Ideas + Inspiration

How to Decorate a Modern Studio Apartment

The stakes are high when decorating a modern studio apartment. After all, when every function needs to happen in a single, compact space, from sleeping to cooking to entertaining, even one poorly placed or scaled piece of furniture can throw off the balance of your modern living room or modern dining room.

modern studio apartment

To avoid common missteps we called on Iain Halliday, of the New York- and Sydney-based architectural and interior design firm Burley Katon Halliday. A veteran designer who has detailed everything from studios to vast homes, Halliday offers modern living room ideas for the smart small-space design.

YLighting: What are the major challenges when decorating a studio apartment, and how can they be addressed?

Iain Halliday: It’s important to understand that in a studio many things become prominent in a way that’s different from how they’d appear in a full-size apartment. If you demand too much in terms of, say, the scale of the kitchen, it can overpower the remainder of the living/sleeping area. Understanding how to scale individual pieces of furniture so that they don’t look cramped is important. Every piece becomes a significant addition. Here is a plan of an actual studio we designed, showing a balanced approach to scaling and furniture layout.

modern studio apartment layout.

YL: What are some pieces of modern furniture that work especially well in a small space, and why?

IH: In small apartments, each piece should ideally be able to do double-duty if necessary. A daybed, like the Barcelona Couch or Suita Daybed, can also serve as a bed. Kartell’s Charles Ghost Low Stools or Stone Stools can function equally well as side tables. Similarly, Kartell’s Componibili stand-alone pieces conceal magazines and books and can be used in a bathroom for additional storage.

YL: Can you offer some advice about how to work with scale in a small, open-living space?

IH: Many people opt to use small-scale furniture in a small space – but sometimes it is better to use fewer pieces that are more substantial in scale, to form key anchors within the space. Obviously, sofas are a good example of how you can anchor a room with a significant piece.

YL: Any tips on creating a sense of airiness?

IH: You can use elevated furniture, such as credenzas and sofas on legs, to add a sense of lightness and continuous space. Clear acrylic does the same trick; items such as the La Marie dining chair and the Tip Top Table are less visually intensive than, say, solid timber pieces. When the floor is visible underneath a piece, it leads the eye further.

modern clear dining chair.
La Marie Chair, Set of 2 from Kartell

YL: How do you suggest someone create divisions or privacy within a studio apartment?

IH: Lightweight folding screens are a great way to create flexible divisions and different effects, both in terms of portability and materiality. The curvilinear screens by Charles and Ray Eames and Alvar Aalto are beautiful and sculptural, while mirrored examples by Makro can help expand a small space by reflection.

modern eames room divider.
Eames Screen from Herman Miller

YL: Can you suggest a few sofas that would work well?

IH: The classic Florence Knoll sofa or settee works well in a small apartment as it is compact in its overall scaling, looks neat and tailored at all times, and is raised off the floor so it appears less heavy than a sofa with a solid plinth. If you want a convertible sofa to accommodate overnight guests, Unfurl by Innovation and James by Gus Modern are surprisingly sleek examples of a traditionally bulky furniture item.

YL: What about the workspace? Can you suggest a few ways to carve out a home office within a studio apartment?

IH: With smaller portable computers and wireless printers available these days, it is possible to work in multiple locations within an apartment; you don’t need a dedicated workspace. Messy items such as printers and wiring can be concealed using storage units, such as the Eames Storage Range or the Two Tops Secretary Desk. Another option is to locate a small-scale desk in a less-predictable location, such as behind the sofa or in an empty vestibule.

YL: Any advice on how to accessorize a studio apartment? What sorts of modern living room furniture pieces work especially well in this setting, and how would you display them?

IH: Accessories are essential to creating ambiance and should be well-edited. I like items that are both beautiful and functional, such as simple, natural wax candles by Tom Dixon. Similarly, classic vases by Alvar Aalto can cluster to hold flowers or alternatively function as pen caddies or utensil holders.

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