5 Studio apartment design tips on a budget | How I furnished mine with £500

| Martina Pardo | Interior Design Tips

Are you struggling to organise your rented studio flat? Looking for studio apartment design tips that could save you money? I feel you.

When me and my boyfriend Rick decided to attempt living in a 22sqm studio flat in North London, I thought it would be the perfect occasion to test my ability to design a really small space. And I was pretty confident that, being a professional interior architect, it would be pretty easy. It wasn't.

Let me tell you: small spaces on a budget are a lot more complicated than big luxurious flats. Simply because you don't have that much design freedom. You might actually have no freedom at all in some cases.

Here are the problems of renting a studio apartment:
  • It lacks essential items because people are not living there (which means you have to buy them)
  • It's small! Me and Rick almost had a panic attack when we thought we wouldn't be able to fit a desk in
  • You need to do it on a budget. Period. It doesn't matter how much savings you've got, you don't want to spend them on someone else's home. Me neither.
So, how do you maximise space and make it cosy without selling a kidney?

It's been quite a challenge, but I discovered a 5 easy steps formula that you can also follow. Your rented studio flat will feel bigger and super functional. The secret is to plan everything in advance and make a shopping list.

In this post I'm going to share my own shopping list, which includes all the essentials a home needs, with style.

1. Declutter and re-organise | Be ready to see your existing possessions in a new light

I always say that my first approach to designing anything is to start with the layout. In this initial phase, you need to look carefully at the new home and see whether the furniture that is provided is suitable.

But you also have to look at your existing situation: is there anything you would like to improve? Are there objects you could re-use in the new flat?

I suggest you do a massive decluttering: as Marie Kondo teaches, you'll most likely get more clear about your personality and the lifestyle you desire.

studio apartment design tips

In our situation, the flat came with basic furniture: a double bed with a brand-new mattress, a double wardrobe (no drawers!), a faux-leather small sofa (which was in bad shape) and a square dining table. The kitchen had an old electric oven, fridge, and no hobs.

We wanted the possibility to:
  • cook proper meals
  • invite friends over >> this means a bigger dining table and a sofa bed
  • work or have breakfast in a separate area, other than the main room (in case one of us needs to work until late while the other wants to go to sleep for example)
  • put our clothes into drawers / get more storage
  • bring a couple of pieces of furniture with us (a desk and a bookshelf that we bought two years ago when we moved in the previous flat)
  • creating a proper living area, with the possibility to watch a movie on the sofa
How I got it:

The best way to solve these issues is to first be very clear with the agent or landlord about your requirements.

I asked for new electric hobs, the possibility to replace the sofa and dining table, and the freedom to drill stuff on the walls (providing I would cover the holes when I leave).

Once the above was sorted I could get on with my design.

2. Study the layout well | Studio apartment tips

It wasn't easy, but after spending a couple of hours on my laptop, I managed to draw the perfect layout. And we are finding it quite comfortable so far.

If you need help at this stage, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., I can easily help you even if you don't live in London. For example, click here to see how I helped a client who lives in Azerbaijan and needed to refurbish a small one-bedroom apartment!

Below you can see the solution I came up with. Hope you find it useful!

studio apartment design tips 02

  1. MALM, IKEA - Chest of 6 drawers, White - £80
  2. GARNES, IKEA - Over-the-door mirror, White - £35
  3. TRONES, IKEA - Shoe cabinet/storage, White £20 / 2 pack
  4. KRISTRUP, IKEA - Doormat, Dark blue - £0.6
  5. STOCKHOLM 2017, IKEA - Cushion, Striped grey/white - £15
  6. STOCKHOLM, IKEA - Cushion, Black / White - £13

*Extra tip: Buy neutral furniture that you could easily bring to a new home or sell in the future. Get colour through accessories*

 studio interior tips

  1. TÄRENDÖ, IKEA - Table, Black - £30
  2. MACADAM, HABITAT - Metal folding chair, Anthracite black - £12
  3. HAMMARN, IKEA - Sofa bed, Knisa dark grey/black - £95
  4. ORLA KIELY, JOHN LEWIS - Poppy Dog Cushion, Multi - £35
  5. FLORENT, MADE - Essentials Florent Chambray Flatweave Extra Small Rug, Teal - £20
  6. NOT, IKEA - Floor uplighter, Black - £5
  7. LACK, IKEA - Side table, Black - £6
  8. VITTSJÖ, IKEA - Shelving unit, Black-brown/glass - £65

3. Multipurpose furniture is your friend | If it doesn't serve at least 2 purposes, you don't need it

studio apartment new furniture

Multipurpose furniture is literally saving us! That and the fact that our kitchen is in a separate room, which is an upgrade from a traditional studio flat.

