studio apartment ideas 101

{ 10 essential tips for moving in on a budget }

This post has been brewing for two months, I guess, owing to the fact that I haven't been able to capture the atmosphere I wanted to convey in the pictures that should adorn it. After coming back from New York the past week, though, and as it mostly happens after a mind broadening experience, be it feeling the vibe of a new city or simply watching a really good film, I felt compelled to change my life. Of course that with that I wasn't straigh thinking about my flat, especially considering that I've moved in just a couple of months ago, but sometimes a small change may go a long way. Sometimes, even though you may not know it, moving some furniture around is all you need to instantaneously feel more inspired and at peace with yourself and your surroundings.

This is going to be quite a long post! Here you can find an architect's insight and personal experience of moving into an empty studio apartment, some - I hope - inspiring pictures and 10 essential tips to start with when you're moving in on a budget. Because moving and furnishing a house can be a quite overwhelming task, but that doesn't mean you can't do it!

This post today is only about the basic first steps of moving in and the tips are general indications on what you must not miss! If you like this post, I may make a series of them with more detailed thoughts and tips on how to fill in the blanks after you have the basics: how to organize your studio apartment and make it look nice and neat. That may include some furniture shopping tips, some decoration tips, whatever you'ld like to see - leave your requests in the comments!

I moved into a bare studio apartment in the beginning of May. I had lived alone in a studio apartment before, but this was the first time I was moving into an empty place. I remember that I sort of fell in love with the place immediately the first time I visited. The entrance had a quite cool vibe, painted in a deep shade of wine. To the left, a separate brand new kitchen, which was nice, cozy and made my delight, for it had an oven! To the right an equally brand new and very practically organized bathroom. Straight in front, the door to the actual room, which still had the furniture of the previous owner. I remember I immediately started taking measurements with my eyes, memorizing every corner, and that I would spend the next few weeks drawing plans of it in random pieces of paper and notebooks, at the same time scrolling down different retailers' webpages, trying to decide what I wanted to have in my new home.

The whole flat thing happened quite unexpectedly, and it was full of coincidences. My landlords come from Galiza, the region of Spain at the north of Portugal and that is the most connected with the portuguese, which was really, really nice. I randomly found their ad while scrolling down Facebook at a time that I'ld be usually working. It just so happened that I was home that day, sick, and that was the only way I was lucky enough to be on time for answering. Apartment hunting is ridiculously crazy here in Munich, so you have to be VERY fast. Since it all happened so fast, the move had to happen over the course of a week. I worked eight hours a day at the time, every day, which meant I had a very extenuating week. I am lucky to have some friends who I could count on for help, and I thank them deeply.

When I finally moved in, the very rainy night of the 30th of April, my dear friend Laura, who had helped me carrying the last bags, asked me if I would be okay there, and even offered her place for me to stay. I understood her concern. Looking around the room at that time, you wouldn't even see a mattress. Everything was still packed: from clothes to all the new furniture I had bought. The space felt like some very badly organized warehouse, but I was so incredibly happy to be on my own again that I didn't even care. I felt free, and excited for having a new project on my hands. That night, I unfolded the mattress over its plastic wrapping and assembled my loyal Lack table - I have had a white one since I moved out of my parents, and here in Munich it was also the first thing I bought, and have been carrying around ever since, which means it has found its place in four different flats! I made pasta with tomato sauce and ate it at the table, watching a film on my laptop, which sat over all the cardboard boxes from IKEA. I would eat all around the flat for two weeks - on the windowsill, on the bench I assembled myself, on the Kallax shelf I also put together alone, wherever, - until  kind Miriam came to help me assembling my heavy pinewood table.

A month passed by until I could finally say my flat was sort of ready. Yet I know it still isn't. I do like to think that a living space should be dynamic, and be able to sustain change and to gracefully mature over time. But in this case it is more practical than that: I still have a lamp to hang from the ceiling and the mirror I got for the bathroom sits on a shelve when it should be on the wall. I do want to have some chairs on the balcony still this summer. But all is good, because I feel comfortable here.

