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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. 

Emily Henderson Budget Room Studio Apartment 500sq Ft Under 5000k 1

Bed | Bookshelf/Desk | Art | FrameSconcePlanterDuvet & Sheets SetBlue Pillow | Dark Blue Fringe PillowDusty Rose Throw | Sleeper Sofa | Cream Knit Pillow | Lumbar Pillow | Striped Throw | Floor Lamp | Rug | Coffee TableSide Table | Cream Bud Vase | Media ConsoleDining TableDining 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.

Emily Henderson Budget Room Studio Apartment 500sq Ft Under 3500k 2

Bed | Bookshelf/Desk | Art | FrameSconcePlanterDuvet | Sheets Set | Dark Gray Pillow | Pink PillowCream Throw | Sofa | Green Pillow | Lumbar Pillow | Pink & Tan Throw | Floor Lamp | Rug | Coffee TableSide Table | Green Bowl with Stand | Media Console | Dining TableDining 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).

Emily Henderson Budget Room Studio Apartment 500sq Ft Under 2500k 2

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.

Ready to style? Here are a handful of posts to help guide your decorating efforts: 


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46 thoughts on “Budget Room: How to Design An Entire 500-Square-Foot Studio Apartment

  1. I apologies, but I just don’t understand it at all. As someone who lived in 4 different studios over the years in 3 different countries I can appreciate the visual part of what you are proposing but not functional part. They are all nice designs but are completely not liveable. They are more like hotel rooms than spaces where people live everyday life. In my studios, I never had a bed+sofa. It was always one of them or some kind of sofa bed. If there was no closet in my studio, there were floor to ceiling shelves where I stored all my stuff (a perfect project for a stylist). The little shelf you propose is just simply silly waste of space. I also always needed a desk. Recently on your blog and in designing your homes you select form over function. But a studio is all about function. Challenge yourself! Why not show you can have both? Ikea has some brilliant solutions for small spaces. That is what one needs in a studio and not a queen bed with a single shelf shelf. And one more thing, for me a 500 sq ft studio is not a studio. My studios had way less than 300 sq feet and included a kitchenette. Pleas don’t give up on function!!!!

    1. I don’t think she went for form over function here. When I lived in a studio apartment in Paris, I had a bed and a sofa and it made all the difference in how I felt about the place. Also a light and airy shelf can do wonders in making the place feel bigger rather than cluttered.
      She is not saying this works for everyone, but it shows you that there are options out there that are beyond the futon sofa and wall hanging collapsible dining table.

    2. I think these spaces are actually brilliant for a studio, and the “waste of space” shelf doubles as a desk, which is amazing. Sure, some studios are super cramped and can’t accommodate both a bed & a sofa, but then you can just purchase a nice day bed in place of the 2 pieces & use everything else & even better, Emily did a day bed roundup a while back if your space is too small to fit both bed & sofa!!!! Yay Emily!!! she’s got it all covered!!

    3. I understand what you’re saying – but not all studios are the same. My best friend (also a designer) lives in a 500 square foot studio in Chicago – with a full sized sofa and king sized bed. He doesn’t need a desk and has storage in a walk-in closet. She could certainly do another post with a smaller studio that meets your requirements, but it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with this one.

    4. I respectfully disagree. I live in a 500 square foot studio and I have both a couch and a bed. Everyone’s spaces are different and what works for your space may not work for all spaces. This is a great starting point for a small space. Thanks Emily and team, going to buy that coffee table now!

    5. I lived in a 320 sq. ft. studio apartment when I was 23 and basically *exactly* this furniture could have worked in the space. I had room for a queen bed, a small sofa, a small kitchen table, a coffee table, a little bookshelf, and a TV stand. Plus, my closet was able to fit a small dresser!

      This set up would have been PERFECT for that little studio I called home nearly 10 years ago. Sad I don’t still have it so I could decorate it this way!

      Great job, Emily!

    6. Ditto to what all others said in reply to this post. Also, square footage is not what makes a studio apartment a studio but rather that the whole apartment is one room (i.e. no separate bedroom, living room, etc…).

    7. I don’t get the impression that you actually read the post, since she specifically said that you would need a desk, and it could double as a nightstand while also having some storage above if you chose a leaning desk, like the three above. She also mentioned this was inspired by a reader whose studio is 350 sq ft. 500 sq ft is definitely still a studio, and in fact in my past apartment searches I’ve run across studio apartments as large as 700 sq ft (I think they were marketing them as “cool” and “urban”, but since rent prices are pretty reasonable here in the midwest US, they made them bigger than usual). One large room is still considered a studio, even if it’s bigger than the typical studio in NYC, London, etc.

