The first time designer Patrick Mele laid eyes on his Upper East Side rental, he was struck by a number of classic features: “high ceilings, great moldings, original marble fireplace, a little terrace, a killer location.” A designer first and foremost, Patrick recognized that this “dusted over, tired flat” was a spot with good bones and great possibilities, despite some serious wear and tear. Fast forward to today and the apartment is now an ultra-chic Manhattan pied-à-terre thanks to his stunning overhaul. Step inside this designer’s small space home tour, and score some design insights for making the most of a petite place.
Lose the Bad Stuff (With Your Landlord’s Blessing)
“To begin with, I had it painted all white,” Patrick explains. He also removed an impressive twelve layers of wallpaper from the kitchen walls, painted the original 1940s wood cabinets, and replaced “the horrible lighting fixtures” with track lighting. But his most important change took some time. “I knew I wanted to paint the floors white from the moment I walked in, but I had to take my time with that and get the owners on my side,” Patrick says. His patience paid off and the unfortunate stain on the apartment’s original hardwood floors was swapped out for a glossy white finish.
Use Drama to Disguise
Patrick didn’t let a lack of square footage cramp his style. While dark colors are traditionally avoided for smaller spaces, the designer threw the rulebook out the window, painting three rooms black. “I was inspired by Cecil Beaton’s apartment in London. The walls were dark, the trim was white, and I just wanted to play up the trim and give some interest where there wasn’t that much,” Patrick says. He also utilized the contrast of dark wall and bright trim to “disguise” the apartment’s less than stellar windows.
Overcome The Rental Kitchen Curse
Patrick shared a common lament of many renters, a lackluster kitchen. A full gut was out of the question, but Patrick was able to create an equally functional and fab space within the confines of his lease agreement. In a departure from the deep color of the living room, Patrick kept the kitchen walls a “crisp white” after the removal of decades worth of wallpaper. Once painted, Patrick found himself up against an unexpected conundrum: tackling the glass-front cabinets. “I didn’t want to have to style each cabinet to perfection at the time, I just wanted to live,” he says. At the suggestion of a friend, he added black linen covers to the outside of the cabinets, a quick fix to keep any clutter hidden away.
Rock What You Got
The majority of the worldly and eclectic decor sprinkled around Patrick’s monochrome pad are actually things he already owned. “I hung tons of art that was given to me by friends of mine or even grandfathers of friends who were artists,” he says of his unique array of artwork. Patrick cites his book collection as another decor focal point of the space. “Books are really important to me in a room, especially because I work out of this home, so I needed to give those a prominent place,” he says. Book stacks are placed strategically throughout the living room and office, lending a cozy, biblio appeal.
Patrick Mele’s 3 Essentials for Small Space Living
Keep It Simple
“Keep the palette consistent and to a minimum. I think consistency overall is kind of the name of the game. If you’re going to paint the living room floors white, better to paint all the floors white. Better to paint all the rooms the same color in this kind of a small space. White floors work in a lot of places especially in a small space, they brighten up the hell out of place!”
“I don’t think the size of the space matters, so long as the food is good, the drinks are good, and the glasses are nice. I put out a small little buffett, stemware, linen napkins, dim the lights, light candles, and have some fresh flowers. That makes people feel welcome. It doesn’t matter the size!”
Don’t Skimp On This
“A great dining or kitchen table. Because it’s where everything happens. Not an island, a table.”
Photos by Annie Schlechter