There are a lot of things I would like to change, or things that I feel that are not entirely sorted out yet, but that's part of the fun! I mean, if life was static, what would be driving us? It's good to always aim for a place that feels finished, organized, and consequent. Yet we tend to be drawn to a humane atmosphere, and being humane means being incomplete, imperfect and unfinished - and thriving for improvement. Let's not go much into this. I could go on talking about this for ages, since my 200 pages master thesis brings this issue up and I am already talking against the ideas of one of the architects I most admire. I'll keep it short. Our homes are an extension of ourselves. So, for as much as I love modern architecture, minimalist homes and the careful placement of furniture of Mies van der Rohe... we are not designing a house from scratch. We are - literaly - moving in, fitting in. So settle in. Then embrace the imperfection of your home as you would your own. It makes it cozy. At the same time, do keep it neat and orderly, and you'll find yourself in a much peaceful state of mind, and even place in life. Shape your living space as to reflect who you are and your interests, and you'll encounter fulfilment everytime you get back home.

If you are like me and grew up living in a big house with lots of rooms and a big family, you may find yourself overwhelmed when faced with the task of furnishing a studio apartment from scratch: they are a completely different typology, they represent a whole new challenge - to think the home as a single room space. The idea of putting a bed next to a dining table naturally feels alien at first. It is not that easy to mix the privacy we usually relate with the bedroom with the overt character of a living area, yet both must now coexist in the same room. Even I - an architect - found myself in the midst of a dilemma when I was recently faced with the task of taking a barely 4 x 5 meters room (almost a square, and architects know this is the hardest shape to deal with) and making a sleeping-working-eating-living area out of it. And this is me, who has once come up with an assignment for a house out of a shipping container (6 x 2 m that included bathroom and kitchen!) I'm glad I got those two spaces separate and that I was left with a full 20 sqm to play with! This type of apartment, which is not all that common back home in Portugal, is actually a great solution in terms of housing, and is becoming widespread as wages go down and the percentage of single person households keeps increasing, especially in the big cities, where the rents are at its highest. It allows the inhabitant to not share the house with other people, while reducing the number of rooms and their area to a minimum, in order to keep the rent affordable.

As any twenty-year something trying to live out of their wages, my budget was not high, but neither did I want to simply go to IKEA and bring whichever  cheapest products they had. First, because sometimes the cheapest of a certain item in store is in reality not the cheapest one you can find there if you think outside the box. For instance, I made a closet out of a bookshelf and saved at least 100€. And second, I am an architect, and I am not a swede, which means I should be allergic to IKEA. I wanted my home to look unique, and not like I was living inside some of their showcases. On the other hand, I didn't want to buy everything second hand, both because I would end up with a mix-match-not-matching room (and in such a small space, that is kind of troublesome) and because the transport costs of the separate items would render the idea absolutely nonsense.

I was lucky to find an apartment with a complete kitchen - including an oven, which is obviously the holy grail to me - and bathroom, so I could spare myself from buying expensive appliances and keep the expenses to the living room, to some bathroom items and to kitchenware and accessories (which are actually not as inexpensive as one may suppose). I was also lucky to get such a nice studio, I have an entrance hall, a separate kitchen, wide windows, and I even have a balcony! But you can make these tips work in any kind of apartment, you must only take the most profit of what you get, according to your own personal views, tastes and demands.

So if you ever find yourself in the position of decorating a studio apartment, here are some tips I can hand out for now, both as an architect and a friend ;)

or how I provided my own with basically everything for under 1000€


1. Determine the size and shape of your studio apartment. Take note of windows and doors. Then take some time to feel the space.
This is a small room, I know. But even small rooms have their quirks. Spend some hours in the empty room, or visit it in different days and/or times of the day if you may. Walk around, sit here and there and envision the space. If you notice carefully, you will see that some areas get more light than others, some corners are cozier than others, maybe there will be a space that will immediately ask for something: like a dining table, or a couch. For instance, consider where you'ld rather have the sleeping area - away from the windows? away from the entrance door? - and if you have the need and room for some sort of hiding device or partitions - panels, curtains, shelves? Take detailed measurements too, so that you will know what fits and what doesn't - that includes the heigh of the ceiling, doors and windows! You should take this handmade plan shopping with you, may you find any unexpected situation.

