“Its a very very iconic coffee table but I actually really didnt want to buy it” Madeline says of the acrylic piece. “I...
“It’s a very, very iconic coffee table, but I actually really didn’t want to buy it,” Madeline says of the acrylic piece. “I really wanted something larger and more substantial. But ultimately I found that something lightweight that took up very little visual space was the most practical choice. The coffee table kind of floats.”©Kirsten Francis Photography
The Grand Tour

Stacks of Books Double as Decor in This 420-Square-Foot Brooklyn Apartment

How one interior designer makes the most of her tight space

The stacks of books and magazines that occupy every spare nook of Madeline Merin’s Brooklyn Heights apartment serve multiple purposes. For one, the interior designer references her collection of design tomes and back issues of Architectural Digest when she’s working. The piles also double as decor, adding texture and interest to each room. Most importantly, the heaps of reading material represent Madeline’s overall approach to her 420-square-foot studio: She wanted to create an inspiring retreat specifically for herself.

“In a lot of small rentals, people optimize the space for visitors or dinner parties,” Madeline explains. “If that’s your priority, that’s totally a valid thing to do, but I really needed to make every bit of space work for me and what I wanted. The result is a very serene place that really feels like an oasis.”

Madeline poses elegantly in her apartment.

©Kirsten Francis Photography

Madeline’s first step towards maximizing the compact home was convincing the owners of the prewar building to construct a kitchen peninsula for additional storage. Then she sought to highlight the historic moldings that had disappeared under layers of paint. She used a laser level to define where the detail would’ve started and taped it off while she gave the walls a coat of calming blue gray, leaving the trim white. “It’s a trompe l’oeil effect, in a way,” she says. “It brought back a lot of the original character.”

A classic Christopher Spitzmiller lamp sits on Madeline’s big IKEA desk, balancing the silhouette of the column to the left.

©Kirsten Francis Photography

Next, Madeline crafted a living room/office hybrid that puts the emphasis on the workstation. To ensure she could fit a big IKEA desk for drawing and laying out fabric samples, she opted for a two-seat One Kings Lane brown mohair sofa and limited herself to a single accent chair—albeit a significant one: The vintage spoon-back seat with a chartreuse cushion came from her grandparents’ apartment at The Pierre hotel.

Even though it’s a rental, Madeline requested a kitchen peninsula and her landlord obliged.

©Kirsten Francis Photography

Other antique treasures in the area include an Italian rattan mirror, a set of dimmable brass lamps from Madeline’s father, a cozy charcoal rug, and a marble column pedestal topped with an ornate urn of flowers. “I added the column and the vase because I needed to be able to balance the asymmetry,” Madeline says. “I needed something to the left of the desk to add height and volume. I love to change the florals and branches throughout the year. It’s one of my favorite decorative elements.”

Books are stacked intentionally beside Madeline’s bed.

©Kirsten Francis Photography

In the bedroom, Madeline went for a soothing palette of light neutrals to offset the abundance of color she works with everyday. She paired a wheat-hued throw blanket, Clarence House tiger print pillows, and an ivory upholstered headboard with a linen bedskirt, which cleverly hides the printer, off-season clothing, and suitcases underneath the bed. A Harold Altman painting of Central Park hangs above.

A vintage mirror rests on top of a wooden console.

©Kirsten Francis Photography

Beneath the console and beside the nightstand reside some of Madeline’s signature towers of books. “A lot of people are like, ‘Oh my gosh, don’t stack books on the floor.’ But that was just the only place for them to go in this apartment,” she admits. “I also love the look of them stacked, so it’s a win-win.”

“In the foyer, the piece of furniture is a family heirloom and it’s been my desk since I was three or four years old,” Madeline shares. “Obviously it’s not large enough to be in my actual desk anymore, but I keep different pieces of stationary and front hall essentials in there.”

©Kirsten Francis Photography

A divergence from all the tranquility, the foyer features a bold, patterned wallpaper. Vertical vines and their dancing leaves draw the eye upward, giving a sense of expanse to the little ingress where Madeline enters her home. “The second you step inside the apartment, you’ve been transported into a different environment,” she describes. It is, of course, her own personal dreamland.

“The bathroom had a built-in toothbrush holder and soap dish, which didn’t make any sense for storage,” Madeline remembers. “I swapped it for a glass shelf, providing more space for my products.”

©Kirsten Francis Photography