Featured TLB: #MDRsittystudio
Ever since I was a little girl I have loved Interior Design. I used to love going over to my aunt's house - they lived in an old Victorian home - and watch her redecorate from top to bottom. The paint, matching the curtains and pillows, and throwing in some creative accents was always my favorite part. My Aunt Debbie and I would sit there in the living room watching hours of HGTV, and I would soak it all up.
When I decided to use my Brooklyn apartment as a start to my creative design side, I was inspired by a college friend. Her studio apartment on the Upper East side had it's own Instagram hashtag and I loved everything about it. Not only was she a former Jasper Dancer with me at our Alma Mater, she has also become the witty and successful beauty writer of Refinery29 - Maria Del Russo.
Maria and her itty bitty studio were featured in Domino Magazine last summer, showcasing her impeccable feng shui in a space that most New Yorkers live in, but can never love. Interviewed by Domino's Alyssa Clough, check out #MDRsittystudio and see why we love it, her, and are so inspired.
ALYSSA CLOUGH: HOW DID YOU DECIDE ON THE UPPER EAST SIDE?
MARIA DEL RUSSO: It was total chance. When I was originally looking, I was scoping out Brooklyn or somewhere downtown. But I was finding that the apartments uptown were just as gorgeous and a hell of a lot cheaper. So I relented and then found this apartment on Craigslist. Once I saw that it had a balcony, I made sure I was the first person to view it — paperwork in hand — and signed on the spot. I love my apartment, and even though I never saw myself uptown, I've come to love the neighborhood. There are so many fun bars and restaurants on 2nd Ave, and I love my proximity to the park. Plus, two of my cousins live up here, so it's nice to have them nearby.
AC: CAN YOU TALK A BIT ABOUT THE HASHTAG YOU STARTED FOR YOUR STUDIO? WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO DO THAT?
MDR: When I first moved into my space, I started sharing photos of my studio on Instagram as it started coming together, and I nicknamed it my "itty studio." At first it was a fun way to break up the beauty-related content, but people really started liking the shots — so much so that they'd talk to me about it in person. One friend told me she loved my apartment photos and how I'd nicknamed it, so I decided to start the hashtag #mdrsittystudio so people could find snaps if they wanted. My apartment changes a lot, so it's fun looking back on the hashtag to see the evolution.
AC: ANY SECRETS YOU HAVE TO SMALL SPACE LIVING?
MDR: The number one secret I tell people is to always clean as you go. In a space this small, the tiniest mess makes the entire place look disorganized. I always set aside Sunday morning before brunch as my time to deep-clean the apartment, but I'm constantly tidying and wiping down surfaces — especially in my kitchen and bathroom. I also do a quick dust a few times a week before bed. I have a lot of knick-knacks around my apartment that I don't want to give up, but damn, they attract a lot of dust! The more often you clean a little, the less often you have to clean a lot.
AC: WHAT'S THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF LIVING IN A SMALL SPACE?
MDR: For me it was learning to say no to bringing certain things back to my apartment. I only have one closet, and my job requires me to basically hoard beauty products. (I actually have to drawers in my dresser dedicated to only product.) So when it comes to other things, I have to be very discerning about what I keep around. So if I get sent a product, or am shopping at a homeware store and spot some little piece I really love, I have to think hard about whether or not I have the space for it. But since I'm not really great about this, I take one night every two months or so to go through all of my stuff. I donate, toss, or gift what I haven't used recently.
AC: OBVIOUSLY, BEING A BEAUTY EDITOR, YOU OWN A LOT OF BEAUTY PRODUCTS. HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ORGANIZING YOUR BATHROOM?
MDR: This was a major challenge that I didn't really tackle until about a year into my time at my studio. I took the time to see how I really utilized the space before I got around to really organizing it. Extra shelving is totally key (I actually wish I had more), and I organize the shelves by proximity — as in, when I'm standing at my sink, what I need or use the most is the closest to me. So most of my skin care is in my medicine cabinet, and the hair products I use every day are closest to the sink on the shelves. But I also really wanted the space to look pretty. As a beauty editor, I spend a ton of time in my bathroom. So I organized my tools in pretty jars and used lucite contains to hold my lipsticks, because I have a lot of them. And the really gorgeous stuff — like my perfume bottles and nail polishes — are on display in my living space. I usually have at least one extra of each product in my bathroom, but I stash those (and extra candles) under my sink.
