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Shabby Chic Studio Apartment

Updated on August 22, 2014

Make Your Efficiency into a Cottage Style Nook

If you're like me, and you live in a small space -- but you're too old for the dorm look -- you have some choices. Will you try to make your 200 square feet look bigger, or will you turn them into a cozy little nook? Will you bring home some boxy modern furniture and try to conceal every little thing, or will you build a style around your stuff?

Part of making the room look like something other than a dorm is concealing clutter. But that doesn't mean that everything has to be hidden away in sleek cabinets. The look I opted is shabby chic, which is a type of cottage style décor, one that makes use of thrift store items and faux paint finishes. The style fits my lifestyle, my tastes... and my stuff.

Several generations of my family have quilted, so I have quilts by my aunt and great-aunt in the room. I also like refurbishing doll houses and other items -- things that wouldn't fit in well with that ultra-modern loft look. I like finding things at the thrift store -- or downstairs in the laundry room of my apartment. (The laundry room has a give-away area that sometimes turns into a veritable rummage sale at the end of the month when tenants are moving out.)

In this picture, you see a distressed ivory shadow box that I made from a plain wood frame; it's 'posing' with a few other found treasures on the dinette table (in the center of the room). I'll show off some some more tidbits from my living space down below; it is a work in progress, and has centerpieces and also some clutter. I'll also share some resources and video from around the web. Most of the pictures you'll see featured here are my own; others are creative commons pictures that struck my fancy.

Not Quite Matching

In shabby chic style, things don't quite match, but they often come close to matching. In other words (as the saying goes) you might not notice from a running horse. The color scheme can help items look coordinated. The dominant color is in shabby chic is antique ivory, but you'll see a variety of muted colors. These soft color palettes work well for a small spaces.

Part of getting things to mix and match is undertone. Lighter colors may have a white undertone (true pastels) or they may have a cream, beige, or gray undertone. I prefer muted colors and heathers over true pastels. Here you see the night table.The seashell lamp is from my father's house; the lamp doesn't work, but the piece probably dates back to the first half of the twentieth century. Next to the nightstand is a guitar and a boom box; they are ensconced behind a screen that has the same distressed ivory as the shadow box. (The seashell ornamentation is made from tablecloth weights, attached with epoxy and given an antique finish.)

A Gift Bag Doubles as Storage

A Gift Bag Doubles as Storage
A Gift Bag Doubles as Storage

300 Square Foot Apartment With French Country Inspiration

Here is a low budget 300 square foot living space in a 100 year old building.

A Cottage Style Guest House

There are a lot of shabby items in this living space, but the overall look is clean and elegant. This guest house is much larger than my studio, but it's not necessarily larger than a large studio apartment. If you have one of those big studios with the walk in closet that doubles as a small bedroom, then this is a great model. (There are some things you wouldn't do in a place that you just rent -- but there's a lot here you could do.)

Another Take on Shabby Chic

This is a different take on the cottage style: a bit more fuss and memorabilia. The little house featured here is much larger than a studio, but there are some elements that would work well in a smaller space. I like the way vines and flowers are used as décor. I think a mini-studio or efficiency would make a cozy little retreat decked out in fake ivy. (I have a bit of ivy draped here and there in my apartment, and would like to get some more. The ivy tends to create a theme hold things together)

Shabby Chic Drapes to Hide Your Daybed

White drapes and white slipcovers... a classic shabby chic look. You can hand drapes around your daybed. These drapes are a bit sheer and won't totally hide your bed, but they can give it more of a simplified, streamlined look.

Nicamaka Casablanca Twin - White
Nicamaka Casablanca Twin - White
Sheer white curtains to put around your bed or daybed.

Shabby Chic: a World of Variety

Is More Less --or Is it More?

(When You're Going Small)

This picture, found in Flickr Creative Commons, said "stuff in my studio". I'm not sure she meant studio apartment, but I can see it working in that setting. Doesn't that hanging cherry blossom arrangement say cozy (as opposed to cluttered?) I am thinking of the little fake cherry tree my parents had when I was a teenager. It's not normally the sort of thing would imagine in a studio apartment... but...

I think part of the key is that things need to hang together (in theme or general appearance). Here the colors contribute to a cozy, coordinated look.

It's also good if the items are functional -- that bottles and containers aren't just décor, but are actually holding something. I'm not sure if these are -- but they easily could be.

Elegant Storage Bench

There are lots of storage benches out there, but some are more elegant in appearance than others. Here's a fancy one with arm rests and a skirt. The reviewer notes that there are two storage areas: the seat itself and the area under the skirt. I see it as a practical option for a very tiny studio. I envision the longer legged storage benches in a studio that's a tad larger.

Appearance-wise, it reminds me a bit of a sofa. Of course it's not one: a fact that one would become very aware of when lounging about! It may be just about as close as a person could comfortably come to having the sofa look, though, in a studio apartment as petite as mine. (Petite seats for petite places.)

This storage bench comes in several colors including ivory, rose, and brown. At a little over $200, it's a more expensive piece than some, but I like how it serves three different functions.

A Focal Point

Small spaces benefit from large décor. In a modern room, it might be a big screen TV or a large piece of framed art. In a shabby chic apartment, it could be a large quilt hanging on the wall.

In my mini-studio, it's the dollhouse. It was bought as a shell at the thrift store (sans windows and other details that are normally included in kits). Much has been done to it, but it's still missing some things -- yup, it's a bit shabby, but not frou frou. The exterior faces outward, so it's not a cluttered look. It takes up no floor space and is multipurpose, serving also to section the room. Behind the dollhouse is an area for crafting and purposeful clutter: a studio within a studio.

