. For all the things I have, I also have so much simplicity in my space. I love the white walls. I love all the kitschiness against the white. I decided not to paint the space because I was really inspired by a lot of minimalist blogs.

I also love that nothing I own is new. I thrifted my desk, and my rug, as well as all my kitchen supplies including microwave, pots, and pans. My television, couch, chair, and kitchenette set were all FREE from friends. Almost all of the art on my walls is either my own, or by my friends. I took the photo above my mantle, and the photos of Iceland above my chair. I originally saw a beautiful black and white photo of roses on Etsy that was very expensive. My budget didn’t allow for it so instead I got a disposable camera and took a similar photo. I scanned it and had it printed at Kinko’s for a little over $3. The photos in the kitchen were taken by my best friend, Kelli, in Finland. The drawing was by my ex, Steven Riddle. I hear now his paintings are selling for quite a bit. The screen print of Mount Rainier was a thrift store present from a friend.

But mostly, I love my mantle, and the arched doorway at the entrance of my apartment and into the kitchenette.

How would you improve your space?:

I would first turn the parking lot that my room faces into a topiary garden. I would make all the windows more efficient so that it wasn’t always so hot or cold inside. I would add a closet door and a hook to hang my bicycle on.

What do you like best about small living?:

Everything! I have no interest in big living. Sustainability is a large part of my world view. I love reading about the tiny apartments in Sweden and Japan. I find it so tacky when someone buys a huge home, and fails to fill it up. All I can think about it their high utility bill and how bored they must feel inside. Not only is my apartment small, but I work hard to buy within my means. I don’t need a rice cooker because I already have a steamer, I don’t need a toaster because I have an oven.

Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

Small dwelling only looks intentional when you keep it tidy. Find a place for everything. I admire my other friends with small spaces, but when their rooms are cluttered, it feels like they aren’t embracing their apartment, but instead, they’re just stuck with a flat they can’t accommodate. If you are unable to declutter your apartment, then you should really consider letting go of some things. It’s liberating.

More about me:

I am a 24 year old student almost finished with my Masters in Conflict Management. I get cabin fever wherever I am, and I’m constantly finding ways to escape. I just got back from a week in Tulum, Mexico with my boyfriend, and in March I’ll be spending two weeks in Turkey. I’ve studied abroad in London, and worked as an au pair in France. I’ve been all over the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe including the west, the east, and Scandinavia. From living in a wealthy family’s historic rowhome in France, to staying in a traditional riad in Morocco, I try to pick up inspiration and tchotchkes – whatever will fit in my carry-on.

A note from Nicole:

When my boyfriend and I were headed to Baltimore for a visit, we immediately checked Airbnb for a place to stay. Airbnb lets inhabitants/owners rent out anywhere from a spare room to an entire house. What’s great for the visitor, you stay in an affordable place with local character. They also have unique listings, like an airstream or a container home. Even better, there is a collection of The Littlest Listings, hopefully my checklist! Renting places through Airbnb is my favorite way of traveling, and it leads to some amazing experiences!

If you’re lucky, you’ll have an amazing host, like Holly (see her Airbnb listing here)! Her small place was beautiful, and in a wonderful neighborhood of Baltimore. Holly’s fun and simple way of decorating enhanced the inherent features of the place – tall ceilings (12′-7″!), large bay window, clear plan, and original fireplace. The expansive closet was quite impressive for such a small place, and undoubtedly helped keep her studio feel open and uncluttered. I loved the unique furniture pieces – colorful couch and antique desk.

Since our stay in Baltimore was brief, Holly’s recommendations truly made our stay memorable. She gave us the best recommendations including places to eat and drink (Milk & HoneyBrewer’s ArtGolden WestClub Charles, and Sofi’s Crepes), areas and sites to explore (the original Washington Monument, the Inner Harbor, and Hampden), and shops to get lost in (TROHV and Double Dutch).

Thanks Holly!