Small Space Design Gem: Patty’s Smallest Coolest Apartment

Filed under Luxecycle, Noted

My friend Patty is a secret design star.

Patty lives on disability, in a 20 x 20 foot apartment above a garage in Long Beach, California. Her tiny apartment is a brilliant reminder that you don’t need money or space to have an inspiring home.

When her landlords blocked the roof access stairs for liability reasons, Patty turned the potential eyesore into a garden space, which also gives her privacy from the neighbors.

Patty’s apartment is actually a studio, but she’s used a bookcase to divide the space into two living areas. The placement of her “dining room” table affords her a nice view of her front porch garden and offers extra seating for guests.

The first time I was in Patty’s apartment I walked right past her television. She hides all the ugly wires and the back of her entertainment center behind a decorative screen.

Her apartment is so little, it’s actually hard to photograph! Patty’s living room is furnished with a vertical entertainment unit, a narrow wing back chair, and a large coffee table with a rotating top. Patty and her son built the window seat, which doubles as a keepsake chest, with scavenged items. She repurposed a large chunk of marble as a side/telephone table.

Patty trash-picked a 1980’s coffee table with a rotating top. The table tops were originally smoked, black glass, but the glass had cracked. Patty liked the size and the swivel-ability of the table, so she decided to teach herself how to tile to create a mosaic table top. Because she’s on such a limited budget, Patty can only buy small quantities of tile every month, so her table is a work in progress.

Pretty roman shades made from striped dupioni silk let the light in during the day, but hide the view of the apartment parking lot. I love how Patty chose a cat tower that references her mid-century modern, teak, floor lamp in back of the wing chair.

The focal point of Patty’s living room are the french doors to a closet that once housed a murphy bed. The closet’s interior is hidden by linen drapes thumb-tacked to the inside of the doors.

Ugh. Forgive the unflattering lighting, but I had to use my flash to reveal all the details of Patty’s home office/broom closet. Remember the broken glass top of the coffee table? Patty took a piece of it to her local window store and had it cut down to size to make an easy-to-clean tabletop for the office desk that she custom-made to fit the closet. The keyboard shelf below the desk top slides out for easy access.

One of the best things about Patty’s apartment are the vintage built-ins.

Patty’s favorite room is her “dressing room,” which is actually an itsy-bitsy hallway that leads to the bathroom and to the apartment’s solitary closet. A full-length mirror hangs on the back of the dressing room door, and metal hooks screwed into the wall molding behind the door act as a rack for jewelry and scarves.

A hotel-style linen rack saves space in a little bathroom.

No money or space for a nice hand towel rack? Screw a coat hook above the sink! To keep everything neat on open shelves, Patty hides all her toiletries inside coordinating vintage california pottery, jars, and baskets. Design tweakers please note that she went so far as to decant her mouthwash into an antique liquor bottle. Now that is attention to detail!

The longest wall in the apartment is dominated by a beautiful Arts and Crafts-style china cabinet. Patty stores clothes, linens, and other items in the drawers. The upper shelves have been turned into a curio cabinet where she displays her favorite photographs and keepsakes.

My very favorite thing in Patty’s apartment is her book case room divider. I dream about this book case. Designed to hold paperbacks, the shelves are only six inches deep. Although it looks like she had this piece custom made for this apartment, Patty used this book case, which is actually three, separate shelving units screwed together, in three previous apartments.

To save space, Patty screwed a giant, trash-picked painting into the back of the bookcases to make a headboard. Patty liked the dogwood flowers, but hated everything else about the painting, so she painted over the background to create a new piece of art that coordinates with her linens.

The vintage liquor bottles on the “bar section” of her curio cabinet counter are filled with a collection of exotic vinegars that Patty uses for cooking.

Patty is saving up to replace the vertical blinds in her bedroom with drapes. The doorway on the left leads into the kitchen.

Like the rest of her home, Patty’s kitchen is kept immaculately clean.

Obviously, this apartment was built in the 1920’s before the advent of refrigerators. Patty’s kitchen is so small, she had to install the stove sideways against the side of the fridge to make it fit!.

For the purpose of showing scale, yes, that is the apartment’s front door. Her apartment is really that small.

