How I Turned A Challenging 400Sqft House Into A Pinterest-Worthy Pad
Updated: Feb 15, 2020
In my last post, I mentioned the challenge of finding a nice penthouse for me, the boyfriend and my two dogs. Next challenge was how to turn this tiny excuse of a penthouse into a functional, good looking and comfortable space, without spending a bomb since this was a rental property.
To be honest, I love me a good home makeover challenge, self-imposed as it is. The thought of ‘before’ photos and then those magical, unbelievable ‘after’ photos is a bloody good motivator. In my mind, I’m an interior designer even if not by profession. So a couple of months, a few thousand rupees, much internet browsing and countless trips to the nookiest corners of the city later, I finally have a house I can truly call my own..for a while (even if it’s rented) And even if I say so myself, it doesn’t really look like it’s in a quiet bylane in Hyderabad, but maybe a Manhattan street. So its rent is nowhere close to an NYC apartment, but its size and the design inspiration somewhat is. Let’s break down how doing up the house with such a limited space, a limited budget, and an uncertain tenure in the house panned out. But before that, check out the “Before” photos of the house here.
1. Challenge: Doing up the tiniest ‘living room’ you’ve ever seen
The living room ended before it started. It hardly measured 150 x 150 sq.ft and we had a sold challenge at hand. Where does the sofa go? Can we have a central table without hitting our shins every time we crossed the room? Would the dogs have enough room to move around? A dining table was out of the question. I knew that most of my time was going to be spent lounging on the sofa in front of the TV or with the laptop. A good and roomy sofa was non-negotiable, yet we needed one that was sleek enough to fit in the living room without overcrowding it. Thankfully, furniture makers are thinking right these days, and we managed to find a perfect grey 3-seater in our budget that was compact, had clean edges and yet was spacious enough for one person to lie flat on. The thing with grey sofas is that you can then use a burst of colors in the accessories, making a perfect offset of colors against a dull color as opposed to colors + colors. So I loaded it up with cushions of various sizes, and patterns, and accessorized it with a tribal print rug.
2. The TV situation
Thanks to having 3 corners of the house that were punctured by a door or an opening, all we had was one solid wall which seemed like the only option to put the TV on. But this conflicted with the idea of having the sofa against the wall for maximum open space in the living room. So some rules had to be twisted. The TV was luckily small and hence fit quite cozily in a corner where the bedroom and living room walls met, forming a triangle. The sofa was put up against the wall, making for a slightly diagonal TV viewing, but heck, I’d take that over the sofa floating aimlessly in the center of the room.
3. The impossible dining table
Most conventional houses are either L-shaped to make for a nice sofa set + dining table arrangement or at least long enough to accommodate both. We had a square room for both living and dining. Fitting a dining table here was out of the question. However, eat 3 times a day we must, and just the thought of holding a plate in our hands and eating and messing up the sofa or worse, on the floor depressed me. So how to still have a dining table was the trickiest challenge in the house. However, genius struck soon enough and it was time yet again to defy conventional wisdom. Since there was a corner by the window, and next to the kitchen, it made for an ideal spot for a little dining area. Some Pinterest-inspiration helped, and I got a custom ‘breakfast table’ designed, which was 1/5th of a regular dining table. This was a 18′ * 16′ table, even smaller than a study table, but it could hold 2-3 plates side by side and some accessories quite comfortably. For seating, instead of bulky chairs, I opted for 2 stools which could slide under the table, which I upholstered at home myself. To offset the rustic and basic look of the table and wood stools, I got a modern Eames-replica 4-POD base chair from Urban Ladder. And voila, we had a little cosy ‘chai corner’ by the window, which added an uber-stylish and contemporary look to the apartment. Plus, the window had a 3″ inch wide ledge which made it perfect to keep some books on, saving even more space in the bargain.
