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How To Design a Small Rental Apartment by “Living in a Nutshell” Author, Janet Lee

Janet Lee comes from a sentimental family of collectors. Today I had a chance to sit at my desk and with phone clasped between cheek and shoulder got to borrow some of her advice out of her experience collection.

Lee has spent years as a Producer to Oprah, more recently gained the title as ‘Living in a Nutshell‘ author and as of this past month was captured on the other side of the camera with SpacesTV Studio cameras zooming in on her home for the benefit of us squirrels, us pack rats who have nutshell problems. If you have a DIY dilemma, she has an affordable, applicable and awesome solution. The latter being a term I used frequently as I got to know her posh existence a tad bit more.

Small space apartment design by Janet Lee
Small apartment with colorful living room decor

She’s made herself vulnerable by letting the crew pass her rental door and with clear concise tips gives us a boost into fixing all those nagging issues that have plagued us since day one of stepping foot in our own small spaces. “Be true to how your pattern really is,” she wisely advised me. From the moment she enters the door of her decorating lab, she “lands” her mail in an organization wall caddy made of rubber boating straps. For Lee, it’s instinctive that at the end of the day when she turns the key in her lock that she unloads the mail first. This is her way of  “…fighting the good fight against clutter.”

Small bedroom design with black and white stripes
Colorful kitchen for a bold statement

This common syndrome -clutter- latches itself onto all of us, but spreads more rapidly as a pesky disease when our entire abode can fit in celebrity closets. After my heart to heart about this subject with Lee, you and I can put aside our trepidation and embrace a beautiful, functional appealing space. Not to mention amazing and eclectic as well.

Small Rental Apartment - black and white stripes walls
Small apartment rental with black and white stripes wall
Dining space area with fancy wall decor

So here’s Lee…

1. On Zoning Regulations

As the camera follows a smiling mauve enshrouded Lee she divulges her original desire to make the flow between kitchen and living room have a “…sense of dimension and visual division.” Using new Caviar tins the wall now embodies a style-statement that adds structure to an otherwise open concept. She also recommends taking advantage of vertical space even if its for storage purposes that are left bare to the eye. Yet another way to capture interest with staged necessities.

The living room/home office gets a similar treatment, although this time using furniture. The title of this space is practical by day as the six-foot desk harbors a sleek Mac atop its glass surface. By night it doubles as a buffet table for dinner parties. Flawlessly incorporated in its position, this furniture piece’s multifunctional purpose is discreet thanks to its diverse blending capabilities.

2. On Labeling Life

Lee unabashedly confessed her love for Hudson Paint’s (of Hudson, NY) green chalkboard paint, which separates her upper and lower cabinetry in a fresh backsplash. Here is one example of how typography can illuminate the space, make her smile and spark contagious conversation.

But why stop with writing on the wall? “Tag boxes!” Lee reiterates after I inquire for a great method to minimizing chaos. “When I label a box it makes me want to put things in it. This says glue guns, so I know all my glue guns are in here!” She finished with a laugh.

3. On a Temporary Status

“A featureless box,” is one way Lee describes her apartment prior to the profound nuttiness she released in Lower Manhattan and beyond. Lee understands what it is to rent a space, she’s done it at least a dozen times in the past 20 years, so investing energy, time and passion into your DIY projects should also have portable results that will carry on towards the next destination.

Using canvas stretcher bars, Command brand adhesive tape with interlocking teeth and a fresh coat of paint she conceptualized transportable paneled molding that leaves both your landlord and you happy come moving day. No mess, no damaged walls, no chunk of cash from your deposit missing, just a great makeover on a drab apartment essential.

4. On Collecting Color

Color is the foundation and in this home, Lee’s first approach. Choosing a cooler gray on the color wheel she was able to trick the eye. “The walls recede further back than they really do. My living room does look a little larger than it really is.”

Adding additional accent colors isn’t always as easy as selecting a complimenting choice from the color wheel, however. With friends who were nervous around color and weren’t eccentric about allowing their space to exude such a charismatic presence Lee often suggests to “Dip your toe in the water little by little.” For her, intentionally incorporating a pillow or cashmere throw at the end of your sofa gives you a perfect chance to add bold color that not only will begin the symmetry of new tones but can be seasonally swapped keeping your home always in style and trending.

Little by little bit you too can learn to love that pink corsage wall or summer tangerine and little by little infuse patterns and textiles too!

5. On Shopping What You Have

Lee is lucky enough to have endless resources at her fingertips in the hustle and bustle of New York, but her ideology is simple: “Be flexible in your design. So anywhere [you] can have this accessibility and materials.”

From the off the beaten path boat shop to your local flea market or discount stores such as Home Goods and TJ Maxx Lee enjoys the challenge of using what she regards as “Untapped design resources because it’s cheap…and unique.”

By doing this you can give your own spin to brand recognition by inventing new and ingenious creativity under the sacred name of repurposing. Bring to life your sad pillow the thrifty way. A six dollar pillow here, a $10 dollar placemat there with one intentional ripped seam and a zipper installation done by a local seamstress gave Lee custom décor for under twenty bucks.

Sometimes you don’t even have to spend that much. Upgrade your preexisting ornaments and furniture by rearranging them to find the perfect vibe, even if it’s in an entirely different room. Sometimes a new lamp base or finish can expose a brilliant personality that can turn your tiny space into amazing and eclectic. Combine all that up and Living in a Nutshell is an adventure you need to get on board with today!

Photo Credit: Aimee Herring

Momina Khan
From a very early age Momina Khan discovered her passion and talent for rearranging furniture and indulging herself with interior design. Over the years this passion has only intensified as well as her education and calling in creative writing. As a writer Momina finds Decoist a perfect environment to creating art with words on the art of DIY d[...]

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