DIY Makeover: This renter transformed her 350-square-foot studio with tropical wallpaper and small-space hacks

DIY Makeover: This renter transformed her 350-square-foot studio with tropical wallpaper and small-space hacks

Total cost: $900

This renter transformed her small, studio apartment with a DIY makeover and small-space hacks

The renter: Steph Black, a portrait photographer and content creator
The project: A 350-square-foot studio in Church-Wellesley Village
The budget: $900

Steph moved into her microscopic studio apartment in June 2021. She had been sharing a split-level three-bedroom townhouse in Moss Park with two roommates since 2016 while studying photography at Toronto Metropolitan University. She loved the neighbourhood and enjoyed having a huge living room—as well as hosting movie nights and parties with friends—but the large home came with its downsides. “It was a lot of space to clean by myself,” she says.

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Ready to embrace the joys and challenges of living alone, Steph began touring studios and junior one-bedrooms nearby. When she found a studio in a 1960s condo building with a walk-in closet and a separate kitchen, she couldn’t believe her luck. “I don’t like those wall kitchens where you stare at your fridge from your bed,” she says. At only $1,350 per month (now $1,383) plus an extra $100 for a parking space, the rent was relatively affordable too. The apartment was only 350 square feet—smaller than anywhere she’d lived before—but the size didn’t deter her. “I was over the roommate phase,” she says.

However, after she moved, panic set in. “I went from having all this space to downsizing to what is essentially one room.” She relinquished a couch, a coffee table and a dining room table she knew wouldn’t fit in the space. Still, once she brought the rest of her possessions inside, the apartment was so crammed that she could barely walk from one end to the other. “I gave myself time to sit with the space so I could realistically figure out what I needed and what I could live without—which turned out to be practically everything I own,” she says. All in all, it took two months to fully declutter the space.

The 350-square-foot studio shortly after she moved in


The main room connects to a small kitchen, bathroom and hallway closet

From there, Steph undertook a number of projects to transform the space. When she moved in, the balcony was caked in years of pigeon poop. “It was disgusting. I probably never would have stepped out there to take a breath,” she says. But she was intent on taking advantage of the extra outdoor space, so she scrubbed the area and hired a contractor to install fine mesh netting ($120) that would prevent future soiling. Her mom bought her wooden patio tiles as a housewarming gift, and Steph sourced a papasan chair ($150) and an IKEA patio furniture set ($30) from Facebook Marketplace to create a peaceful outdoor oasis. During the summer months, it functions as a second living room where she can read, relax and edit photos.

Next, she repainted the apartment’s jaundiced-looking walls a crisp shade of white. In the kitchen, she covered the burn marks on the chipped laminate counter with grey marble-print contact paper from Amazon ($30). The speckled beige laminate floors in the kitchen and closet remained dirty even after multiple scrubbings, so Steph opted to cover them with star-print peel-and-stick tiles from Amazon ($120)—an idea she got from watching the Sorry Girls YouTube channel. With the help of her mom, the installation took only four hours.

The beige laminate floors in the kitchen


Old beige paint on the kitchen cupboards


The kitchen’s chipped laminate counter


Steph measured star-print peel-and-stick tiles for the floor

As she grew more excited about her home improvement projects, she began documenting her apartment’s glow-up in a series of videos on TikTok. She lined the closet shelves with dollar-store contact paper ($8) to prevent the rough edges from snagging her sweaters. She refreshed the lifeless beige kitchen cabinets with a coat of white paint and created a backsplash using white stick-on subway tiles ($90) for a more sophisticated look. Before, Steph saw her grimy yellowing kitchen as a major source of stress, but the updates have changed her attitude. “Now it’s so clean and bright and fresh, it makes me happy whenever I see it.”

This renter transformed her small, studio apartment with a DIY makeover and small-space hacks

The kitchen with a new floor, backsplash and coat of paint on the cupboards


Grey marble-print contact paper covers the chips on the counter


The walk-in closet with new stick-on floor tiles to match the kitchen

She loved the near-instant gratification of using peel-and-stick tiles so much that she decided to cover her bathroom floor with them too. She bought marble stone-print tiles on Zulily ($50), bringing the 1970s beige flooring into the twenty-first century. Since the bathroom was the only room with a door, Steph realized that it was her one opportunity to make a bold decor choice. She covered one wall in vibrant blue-and-orange tropical bird–print peel-and-stick wallpaper from Etsy ($300). She also used palm-leaf peel-and-stick wallpaper to cover the ugly faux-wood sliding doors of the hallway closet.

Tropical bird–print peel-and-stick wallpaper in the bathroom


She brightened up the bedroom with more tropical wallpaper

Steph’s grandmother passed away six months before she moved in, so she incorporated sentimental family heirlooms, like ornate gold light-switch covers, into the decor. “I love all the little details that remind me of her every day,” she says. “Even though I live alone in this small space, I feel surrounded by the people I love.”

This renter transformed her small, studio apartment with a DIY makeover and small-space hacks

Despite the fact that she lives in a studio, Steph wanted the apartment to feel like it had designated spaces, so she created a work nook in an empty corner, filling it with a small desk and a shelf. Grouping similar shades of wood together in different parts of the apartment helps make the work area feel like its own room. “Even though I can sit on my couch and stare at my work space, I don’t feel like it invades the living room,” she says.

The office nook

After two years in her solo pad, Steph is happier than ever. “I don’t think I realized how much your personal space can affect your mental health until I had a space that was everything I wanted,” she says. “I have so much freedom. Honestly, there are no downsides.” While 350 square feet may be tight, it’s more than enough for Steph. “Sometimes on Tiktok, people leave comments like, ‘It’s so sad you live in that space—it’s so small.’ But I don’t feel that way at all,” she says. “This is all I need.”


a year and some DIYs later ✨#apartmenttherapy #studioapartmentcheck #trending #fyp #foryoupage #pintrestapartment #decor #apartnenttour

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