My boyfriend and I live in a 500-square-foot studio. Here’s how we make it work

By Austin Havens-Bowen  |
September 16, 2019 - 9:00AM

Arranging your furniture to maximize function is key when you're sharing a studio.

Alejandro Leal-Pulido for Brick Underground

Most people outside of New York City probably don’t think an average-sized studio here is big enough for one person, let alone two, but I am here to tell you that two people can make a studio work for them, if you can follow what I like to call the rules of studio living.

Of course the big question you may be wondering is why would a couple choose to live in a studio? For us, it came down to finances.

When my boyfriend and I started apartment hunting, we were not prepared for the obstacles involved with moving into even the cheapest of apartments—and we were certainly not prepared for huge difference in the amount of rent you pay for a one-bedroom compared to a  studio, just to get one wall with pretty much the same square footage.

With our budget and strong desire to stay in Queens, but as close to Manhattan as possible, we resorted to using a broker after unsuccessfully attempting to find a place on our own. Our broker advised us that studios would be our best bet for our budget and preferences. 

We saw some pretty odd places, like a studio that was essentially a large open kitchen with a separate bedroom, but no common space, and a studio in Forest Hills that had a make-shift kitchen in a closet with French doors. 

So, when we were shown our current apartment, a 500-square-foot studio with a separate eat-in kitchen, built in bookshelves in the living space (a childhood dream of mine), multiple storage closets, and a large walk-through closet that’s bigger than some bedrooms I’ve seen in the city, we both knew it was the right choice.  

What we didn’t know were the hurdles we’d jump as a young couple cohabiting for the first time in a studio apartment. Here’s what we learned.

Find a studio with a separate kitchen or large walk-in closet

When my boyfriend and I were viewing studio apartments, a lot of them had no separate space other than the bathroom. Most of the kitchens were simply a line of counters with a stove and fridge, flat against one of the walls. 

For us, it was essential to have some type of separate space to define the apartment—and take a breather from each other. 

I think it’s critical for any couple to have some space in the apartment  to have some privacy. This could mean a studio with a separate sleeping alcove, a small nook meant for a desk, or a walk-in closet. 

My boyfriend and I often joke that the other has to go to sleep in the closet after an argument, and although we are joking, usually, at least we have the option. And having the large closet allows for us to get dressed in private, or decompress after a heated debate, when we need to.

Buy really good headphones

Studio apartments and good headphones may not seem like they go hand-in-hand, but when you’re sharing a common space with a significant other, the option to go read in bed while the other watches a TV show in the living room is nonexistent. 

My boyfriend often has to wake up early for work, and usually goes to sleep at a normal time and even if he doesn’t have to sleep early, he always has loads of reading and writing to do for grad school. Then there’s me, who requires at least one episode of “Real Housewives” drama or a true-crime documentary to fall asleep. 

Our workaround for this is a pair of wireless headphones that connects to our TV via Bluetooth—so I can indulge in my TV viewing anytime and allow him to sleep, or study, without the distraction of middle-aged women arguing over an adopted dog.

Buy smart light bulbs

This is something that we had not planned out, but once I was gifted a Hue light starter kit, we quickly realized how the technology would allow us to coexist in a happier environment. For those of you who don’t know, Hue lights are connected to your wifi modem, allowing you to control them from your smartphone or home hub device. 

This gives you the ability to control the color and brightness of each individual bulb, so I can have dim mood lighting while I watch TV on the couch but he needs bright light for studying in bed. The color option is great too because if he’s sleeping and wants darkness but I want some type of light while writing or reading (yes I occasionally turn off the TV), I can change the lights to a color like blue that provides me light without waking him up.

Use furniture to divide the space 

Depending on the size of your studio, it’s best to arrange furniture, especially the furniture in the living space, so that it creates separate living areas. For us, we have the front part of the living space set up as the living room—with our couch, accent chair, floor lamp, and side tables arranged as one room, our TV as the divider which is centered on the opposite wall, and our bedroom set up on the back end of the living space—with our bed and two nightstands on opposite sides. 

This setup not only allows us to do our own thing in the same space while making it feel larger, but it’s also great for hosting friends. Even though sometimes a friend will take the liberty of sitting on our bed, it divides the space well enough to create a sort of boundary for guests. 

Divide the storage space 

Unlike many of the studio apartments that we viewed, our apartment has ample storage space with two storage closets—one with floor-to-ceiling built in shelves and the other that only has shelves at the top but is much deeper— and the large walk-through closet leading to the bathroom, and a solid amount of cabinets in the kitchen. 

But, no matter how little or how much storage space you have, make sure you split it 50/50 with your partner, and try to consolidate where you can.

There was a time when my boyfriend’s art supplies, college books, and other random items almost completely took over one of our storage closets, while my art supplies and old college notebooks was stuffed in a plastic drawer cart. We decided to combine these similar items in the same closet so it seemed more fair. 

Just last weekend, when I took one of his hangers for a pair of my pants, he exclaimed that I was taking over his side of the main closet, but a quick count of hangers revealed that he in fact was the one using more space. In a studio apartment, every hanger counts. 

Keep it clean and uncluttered 

When I asked my boyfriend if he had any tips to include in this article, his number one suggestion is to keep your studio apartment clean and uncluttered. If you live alone in a studio, you know that you have less room for clutter, but when sharing a studio with your boyfriend, it’s even more important. 

At this point, I should probably mention that we also have two cats. So we have to work even harder to keep things tidy in a studio. That’s a piece for another time. 

Find a way to spend time alone

If you have one of those bad days at work where you arrive home, full of rage and ready to scream, you’ll find that’s hard to do. You can’t shut yourself in your bedroom or home office to blow off steam. And there’s nothing worse than ruining the evening for you and your boyfriend by bringing home the bad energy from work. 

For me, I quickly learned that I had to find a way to have alone time when first getting home so I can decompress, and the bathroom was pretty much my only option. So, I got into the routine of taking a nice, sometimes extremely long, shower while listening to music or a podcast. 

For my boyfriend, he uses the kitchen table to work, so this gives him the ability to focus on what he needs to do a little longer.

Be flexible! 

Sometimes you’ll find you want to do one thing and your partner wants to do another and there’s no shortcut or technology that will sort it out for you.

Just last night, my boyfriend was tired of sitting at the kitchen table and studying so he came to the couch. As usual, I was sitting on the opposite end, watching “Real Housewives of Orange County,” with only one lamp on because I wanted to fall asleep after the show ended. He wanted all of the lights on to be able to read. 

It’s times like this when you have to be flexible. I thought about how his work is more important than my entertainment, and we kept enough lights on until the show was over and I fell asleep anyway.



Austin Havens-Bowen

Staff Writer

Staff writer Austin Havens-Bowen covers the rental market and answers renters' questions in a column called Realty Bites. He previously reported on local news for the Queens Ledger and The Hunts Point Express in the Bronx. He graduated from Hunter College with a BA in media studies. He rents a one-bedroom apartment in Astoria with his boyfriend and their two cats.

Brick Underground articles occasionally include the expertise of, or information about, advertising partners when relevant to the story. We will never promote an advertiser's product without making the relationship clear to our readers.