Budget Room: How to Design An Entire 500-Square-Foot Studio Apartment
It’s no secret that living in small spaces can be challenging. With less square footage come the obvious cons of where to put all your stuff and where to find pint-sized furniture that fits in your room and a full-sized adult. And just when you thought those matters were challenging enough, a studio apartment is like “hold my drink.” Studios are a beast all their own in the small space category. They have their unique set of troubles and issues, but oh man is it rewarding when you figure it all out. While we could go down a rabbit hole with studio apartment design (and we totally are itching to if that’s something you all would find helpful and inspiring), today, we decided to tackle one aspect of the studio decorating puzzle: how to design a space that feels cohesive without being too matchy-matchy when you don’t have, you know…walls to designate rooms or schemes.
When you’re working with, say, 500 square feet (or less), you have to optimize EVERY SINGLE INCH of that floor plan. A bed can’t just be a bed – with no spare closets likely in sight, it has to pull its weight as a storage piece, as well. Floor space is at a premium, so each item you bring in needs to be well thought out and do double (or triple) duty. Those cookbooks you inherited from your grandmother? Those have to go somewhere, so why not in your coffee table or media cabinet, right? Right. Skip the air mattress (where would you keep that thing anyway?!), and invest in a sleeper sofa to create room for overnight guests. Oh, and that nightstand…a leaning desk with shelving might be the better option to capitalize on wall space. That way, you give yourself a spot to drop your laptop (and work, of course), stash a little library and some decor all while also playing the role of bedside table.
As for the style and aesthetic, this is where we come in to help. When everything is on display (again, no walls), there really isn’t room for “junk drawer” tendencies, meaning, you don’t have a spare nook or closet (spare closet…ha), to stash away things you don’t totally love or are holding on to for whatever reason. Decor decisions need to be cutthroat. This is “The Bachelor” final rose ceremony, people…there is no room (literally) for extras.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t shout out to the reader who inspired this budget room roundup: today’s post goes out to Ariel in Brooklyn, a studio dweller herself (she’s living large, hopefully, in 350 square feet in NYC). She asked in the comments of our small spaces dining table combos post for some studio apartment decorating ideas that didn’t feel totally minimal or impractical.
Here’s what we kept in mind when styling out each of these price points. Each room has a storage bed, a sleeper sofa, a multi-purpose leaning desk/shelving unit, a coffee table with storage, a media cabinet with storage, a plug-in wall sconce (renter friendly AND good for small spaces), and luxe linen bedding…plus, of course, some decor goodies and art to get you started. Once these elements are in place, all you have to do is bring in some of your own personal items – picture frames, books, keepsakes and your clothes. Oh, and a mattress…we couldn’t quite swing including a mattress into the final budgets, but with all the direct-to-consumer bed-in-a-box companies out there, you can absolutely find a great mattress that won’t bankrupt you (we want you to be able to pay your rent, after all).
So, whether you live in a crazy expensive city where a studio is your only option for solo living in your budget or you prefer to keep things small and simple by choice, here are three soup-to-nuts design plans at three different budgets.
Bed | Bookshelf/Desk | Art | Frame | Sconce | Planter | Duvet & Sheets Set | Blue Pillow | Dark Blue Fringe Pillow | Dusty Rose Throw | Sleeper Sofa | Cream Knit Pillow | Lumbar Pillow | Striped Throw | Floor Lamp | Rug | Coffee Table | Side Table | Cream Bud Vase | Media Console | Dining Table | Dining Chair (Set of 2) | White Dipped Vase
Let’s start with the most expensive of the three setups. As you can see, about a quarter of the budget is going to that CB2 sofa. At 78″ wide, it’s large enough to seat 2-3 people and at 38″ deep, it’s not one of those couches where your legs will be half dangling off the side when you go to lay back and lounge. PLUS, it folds down to create a queen-sized bed. We can’t promise guests won’t overstay their welcome, but at least they’ll get the chance to (without having to wrangle an air mattress every night). Other key pieces include the storage bed (a hydraulic lift system means you can hoist up your mattress easily to stash away a ton of clothes, storage containers, etc. inside), the media cabinet and bed linens. Oh, and that coffee table, it has a lift top to reveal storage for crafts, hobby goods, books…whatever. You might even be able to use the raised part as a make-shift dining spot (but we haven’t tried it, so we’re not entirely sure if it stays put for extended periods of time with the weight of a meal/plates/drinks, etc.).