      If your studio is too small for the couch, then leave that and the coffee table out, and I think these three options are still fantastic! Maybe before writing such a critical comment on a post, read the whole thing first next time? You don’t seem like you gave this much of a chance.

  2. Gorgeous spaces. So many tiny apartments look like dorm rooms. These are smart and chic. Love.

  3. I have also lived in multiple studio apartments, and I think this is tremendously fabulous. I wish I had your blog when I was in college!!

    1. Right?? I miss my little studio from when I lived alone just after college. Wish I had the decorating budget and resources I have now, back then!

  4. I looove this series! Thank you, team, for this resource. And thank you, Ariel, for the design inspiration. What a great way to start off my day happily!

  5. Love this! Please please please do more small space/budge content. LOVE watching your personal projects, and drawing inspiration from them and maybe a source or two, but I LOVE these types of posts where I feel comfortable checking out every source, price and style-wise! Thank you! Love all you do!

    1. We’re so happy you liked it/you found it helpful. More like this to come!

    2. I concur: love this and more please! Outfitting a tiny beach house now— 1 br 350 sq feet. These tips are perfectly timed – thank you!

      1. Also: would LOVE leads on an expandable bistro table. Need something that’s *mostly* tiny but can acccommodate a modest soirée when desired. Thanks!

  6. I remember when Oprah first introduced Nate Berkus on her show. He outfitted a studio apartment in Boston with tons of built-ins. All the furnishings did double duty. And it was so stylish! I was like…wow, what talent.

  7. My daughter will be moving into a similar space in a few weeks, we’ve been talking about her furnishing options – I can’t thank you enough! One question – am I missing the link for the sofa in the least expensive version? Cannot find it despite 3 scans…

    I’d love to see this room done out in a patented Emily Henderson color scheme, i.e., blue, blush, brass and neutrals:).

  8. yay for studios! i found my studio apartment to be my most favorite place i’ve ever decorated. really helped me hone in on my personal style. once you figure out what works and how you live – it was actually easier than a larger space because it forces you to have a distinct vision and, as you said, everything has to have a purpose.

    a few thoughts based on my experience (but everyone is different, of course). I didn’t find value in a “dining area”. if i was alone, i was likely eating in front of the tv (shrug) and if i had friends over, we would hang out in the living area section. i had a small chair in addition to a loveseat with a chaise extender which created a nice little circular area around the coffee table for entertaining. i also used my dresser as double duty for a nightstand. sounds weird but in the context of a studio, it works and i needed the extra dresser more. and maybe i’m just a slob (ok i def am) – but i would caution against a light rug as they get so much action in a studio! also high pile looks bad quickly – so i loved my vintage (already distressed looking) rug. and finally (again b/c i’m a slob) – i had a big basket right inside the door for my shoes. it is so. damn. easy. to have clothes and shoes strewn everywhere when you live alone in a studio. i just threw all my shoes in there and called it a day.

    1. My current studio is my favorite to decorate as well (400sq ft in SF) It’s a challenge when it’s shared with a partner to fit all the stuff and all the function but It’s a fun challenge. Maybe because there’s two of us but I found the dining table to be very important (we have people over for dinner a fair amount and it can seat 6 in a pinch) and I work from home often so I have a fairly generous sized desk area as well that had to fit in.

      I totally agree about the rug, we found it’s just hard to keep that sort of thing clean and ended up keeping the wood floors clear and trying to create ‘zones’ with furniture placement. The dresser as nightstand is brilliant from a storage standpoint and totally something I’ve incorporated as well. I actually painted a giant dresser black to match our small black wall and it serves as dresser, nightstand and tv stand as well (with the giant black tv blending into the black wall so it’s not the dominant item in the room) and it’s been a game changer in both form and function.

      I will say I’ve found studio decorating to be a slow process. The more you are there and using it you are able to see what you need, how you use it, and work with that. Thanks for a feature that applies to my life so much! I loved this

    2. Hi Mollie –

      I totally agree with your suggestions and did the shoe basket and dresser as nightstand as well! In fact I took that idea and ran with it – I also used dressers as my TV stand and entryway drop zone! I have, count em, 4 full size dressers in my 500 sq foot studio and a three drawer MCM nightstand as my side table for even more storage! That sounds terrible and cluttered I know but it’s not and because most everything is put away my place looks even more spacious.

