Growing up in the Dutch countryside, a young Mischa Lampert could typically be found in one of two places: in her childhood bedroom dreaming up plans to redecorate, or browsing for books on faraway Manhattan at the local library. “When I was 13, I fell in love with [the idea of] New York’s downtown art scene,” says the accessories and interior designer. “I remember taking a book on SoHo loft living out of the library for an entire year!” So when she finally moved to the fabled city in 1999, only a spot south of Houston would do.
Living on a budget in New York, however, is synonymous with sacrifice. For great light, climb six flights of stairs; for a backyard, live in a basement. But the most common concession associated with Big Apple real estate? Space. The only apartment Lampert could afford was shoebox-tiny—a mere 300 square feet—with holes in the walls, broken-down doors, and rusted fixtures. Most prospective buyers would have run for the hills, but all Lampert saw was possibility.
“It’s strange: when I go into a space, I almost always have a vision for how it should ultimately be,” says the designer. Her concept for this particular apartment required a two-stage overhaul: a gut renovation in 1999 to make it livable, then an interiors revamp in 2013 to bring it to its current gleaming state. For Lampert, who describes her decorating ethos as “Scandinavian with a touch of Parisian glam,” there could be no better showpiece. Employing soothing foundation pieces in a variety of textures and finishes, sleek appliances, gold accents, and even a restored gem of a bathtub from the original structure, she created not only a road map for modular living, but a high-style design worthy of a home of any size.
Unify the palette
Nothing chops up a small space more than painting every room a different color. To create a feeling of fluidity and airiness, Lampert chose a neutral scheme for the walls, floors, and decor—and built-ins such as kitchen cabinets. “The cabinetry blends into the wall and extends all the way up to the ceiling to create a greater sense of space,” she says. Even the kitchen fixtures are stark white to match the fadeaway backdrop.
Reimagine the bed
“I am obsessed with making everything versatile,” says the designer. And no space in this apartment is more versatile than the combined bedroom–living room. With a clever combination of linen-upholstered ottomans from Bo Concept and CB2, the room is entirely modular. “You can have anything from two twin beds to one king to a sectional sofa,” says Lampert of the easily transformable space.
Trick the Eye
In decorating, the French term trompe l’oeil typically signifies conjuring a three-dimensional illusion from a one-dimensional material. Lampert employed the depth-creating device in the bedroom, where a cushionlike wallpaper sourced in Paris adorns the back wall—making the boxy space seem not only lush, but also deceptively deep.
Embrace existing plumbing
In the somewhat unorthodox layout, the kitchen is split into two parts: the sink and counter area, and a cooking space nestled into an entry nook. “Because [of its location], the kitchen sink doubles as the bathroom sink,” says Lampert. “Leaving it there meant I didn’t need to move any pipes during the renovation, which would have been a nightmare in this particular building—and very costly.”
Hide the necessities
“Staring at a stove or fridge is a constant reminder you live in a studio,” says Lampert. Her solution for making the apartment feel more pied-à-terre and less girl-on-a-budget? Conceal the functional—and less-than-style-friendly—appliances. Here, that meant fashioning a front closet that acts as both storage and a mini-kitchenette, fronted by a canvas curtain that can be drawn when the cooking and cleaning are done.
Seek day-to-night decor
The overall palette is elegantly restrained, with the few hits of bright color coming from the entry’s kitchen nook. “I call it the daytime part of the studio,” says Lampert. “It was the logical place to add color because in the evening, when the curtains are closed, you can go back to a calm, muted environment.”
Choose appliances wisely
Lampert calls the home a “one-girl apartment”—for the girl who doesn’t necessarily cook five-course meals on a regular basis. Essentials needed to be selected judiciously, so she opted for stashable staples (including a pair of portable induction cooktops) and modern multitaskers such as Cuisinart’s Brick Oven toaster oven, which Lampert praises as “fantastic.... It even bakes and has a stone bottom for pizza.”
Envision lighting creatively
Rather than use a pocket door for the kitchen nook, Lampert chose curtains as a space-saving solution—then added drama with strategically positioned light fixtures. “I put track lights behind the curtains, so in the evening when they’re closed there’s an illusion of depth, which adds moodiness,” she explains.
Craft clever built-ins
A small, wall-mounted table near the bedroom window folds down and stays out of the way when the space is in living-room mode. On other occasions, the table acts as a writing desk or a place for a laptop. By painting the built-in feature the same color as the walls, it disappears when not in use.
Storage, storage, storage!
Lampert’s small-space mantra? “There is no such thing as too much storage.” That means even the claw-foot bathtub (which was original to the apartment) is fair game. But rather than piling books and knickknacks inside the tub, as many a space-starved New Yorker has been known to do, Lampert took advantage of its floor clearance by sliding bins filled with towels and bath products underneath its tall legs.