At this price point, bedding should feel like a luxury (once you invest in quality linens, it’s hard to go back). This linen set from Parachute comes with a duvet cover, a fitted sheet and two pillowcases. It’s the type of material that gets better and better the more you wear it in and wash it, so pretty soon, your tiny little studio will feel like your very own castle. Dining chairs do triple duty: use them for noshing at the petite bistro table, setting up shop at the leaning desk or as extra seating for guests in the living area. We think a sconce is a smart light to use in a room where your floor space is limited – no surface area necessary.
The color palette here is soft but still impactful. Though we envisioned the white and pink pillows and the striped throw on the sofa, and the blue pillows and dusty blanket on the bed, you could easily swap those around however you see fit. We pulled the dusty rose, navy and grays straight from the rug (which we love SO MUCH and could be swapped into any of these designs if your budget allows).
It’s important to note that a rug is key to an apartment like a studio, because you’re going to want to divide the open floor plan in any way you can. The floorcovering creates a little living area.
Bed | Bookshelf/Desk | Art | Frame | Sconce | Planter | Duvet | Sheets Set | Dark Gray Pillow | Pink Pillow | Cream Throw | Sofa | Green Pillow | Lumbar Pillow | Pink & Tan Throw | Floor Lamp | Rug | Coffee Table | Side Table | Green Bowl with Stand | Media Console | Dining Table | Dining Chair (Set of 2) | White Vase
Our middle price point design, which comes in just under $3,500, is pretty similar to its $5,500 cousin (same coffee table, same dining table). All the other elements are similar (media cabinet with plenty of storage, sleeper sofa, flatweave rug, plug-in sconce, dining chairs, etc.) but are a bit more affordable. There are still a few special pieces (how great is that modern floor lamp and the little planter on the living area side table with its Brazilian walnut stand…don’t forget to add some plants for life), and plenty of texture via the kilim, nubby decorative pillows and fringey throws.
Here, the bed has three designated drawers on one side, so you don’t lose out in the case that you have to put your bed flush against a wall rather than have it centered.
The folding sofa is a few inches larger than the previous room plan, so we went with a 6×9 rug instead of a 5×7 to accommodate its length. You could also size down to keep the budget even lower, but you wouldn’t be able to place the legs of the sofa on the rug, and that really helps for things not to feel so floaty (if you’re into polishing up your rug size rule knowledge, here’s this old but still valuable post of things to keep in mind).
OH, and another thing we did to cut the price by about $2k here (and also in the mood board that follows) is to opt for MUCH more affordable downloadable art rather than a print. Depending on how large you go, you can either print right at home or send it out for production. The cost for the latter is usually around $20-$30, depending on size and finish (this post has some useful suggestions for art picks, where to print and also framing services).
Bed | Bookshelf/Desk | Art | Frame | Sconce | Planter | Duvet | Sheets Set | Blue Pillow | Pink Pillow | Grey Throw | Sofa | White Pillow | Lumbar Pillow | Blue Throw | Floor Lamp | Rug | Coffee Table | Side Table | Terracotta Bud Vase | Media Console | Dining Table | Dining Chair (Set of 2) | White Vase
And finally, our most budget-friendly room skirts in just under $2,500, which, for outfitting basically an entire apartment, is a magical feat. To keep the final price down, we had to swap out the dining table from the other two setups to something half the price. If you have a little room in your budget, we’d say upgrade, but if not, we definitely think this is a great substitute for the price. Because the coffee table is white, we opted for a wood media console for warmth. In a small space, it’s a common misconception that lighter/white pieces will make everything feel airier and larger, and while that’s not TOTALLY untrue, it’s important to ground certain areas with weightier furnishings so everything doesn’t feel like its floating. We went the same route with the bed and leaning desk in terms of coloring so they didn’t mesh together visually.
Let us know if you have any questions on the products, have suggestions for other double-duty furniture pieces you love in your own home (sharing is caring, guys), and if you want to see us dive deeper into studio/small space living. Throw any and all suggestions in the comments below.