Closed Storage: Cabinets or Baskets?

Learning (slowly) about scale and design

I don't have a hutch; I'm using a repainted shelving unit instead. Baskets aren't quite as clean and neat as closed wooden cabinets -- and my 'after' picture may well be someone else's 'before'. There is a little more mismatch here than I would choose (just a little!) The basket at the bottom was designed as a wall shelf and doesn't fit very well. My shelves may not be ready for the cover of "Shabby House Beautiful", but this display does look nicer than having random small objects on the shelves. Too many little objects makes a space look small and cluttered unless they are put together in some kind of pattern or design.

Scale and proportion in large scale space: this is something I've learned slowly. I've always had good aesthetic sense when it comes to small items. I can refinish a small object like a picture frame or a dollhouse and it will have the intended look. But arranging a full-size room... that's a slightly different skill. I can look at a picture of my living space and see clutter, but up until I take the picture, chances are good I haven't noticed.

I tend to zoom in on details and miss the whole. But I can learn the elements of design by looking at pictures and reading.

Shabby or Not?

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    • SusanRDavis profile image

      Susan R. Davis 

      8 years ago from Vancouver

      what great ideas. I'm forwarding this to a friend who has a small space.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      200 sq ft!? Wow i lived in bigger places in Tokyo..

    • LaurisB LM profile image

      LaurisB LM 

      8 years ago

      Yup! Love shabby chic - although I don't think it's quite my style. Of course I don't know what my style is either!

    • GoGirl2012 profile image


      8 years ago

      some great tips, thankyou

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I'm surprised I haven't stumbled across this lens before since I love the shabby chic look so much. Great lens full of great ideas ~blessed~

    • KateHonebrink profile image


      8 years ago

      I think the shabby chic look offers a great opportunity to mix styles, fabrics and finishes to great effect. It's one of my very favorite styles! Great lens!

    • LesleyOC profile image


      8 years ago

      Its interesting how tastes change over time, and interesting how one style can mean different things to different people.

      To me, the whole flower thing is quite inseparable from shabby chic, and while I hate matchy matchy (now, I didn't when younger) I use it as a way to get lots of pieces of furniture that wouldn't go together, to, well, match.

      Loved the lens.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      8 years ago from Colorado

      I really like shabby chic. I tend to love distressed items that exude a special history. Each item has a story to tell. I'm much more eclectic these days. When I was younger, first starting out as a teacher, my apartments and homes were much more "matchy matchy" in style. I like my mellow décor these days.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 

      8 years ago from Ljubljana

      Shabby Chic looks great to me. Space shortage is always great challenge, so we need every good idea to make best choices.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I love Shabby CHic but I find it too expensive for me. I f you make it yourself it's great! Love your lens just the same :)

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 

      8 years ago from Land of Aloha

      I'm an eclectic gal, so I do have a few shabby pieces mixed in with the rest of the stuff. It is a challenge trying to keep small spaces stylish and uncluttered at the same time. Looks and sounds like you've got it under control. :)

    • OzGirl LM profile image

      OzGirl LM 

      8 years ago

      We live in a very small house, and I find storage is always a dilemma. I'm going to be renovating our spare bedroom, hoping to make it my creative haven. I've read a lens about "white color schemes" tonight and now yours on the shabby chic look. I'm going to combine some of these ideas to make my spare room more pleasant for me, and help motivate me to be creative when I'm in there! Loved your lens.

    • HomeArtist1 profile image

      Wendy Hughes 

      8 years ago from Charlotte

      Small spaces are a challenge; you don't want to put too much in, but where does one put everything without sacrifice? Thanks for the lens!



    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Lovely lens. Lots of good ideas.

    • Grasmere Sue profile image

      Sue Dixon 

      9 years ago from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK

      I love your lens! It's full of personality. as well as lots of great ideas. "Blessed"

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 

      9 years ago from UK

      I'm smiling at Susanna's comment, glad to see you have more chic than shabby here. You've come up with ideas not just for making the most of what could be a cramped space but for giving it plenty of personality too!

    • Franksterk profile image

      Frankie Kangas 

      9 years ago from California

      I like the pretty bag as storage and hiding the day bed with pretty drapes. Excellent lens with great ideas. Bear hugs, Frankster

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I used to watch Small Spaces, Big Style on HGTV. Now it's cancelled :( There's something about small homes I like and perhaps I would have one if not for 3 kids. Great suggestions. Love the creativity and photos. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 

      9 years ago from Concord VA

      I love this style. I especially like the framed floral art and the shelves with basket storage.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 

      9 years ago from San Francisco

      I like how the handmade/hand painted items you added became a theme around the shell lamp. Couldn't get the videos to load, so will have to return another time because I'd love to see them.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      9 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Sounds like you have a handle on fitting things into a small space. I moved from a 3-BR, 2B, 2-car garage HOUSE to a 2-BR apartment last Fall. Even though I 'downsized' before I moved, my perception of the ratio of 'stuff' to 'available space' was definitely off! I'm now trying to 'weed' out and 'make do' with a lot less than what I was used to. Not impossible, just a 'shift in perspective'. Still working on it. :-).

    • chezchazz profile image


      9 years ago from New York

      Not too shabby :-)

      Blessed by the Home Décor Squid Angel. Added to "Wing-ing it on Squidoo," our tribute page to some of the best lenses we've found on squidoo.

    • Paul Ward profile image


      9 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Nicely done (room and lens)

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Love the look of Shabby Chic for an apartment, room, or whole house. Blessed by the Interior Design Angel.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 

      9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      My place is overall shabby, not too much of the chic


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