You might expect a gallery of studio apartment ideas to focus on squeezing as much as possible into a tiny space, but the reality of many modern studio apartments is a world away. Given how high real estate prices can be in cities (here’s looking at you, New York), small but perfectly formed studio apartments are being transformed into luxury homes that are not only comfortable to live in, but design-forward too.
Yes, studio apartment living has its challenges, but as interior designer, Amanda Thompson of ALine Studio implores, if that’s what you’ve got to work with, embrace it. ‘Whether you are in a huge open loft or a tiny NYC studio apartment, there is something really great about having one open space,’ she says.
The joys of open-plan living are so convincing that in many circumstances, designers will recommend pulling down walls when decorating an apartment. Designing a studio, rather than having multiple, pokey rooms that don’t make the most of natural light and the sense of space, will transform your relationship with your apartment. And while removing tiny hallways and micro bedrooms can be seen as a trade-off against practicality, with modern interior design it really doesn’t have to be.
See if these small apartment decor ideas, and advice from their designers, convince you that living in one room (bar your separate bathroom, of course) could actually be the height of luxury.
11 studio apartment ideas to inspire
1. Opt for a minimalist design
Minimalist style doesn’t have to be stark, and with the right choices, a minimalist studio apartment will not only feel plush and comfortable, but also larger than its actual footprint. Visual clutter isn’t ideal for a studio apartment, after all, it’s almost impossible to escape it when you’re spending all your time within the same four walls.
A design like this studio apartment created by São Paulo-based architecture studio Atelier PECLAT+CHOW (opens in new tab) is a masterclass in how minimalist luxe can be applied to a small space. The streamlined design is given interest with texture and pattern, while handleless storage hides away the apartment’s practical elements. A well-edited selection of furniture ensures this small apartment living room idea is comfortable, yet pared back.
2. Make sure to give your space personality
‘Always inject personality into your space, no matter the size or layout,’ says ALine Studio (opens in new tab)’s Amanda Thompson. ‘You want your home to be a reflection of you and your tastes and you can do this easily through artwork, decor and accent pieces, even lighting fixtures.’ This character doesn’t have to translate as clutter, however. As we’ve already covered, minimalism can be luxurious.
As a starting point, consider a detail that ties together the disparate areas of your studio. In design, this is sometimes referred to as the red thread or throughline. This could be a color, a finish, a texture – anything really, and it doesn’t need to be used in the same proportions in each area of the room. The sense of cohesion it creates can be a guiding principle for designing any open plan space, whether it’s an apartment or an open plan kitchen idea.
This studio apartment design by Polish interior design studio Mistovia (opens in new tab) is effortlessly charming thanks to its unusual palette and choice of materials. From whatever direction you look in the room, the eye follows a train of thought, from the mix of deep rich blues to warmer red, oranges and pinks. The bathroom sits in the center of the room, behind retro-inspired glass bricks.
3. Create zones within your space
Creating the idea that there are different rooms within your studio apartment will help to separate its different uses, and this can be done without adding any solid partitions.
Furniture, for example, can be used to zone areas successfully and creates pockets of space that serve different functions. 'Furniture is a good way to divide up spaces in a semi-permanent way which allows you to change the layout later,' says Simon Graham, director at London-based studio Yard Architects (opens in new tab). 'For example, installing freestanding wardrobes might allow you to create a small bedroom area behind a living room without building partitions.'
However, it may be worth exploring more obvious visual cues in order to give a studio apartment the different dimension it needs to feel like a luxurious space.
'Paint is a great and easy way to do this – either by painting an accent wall of a certain room to delineate the space,' says Studio ALine's Amanda. 'You could try painting the bedroom, for instance, a different color than the rest of the apartment.'
4. Use materials to upgrade a small space
Faced with transforming a micro apartment of just 420 feet, New York architecture and design studio Messana O’Rorke (opens in new tab) had the challenge of making what could have been a dorm-like studio into a luxurious space for the client.
Along with an ingenious layout, which places the bedroom as a separate volume to divide up the long, narrow apartment, the success of the design lies in the materiality of the space. A beautiful, unlacquered brass creates the near-sculptural cube which houses an elevated bed, while other atypically luxe materials such as dark oak, marble, and cowhide can also be found throughout the design.
5. Don’t be afraid of playing with scale
There’s a temptation when decorating a small studio apartment to want to keep everything small, in the fear that something large will dominate the space. In reality, it can be the reverse. Lots of small pieces creates clutter, where opting for one or two larger objects can make the room feel streamlined.
In this bijou, 375 square foot studio apartment, designed by New York-based design studio FIERRO (opens in new tab), scale was everything in creating this luxurious look in a compact space.
A large floor rug serves to zone the apartment living room idea, while a large piece of wall art is a key feature in the space. Even the fireplace idea isn't shrinking violets, offering unapologetic scale that makes the scheme feel bold and more luxurious.
6. Add a modern contrast
There’s something magical about an addition to an apartment that looks like it’s from another world. Especially in industrial style apartment buildings that have exposed brick, concrete, pipes, and beams, dividing a studio with a clean-lined volume can add a contrast that elevates the space.
