The Studio Apartment that Breaks All the Small-Space Rules
In New York's East Village, two design devotees make a lasting home in 370 square feet by letting maximalism lead the way
Fourteen years ago, when Ann Stephenson and Lori Scacco moved into their studio in Manhattan’s East Village, they did what they believed was required of them as freshly minted small-space dwellers. They made the rounds to all the modern furniture showrooms, purchasing blocks of sleek cabinetry in which to efficiently and discreetly hide away all their belongings. They brought home slightly shrunken versions of chairs, sofas, and tables, intending to create a diminutive version of the life they would have otherwise lived in a more sprawling abode. Then they realized what a big mistake they had made. “We had unintentionally created a lifeless space that allowed for no surface areas,” recalls Stephenson. “That’s when we decided that the ‘rules’ of small space living were not for us.”
It was when they stopped following the beacon of efficiency that the 370-square-foot apartment found its soul. “We returned to a clean slate and brought in pieces from our upstate farmhouse—my grandparents' dining table, threadbare rugs, various artworks acquired over the years,” says Stephenson. “The full-scale pieces worked beautifully in the space and actually grounded everything, allowing us to live among items we have a strong connection to and that have a sense of history.”
A home that holds beauty and meaning above all else seems appropriate for the pair, both of who spend their days surrounded by exceptional items. Stephenson works at the design house Aesthetic Movement, where she is the sales director, while Scacco oversees Donzella 20th Century, the longstanding art and furnishings resource in Tribeca. In their off hours, each pursues her own creative endeavors, from music (Scacco) to poetry (Stephenson). The result is a home satisfyingly filled to the brim with art, antiques, and ornament—richly colored textiles stacked here, exotic baubles strung there—that offers up a portrait of those who live there, rendered in objects.
So how do these two ardent lovers of beautiful things coexist within such limited real estate? Although they refuse to subscribe, chapter and verse, to many decrees of the small-space bible, they do admit to an undeniable knack for space planning. “The trick for us was defining very precise rooms and living areas,” says Stephenson. “We used antique Georgian shutters, found on a trip home to visit family, to create a separate space for the bedroom.” Now, upon entering the apartment, the primary view is of the main living space, made up of the sitting room, dining room, and office—a pair of perfectly styled desks used for writing verse and composing sonatas (or simply checking email and paying bills). One corner of the rectangular unit contains the jewel box of a bathroom, while the other contains the bedroom. Partially hidden by a pony wall, the galley kitchen is petite but powerful. “We cook regularly, and it provides everything we need,” says Stephenson, who also admits the space gets generous time off: “We love soaking up the great restaurants of the city—nearby Prune is almost a second home.”
As most New York City residents can attest, the surrounding metropolis is merely an extension of often-limited living space. From gathering with friends at nearby restaurants to sitting among the stacks at Mast Books to listening to local poets at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church (says Stephenson, “You can drop by this important institution and hear readings on most nights, and leave with a newly discovered book of poetry that will change your life”), the couple has far more than 370 square feet to call home. “Most of our socializing is done out and about. This is where we nest and retreat from the city,” Stephenson explains.
As a result, nothing about their home seems like a sacrifice. “Over the years, we could have pursued leaving for a potentially larger space, but we feel a deep connection to it here,” says Stephenson. “I love how small-space living really functions as an organizing principle, keeping things in relentless perspective. It ultimately forces you to be accountable for what you bring into your home, and to constantly renew and revisit that relationship. We are quite grateful for being able to live this way.”