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How to make a studio apartment feel bigger

If you live in a studio apartment or are thinking about renting one, you probably have space on your mind. Fitting all of life’s necessities into a studio might feel challenging, especially if you’re moving from a larger apartment or home. But, I promise you that not only is living in a studio apartment possible, but it can also actually be a fantastic way to live. 

I’ve been a leasing agent in downtown Chicago for years and have toured hundreds of studio apartments. In my time, I’ve seen people make very good (and very poor) use of their space.   

I always remind my customers that the square footage of your apartment doesn’t always equate to livability. And, the key to maximizing space in your studio apartment is to simply shift your mindset. Don’t think of your studio as being short on space – instead, think about all the space you do have and make every inch earn its keep! 

From functional to just plain pretty, here are my best tips for making your studio apartment look way bigger than it actually is…

1. Become a Minimalist 

The term “minimalist” used to make me cringe. I am the queen of sentimentality (yes, I still have all my high school yearbooks) and I’m a Prime-loving consumer. However, small spaces – or large spaces for that matter – feel closed up when covered in clutter. 

Embracing minimalism doesn’t mean you have to throw everything out the window. It means only hanging on to the things that you actually use or love. Which, when you say it out loud, makes total sense! Why keep anything that you don’t use or love?! 

A studio apartment in 3Eleven Studio apartments in Chicago
Minimalist style meets ample light at 3Eleven luxury apartments in Chicago’s River North neighborhood

If you’re moving into a studio and want to cut down on clutter, familiarize yourself with the KonMari method. Learn the ropes from the queen of tidy, Marie Kondo, on her popular Netflix series

2. Define Your Color Palette 

I promise you do not have to be Joanna Gaines to pull this off. Creating a color palette for your apartment that’s cohesive will pull together the entire space, making it feel more spacious.

Choose a color scheme that complements elements of your apartment you can’t change, like the trim, cabinets and countertop. Focus on paint color and furniture, as well as textiles like rugs, bedding and curtains to pull your palette together. 

Photo of model studio apartment at North + Vine
A fun and cohesive color palette at a studio at North+Vine in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood. 

Need some inspiration? My favorite color palettes for a studio apartment are: 

All The Neutrals: Think you can’t mix white and cream? Think again! Don’t be afraid to blend together neutral tones to create a calm space that feels light and bright. My favorite neutral colors for a studio apartment are white, cream and greige. Pull in raw wood grains with your furniture to create a sophisticated, city vibe. 

Bright & Bold: Just because your space is small, doesn’t mean you can’t use color, and lots of it! My best advice for using color in a studio apartment is to keep the walls bright white and add select color in your furniture and artwork. I’m digging kelly green, cherry red, mustard yellow and cobalt blue, all accented with black and white. 

Calming Pastels: Don’t be freaked out by the word “pastel” – I promise your apartment will not look like a baby’s nursery. I love this palette for a studio because it feels light and airy. Combine blush pink, steel blue, light gray, cream and a buttery yellow to create a feminine space that has room to breathe. 

3. Supersize Your Art 

Does hanging gigantic art in a small space feel counterintuitive? Of course it does! But actually, the smaller the space, the larger your art should be. 

A studio apartment at Alta Grand Central in Chicago
Large scale art on display at a studio apartment in Chicago’s Alta Grand Central luxury apartments.

Find a wall or two and fill it with big, bold pieces. My favorite tip for creating affordable large scale art is to use engineer prints. Chris and Julia have the best tips on how to create these huge prints on the cheap.  

4. Rent a Luxury Studio with Amenities 

Yes, studio apartments in luxury buildings come with all the same amenities as their larger one and two-bedroom neighbors down the hallway. While these amenities might not add square footage to your actual apartment, they WILL give you a lot of extra room to spread out. 

The sky lounge, a great amenity at Spoke Apartments in Chicago
The sky lounge at Spoke Apartments in River West is one of my favorite shared spaces. The view…the light…the styling…amazing!

These are the amenities to look for when renting a studio: 

  • Outdoor space, like a rooftop deck with areas to entertain friends. 
  • An outdoor pool. Not exactly necessary, but an awesome spot to relax!
  • Outdoor grilling stations with dining tables. 
  • Co-Working space, especially if you’re a renter who works from home. 
  • Indoor entertaining space for gathering friends.
  • A dog run. If you’re renting a studio and have a dog, this is a great bonus.
  • A fitness center with room to run, lift and sweat. Maximize Your Storage

 5. Maximize Your Storage

If there’s one thing a studio apartment needs, it’s storage. I’m not talking about a few extra baskets strewn around to collect junk mail and magazines. I mean finding every possible storage solution and capitalizing on it. 

Luckily, many of the studios that I help customers rent in luxury apartment buildings are designed with storage solutions in mind. From closets to cabinets, I’m always floored to see just how much stuff can be quickly stored out of sight.  

Huge closets in a studio apartment in Chicago
Yes – studio apartments can have great closets! This unit in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood proves it. 

Remember – each piece of furniture you own is an opportunity to stash your stuff. Think beyond your dresser drawers and your studio will be all cleaned up and clutter-free in no time. 

  • Shelves turned room dividers can create lots of extra storage in a snap. 
  • A tall bed provides loads of storage underneath.
  • Ditch the coffee table for a trunk. 
  • Coat hooks can be used for everything from jewelry to pots and pans. 

 6. Add Extra Mirrors

I swear I’m not being vain. Adding mirrors to your studio apartment will give the illusion that it’s bigger than it actually is. 

Adding a couple of full length or framed mirrors will do the trick, but if you want to go big, use mirror tiles to create a statement wall. Mirror tiles can be found at big box stores like Home Depot, Amazon or even Ikea. If you’re renting, use Command™ Strips to hang them up to cut down on the risk of damaging your walls.  

LivingDIY has this awesome tutorial on creating an industrial-looking mirror wall on the cheap. The end result looks like something straight out of Restoration Hardware: 

7. Rent a Studio With a View 

When you’re touring studio apartments, pay very close attention to what’s outside your window. When living in a small space, what’s on the outside is almost as important as what’s on the inside. 

Renting a studio with a view is one of my very favorite ways to add bonus space. Okay, okay, it’s not exactly usable space however mentally, it does wonders. I can almost guarantee that if you have a great view, you’ll love what’s outside your window even more than you’ll love an extra shoe closet. 

A view from Alta K Station apartments in Chicago's West Loop
A view of downtown Chicago from a studio apartment at Alta K Station in West Loop

That’s it – my top 7 tips for giving your studio apartment a little extra room to breathe. If you’re on the hunt for the best studios in downtown Chicago, zip me a note, and together, we’ll find your new home. 

Blog Author Signature: Dorothy
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