Home & Design

Making the (Absolute) Most of a 514-Square-Foot Apartment

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Welcome to Make Yourself at Home, a collection of home tours as told through the items within them. Up this week, in the first of four installments we’re running in honor of Renovation Month, Jill and Steve welcome us into their London home.

In 2010, at a speakeasy on Norfolk Street called The Back Room, a man from Wales named Steve approached a woman from Pennsylvania named Jill and asked, “Excuse me, do you know where the back room is?” And the rest is history.

First they rented a little place on the Upper West Side (next door to Seinfeld’s fictional address), next they moved to Orange Street in Brooklyn Heights, and then they migrated to Park Slope, where they rented an apartment on the same corner as Robin from How I Met Your Mother. “I swear we did not aim for these addresses on purpose,” says Jill. And then, five years ago, they decided to move to London to be closer to Steve’s family.

After renting in London for another few years, they finally bought their first place: A 514-square-foot one bedroom in Hampstead, a quiet neighborhood in North London that Jill describes as “if the West Village had a baby with Brooklyn Heights, plus ginormous trees.” Jill thinks they probably have the smallest apartment in the area. With four modest rooms—the kitchen, the bathroom, the living, and the bedroom—they were determined to make the most of the space. “When you’re renting,” Jill told me over the phone, “you think, Well, I can’t really go crazy with painting the walls or hanging things up because I don’t want to deal with it when I move out. So we made the promise to ourselves that we would go nuts when we got into this tiny flat, which is exactly what we did.”

They didn’t really have a decor plan—they just knew they wanted a lot of color and texture and little knickknacks. Two years later, along with their nap-prone Shih Tzu, Gus, they’ve cultivated what they call a “Marmite apartment”—named for the love-it-or-hate-it condiment in the UK. “No matter who walks in, they usually go, ‘Oh,’” Jill says. “And it’s either a good oh or a bad oh.” And that’s how they like it. Two years may not seem long, but it’s the longest Jill and Steve have lived anywhere together, and they didn’t want to waste any time settling in (you can follow along on their Instagram, @asmallflatinlondon, which is how I discovered their colorful apartment). Jill works as a video producer for a creative agency; Steve works in data at a tech startup. You can feel both of their influences in the space, which they consider a collaborative work of love. Below, in Jill’s words, five things that helped make their house a home.

1. The Two Moroccan Rugs in the Living Room

The rugs were the very first things we got specifically for the space. We went with Moroccan because they have such an exuberant style that feels really organic and not too patterned. We found these through a rug dealer—I Googled obsessively for weeks until I found a guy who didn’t charge an arm and a leg while also being fair to the producers (that was important to us). He works directly with women in small tribes who are the traditional makers of rugs in the Atlas Mountains. Steve picked out the huge colorful Moroccan rug first, which we were immediately drawn to. He was kind of adamant about getting it, and he’s never adamant about anything, so I was like “All right!” I think it’s 12’x9’—huge! And it defined everything else we did around it, including the second rug.

2. The Stack of Records on Our Sideboard

We have this huge stack of records sitting on a sideboard when you walk into the flat, and 95% of those came from Steve’s parents’ attic. Steve is very close to his parents—and we’re very close with his family—so it’s a very sentimental item that isn’t immediately obvious to others. It matters to him to have them there when he walks into the flat. We’ll shuffle them once in a while, too, and he’ll know which is his mom’s favorite or his dad’s favorite, which is really sweet.

I found these 1970s acrylic record holders on Etsy—ended up hunting down four of them from four different sellers. There’s a translucent gray one, a bright yellow one, a black one, and a plain white one. It took me ages to find them. I think I had just the two for a while, with the rest of the records stacked until I found the others. The funny thing is we don’t even have a record player yet. We’re still waiting to see what kind we want to get. We’re thinking of getting an old one, but it’s hard to find one that fits the room.

3. The Eames Dining Table and Accidentally Matching Chairs

We tend to choose things according to whether we like them and not necessarily because something is a “design classic,” which is what these table and chairs happened to be. We found the table via eBay after months of searching—we were just looking for a circular table, because the main space is quite small and we had to make sure everything fit. And this one just happened to be perfect in that it had a glass top, which helps make the room feel a little bigger. (We used to have a heavier wooden table there and it felt like it took up the whole room.)

The Eames was being sold by an office supplies seller and it had apparently been stored in a bank’s storage facilities unused for years. So we got an amazing deal on it and just ended up getting the chairs to go with it afterward. They’re new Eames chairs, but because we had such a good deal on the table, it just kind of made sense. The chairs were described as mauve gray—there’s a slight purple-y pink tinge to them—which we liked because there’s so much color everywhere else. It all fits really well. It’s such a tiny space in here that it has to all kind of jigsaw together.

4. The 1960s Orange Lamps in the Kitchen

When we first moved in, the kitchen was all very plastic-y and tired, so we decided to renovate it from scratch about a year ago. For the new kitchen, everything permanent had to be neutral since we had to think about potentially selling it in the future, so I kind of went crazy with these lamps. We had to go with something that popped.

They’re called flowerpot lamps by Verner Panton—we knew we wanted them, that was the one thing we had settled on, it just took a long time to find them because they’re kind of small, so you need a grouping of them. We were prepared to do a mix of colors if we had to, but we ended up finding these from a couple on Etsy who’d had them over their dining table since the ’60s in Amsterdam, and they were in the midst of selling all their things before moving to a retirement home apparently. When we saw them, we didn’t even think twice. I just love this story of them going from someone else’s dining table and into our kitchen and just having that sense of continuity.

5. Books—Everywhere

We’re crazy about putting books everywhere, all over the apartment. Mostly because, well, we have lots of them. And a lot of our daily lives and weekends involve sitting around indoors reading. So we keep our books all over, taking the place of having lots of pictures or other decorative items.

We’ve accrued them over the years—a lot of them we picked up for free when we were living in Manhattan and Brooklyn. We have a complete hardback volume set of Shakespeare that we found on the sidewalk in Park Slope years ago. I was like, “Oh my God, this is free!” And we had bags of groceries with us and Steve was like, “Are you serious? We have groceries,” and I was like, “We’re carrying them home!” And we did. So the books take on their own special meaning after awhile, especially now that we’ve left New York. To us, they’re an important design element, because they define who we are when friends come to visit. When you see them, you kind of understand who we are as people.

Photos by Jill Damatac-Futter.

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman is the Features Director at Man Repeller.

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