      If I may offer some additional tips for the studio dwellers out there – look for vintage furniture (craigslist and charish specifically), the scale is likely to be better for your small space than the stuff you can get in store now and infinitely cooler, think drop leaf gateleg tables, secretary desks and the ole Armoire or china cabinet (which indeed can be hideous but a great many sins can be covered up with Annie Sloan!) – all will add tons of functions (and vintage funk) to your tiny, sweet abode. I’d also suggest getting a “real” sofa and not a fold-down/pull out if you really like to lounge – just get a deep version and pull off the back cushions – Voila – a COMFY twin-sized bed for the occasional overnighter 🙂 Your bum and back will thank you for a comfy place to lie on the regular and you’ll still be able to accommodate the random visit from mom/bud/couchsurfer.

      I echo the commenters asking for more small space content, it’s my jam!

  9. LOVE this! As a Brooklyn studio dweller myself, I can attest to the importance of using rugs to divide spaces.

    My biggest indulgence in my studio was a table large enough to seat 4 people – a 2 seater would perhaps be more space efficient, but I love having people over for dinner so it’s worth it!

    I would also recommend utilizing vertical storage wherever possible – add baskets to the top of your kitchen cabinets, shelving units to the walls, etc. And ikea wardrobes are lifesavers for apartments with little to no closet space!

    Would love to see a series featuring apartment tours from readers who live in small spaces!

  10. I’m just here to say go green (throw pillow)! Green is our friend, Emily. I’d love to see more of it outside of the now-ubiquitous fiddle leaf.

    1. Yes I agree! I know it sounds crazy to say I’m jealous of someone who lives in under 500 square feet with no dividing walls, but you really have to stretch that design creativity to make these spaces sing (and THAT’s what I’m jealous of!).

  11. Thank you SO much for this! A few things I might add are a room divider (if that’s your thing) and some more wall shelving/storage. I’ve even seen amazing dining table/chair set ups that go completely flat against the wall (and don’t look hideous) for when you’re working with something teeny tiny. I know some people in NYC that live in 200 square feet. They have to get REALLY creative!

  12. I would love to see more options for fully outfitting a studio. This is such valuable content. I’d also like to see options for a space that’s even more colorful, ideally with an upholstered headboard. These options looks a little hotel-like to me. Many thanks for your wonderful blog.

  13. apologies, but I just don’t understand it at all. As someone who lived in 4 different studios over the years in 3 different countries, I can appreciate the visual part of what you are proposing but not functional part. They are all nice designs but are completely not liveable. https/ They are more like hotel rooms than spaces where people live everyday life. In my studios, I never had a bed+sofa. It was always one of them or some kind of sofa bed. If there was no closet in my studio, there were floor to ceiling shelves where I stored all my stuff (a perfect project for a stylist)

  14. As someone downsizing from a very spacious one bedroom to a studio, this has given me so much inspiration. There is a little bit of panic that ensues with the realization that you need to do more with less and this post goes to show that you can have it all — both form and function. I would really appreciate more posts and tips & tricks for studios and small spaces to draw inspiration from as I plan my space. Thank you for making design so approachable!

  15. I live in an apartment and totally agree with the need for extra storage and this was so perfect! I can’t decide on bedside tables and love the idea of a leaning shelf.

  16. love this! I am way past studios days for the moment (though u never know what the next chapter will bring) – but is it weird that I fantasize about my now 8yo growing up and moving to a studio apartment in the city of her choice and me helping her decorate???? This is totally feeding my fantasy!

  17. THANK YOU! I expect to be living in small apartments in the bay for the next 10 years, so I really appreciate the tips for small living on a decent budget. Would love any more ideas the team has for small studio/apt spaces!

  18. These are all pretty great. I appreciate that even the cheapest would still make a nice place to live—that is my favorite media console of the bunch.

    Because you are so good at finding vintage pieces, and because you often use them in your designs, I’d love to hear how you budget for a home filled with mostly vintage furniture. I’m saving for a 2 bedroom, and need to set aside some money for furnishings, but how much?

    Also, a whiney request about bookshelves. I can’t have one just for stuff. The books need a place to go, so any display objects have to share the shelf. What’s the best way to make this work?

  19. I have been in the artisan furniture production business for the past twenty years and I just love reading articles like this as I see our designs come to life in a private setting. Just wonderful to see.

  20. The photos are WAY TOO FAST and are almost so fast as to cause an epileptic fit in those so predisposed.
    PLEASE, slow them down!

  21. So the cute lamp from the second set up links to the other cute lamp from the third photo. Do you have the actual link to the second cute lamp? 🙂

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