Better late than never, right? This project has been kicking my upcycling butt, but I finally made enough progress to report back.

We’re talking about the tattered dresser makeover project, which is now mid-cycle in the upcycle process. I’m liking the new design and modern look but color choice is, ah, remaining elusive.

For such a small dresser, it’s quite finicky. I brought home at least six paint samples that were all rejected. The dark colors and the light colors looked jarring in such a small room, so I looked for midtones. I finally found a contender, but now after a first coat the color isn’t living up to its swatchy promises.

See the dresser below trying on the interim color. I think it makes the wall look too yellow. The walls actually look browner away from the purple-toned dresser. When the project is finally done, with a different color I think, I’ll show before and after shots.

Dresser with new paint, legs, and knobs.

This dresser redo has added legs and new knobs but hasn’t settled on a final color yet.

Did I mention that painting and upcycling furniture is harder than it looks? The design blogs make it look so easy! But I’m certain that after I straighten out that nasty learning curve, it’ll get much easier. Stay tuned.

 

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where the cost of living goes up every second. I phoned a nearby store that sells unfinished pine dressers in various sizes and will even make them to order. They quoted about $400 for a small, unfinished pine dresser with three or four drawers. And I would still have to paint it myself! Needless to say, I continued looking for a used one.

Upcycling Challenges

I looked for weeks to find an old dresser to upcycle but wasn’t having any luck. I need a piece that is counter-height and as wide as the wall outside my kitchen, so my needs are pretty specific. My best-laid plans are to slide it over and use it as extra counter space for big cooking extravaganzas (hah!).

My persistence paid off. I finally found this old pine dresser on Craigslist that was the exact width I was looking for. The wall is 25 inches wide and the dresser is 3/4 of an inch smaller. I paid $15. The dresser is shorter in height than I need but that’s OK because I can add legs to raise and modernize it.

Photo of a small dresser in need of a makeover.

Upcycling dresser project—This small no-frills dresser needs repair and a makeover. It’ll be taller and snazzier but not too proud to act as extra work space for the kitchen.

Dressing Up the Dresser

The complete makeover will include painting, replacing knobs, repairing broken drawers, and adding legs. Oh and I might add a glass top to avoid scratching the surface.

Check back soon for the results.

 

Believe it or not, my tiny kitchen lost six linear inches of counter and cabinet space. I had to agree to this to get a new refrigerator. As you know, I had hoped to add counter and cabinet space, not remove it. It seems irony was just waiting to pounce on The Tiny Apartment’s weakest point.

My old 20-inch Frostman refrigerator was a disaster. It froze things in the fridge section and, living up to its name, covered everything in the freezer with a layer of frost. I kept the temp high so it wouldn’t freeze everything in the fridge, but then everything in the freezer didn’t freeze.

Photo of the sink before the new fridge was installed.

My dish rack before the new fridge. How spacious!

Apparently, 20-inch fridges are a thing of the retro past. To fit a new 24-inch frost-free fridge, the crew had to saw away part of the surrounding cabinet. Ouch! That hurts in a kitchen this size. And now I have to move everything around because the counter that held my dish rack has vanished. Losing that little counter space has thrown off the entire kitchen layout.

On the bright side, I have a functioning refrigerator, albeit bigger than I need, and now I can keep ice cream in the freezer. I guess my days of single-serving pints are over. As they should be.

Photo of sink and new fridge minus the left counter space and dish drainer.

Oh no! No more tiny counter space to hold the tiny dish rack. C’est la vie!

In my previous post, I presented one-piece furniture options for both sleeping and sitting.

I’d almost decided on a convertible sofa (see example of how one works) until I realized the footprint would squeeze out room for a coffee table (as I may have mentioned, my place is teeny tiny). I stumbled upon a suitable piece from Scandinavian Designs that seems to defy categorization (see pic below). Is it a daybed, a chaise, or as the company calls it, a chaise futon? It really has no resemblance to a futon. To me, it’s a cross between a chaise and a daybed, but let’s agree to call it a chaise.

Hybrid chaise lounge and daybed with small footprint.

Hybrid chaise/daybed with a small footprint.

Enough Room for a Coffee Table

The chaise is only 30 inches deep, which leaves plenty of floor space for a coffee table and ottoman. Although the carbon footprint is larger than I’d like, the physical footprint is perfect. In all the browsing I’d done, both online and brick and mortar, it was the smallest, lightest, and most versatile. While it wasn’t my first choice for sitting comfort (no backrest), its practicality won out.

The top folds out to queen size if I ever need extra sleeping space. But for now, I lay a cushy piece of natural latex foam over it to sleep. I’m brainstorming storage ideas for the foam—turns out latex is heavy, making it bulky and cumbersome to roll up and store. I could find lighter options, but I already own this foam and it’s super comfy. And natural latex is cleaner and healthier than lighter, more processed options such as memory foam. I also have a wool/cotton topper, but it’s actually heavier and bulkier than the latex foam.

Is Blue a Big or Small Color?

Of three eye-popping colors, I chose turquoise. Even though it’s bright and brilliant, the color is less obtrusive than red or purple in a small space. Plus I just like the color.

Some small-space designers advocate light or neutral colors to maximize the feel of a space. But other designers disagree. In any case, I didn’t have many choices in this size footprint, so I’ll work with the color whatever the effect.