AC: YOUR APARTMENT HAS A NICE FLOW. WHY DID YOU ULTIMATELY DECIDE AGAINST SEGMENTING IT OFF INTO DIFFERENT SPACES?
MDR: What really made the decision for me was that credenza in the center of my apartment. I really needed the extra storage since I only have one closet, and I didn't want two separate end tables. So when my mother found this rad piece in an antique shop, I jumped at it. It really ties the whole studio together, and forces the eye to travel all the way around my space instead of restricting it to certain "zones." But the balcony also added to it. That's a separate space on its own, and you need to pass through my sleeping area to get to it. So, to me, it didn't seem important or logical to curtain off my bed. I didn't want to make people feel like they couldn't go through my "bedroom" to get to one of the best parts of my apartment — I wanted the whole vibe to be welcoming!
AC: ALL OF YOUR FURNITURE PIECES ARE AMAZING! CAN YOU SPEAK A BIT ON EACH PIECE?
MDR: The way I go about buying (or finding) furniture is totally influenced by my mother. She buys pieces that she thinks are cool and doesn't get hung up on whether it "fits" with the other pieces in her space. She makes it work, and the result is this glorious hodgepodge that doesn't seem like it should work, but totally does. She found my blue dresser on the side of the road when I was a junior in high school, and she polished it up and painted it white for my room in our our beach house. It's since followed me to most of my New York apartments — we painted it blue for this studio. Mom actually has a furniture painting business called Casa Rinato, which means "a house reborn" in Italian, where she finds and restores furniture for people who aren't me. That one is probably my favorite, because it was the first piece of furniture she really restored, and so much of her love is in that piece. When I look at it, I think of her.
She also found my credenza and my TV stand in two different vintage shops and was sending me pictures of each for approval. I love how much storage the credenza affords me — it's where I keep my jeans, my tool box, extra blankets, extra sheets, and all of my nightstand essentials. We were together when we found the bar cart and the bistro set on my balcony — both at antique stores on the Jersey Shore — and we spray-painted them together.
AC: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO PEOPLE LOOKING TO DIY THEIR FURNITURE?
MDR: It's so important to really look at the guts of the piece you're picking up before you bring it home. You want to be realistic about what your skills are so you know what you can actually do to it. No one really likes to rebuild. Mom says that we like to "breathe new life into" pieces. Check the drawers and doors and make sure they work. And know when to walk away when a piece just isn't up to snuff.
Also, don't take on a DIY unless you can really commit to it — both money and time-wise. You really want to invest in quality paint and take the time to do all the sanding/staining/priming that goes into ensuring the DIY comes out the best it can. And remember — sometimes all a piece needs is a hardware swap for it to look like new.
AC: WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR APARTMENT?
MDR: All of the elephants! It's like Where's Waldo. Elephants are my favorite animals, and they've always been very lucky for me — I even have a tattoo of one on my left ribcage. So I have little guys stashed all over my apartment. I sometimes like to challenge visitors to try and find them all. Even I forget how many I have!
AC: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PIECES OF ART HANGING IN YOUR APARTMENT?
MDR: In my gallery wall, it's actually a poem I have hanging — an excerpt from Charles Bukowski's "Raw With Love." It's one of my favorite pieces of writing, and such a sad and sweet and beautiful poem. I also love the vintage New York City subway passes in antique frames — another thing I found with my mom while we were antiquing! But two of my favorites are actually toward the front of my apartment and tend to get hidden behind my bathroom door. They're two watercolor paintings of me when I was a ballet dancer. A painter did them during a performance while I was actually dancing, so there's a lot of movement to them and they're super abstract. Most of the time, people don't even know it's me, so it's like my little secret.
Photographs by: Michael Wiltbank and Maria Del Russo