How do you turn your tiny studio into a relaxing sanctuary? You’ll find out in this home reveal that there’s no space too small to dress up for your own comfort!
Seeking interior design help
Sometime late last year, I got a Facebook message from one of my old classmates in grade school. It was a pleasant surprise to hear from her (we hadn’t seen each other since grade 6!), and more so that she was looking to hire me to fix up her newly turned over studio unit. She and her husband were planning on placing it on Airbnb for short-term rental, so they wanted nice, Airbnb-pretty interiors with minimal renovation.
The Interior Design Brief
The space: A tiny, 20-square meter studio unit with a basic galley kitchen, T&B, and a divider for the bedroom
The residents: Owned by a husband-and-wife tandem who wanted to rent it out on Airbnb
The goal: Make it look Airbnb-appealing, comfortable, and retain the relaxing feel and character of her unit’s location (it’s right across the expansive swimming pool, and outside its lone window is a beautifully landscaped garden).
When you enter the unit, the first thing you see is its small, galley kitchen, with builder-grade (read: blah) cabinets.
There’s really not much space to move around in. Walk a few steps and you get to the living “room”.
Across the living area is space for a dining area, and perhaps a TV wall.
The bathroom is also very basic: beige tiles, off-white walls, chrome fixtures.
The divider, while marking off a private area for a bedroom, makes the space feel a bit more cramped than it already is.
I didn’t actually walk much while taking pictures. I was just turning around in place. LOL.
My clients didn’t want to tear down the divider anymore, didn’t feel the need to change out the finishes (flooring, bathroom and kitchen fixtures). But they agreed to let me add some lighting, and paint some of the walls for a little widening effect.
They also didn’t want to spend much on custom furniture, so I was supposed to just have a closet built for the bathroom (to store cleaning materials, a broom, and mop) and get everything else from retail.
My Design Components
Thanks to the condominium’s name (something to do with plants ha ha), I went for a Tropical Sanctuary feel for my design. I used to be a frequent user of Airbnb, so I was at least knowledgable in the things the studio would need to accommodate short-term guests. Definitely, a vacation-like environment would make it a five-star Airbnb location.
First, I needed to figure out how to arrange the furniture. That’s where I always start, as it is the element of interior design that I feel would most impact a room’s inhabitants.
They initially wanted a combined living and dining area, a place where guests can park their luggage, and storage, storage, storage.
In order to do this, I needed to look through my usual sources if they had pieces that would fit into the space and the aesthetic that I was going for. That helped me map out a draft of the furniture plan.
After further refining it with my client, we eventually ended up with this furniture layout:
Since we had to work with the condo unit’s existing palette of beiges and warm wood tones, I wanted to cool it down a bit with shades of green and gray. While contrasts normally work to liven up or energize a space, in this case, the cool colors would tone down too much warmth, which isn’t relaxing at all.
(I mean, we already live in very hot climate as it is, so why add insult to injury, right???)
I created mood boards for each area of the unit, to give my clients a better visual representation of what I wanted for their space.
In the kitchen, I felt going three-tone with white overhead cabinets would temper down the warmth of the existing natural-wood bottom cabinets and black granite countertop.
TIP: To bridge the seeming divide between white overhead cabinets and the black counter-and-wood-cabinet combo, I recommend installing a tile backsplash containing those three hues to make a more cohesive visual.
But since installing tile backsplash would have meant a major renovation (we would have had to chip the wall before installing ceramic or porcelain tile, not to mention affect our budget), we went with sticker tiles from Stiles.ph. I picked the Haba Onyx sticker tiles from their catalogue.
Here’s my rough sketch of the kitchen.
For the living and dining area, I was initially planning to have a small sofa bed, a gateleg table, and a sideboard for added storage and surface, perhaps as a coffee bar of sorts.
Mirror tiles, as we all know, would help make the space feel visually more expansive, as well as reflect off more of the available light, which came from the bedroom’s lone window.
My clients eventually decided to do away with the sideboard, and we instead had a floating dining counter made and in turn, freed up floor space in the tight living area.
We also went against hanging wall planters on the divider, as it is made of PVC and would have made it challenging for us to hang anything. So to add more “greenery”, I sourced a green high-pile rug and matched it with throw pillows with botanical prints.
For the toilet and bath, I wanted to extend the same vacation-like feel, so I went with white and wood implements, punctuated by faux greens.
I would have wanted a humidity-loving plant in the bathroom, but since the owners wouldn’t be able take care of it, fake plants will do.
I also eventually changed out my shower curtain with something more botanical, as it tied up the bathroom with the rest of the unit’s theme.
In the bedroom, I went with all-white furniture, but I had four-tone stripes painted on the three walls to add more interest and width.
