If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that we don’t need much to be happy or content. A Long time ago when I showed up at an apartment near the Cubs’ Wrigley Field I had with me a giant suitcase filled with things I brought over from Thailand, and foam stuffed, plaid pattern couch, given to me by a very kind friend. As the third roommate in a two-bedroom apartment, I was assigned the living room as my bedroom, it was good sized but with no door or closet I had to use a coat closet in a hallway and a curtain over entry way left behind by the last roommate as my “door”. Also in the room, two empty milk crates and a planter of a still alive agave plant with a paper lantern lamp on a stick as my light. “This is perfect” I smiled, I knew exactly what to do! I separated my foam couch, used the top part of the cushions with backrests as a couch for my sitting area, the bottom part as my bed, and to make a drawing/drafting/ writing desk, I bought a ¾” thick piece of plywood from some remnants sale to put on top of the two milk crates. I put a (former bottom part of the couch) bed to one side, my giant luggage as a divider to my desk on the other side and half of the foam couch against the wall. All the while sitting, working and sleeping on the floor, and that was happiness!!!
When we were searching for the apartment in New York City, not knowing where or when we were going to find something, we had to think fast to decide how small of a space would fit our requirements and yet be livable.
I first saw what would become our apartment on a StreetEasy post. From the photos, I knew that we could make it work, so while we were submitting purchase papers, before the seller even accepted our offer, I started to work on furniture layouts for the room. The only information I had was estimated room dimensions on a not to scale floor plan that I found on the StreetEasy post. Did I mention I NEVER saw the actual apartment until the day I went to do a walk through before the closing? Only Lena and Spence went to this viewing appointment, they saw the space, and they both liked it.
There are four areas to consider, sleeping, living, working, dining. This apartment fortunately has a small gallery space between entry door and kitchen big enough to fit in a 45” round table, this allowed the sleeping, living and working areas to fit in to the main living space. To give a sense of separation between sleeping and living area, a shelf divider would work very well, with a height of 60” and almost the length of the bed, and the shelf/divider itself is see through to and from the living area.
To convince everyone to agree on this layout when you don’t have a real space or floor plan to work with, I decided to make a mockup room with approximated dimensions as it’s shown on the StreetEasy post. I created full sized paper patterns of a bed, two dividers, two filing cabinets, two bookshelves, a (musical)keyboard, a dresser, and a sleeper sofa made of butcher paper taped together. We tried different layout options, we walked around to get the feel of this small space, how a circulation would flow from one area to the other. It was a good exercise and easy to do. Fortunately, we only had to move a 36"x91” piece of paper around instead of a 36"x91” sleeper sofa! One might think Murphy bed is a perfect solution for small space, while I don’t disagree, it’s not for me. My problem is if I were to be the one using it I wouldn’t care much for space I would have gained. In reality, it’s a hard habit to get used to flipping things around in order to use the room for other functions. We agreed that a queen-sized mattress with a box spring would do just fine with a clean line headboard that could be added later, this also allowed plenty space underneath for storage bins.
In the living area, we decided that a light beige color sleeper sofa, a round coffee table with coasters would work well in a small area. This is definitely a personal preference, not only does a round shape give the illusion that it occupies less space but it also has no sharp corners to walk in to when one has to maneuver around in a tight/small space. One area of compromise, because of the size of the keyboard was that we could not have a work desk, so the dining table would need to double its functions for working and dining. Two very comfortable office chairs would do double duty as pull-out/ armchairs (when you lower the seats) in living area, and as office chairs when working at dining / work table. These chairs were more suitable to sit for long hours when working than are the dining chairs.
The overall condition of the apartment is fine, the herringbone pattern wood floor, white walls with white kitchen cabinets fit well with current trends. So, we prepared our new furniture purchases accordingly. Our existing furniture; a dining room table is a natural wood, four hand painted dining chairs in bright colors (which we bought unfinished twenty-seven years ago for our first apartment, two were painted in 1990 the others were done in 2013) two walnut color bookshelves, a black keyboard, one white and one birch cabinet, and an old 4’x6’ rug, custom made pattern in green, blue, purple and pink from Lena’s drawings when she was four years old. We purchased a light beige sleeper sofa, white dividers and a white dresser.
I decided to use a blue geometric mostly circle patterned comforter as a starting point for overall color scheme. Two new area rugs would go into the dining and living areas, and Lena’s rug would go under the keyboard.
I knew the main pieces of furniture would fit together well but, with no access to the actual space, only an estimation from photos provided on the real estate post, it was a bit risky to see how the many boxes and bins we had packed would fit in the apartment. Because of our tight schedules we didn’t have the luxury to wait to see and spend time in the real space, taking actual measurements. With everything already packed and ready to go that would have to do.
As I was doing a quick just “formality” walk- through with our brokers immediately before the closing (as if I’m going to say “nah, I changed my mind, I don’t want it”), I took a few photos of our new apartment and texted them to my family as they were finishing up loading the truck. By the time I sat down for the closing, they and the moving truck had left Chicago for New York.