Tiny Rooms, Big Tuition

Long before “tiny houses” became a thing, college students – myself included – were devising creative ways to live in small spaces.

Those skills came in handy when I moved to New York City.  Our apartment has quite a bit more space than my dorm room, but my first few apartments here most definitely did not.  Still, the space is small enough that if you buy something new, something else needs to go to make room for it.

Each summer, I also get to exercise my small space decorating muscles by doing TV segments on dorm décor for Bed Bath & Beyond.

For our first two segments this month, Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee and the University of Tampa in Florida graciously let us take over dorm rooms to film segments for “Talk of the Town” on WTVF-TV and the nationally-syndicated “Daytime” show.  (Click on photos to view segments).

With "Talk of the Town" host Meryll Rose.

With "Talk of the Town" host Meryll Rose.

Fanning Hall at Lipscomb University.

Fanning Hall at Lipscomb University.

We started with your basic “blank canvas” dorm room.

A good first layer for a dorm bed (or any bed, for that matter) is a bed bug mattress protector that completely encases the mattress.

Top it off with a comforter set or a “bed in a bag” that includes sheets, a comforter, shams, a throw blanket and more.  I especially love the bohemian Happy Indigo Comforter Set from Anthology pictured below right; you can incorporate the bright colors in this design in accents throughout the room.  

With Michelle Phillips of "Daytime" at the University of Tampa.

With Michelle Phillips of "Daytime" at the University of Tampa.

Dorm rooms don’t provide much room to spread out, but you can use bed lifts to create tons of extra storage space underneath the bed (this set even has extra USB and power outlets).  A shelf lamp with a charging station does triple duty with a lamp, shelves and – you guessed it – more power outlets.

Hanging closet organizers, underbed storage bins and closet shelf organizers also provide an easy way to use vertical space and keep everything in its place.

When I moved to college for my freshman year, there was barely room for me in the van that was loaded down with my stuff.  It’s much easier now, since Bed Bath & Beyond has a free “pack and hold” service.  You shop at the store closest to home, and they will have everything boxed up and ready for you to pick up at the store closest to college, saving you the time and expense of schlepping it yourself.

Oh – and speaking of saving money - if you haven't already registered for our Instagram giveaway of a $100 gift card from Bed Bath & Beyond - click through to our July 8 post to see how to enter for your chance to win!  The entry deadline is July 19.

Translating NYC Apartment Ads

Looking for an apartment in New York City is different from anywhere else (except for possibly San Francisco).

You almost need a Rosetta Stone to understand the listings. 

"Friends"- not your typical NYC apartment.

Some differences simply reflect the terminology used to describe unique properties.  Others?  Let's just say that some brokers are very "creative," requiring you to read between the lines a bit.

Here is a quick NYC to English real estate glossary:

#1 - "Studio"

One room apartment with a single living/sleeping area (aka "efficiency").

#2 - "Alcove Studio" or "Convertible 1"

One room with an alcove or small area that might accommodate a bed.

#3 - "Junior 4" or "Convertible 2"

One bedroom apartment with a dining area, alcove or other small area that could be walled off into another bedroom.

#4 - "2 Bedrooms"

Two actual bedrooms - or, more likely, one bedroom with a large closet. 

#5 - "Cozy"

Small.  My first NYC apartment was very cozy.

#6 - "Charming"

Small.  With peeling paint.

#7 - "Quaint"

Small.  With sloping floors and at least one sealed-up window.

#8 - "Walking Distance to Subway"

One block or 20 blocks.  Technically, everything in New York is walking distance.

#9 - "This Apartment Has a Lot of History"

The shower may be in the kitchen.  (Not kidding).

Shower in Kitchen

If you see an apartment that ticks most of your boxes - and only seems slightly overpriced - grab it.  It will probably be gone tomorrow.

New Yorkers - what else would you add to this list?

Living Small in NYC

Two of my first apartments in New York City each had only about 200 square feet.

Having moved to Manhattan from a 900-square-foot apartment in Virginia, making it work took some creativity - and serious purging.  It got even more challenging when I started my business from one of those apartments (the one pictured on the left).

Here are a few ways I made those spaces work for me:

#1 - Edit, Edit, Edit

Small spaces force you to evaluate what you really need, and what is expendable.  While some china and a few other family pieces remained at my parents' house during these years, I got rid of almost all of my furniture - along with literally hundreds of books and movies. 

#2 - Bed Risers

I see photos of gorgeous small spaces with sleep lofts, but that was not an option.  Bed lifts - which cost as little as $10 per set - were a perfect alternative.  I needed the single closet in the apartment for my wardrobe, and these created a much-needed storage area underneath the bed. (Photo courtesy of Bed Bath & Beyond).

#3 - Murphy Beds

One apartment had a Murphy Bed.  It was in brand-new condition, and the previous resident was happy to give it to me, to avoid spending several hundred dollars to remove it and patch up the floor and walls.  For the cost of a new mattress, I got a comfy bed and the ability to have an actual living room in a one-room studio! 

#4 - Storage Cart

This 8+1 wooden storage cart was the best tiny space purchase I ever made.  The small footprint perfectly fit the sliver of wall space between the closet and kitchen in the floor plan shown on the left.  The shallow drawers on top housed kitchen utensils and spices, while the bottom drawers stored paper and other office supplies.  I bought this 12 years ago, and it has stayed with me as I moved to larger spaces. (Photo courtesy of Home Decorators).

#5 - Creative Holiday Décor

One of the few things I disliked about small space-living was that there was literally no room for even the smallest Christmas tree.  My solution:  hanging a large, lighted wreath on the living room wall.  I loved the look and how it brightened the small room, and ended up removing the Christmas adornments and keeping it up long after the holidays were over. (Photo courtesy of QVC).


What have you done to make small spaces work for you, either in small apartments or larger homes?

New York Notes: 200 Square Feet in the Big City

“Sure, your only window has a view of a brick wall. 
"But on the other side of that wall is NEW YORK CITY.”

- NYC apartment ad

In a recent visit with about 100 students from my alma mater on a trip to New York, a few asked me about finding an apartment here.

I confirmed that the rumors they have heard are true.  What you see on TV sitcoms – 20-somethings with no discernible source of income living in sprawling apartments – is not reality.

Sharing a cramped apartment with five or six people?  Now we're getting real.

Two of my first apartments in the city were "studio" apartments - which in real estate-speak means "no bedroom."  Each was about 200 square feet.

Here is the floor plan from that first NYC apartment (shown almost actual size):

This was definitely smaller than my college dorm room.

I don't have any photos, but even the best panoramic lens couldn’t have captured the limitations of the tiny space.

That first apartment was at the bottom of an air shaft.  The kitchen was in a tiny closet.  It was definitely an apartment for one (although a mouse once briefly moved in…eek).  I only got sunshine at high noon -  and then only for seven minutes.

But the price was right, it was half a block from Central Park and across the street from the Dakota.  I walked home from work through the Park, and periodically saw celebrity neighbors like Harrison Ford getting coffee or Yoko Ono picking up dry cleaning.  The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade was just a few steps outside my front door, and 24-hour diners were great "living rooms" for meeting up with friends.  Lincoln Center and countless theaters were just a short walk away. 

I lived there for two years.  The view across that air shaft?  A brick wall.

But on the other side of that wall was New York City.