This Toronto loft apartment is the perfect example with Canadian architecture practice Studio AC (opens in new tab) designing a white arch-fronted box to create a separate bedroom within the studio. However, it’s the sheer curtain used as a room divider idea that really ups the stakes when it comes to modernizing this industrial loft.
‘In front of the bed box we utilized a gracious full height sheer that conceals the more private functions of the sleeping quarters, closet space and storage,’ says Jennifer Kudlats, cofounder of Studio AC. ‘Using the sheer in an architectural way sees it become a way to define space, provide privacy and acoustic dampening – all of which elevates it as an element and turns it into a focal point and a functional conversation piece.’
7. Use glass partitions for effortless luxury
When it comes to sectioning off a bedroom in a studio apartment, you don't get much more luxurious than Crittall-style room dividers. They suit almost any space, and while their roots may lay more in an industrial style of design, they're synonymous with high-end design in a way that will elevate your studio.
An idea like this sliding Crittall door used in a loft design by Yard Architects can be really beneficial to small apartment, creating a separate bedroom, while still retaining the one-room openness that studio spaces are celebrated for.
8. Discover the wonders of an 'invisible kitchen'
Just what is an invisible kitchen? Well, it's an idea based around a kitchen design that can be hidden away and camouflaged when not in use, helping to reduce its visual impact on a space.
This is usually achieved with doors (both pocket and sliding styles are popular) which can be opened to reveal a fully functioning kitchen.
The benefits of this apartment kitchen idea for a studio are obvious, giving you the flexibility to turn your space into whatever you need it to be at that moment, as well as hiding away kitchen clutter and mess for when you're just trying to relax in your one-room living area.
In the design of this Jewel Box project by New York studio Messana O'Rorke, the kitchen doors look like simple oak wall paneling, but soon reveal a sleek one-wall kitchen with all the amenities this bijou studio apartment needs.
9. Screen the bedroom from the main living space
There's something about a bedroom that's completely open onto a studio apartment that doesn't fit in with the idea of luxury living. Bear in mind that bedrooms are some of the most intimate spaces in your home, which can make entertaining in a studio apartment feel a little invasive.
Screening off the bed to some degree will help a studio apartment feel like more of a comfortable space to spend time in, and there are all kinds of ways to achieve it. From small partitions to freestanding furniture, curtains to slatted walls, all these can be used to create a small bedroom idea in a studio.
In this studio apartment design by Messana O'Rorke, a screen with privacy glass creates an opaque view through to the bedroom, retaining the best qualities about the space's open-plan nature, while obscuring the details of the bedroom.
10. Make a studio apartment flexible
While a minimalist and edited space may offer a luxe design, a studio apartment that doesn't meet your practical needs could never feel luxurious. An apartment design that incorporates flexible furniture with double functions, as well as storage ideas for pieces that can be hidden away to increase floor space so that the room can adapt.
For example, in this ground floor apartment in Brooklyn, redesigned by architect Sonya Lee (opens in new tab), the central millwork piece acts a screen to allow privacy in the petite office space, but also contains an integrated pull-down bed.
'A murphy bed allows you to clear the space, and feel open – whether it's to do yoga, or have a movie night projected on the cabinet,' says Sonya. 'The dining nook was also built with a storage trunk below, and we took advantage of every nook as an opportunity for added storage. We likened the space as our little swiss army knife - where things fold, tuck, pull-out, expand as needed.'
11. Don’t push furniture up against the walls
It can be tempting to push furniture up against the walls in a studio apartment to try an squeeze every last inch of floor space out of the room. However, that marginal extra space you'll gain from lining the perimeter wall with your sofa might be better served in making the space feel bigger visually – an easy small living room idea to try out.
Positioning the likes of a sofa and other seating slightly away from the walls will give your apartment a sense of depth, especially when combined with the right decorating ideas. It can also make a sitting area feel more intimate and cozy – again think about combining furniture in smaller zones to create distinct areas, rather than looking at it as one big room to fill with furniture.
How do you maximize space in a small studio apartment?
A studio apartment can be luxurious in style, but it stills need to be practical, and there are lots of ways to make the best use of space even in the smallest examples.
When looking at dividing up a studio with a room divider, consider using furniture such as wardrobes or bookshelves instead of screens, as this will give you a lot of storage at a small trade-off of floor space.
When designing seating areas, you can still create an intimate space that you can entertain in without filling your floor with furniture. Stools are a great addition to a casual seating area, taking up small amounts of space and doubling up as side tables when you need them.
There are also plenty of clever, adaptable ideas that you can use to furnish your apartment, from murphy beds to loft bed ideas, extendable furniture and hidden storage. Consider every element you're bringing into your apartment, and question whether it could be serving another purpose or function to make the most of it.
Hugh is the Deputy Editor of Livingetc.com. From working on a number of home, design and property publications and websites, including Grand Designs, ICON and specialist kitchen and bathroom magazines, Hugh has developed a passion for modern architecture, impactful interiors and green homes. Whether moonlighting as an interior decorator for private clients or renovating the Victorian terrace in Essex where he lives (DIYing as much of the work as possible), you’ll find that Hugh has an overarching fondness for luxurious minimalism, abstract shapes and all things beige. He’s just finished a kitchen and garden renovation, and has eyes set on a bathroom makeover for 2022.
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