2. Decide what you value the most in a home (sleeping area, eating area, living area, cooking area) and stick to that idea of yours.
Well... a studio apartment is a one room thing, but there's no reason why you need to feel like you're stuck in the same space forever when you get to spend a whole day at home - let's create different atmospheres here! The trick is to understand where to place each area and how they will connect. Having different sitting positions and directions, for instance, when you're at the dining table or sitting on the couch, will help. Having different light sources for each area will also do wonders - so keep that in mind while acquiring (several) lamps! The way they relate with windows, doors and corners also makes a difference. Placing the work space by the window, or taking profit of a corner to create a reading space, those things make a difference.

There is only one thing I guess every home has to have - a sleeping area. We spend a great deal of our lives sleeping, and hence a place to rest is an obvious must in any home. Besides that, you are finally free to arrange your home however you like. Couldn't care less about the eating area? Keep it small and simple! Can't imagine living without a special space for reading? Go for it! Value a living area with a couch above all? Make room for it! Love cooking? Invest in the kitchen area! Try to work more with what you love and keep all the rest to a minimum for starters. That way, you will feel faster at home in your new place.

3. Define a budget. Establish a list of priorities according to your defined values (see 2.) and merge both together.
Start with the basic needs: sleeping area with a bed frame and a good mattress (or deciding whether you'ld like to have a bed sofa), for instance, is the obvious first step.
Keep adding things according to how you will use your apartment, taking decisions on which percentage of your budget you are willing to spend with each area - cooking, eating, living, sleeping, closet - according to which areas of the house you give the most importance to. If you love eating and inviting people over, you may want to invest in a bigger table, or even an extensible one. And consider you may have to buy extra glasses - wine ones, maybe - and so on. If you love cooking or baking, spare some budget for appliances and cooking ware - you will need it for sure. If you love watching TV, consider that you will eventually want to have a television, together with a couch and maybe a carpet. If you value a good night of sleep over all, keep an eye on the need for thick (expensive) curtains and a very good mattress and linen. If you have a lot of clothes, like me, you will have to find a place to store them (and you may as well read "hide", as they will be in your living room!). Keep all the areas you care the least to a minimum of spending. Think practical too: for instance, some bookshelves may serve several purposes, from the obvious book storing to organizing clothing, packing boxes filled with things you want to keep out of sight or even divide the space. You may even reuse them for other purpose than the initial one later on. Some individual beds may even pass as couches. Some tables may serve for dining and working. Stools and benches are really versatile: they can sit guests, they can be a pedestal for your plants, they can be used to reach higher shelves or cabinets, they can make bedside tables, you can use some as an ottoman, just to name a few. Some may even be piled up, which saves space (our main aim here!), and you can find really inexpensive ones, so keep an eye on them.

At the same time, try to picture where you would like to have each area - Will the dining table look better by the window, or closer to the kitchen? Where can I fit a dressing area in the middle of this, and how can I make it look less obvious!? Will a couch fit here, or do I have to forget about it? - and determine what exactly you could fit in the chosen space. Make your choices wisely, check online stores to see how pricey your ideas will be - Will a shelf be an expensive solution to separate the bed from the living area? Can I afford a nice closet? Will a big table have room in my budget?

4. Don't forget the small stuff!
Disregarding all those small things with which we fill up a house can be one of the biggest mistakes you can make during this journey!! They may be small on their own, but together they take up a lot of space and they cost A LOT of money. Don't forget to count them in too (check some online shops to find their average price and take the opportunity to already mark up some good deals!). Know what you already have and check the space/storage/budget you will have for everything your planning to buy. I'm talking shower curtains, normal curtains, dustbins, boxes, pans and pots, silverware, glasses and dishes, clothes, carpets, linen, towels, whatever you may need! And once more, start by defining a list of priorities. Go though your daily routine and make a list of everything that strikes your mind. In the end, you may set some not-so-urgent things aside for later, like that carpet to place next to the bed, or the fancy linen you'ld like to have, as to adjust your shopping list to your budget.

5. Remember that when you find yourself shopping, you may realize you have forgotten something!
So keep a margin for those forgotten items within your budget!

