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Real Estate

“My 460-square-foot condo is half the size of my last apartment. Here’s how I make it work”

For Steffie Davis, a 34-year-old editor and project manager, proper measurements and multifunctional furniture are crucial

By Rachel DeGasperis| Photography by Derek Shapton
"My 460-square-foot condo is half the size of my last apartment. Here's how I make it work"

In April 2020, Steffie Davis moved into her first studio apartment—but not by choice. Davis’s previous landlord had upped her rent, essentially forcing her and her roommate out of their unit. When she realized she had to start an apartment hunt, Davis knew she wanted to live alone even though squeezing her entire life into a tiny studio would be a difficult trade-off.

“It felt crazy to know that I was going to be paying more for less space,” she says. “I don’t think it’s an adjustment anybody wants to be making, but apartments in Toronto keep getting smaller.” A basement studio would have been the cheapest option, but below-ground spaces were a hard no. “It’s difficult to feel mature when you’re living in a basement,” she says.

Davis was apprehensive about having her bed in the same room as her kitchen, and she worried that having a studio would feel like living in a college dorm. “It felt like a step backward in some ways,” she says. But then she found a condo unit just north of High Park. It came in at 460 square feet for $1,895 a month in rent, but it checked off every box on her list.

Steffie's apartment near High Park

Despite being less than half the size of the apartment she was moving out of, it felt larger than she expected and had lots of natural light. It also had air conditioning, in-unit laundry, a dishwasher and a concierge in the lobby. Plus it was close to a subway line, which meant a quick commute to her job as an editor and publishing project manager.

Beyond logistical factors, Davis had an emotional response to the apartment that ultimately drove her to sign the lease. “The previous tenant had these sheer white curtains and had left her window open so they were blowing in the breeze,” she says. “I was like, Oh, I want my white curtains to blow in the breeze like that.” Once she got the keys, said curtains were one of her first purchases.

Steffie's bed, which is beside windows with white curtains

“I never really decorated my previous apartment,” Davis says. “Now that I was living alone, I wanted to put my own stamp on the place.” The onset of the pandemic gave her plenty of time to dive into decor—and made her especially grateful to be living right across the street from High Park rather than in the concrete-laden downtown core.

“I had a lot of time to stare at these blank walls,” she says. “I felt so isolated, so I tried to fill them with things that reminded me of my passions, the people I love and everything outside of this place.” Her fridge, for example, is covered with pictures of friends and family.

Steffie's fridge, which is covered in photos

Davis describes her style as “whimsical” and “a little bohemian.” The place is washed in pale yellow and pink, with curved lines and warm hues inspired by a framed picture of a sunset that sits above the bar cart in her kitchen. “I don’t shy away from colours,” she says. “I’m not a designer by any stretch of the imagination. I was just drawn to that shape while I was decorating, so that’s where we ended up.” Initially, she was planning to decorate the apartment in the deep jewel tones she’d often seen on Instagram and TikTok. But, ultimately, she realized the darker palette didn’t fit her style.

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To make the space feel bigger, Davis had to get creative. The bedroom and living room areas are strategically divided to make them feel different. Initially, she tried a physical barrier, cordoning off the “bedroom” with an IKEA Kallax shelf unit. Once it was in place, though, she realized it was too clunky and made the space seem even smaller.

The bed sits beside a shelving unit with Steffie's TV

Instead, she opted for invisible but clearly defined dividing lines between different living areas. Her bed is in one corner, with a beige sun-shaped fan hanging above it. Beside the bed is her TV console, which marks the beginning of the “living room,” comprising a couch and a small coffee table. Opposite her bed is a small desk, which makes up most of the “office” and looks out onto her balcony.

Steffie's desk unit, which sits beside the doors to her balcony

Davis is thrilled to have found a condo with outdoor space. Her biggest splurge so far has been a massive $600 egg-shaped patio chair. “I thought the price was crazy,” she says, “but it felt worth it.” With the egg chair, plants and a colourful rug, Davis’s patio is her outdoor oasis. In the winter, the chair is moved inside as lounge seating. “It is absolutely too big to have inside this space,” she says. “But I love it so much.”

Steffie sitting in the egg chair on her balcony

As opposed to stick-on wallpaper in the living room, Davis opted for individual black-dot decals, which are removable and renter-friendly. She also has DIY yarn art. Her cat, Jack, tore up the couch, but she figured out a thrifty fix: instead of buying a new one, she covered the claw marks with embroidered patches from Etsy.

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Steffie's living room, with renter friendly wall decals
Steffie's patch for her couch, which is in colourful florals

As a maximalist working with a limited amount of space, Davis had to be smart about storage. To make up for the apartment’s lack of square footage, she installed shelves in her kitchen and hung plants from her curtain rod. The base of her bed also has drawer space. She’s always on the hunt for multifunctional furniture. For example, her ottoman works as a footrest, extra seating for guests and a cat bed for Jack (when he isn’t commandeering her bed).

Steffie's orange cat, Jack

Luckily for Davis, the unit has two large closets and a fairly spacious kitchen, so she’s able to tuck away most of her clothes and her cleaning and cooking supplies to alleviate clutter. The large windows also help. “This apartment is really small, but the bright natural light helps make it feel bigger” she says.

Some of Steffie's decor

Davis displays treasured possessions wherever she can. For instance, her grandmother’s childhood mirror, her grandfather’s vintage books and her other grandfather’s metronome all have prominent spots.

Her grandma's vintage mirror

Davis has become a firm believer in the importance of measuring everything—an oversized piece of furniture can be fatal. “It took me a year to find a desk that fit in the apartment the way I wanted,” she says. When she finally found it, it was clear the wait had been worthwhile—it squeezed in perfectly along her window. “But, in a small space, there’s always a bit of trial and error,” she adds. Fortunately, most mistakes, like a misplaced frame or a botched shelf installation, can be fixed. “You just have to be brave, creative and ready to take the plunge.”

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