The bed took up a lot of real estate, so I sourced a wall lamp (a shelf lamp, actually). My clients also decided that instead of a luggage rack, they would rather have a closet and a desk. So we looked at closets with mirrored cabinets, just so the piece wouldn’t feel too imposing, which would have made the tiny bedroom feel even more cramped.
The Final Look
It was just supposed to be a one-week renovation, with only paint, cabinetry, and minor electrical works. Some problems with the contractor pushed our schedule back by a few more weeks. Deliveries of all the furniture and appliances also took a bit of time, but finally, we were able to complete the unit last week.
And here you have it: The Tiny Tropical Sanctuary!
I love how the Haba Onyx sticker tile backsplash bridged all the grays and blacks from the appliances and counter with the warm wood tones of the cabinets and the light beige walls.
A caveat though: Sticker tiles use a heavy-duty adhesive, but extreme heat would still cause the adhesive to weaken over time. So I gave my client a tube of Selley’s High-Strength Liquid Nails in Clear (available at True Value, Ace Hardware, or any other home or builder’s depot). In case the adhesive wears off, they can easily repair with this nail-less, construction-grade glue.
Green glasses (from SM Store) add a bit of color on the white shelves, but as a gift, I gave my clients a set of 4 cactus-shaped tumblers with straws, to add even more color and playfulness to the kitchen. I got those on a whim from True Value, but I think they look pretty awesome in the kitchen cabinets.
The soap dispensers, dish, and holder are made of plastic and bamboo, which I got from SM Store. I’ve used them in another project, and also have a set of my own, I love them so much haha. They’re not that expensive too, so win!
The dining counter is custom-made, and reinforced inside with a thick metal frame (I made sure my architect-contractor would double-check the design, for safety reasons!). We went with a laminate finish that closely matches the bedroom’s divider.
It’s wide enough to fit three stools. I wanted a barstool with adjustable height, and the Gatsby bar stools from Mod Living seemed perfect for the space, with its natural-wood seat and muted gold legs. The seat height can be adjusted by screwing it up or down.
For the living room, we bought the compact Carrie twin sofabed from Furniture Source. It not having arms helped us maximize the space by making two persons comfortably sit on the sofa without having to bump elbows.
And because it’s a sofa bed, the unit could fit an additional 1 adult, or perhaps, 2 kids.
I love the green Hampen rug, also from Furniture Source, as it gives the unit a more tropical jungle feel. The botanical-print throw pillow covers and inserts are from SM Store.
The Kvistbro table also doubles as storage—perhaps for a throw blanket, or books that guests would be interested in leafing through. The pendant lamps are a steal from Home Cartel (linked here are the larger versions—I think the small version we bought is already sold out as of today.)
The mirror tiles are also from Furniture Source, called Hexxa mirror tiles. Half of the set comes in bronze, and the other half is made of silver mirrors. I loved how this, um, “mirrored” our palette combination of hot and cool tones.
Instead of a washing machine (there was no need since the condo building has a laundry shop on the ground floor), we built a tall closet in the laundry nook inside the bathroom and affixed it to the wall. This would store all household materials, like a broom, mop, and multi-purpose cleaners.
The Fullen mirror with shelf from Furniture Source gave us an additional surface for toiletry holders, and of course, the faux plant.
And don’t you just love the leaf-print shower curtain from H&M?
In the bedroom, the wall stripes lengthen the sight line, and thus doesn’t make the bed feel like it’s stuffed in its little corner (even if it really is).
We bought those leaf prints as digital downloads from Etsy seller Once Upon a Paper Co., and had them framed with white 8R frames with matting from Wilcon Home Essentials.
TIP: I find that it’s almost always better to go with frames with matting—that thick cardboard border inside the frame—to make your photos and prints look a bit more customized. It’s a tiny detail that adds a bit more luxury to the overall look.
We went with combi shades in a fabric color that is similar to the walls, to continue the horizontal-striped visual.
A shelf lamp from Lucendi was a great space-saving buy: I love that it has a built-in lamp for bedside reading, and a small surface from which you could park your cellphone or book. It even has a USB port underneath, so you could charge your phone or tablet more conveniently!
The small desk is the Micke personal desk from Ikea, again ordered from Furniture Source. We matched it with a gray upholstered chair to break up all the beiges and olives in the bedroom.
The two-door Pax Vikedal wardrobe from Ikea featured mirrored doors that caused the wardrobe to visually disappear—a great trick since it made the bedroom not feel so tight.
There you go! Our tiny tropical studio sanctuary 🙂
What do you think? Do you also have a small space that you would love to refresh or redecorate? Toggle over to my contact page and shoot me an email. Let’s collaborate!
All photos and design by Camyl Besinga.