6. This is a no brainer, but... Go online!
This is a basic rule of the 21st century. Have questions? Ask Google. I'm not kidding, you'll likely find whatever you're looking for! And it will save you time and money. Check online stores, second hand sales, facebook (here in Germany we have groups where people give furniture and other stuff away, how awesome is that!?)... and check the internet for ideas too: if you have a specific problem, just ask any good search engine! Check out more pages about furnishing studio apartments, go to pinterest, get into the world of furniture hacking...! If you wish, order your stuff online, or at least try to make your detailed shopping list while online, to save you a lot of time browsing real stores. Nowadays, there are a lot more options when it comes to low priced yet appealing design than just IKEA, so browse the web thoroughly. I got my couch and the lamp next to it at Made and Urban Outfitters also has some pretty cool home stuff. Zara Home is definitely one of my favourites and even H&M has it's own home collection.

7. Consider buying second hand... yet not the whole stock!
Second hand is great when you are on a budget, and you can find it both online and at local fleamarkets. Consider buying some items second hand - a vintage chest of drawers that you can paint white, a solid wooden table, some fine looking chairs - but refrain from over buying - don't fall for the cheap prices and stick to your list by all means! Space is also important. Try to select items that go well together, and that will look good with more modern ones. Some vintage products may be very expensive, so look for the best quality at the lowest prices. Avoid wood that looks mouldy and fabric items that cannot be washed, particularly if you have allergies like me. If you are lucky to find furniture giveaways, spend some time looking for those items you need and want to spend the least money with. If you see something you like in an online store, yet it is too pricey, try looking for it second hand online! Ebay is great for that.

8. If you can, get some friends to help.
Furnishing a home from scratch is not an easy task, and you may need at least some assurance. Ask advice to that friend you know you can always count on for honesty or... your mother! Take some friend shopping with you for help if you can. This will count a lot when you find yourself having a small panic attack at the store because nothing you had chosen actually looks nice and they don't have half of the rest on display (although they have it in stock). Because I wanted to avoid the crowds, I ventured IKEA on my own, which led me to one hour of panic. A call to my mother did the trick, though.

9. Start small.
You may find yourself tempted to buy everything at once, to avoid shipping costs or just out of the thrill of furnishing. Don't forget you have limited space - and if you don't have a basement storage or such other space, you're even more limited. Keep in mind that everything you buy or bring home will have to show, as you will have no room to hide anything. Don't make unnecessary purchases. Start slow, according to the plans you've made. A bed, a table, a couch, follow your list of priorities and let it set before deciding to go over it again. And don't forget, you will realize you have forgotten to count in a lot of important stuff soon enough... and that will mean more expenses!

10. Really, MAKE THAT LIST.
And for your sake, don't forget to take it with you when you finally go shopping (Oops, guilty! Lucky I could ask someone to send me a picture of it!). Organize it by space (kitchen/bedroom/...), store and urgency level. If you go to a specific store, like IKEA (like me), organize it according to their own internal organization, so that you don't forget anything and don't get lost when shopping!

Hope you liked the pictures of my very simple place and that you got inspired to so some change on your own! I decided not to extend this post by attaching a recipe, but I have one prepared, so get ready for a new post coming up quite soon! I hope you liked this post and that it may help you or someone you know!


Have a nice sunny weekend!
I'm off to the 'beach'!



  1. Concordo com o teu 101, principalmente com a questão das prioridades e o fazer uma lista! A Lista! É incrivelmente fácil andar nas compras à procura de UMA coisa e perdermos tempo a ver (e a gastar dinheiro) em coisas que até precisamos mas não são essenciais (mas que vão ficar TÃO bem em cima daquela mesinha de café)!!!
    Fico à espera da receita :D

    P.S.- Quando for grande quero uma casinha como a tua :) boa "praia"!

  2. As someone who has lived in a studio before - YES YES YES to all of these!

  3. Inês, adorei este teu 101! Estou a começar a ver de casas para me mudar, e vou guardar este post para mais tarde o ler com muita atenção, e seguir os teus conselhos (eu sou uma desgraça, apaixono-me por coisas muito facilmente).
    E tens uma casa gira mas gira :)
    Um beijinho
    Teresa | A Cozinha da Ovelha Negra