Remember that 90s movie The Borrowers? The one about teensy-tiny people who live in a matchbox? Well, not only is it one of John Goodman’s weird deep cuts, but it is accurately, if not inadvertently, a portrait of life in a railroad-style apartment in New York City. Your bathtub is a thimble! Your bed is a button! Every inch counts, man.
In NYC, unless you’re mega-rich, you’re going to be living in seriously tight quarters. You’ve seen the ridiculous Instagram pictures of insanely terrible apartments with sky-high rents. If you live in the city, you’ve probably scrolled through online apartment listings in other locales that aren’t New York and instantly spiralled into a deep depression after seeing what $1,000 a month in places such as South Carolina can get you. (But can you get a medium-rare côte de boeuf at 2 a.m. there? Didn’t think so.)
No matter! New Yorkers and other folks who live in tiny spaces are a resilient bunch (this also applies to people living in dorm rooms, San Francisco, and a lot of affordable studio apartments), and we won’t let measly square footage get in the way of being comfortable in our homes. In our quest to trick out our cigar-box apartment into something resembling a bedroom setup in a West Elm store, we’ve decided to invest in some affordable, space-saving pieces.
While you probably won’t be lugging a massive sectional into your tiny apartment, you can still make your small spaces shine, as long as you’re strategic about your furniture and interior design choices. So, whether you’re prepping for life in a dorm room or just looking for small bedroom decorating ideas that don’t involve living in an IKEA showroom, we got you covered—all for under $200.
Best Modular Couches
It’s pretty safe to assume that no one is going to expect a 12-seater conversation pit in your small-space living room, but there is one piece of furniture that you absolutely must have: a sofa. (Where else are you people going to sit and watch you electrocute yourself?) Modular couches for small spaces are the way to go—especially if your living room is also your kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, mail room, monastery, den, and every other room you can pretend to have in a studio apartment. Basically, modular couches are made up of connected segments that can be rearranged to fit different room shapes and maximize living space. Think: reversible sectionals, shape-shifting sofas, and couches with detachable chaise lounges.
The only convertible you can afford…
… Is a convertible couch. While you won’t get the same wind-in-your-hair feeling, you’ll still be able to hit your friends with a “Get in loser, we’re going shopping.” Both of these affordable picks will save space, make your living room feel more usable, and help turn what was once your Hulu-binging zone into a luxurious guest room. This adjustable recliner/floor bed by HOMCOM is giving off some crunchy minimalist vibes, while the more traditional piece from Wayfair is a perfect way to add some extra seating while entertaining some (vaxxed) party guests.
Best Storage Furniture
Somewhere to put your feet up
Despite their name, you can store a lot more than beans in coffee tables, as you should, since—other than a stylish rug that ties a room together—coffee tables are the biggest anchor point of any living space. Fill them with Taschen books, an assortment of maps, and anything else you think someone would enjoy perusing while you whip up the next batch of frozen margs. The pop of color and straight lines of the Alviso Coffee Table by Hashtag Home are surprisingly calming, while the leggy drawer-shelf combos from Walker Edison Furniture Company and Corrigan Studio are versatile storage options that mesh with any aesthetic.
The only thing you’re going to find when you check under the bed are storage bins full of linens, baby—and possibly, but hopefully not, a horde of rodents or roaches (but you’ll make friends). We hope you won’t have to call an exterminator before peering under your queen-sized bed frame, but underbed storage solutions are great for tucking away winterwear in the summer, and vice versa, so you can fill your closet with wheels of Parmesan cheese and patriotic garden gnomes. These underbed bags have a nearly five-star average from roughly 5,000 reviews, so buyers definitely get their money’s worth, while this woven version from West Elm has a bougie-beachy vibe—they’re even cool enough to stash out in the open when you inevitably move upstate.
Meet me above the toilet
If you’re like me, you may have fortuitously found an over-the-toilet shelf on the street the day you moved into your railroad apartment in Brooklyn. If you don’t live in a place where the sidewalk is often confused with the dump, these choices are a great way to turn a previously unused space into a spot where you can keep extra toilet paper, contact lens solution, or your middle school volleyball trophies.
A place to put board games, bongs, and books
More like BORED games, amirite? Well, only if you still stock the shelves of your TV stand with the classics. (We actually know of a ton of legitimately fun (and NSFW) board games, if you’re curious.) Storage ottomans are great, space-saving pieces of furniture to kick your feet up on, and they give people the impression that you have your shit together. The pumpkin hue of the Everly Quinn ottoman from Wayfair adds a pop of color to any room, and the long boi from Overstock is big enough for all of your cosplay items, and just the right size for Michael Scott to sleep on. (Yeah, we know.)
Best Space-Saving Accessories
You’re still working from home
WFH in a small space doesn’t have to mean sacrificing comfort—you just need to equip yourself with the right tools to make it suck a little less. (Again, we’ve got you covered.) You can either go the folding desk route, which is only there when you need it, or take the triangular, corner-desk drive into the space-saving sunset.
Home is where the mugs are
It’s crucially important that the first thing you buy for a new apartment, home, or cubicle is a goofy, kitschy mug. (And a bunch of wine glasses—how else are you going to live, laugh, and love??) Unfortunately, these take up tons of space in cabinets and on shelves, and you need that space to house all of your home distillation equipment, because no way are you gonna let Uncle Sam stick his money hungry paws in your liquor. (Amen, brother.) These cabinet hooks require no drilling or installation, and are some of the easiest space-saving tools in our arsenal.
“Wall of knives” is your aesthetic
We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again: You don’t need a humongous knife block with six steak knives (or a fancy, standalone spice rack) taking up your precious counter space. Instead, get a magnetic knife strip and spice rack to give you more room for cutting boards and kitchen prep.
A dishwasher? In this economy?
Who are we, Bill Gates? Given that our diet is mostly beans, bodega sushi, and our feelings, we don’t have many dishes to do in the first place. Plus, we’d rather spring for the apartment that actually has a shower in the bathroom (instead of the kitchen—curse you, New York) than the studio with a dishwasher. These racks are great space-saving options that drain directly into the sink, and you can pop them into a cabinet when not in use. (Plus, life without a splashing machine isn’t so bad.)
Cheers to high rent, low standards, and the best city in the world! (Fayetteville, Arkansas.)
The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story.