Update: Here’s a floor plan that Patty drew up of her apartment. (Assume that her walls are 3 inches thick).

Do you have a favorite design hack for small space decorating? Please share your genius in the comments section below:


  1. Stephanie Del Princi
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Max – thank you so much for taking the photos! I’ve been wanting to see Patty’s home for such a long time. Now, I’m going to have to take photos and get someone to help me post them. The space is absolutely charming – Patty is a gifted artist and home designer. Especially love the bookcase and her mosaic project. Doesn’t the little porch area remind you of the old show – Three’s Company?

  2. Dottie Webb
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    Patty, I just love your place. It was so cool to see all the projects you have been telling me about. You are just full of great ideas !! I am totally impressed!

  3. Marlaina Abbott
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    Love it all. I am completely impressed and envious. I ***need*** (ok… want) a screen like the one Patty is using to hide the TV.

  4. Allison
    Posted March 1, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    those pics are great, Max! Would it be possible to sketch a little floorplan so us non-visual folk could visualize the layout a bit better? I want to build a very small house in the next couple of years and I am always looking for great ideas.

  5. Kay
    Posted March 2, 2011 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Hi Patty, I’m from the compact as well. Your apartment looks so cute and beautifully furnished! Thanks for sharing it with us!

    And thanks Max! Much appreciate the effort to share it with8 us.

  6. Posted March 2, 2011 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    What an excellent idea! I’m going to work with Patty on a floor plan that shows the layout of the furniture as well as the dimensions of the rooms.

  7. Patty Clark
    Posted March 2, 2011 at 2:15 am | Permalink

    Thank you all for the lovely comments! I will work on the floor plan!

  8. Allison
    Posted March 2, 2011 at 4:42 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if you are familiar with the site but they have some awesome ideas (some only practical if you know an architect) that make you think of new ways to use space. They are worth taking a peek.

  9. Laura Redhawk
    Posted March 3, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Wow…not only has Patty managed to “Max out” the space she has, but create one that is not cluttered feeling. Talk about “design on a dime!” Each area has a far more OPEN feel to it than one might expect. It says exactly what it is for, and leads the viewer down the pathway to comfort combined with function and relaxation. I think this space makes “small living” very fashionable. I especially like the way that the vintage features of the existing space are played up by the brought in design elements. The collected artistic pieces compliment the structural design and integrity of the space everywhere you look. To me this says…”Ahhhh home!”

    Thanks Max for a wonderful photo share, and thanks to you, Patty for allowing all of us into your beautiful and comforting home.

  10. laura
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    This is just brilliant! I love the book cases!

  11. Posted April 1, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    My favorite parts are the built-ins. That is furniture that you never have to clean under or behind.

  12. Posted April 2, 2011 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    wow. That’s all I can say — WOW! So cute, so efficient — Patty, you’re amazing. Thanks, Max, for sharing, esp. the drawing. It seems so much larger in the photos. xx!

  13. Allison
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Wow! I too love built-ins. I didn’t notice the first time I looked at the photos, but are there two sinks in the kitchen? Awesome!
    I bought a piece of property with a livable, but dilapidated, uncared-for, huge, badly- laid-out-open-floor-plan mobile on it. I am planning on basically living in the garage while tearing out the mobile and building a very small house. Maybe I will just live in the garage permanently. Totally illegal but done frequently up here in Oregon. *lol*

  14. Posted May 24, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    There is so much creativity in this apartment. Patty has really mastered the idea of big style in a small space. Using the book shelf as a wall is a really great idea for creating privacy in a studio apartment.

  15. Posted July 21, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Is this OUR Patty? Sweet! My new pad is going to be a 16′ X 22′ studio, and you can bet I will be checking back on this post!!!

  16. Posted May 2, 2012 at 5:34 am | Permalink

    Nice place. Love your living space specially i like your book case. Good plan. keep it up.

  17. monica
    Posted April 10, 2013 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    My favorite items were the wooden jar and spice racks in the kitchen. Any info, please?

  18. Posted April 10, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Patty says she bought them at The Jones Store in Kansas City, MO. 33 years ago. Maybe check on etsy or ebay for something similar?

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