We added a folding table with folding chairs in the kitchen so that we could potentially work in two separate rooms. Or we could even have a meal in the kitchen if the desk is too busy with papers and laptops. Also, the little table provides more available surface while cooking, which doesn't hurt in such a small kitchen. Finally, the chairs can be moved to the main room when we have guests for dinner (there are four in total). The table is from Habitat (like the chairs): AIRO, HABITAT - Metal 2 seat folding dining table, Black - £40

On the other hand, the small sofa bed allows us to host overnight guests.

4. Stick to a colour scheme for the accessories | Spend more on the ones that are more visible

Below you can see the accessories I chose. If you like the look of them, feel free to use the list as a reference for your own shopping.

*Please consider that I didn't have to buy all these. When I say that I spent £500 is because I had already bought some of them in the past (some were second-hand) or they were given as gifts. I assume that you as well won't need to buy everything, so I'm confident that the £500 budget will suit most of you. 

studio apartment kitchen tools

  1. 365+, IKEA - Carafe with stopper, Clear glass/cork - £4
  2. 365+, IKEA - Glass, Clear - £2.5 / 6 pack
  3. 365+, IKEA - Coaster, Cork - £1.5 / 6 pack
  4. OMBRE VOIL, JOHN LEWIS - Teal - £35
  5. BLANDA BLANK, IKEA - Serving bowl, Stainless steel - £3
  6. FINFORDELA, IKEA - Bendable chopping board, Dark grey/dark turquoise - £1 / 2 pack
  7. FILUR, IKEA - Bin with lid, White - £7
  8. ANNONS, IKEA - 5-piece cookware set, Glass/stainless steel - £8
  9. FULLANDAD, IKEA - Turner, Grey - £0.6
  10. FULLANDAD, IKEA - Soup ladle, Grey - £0.6
  11. 365+ HJÄLTE, IKEA - Balloon whisk, Stainless steel/black - £4
  12. VERDAGEN, IKEA - Grater with handle - £5
  13. KAVALKAD, IKEA - Frying pan, set of 2, Black - £5.5
  14. IDEALISK, IKEA - Strainer, Stainless steel - £1.75
  15. POKAL, IKEA - Glass, Clear - £0.5
  16. CHEF'S COLLECTION, JOHN LEWIS - Double Oven Glove - £18
  17. FORSLAG, IKEA - 3-piece knife set - £8
  18. MARKBART, IKEA - Scissors, set of 2 - £2
  19. MOPSIG, IKEA - 16-piece cutlery set - £3.75
  20. VISPAD, IKEA - Colander, White - £1.5
  21. OFTAST, IKEA - Plate, White - £0.5
  22. OFTAST, IKEA - Side plate, White - £0.5
  23. OFTAST, IKEA - Deep plate, White - £0.5
  24. OFTAST, IKEA - Bowl, White - £0.5

studio apartment bathroom tools

  1. BIRDS ON A WIRE, JOHN LEWIS - Shower curtain - £15
  2. ENUDDEN, IKEA - Hanger for door, White - £3
  3. VESKEN, IKEA - Shelf unit, White - £5
  4. IMMELN, IKEA - Shower hanger, two tiers, Zinc plated - £3.75
  5. BADAREN, IKEA - Bath mat, Black - £3.9
  6. FNISS, IKEA - Waste bin, Black - £0.95
  7. BOLMEN, IKEA - Toilet brush/holder, Black - £0.75
  8. EKOLN, IKEA - Soapdish, Dark grey - £3
  9. EKOLN, IKEA - Toothbrush holder, Dark grey - £3
  10. BROGRUND, IKEA - Toilet roll stand, Stainless steel - £5
  11. ARGOS - Over The Bath Indoor Clothes Airer - £10

5. Manifest | The Universe will make your dreams reality for free

Did you notice that I haven't talked about tea towels? Those were not in my priority list because we already had some (which I didn't like but they were still in good condition and not worth replacing). A week later a friend gave me some tea towels as a birthday gift!

She wasn't told, she just guessed. That was the Universe, wanting me to have some beautiful towels as I desired. Also, when I was Elisabetta's plus one at the Amara Interior Blog Awards (remember? Italianbark won!), I was given a massive goodie bag. Guess what I found in there? A Missoni tea towel!

If that wasn't enough, this week the old (rusty and dirty) electric oven got broken all of a sudden. Now it needs replacing and the landlord will buy a new one. I'm so looking forward to receiving it.

This stuff works, or at least it's worth a try. Manifest what you want (but it's not in the 'must-have' list) and see what the Universe gives you. Good luck!


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Martina Pardo

Written by: Martina Pardo

I am Martina, an Italian designer based in London. I spend most of my time designing interiors or writing about it. I also love travelling. You may find me walking around the East End of London, drinking coffee and stopping at every single bookshop I bump into.


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