Good Fit and Find

Overall, the combination sofa and bed is a great choice for a very small space or as an extra sleeping space in a guest room or office. If I must say so myself, good find!

In my micro-studio I have room for a sofa or a bed but not both. One piece of furniture that serves both functions seemed like the best solution. Here were the choices and pros and cons of each:

  • Sofabed—A traditional fold-out sofabed is labor-intensive to operate, the mattresses aren’t the most comfortable, and the footprint can be deeper than other options. But they do have a back and arms, the best for sitting comfort
  • Convertible sofa—A sofa with a click-clack fold-down back is less labor-intensive to operate than a sofabed, but folding it down can require moving it out from the wall or letting it sit out permanently a few inches from the wall (in my studio, every square inch is vital space)
  • Futon—Futons are bulky and clunky to operate. I don’t mind sleeping on a futon, but I don’t like sitting on the steep angle in upright position
  • Daybed—A daybed usually lacks a built-in back and arms, making it the worst choice for sitting comfort. But they’re user-friendly for sleeping and you can find them with shallow footprints
  • Traditional bed—I could have gone the obvious-bed-in-the-studio route and loaded up a small bed with bolster cushions and pillows, but I preferred a living room aesthetic over a bedroom one

To my earlier point, furnishing a tiny space is not a tiny task! I think I could have written the entire Wikipedia in the time it took to suss out a solution. Next, I’ll show you what I found.

 

Close-up of the kitchen counter

The tiny kitchen’s counter space (not shown are two tiny parcels to the left of the sink and right of the stove top).

The back wall in the kitchen is just crying out for open shelving, right? Below the wall is the only counter space to speak of. There’s little room for food preparation, especially after a few small appliances stake their territory. Open shelving will help keep clutter off the counter and will also solve the problem of no overhead cabinets.

I’ve been brainstorming some solutions (see below). In this tiny kitchen, I may want to try them all.

TINY APARTMENT SOLUTIONS

Problem: Kitchen needs counter space and is too small for an island.

Solutions:

  • Cover the sink or an open drawer with a large cutting board to create an extra work surface (easy! see pic below; hey, what happened to my vintage cutting board that pulls out from under the countertop?)
  • Keep a mobile cart outside the kitchen and roll it over for temporary counter space (easy, but requires giving up precious space in the main room)
  • Build a lightweight, removable countertop that spans part of the open space and props against the counter on either side (requires some time and effort to build; I’ll make a quick cardboard prototype and show you later)
  • Add shelves on the wall to keep things off the counter (with these vintage plaster walls, may require some time and effort)
Photo of cutting board and sink.

A large cutting board covers the sink to act as temporary counter space.

 

You won’t go far when you walk into my kitchen, but at least you’re physically out of the main room (not so in some studios). Even though it feels more like a walk-in closet than a kitchen, it’s actually sort of charming, kind of like a little play kitchen. I don’t think I’ll be doing any serious cooking here, but it’s great for making coffee (my #1 priority) and preparing light meals.

Overview of kitchen

Not ready for the big reveal, here’s the kitchen on move-in day. It’s roughly 30 square feet.

Full List of Amenities

  • Two-burner hotplate
  • Apartment-sized refrigerator (not frost free! do they even make these anymore?)
  • Pull-out sink sprayer
  • Convenient U-shaped configuration
  • Hardwood floors
  • Window over sink with view of trees, bottle brush buckeye, and hummingbirds
  • Takes about two minutes to clean

You may have noticed no oven on the list. It’s true. I have no oven of any kind. Next on my shopping list is a small convection oven.

View of kitchen window and refrigerator.

A window over the sink—one of life’s simple pleasures.

Photo of two-burner stove.

Nifty built-in counter-top stove.

For the record, my studio isn’t one of those fancy transformer apartments with “flexible features.” Those micro marvels hide or disguise amenities until you’re ready to use them.

Old radiator used as a plant stand.

The radiator in my vintage studio transforms into a plant stand for most of the year.

My studio is what you see is what you get. It’s big on vintage charm and character but tiny on amenities. I’m still looking for that magic button that reveals my oven and bathtub!

The vintage radiator/plant stand (right) looks cute now; I hope I still think so when it clocks in for work this winter. Vintage radiators often whine and protest vociferously if they have to do anything but sit there and look cute. (The noise might make for some nice sound art, but I’m a light sleeper).

This building was built early last century. It’s unusual I think, in that the majority of units are studio apartments. Most of the studios are small enough to qualify as micro, but a handful are junior studios (like mine), which are even smaller. I wonder if they were once larger and were later split into smaller units. More on that story later as updates come in.

Transformer Apartments
Here’s two apartments that do magic tricks:

  • It’s amazing what this Barcelona studio dweller has done with 237 square feet, although I think opening and closing the doors every day might drive me nuts.
  • I love this apartment in Paris where the bathtub is hidden under the dining room table! The veranda is a perfect extension of the living space.

Sourcing product for the home is no simple task. Besides a nice lunch break talking shop (writing and editing) with my friend Ann, I spent most of yesterday browsing, procuring, and working on items for my new apartment.

One might think that in such a small space, outfitting it would be quick and easy. But so far it seems the opposite. With such limited space, every item that enters the space must serve its intended purpose (there’s no room for loiterers) and also be pleasing to look at (most things will always be in my line of sight).

I am trying to reuse what I’ve already got if it works. In the coming days, I’ll share some of my old and new finds.