13 Ways to Live Large in Less Than 1,000 Square Feet

Interior designer Ashley Darryl makes room for a crowd—and a New York City couple’s divergent personal styles—in just three rooms

All photos by Brett Beyer

Creating a sense of order and style in this nearly 200-year-old apartment would have been challenging enough. Situated inside a Federal-style townhouse in the heart of New York City’s West Village, its drab interiors were more confused than classic, with mismatched blond wood floors and a jumble of modern and traditional finishes.

She wanted funky and eclectic, while he wanted a more luxurious hotel look.”

–Ashley Darryl

But there was more. For this renovation to be a success, interior designer Ashley Darryl would not only have to redesign the 900-square-foot floor plan to comfortably accommodate a busy couple and the friends they love to entertain, but their diverse aesthetics as well. “Noora is a writer. Ryan is in tech,” Darryl says. “She wanted funky and eclectic, while he wanted a more luxurious hotel look.”

A renovation addressed the big issues, opening cramped spaces and reconfiguring the rooms. The entryway was expanded, the kitchen was merged with the adjacent living and dining areas to create one open space, and the bathroom—originally one room with a toilet, sink and bathtub—was sectioned off with a pocket door, creating a powder room on one side and master bath on the other.

 When it came to furnishing the new space, Darryl kept this mantra in mind: “Not tons of stuff!” Clean-lined leggy furnishings that are “grand in style but not overscale in proportion” and minimal accessories keep the open living areas from feeling cluttered, while a light color palette and reflective furnishings emphasize the natural light that filters in.

Bold colors and patterns, midcentury-inspired vintage furnishings and eye-catching artwork achieve both looks the couple envisioned—all in hard-working spaces that belie their small size. Here, Darryl shares the secrets to striking the right balance in just 900 feet.

13 Ways to Live Large in Less Than 1,000 Square Feet
13 Ways to Live Large in Less Than 1,000 Square Feet

1. Go big with color.

The challenge: Make a narrow entry hallway feel “grand.” Darryl’s solution: Paint the walls with a big, confident color. The rich dark blue, punched up with a glossy lacquer finish, foreshadows the vibrant hues within the apartment. To complement the bold backdrop, the designer searched for a entry table that was “simple, yet with a bit of detail.” This waterfall-style console by Port 68 has a crisp white finish that pops against the dark wall.

2. Make art work for you.

A dynamic piece of neon art does triple duty, bouncing light back into the entryway, creating the “funky” vibe Noora was after with its cheeky messages, and offering a spot for last-minute reflection checks. A fluffy little tuffet by Jonathan Adler adds to the sass.

13 Ways to Live Large in Less Than 1,000 Square Feet

3. Clear the air.

This light-filled dining room has a lovely view of the building’s enclosed courtyard through its broad sliding-glass door—so Darryl’s goal was simply to get out of the way. “We wanted to make sure the table and chairs were low so they didn’t detract from the view,” she says of the vintage brass Milo Baughman table base and chairs from Thonet. “A solid tabletop would have made the room feel small and cluttered, so in my mind, a custom glass top was the way to go.” A simple midcentury-inspired pendant from Arteriors, hung high above the table, preserves the line of sight through the room to the courtyard beyond.

4. Remember geometry class.

To define each living space within an open floor plan, rely on a little geometry, as Darryl did here: “The sofa’s square back runs parallel to the long side of the rectangular dining table and catty-corner to the rectangular kitchen island,” she explains.

5. Create connections with color.

In a small open floor plan like this one, a consistent color palette can help each living space relate to the others. The entry hall’s rich blue wall color is repeated in the custom bookshelves that flank the living room fireplace, and the rug’s blue, green and tan hues echo the green sofa and the dining chairs’ patterned upholstery.

6. Lighten up.

Every piece of furniture has a visual “weight,” and a heavy look can dominate a small space. “My clients fell in love with this vintage brass-and-Lucite piece,” Darryl says of the coffee table, which establishes a feeling of openness in the living room. Even the artwork displayed on its surface—Ray Geary's cast-resin “Pill Study Size Large”—lets light pass through.

13 Ways to Live Large in Less Than 1,000 Square Feet

7. Streamline wall surfaces.

The living room posed two big design questions: How do you make a brick fireplace feel modern, and where do you put a large television? Darryl answered both by sheet-rocking over the entire wall so the TV and firebox could be inset. The result is a clean expanse that defers attention to the room’s eclectic mix of furnishings.

13 Ways to Live Large in Less Than 1,000 Square Feet

8. Keep it clean.

“All white = clean, fresh and airy,” Darryl says of the open kitchen’s marble countertops, subway-tiled backsplash and solid maple cabinets with a snowy ripple-textured finish. To complement the pristine aesthetic, the designer specified a streamlined “waterfall” countertop treatment for the island, and recessed can lights instead of pendants. “I liked the idea of standing in the kitchen and looking out with nothing obstructing the panorama of the space,” she says.

9. Trick the eye.

Wallpaper featuring broad stripes (Farrow & Ball’s Chromatic Stripe) creates the illusion of height and lends “a sense of classicism” to the apartment’s sole bedroom, Darryl says. “I wanted to do something neutral yet still fun since the rest of the home is full of color. The wallpaper was our way of saying, ‘Hey, look at me!’” A pair of nightstands from Worlds Away flanks the bed; their mirrored finish reflects light back into the room and gives them a bold presence that belies their small size.

13 Ways to Live Large in Less Than 1,000 Square Feet

10. Save space with sconces.

When tabletop space is limited, as it is in this bedroom, a sconce is a no-brainer. This elegant articulating version from Circa Lighting provides an adjustable light source for reading while freeing up the small nightstands to accommodate water glasses and books.

11. Work your walls.

Think white walls are your only option for a tiny space like this powder room? Hang a patterned wallpaper (like this one from Lee Jofa) on all four walls and the corners will seem to disappear, creating the illusion of a larger space. To conserve real square footage, Darryl installed a wall-hung toilet by Kohler that saves up to 12 inches with its concealed tank and minimal footprint, and swapped a pedestal sink for a custom-made oak block that tucks neatly into a corner. Topped with a Stone Forest brass sink, it makes a big statement in just about one square foot of space. Above it, an antiqued mirror from West Elm covers the width of the wall, maximizing light reflection.

13 Ways to Live Large in Less Than 1,000 Square Feet
13 Ways to Live Large in Less Than 1,000 Square Feet

12. Keep floors bare.

“A vanity that rests on the floor would have made the space feel smaller,” Darryl says of her decision to have a wall-mounted cabinet custom made for the bathroom. This one, which appears to float above the herringbone-patterned tile floor, offers a practical combination of open and closed storage space. An undermount sink and Organic faucet from Axor Starck emphasize its streamlined style.

13. Add a pocket door.

One little pocket door transformed this apartment’s sole bathroom into a powder room and master bathroom. “When guests come over, the homeowners can close the door, concealing the vanity and shower, so only the toilet and small sink are visible,” Darryl explains.