4. Covering up the eyesores
An essential part of good decor to me is not just filling up only perfectly open spaces with stuff, but also hiding up the ugly spots while without losing any of the functionality. The wall with the window had an electric meter box jutting out awkwardly over one corner of the window, and a long badly rusted tube light holder strode over the window and the door, making for an eyesore. But a bit of unconventional thinking fixed that problem. Instead of using the curtain rod on the window, I nailed the curtain hooks almost a foot above the window in a way that hid both the tube light and the meter box. I used door length curtains from FabIndia, and a hardened branch of a tree I picked up on the road for a curtain rod, giving it a touch of earthen chic. An industrial style lamp from Pepperfry in a corner and a Madhubani painting completed the look.
Since all the big spaces in the room were taken up by the sofa, the TV and the dining counter respectively, the only place some accessories could make their way in was the corners and the walls. So intending to infuse some freshness and also some drama in an otherwise somber and small space, I got an indoor palm plant in the corner next to the loo (made for easy watering) and a home-made lamp and a tripod stool in another. A few Madhubani paintings and framed photos from my own travels, arranged in a grid accentuated the soda wall. This corner industrial lamp from Pepperfry was one of my favourite accessories and the only source of lighting in the living room.
5. The bedroom
The bedroom, unlike the living room, wasn’t screaming for space, even though it was not a ‘master bedroom’ by any stretch. It was a fairly standard size room, the only challenge being it was longer than wider. So nothing could flank the bed, which did away with side tables or any floor lamps. However there was a good 10 feet of linear space at the bottom of the bed, which could be used to keep a study table, a dressing area, and our air cooler, without which the house would’ve roasted us to death. The choice of the bed was clear. It had to be a minimal bed without any patterns, or weird shapes that stuck out. So, we got a basic headstand-less bed in rustic wood, and got its height shortened by about 4 inches to make the walls look longer, and in the process give an illusion of a bigger room. We used the area by the window for a sleek computer table to keep the laptops, and instead of a dressing table which would claim more space, got an intricate mirror with a matching wall mounted shelf.
6. The Kitchen
The kitchen although small, wasn’t strapped for space. It was just enough for 2 people. Au contraire, for its size it was quite well-done, and had all the basics in place. Heck, it even had the compartmentalised-drawers for keeping cutlery and other utensils in. I didn’t have to do much in the kitchen, except give it a good clean and do away with the not-in-use stuff. I used the window sill to display my favorite ceramic ware and a bunch of herb plants. Another little charming addition to the kitchen was this discarded “packing pallet” (Man I love pallets!) off the road, and suddenly the kitchen magically grew all this space to keep stuff on, without taking up additional space!
6. The entrance area
To me, house entrance areas are almost as important as the interiors themselves. They set a tone of what to expect inside and induce a feel-good feeling as you come back home after a long stint outside. Luckily, since we were the only residents on this floor, the world or the area around the house, was our oyster. First off, we had to fence off our house and the terrace area in for the dogs. Without a fence, our dogs would be all over the colony, if they made it alive past one hour of roaming unleashed. So, for the fence, we used a simple pallet we found at a construction site nearby. The walls were lined with outdoor plants, mostly varieties of succulents and cacti thanks to being heat-resistant. A Mandala-style wrought iron planter was nailed on the wall next to the door and a string of solar fairy lights was used to line up the door, making for an eco-friendly and pretty entrance light.
7. The terrace
Finally, the terrace of the cincher for this area. Since the terrace was huge, and subject to harsh sun by the day and strong winds by the night, doing anything too elaborate was pointless. It had to be basic, and yet functional enough for us to spend some time at. To kill the plain, sombre look of the terrace I got a tree-sized plant for one corner, and used a basic mattress arrangement at the centre for those lounging sessions under the sky. A couple of wooden pallets were placed to be used as tables and even seating. A 100-metre long string of Solar LED lights was used for illumination. Lovely amber sunsets and full moons took care of the rest.
It did take some thinking, some effort, and lots of ‘Jugaad’ to work around the tiny space, but the process was satisfying for the same reason. I now believe that any house, any space can look good, and be functional if you’re willing to put in the work, and of course, a creative streak helps.