Design tips from a tiny Swedish apartment

This one-room apartment listed for sale in Umea, Sweden, measures a tidy 35 square meters, or about 375 square feet. We wish we could claim to have dug it up ourselves, but actually, loyal Desire to Inspire reader Karin Karlsson sent it along to that blog, which is where we spotted it. (Short digression: Desire to Inspire is a terrific interior design blog, especially if you're interested in Australian design. Plus, who can resist a blog that has a category for wunderkammer?)

The apartment may be small, but it holds quite a few design tips for those of us who have to make do with limited square footage -- for starters, a tiny bed alcove with closet space; a bathroom with an ingenious shower enclosure; and an unexpectedly luxe touch in an entry/mudroom.

[Update from Jennifer Karmon, Sept. 21, 2012: I'm delighted to report that Karin Karlsson contacted me and provided many insights -- so much good stuff, in fact, that as I tried to update the post I realized I'd have to rewrite the whole thing. So instead, check out my new post with the story behind Karin's fabulous Swedish apartment, plus some of her great advice. And if you have a space you'd like to share with us, please submit images to Yahoo! Homes' Flickr group with details in the caption.]

Logically enough, let's start with the entryway. Click to go to the next page.

Carrara marble flooring in the entry hall is unexpected, but it makes sense: It's fairly hard-wearing, it's not as expensive as you might think (especially in such a small area), and it puts visitors on notice right away that although your space may be compact, it doesn't stint on the details.

It also helps introduce the thread of gray that you'll be seeing throughout the space. And the tiles' veins pick up the gauzy shadows thrown off by what we think is a crystal pendant light overhead. (We'll see similar lights elsewhere in the apartment.)

Built-in cabinets provide welcome storage space. The stool makes the space practical for removing slushy shoes in winter (and adds a nice gleam -- here's a similar silver stool for $70). Even the hooks above the stool are thoughtful: See how they echo the graphic black-and-white poster of eyes that you can juuuuust glimpse in the next room?

The door you see at left in the smaller photo of the entryway is to the bathroom -- an impressive use of space if we've ever seen one, but we can't bring ourselves to feature a bathroom before you see the rest of the home. (Click here if you want to skip ahead to the bathroom, though.)

Next: The living areas.

The "Cacao Eyes" design on the poster is by Swedish graphic designer Olle Eksell for chocolatier Mazetti. (We can't claim to have figured this out on our own, either. Our creative skills with Google's image search led us to a 2011 New York Times blog post identifying it.) The greenery helps warm up the space, as do the wood tones you see throughout the apartment. The laminate flooring is by Tarkett. The slatted pendant lamp appears to be from Secto Lighting, designed by Seppo Koho of Finland; we like how it picks up the outdoor view of the gray building as well as the backs of the Shaker-style chairs and even the radiator under the window. You can find similar Shaker chairs for about $300 at Room and Board. We also think a bowback bench from Jas. Becker Cabinetmaker would look stunning along one side, but that'd be a real splurge at $2,700.

IKEA has fabrics similar to the table runner.

Next: Wait till you see where the "bedroom" is.

This studio apartment carves out a semi-private alcove for the bed in between the kitchen and part of the entryway. (We've included the floor plan, albeit in Swedish, at the end of this tour.)

Next: A much closer view of the sleeping alcove.

The open bedroom alcove certainly isn't for slobs (or pack rats), but you could probably get away with less-than-neatly-stowed clothes if you hung a curtain to separate the alcove from the living space. Elfa has similar shelving systems.

We think the pendant light -- which throws lovely shadows onto the walls, just as the entryway light did -- is a Tord Boontje design. You can find his Garland light online for less than $100.

Next: The kitchen.

According to the listing, the kitchen was fully remodeled last year with white high-gloss cabinets (see IKEA's Akurum line) and a countertop that, like the home's windowsills, is white oiled oak (see IKEA's Numerar countertop).

The refrigerator reminds us of a Smeg refrigerator we wrote about this summer in our post "Make a (very) small kitchen work harder." Its narrow shape leaves a small footprint without sacrificing food storage space. The induction cooktop is another space saver. (The decorative tray on the cooktop is a colorful Josef Frank illustration of Manhattan, available worldwide from Svenskt Tenn for about $37.)

Note that those are shallow storage cabinets against the left wall; it's hard to tell in this photo, but you can see them a little more clearly in the earlier photo of the kitchen-plus-bedroom view.

The shiny, reflective surfaces make the kitchen feel larger, boosted by the pale, disciplined palette that's carried throughout the home. The frosted glass cabinet adds luminosity without clutter. The hanging fruit basket with its red, yellow and orange levels is charming -- but to be clear, we're in no way advising you to restrict your palate for the sake of a restrained color scheme. Eat the whole rainbow!

Next: the living room.

It's clearer in this photo than most of the others that the walls are painted a light gray, while the ceiling is white. We like how elegantly the homeowner has managed to bring the electrical cord over the dining table -- the delicate curve of the cord almost becomes an asset instead of a distraction.

The yellow throw pillows and the colorful items on the shelves in the back corner help keep the home from becoming too boring. More wall shelving against the left wall (barely seen here) mimics the shelving in the bed alcove and, of course, offers badly needed storage.

Next: Our favorite, the bathroom.

Now, this is definitely a small bathroom -- but the shower's ingenious curved glass doors fold inward to sit almost flush with the walls, opening up the space more than we'd have thought possible. These sorts of folding shower walls appear to be more common in Europe than in the States. We found angular versions of these shower screens from Duravit and from Kermi.

If you're curious, you can see a video of the doors' swinging action on YouTube. Just don't blame us for the accompanying music.

The fact that it's a curbless shower opens up the space even more, but it also multiplies the water-damage risks. We'd be curious to know whether any of our readers have had experience with a bathroom like this. (You can respond in the comments or on the Yahoo! Homes Facebook page, or you can email us.) We've read that if the floor slopes properly toward the drain, the area will dry quickly.

And by the way: Installation of a wet room like this, especially with a curbless shower, probably ought to be overseen by a licensed professional.

Next: The floor plan.

No, your eyes don't deceive you; the floor plan is in Swedish. You can probably figure this out, but the "vardagsrum" is the living room, the "sovalkov" is the sleeping alcove and the "kok" is the kitchen. Again, the apartment is 35 square meters, or about 375 square feet. Should you be in the market for a home in Sweden, it can be yours for just under a million Swedish kronor -- about $145,000 at current exchange rates. It leases for about $250 a month, including heat, water, cable TV and Internet.

To see a couple more photos of the apartment (specifically, its exterior), visit Desire to Inspire's post.

If you liked this post, you might also like our post "Learn from an ultra-narrow house just 12 feet wide" or the aforementioned "Make a (very) small kitchen work harder."

We'd also love to hear from you -- especially if you're a homeowner or a professional who'd like to share photos of projects and products. You can email us at, leave a comment below, visit our Facebook page, upload pictures to our Flickr group, or tweet us @YahooHomes. We're also on Pinterest.