This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions

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By Laura Mauk / Photos by Matthew Williams
A transforming apartment in New York offers ingenious solutions for making the most of limited square footage.

When it comes to living space, Russian architect Peter Kostelov knows how to spin straw into gold. "New York is one of the more densely populated cities," he says. "It’s an island; it cannot expand. There can only be transformation." 

This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 1 of 18 - Peter Kostelov, an accredited architect in Russia who is studying for his U.S. license, gutted the 700-square-foot apartment and reapportioned rooms. The living/dining room is located on the east side of the residence, to capture all available natural light.

Peter Kostelov, an accredited architect in Russia who is studying for his U.S. license, gutted the 700-square-foot apartment and reapportioned rooms. The living/dining room is located on the east side of the residence, to capture all available natural light.

Peter, who has won awards for his modernist residential designs in Russia, and his wife, Olia Feshina, an artist and fashion designer, moved from Moscow to Manhattan in 2013. "We wanted to work in New York," Peter says. The couple owned an apartment in Harlem near the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, where Peter is studying, before they purchased an apartment in a 1920 brick building farther north in Washington Heights. 

This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 2 of 18 - Peter and his wife, artist Olia Feshina, relax inside their apartment in New York’s Washington Heights.

Peter and his wife, artist Olia Feshina, relax inside their apartment in New York’s Washington Heights.

The apartment featured two bedrooms, but two were not enough. "We each need an office with a door," says Olia, who’s currently focusing on painting and studying English. "It’s an important thing to be alone with your thoughts and your work." 

This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 3 of 18 - The dining area features a flexible, rolling table and benches that can accommodate up to 12 guests. 

The dining area features a flexible, rolling table and benches that can accommodate up to 12 guests. 

So Peter gutted the space—leaving the red brick interior shell and wood beams intact—and transformed the 700-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment into a flexible residence with three bedrooms, one of which doubles as an office for him, and a second that also functions as a studio for Olia. "I’ve always been involved with multifunctional and transformable space," Peter says. "We have to sacrifice old ideas and rethink living standards." He also designed a new spacious living area, a kitchen, and a bathroom that includes a laundry area.

This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 4 of 18 - Custom furnishings that fold or slide away when not in use, as well as a new floor plan, give the couple a flexible, singular home with many options. 

Custom furnishings that fold or slide away when not in use, as well as a new floor plan, give the couple a flexible, singular home with many options. 

"We have to sacrifice old ideas and rethink living standards." Peter Kostelov, resident and architectural designer

This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 5 of 18 - Original wood beams and the brick wall are the surviving hallmarks of the previous apartment. The space now contains three bedrooms instead of the original two. The brick wall is the spine of the apartment; all rooms radiate from it.

Original wood beams and the brick wall are the surviving hallmarks of the previous apartment. The space now contains three bedrooms instead of the original two. The brick wall is the spine of the apartment; all rooms radiate from it.

Peter rearranged and added rooms but maintained the railroad-style layout of the apartment. "I moved the living/dining room from the middle to the east side, which faces the street with two big windows," says Peter, who wanted the sunlight. He relocated the master bedroom, which previously existed where the new living/dining room is located, to the opposite, or west side, of the apartment. "I didn’t want the street noise to bother us while we’re sleeping," he says. Olia’s studio, Peter’s office, and the bathroom are bookended by the living/dining room and the master bedroom. 

This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 6 of 18 - In the kitchen, Peter created a small built-in table and two seats; anchored to the wall with stainless steel brackets, they can hold up to 330 pounds and fold down when not in use. He also designed all the cabinetry and shelving, and selected Terra Cubo porcelain tile by Marca Corona from Garden State Tile for the floor. 

In the kitchen, Peter created a small built-in table and two seats; anchored to the wall with stainless steel brackets, they can hold up to 330 pounds and fold down when not in use. He also designed all the cabinetry and shelving, and selected Terra Cubo porcelain tile by Marca Corona from Garden State Tile for the floor. 

When guests enter, they’re at one end of a long red-brick-lined hallway that runs the length of the apartment and accesses each of the rooms. The kitchen is located in a section of the corridor. Visitors marvel at its open-plan design and the way it flows into and borrows natural light from the living/dining room. 

This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 7 of 18 - Peter conceived a stepped program for the layout. Placing the rooms at different levels created cavities for storage as well as for furnishings, such as the dining table and benches and the bed in Olia’s studio, which when not in use slide into the space beneath the raised floor in Peter’s office, above.

Peter conceived a stepped program for the layout. Placing the rooms at different levels created cavities for storage as well as for furnishings, such as the dining table and benches and the bed in Olia’s studio, which when not in use slide into the space beneath the raised floor in Peter’s office, above.

But however engaging the kitchen’s fluidity is, the Swiss Army knife–like ability of each room is the most captivating element of Peter’s design. A dining table on wheels pulls out of the volume that separates the living/dining room from the kitchen and Peter’s office. It can be pulled out to seat 12. A pair of benches that double as storage compartments fit underneath the table and also roll out. "When the table is stored away, it’s a large living room," Peter says. "But when we pull it out, the room transforms into a dining area. The two of us can sit and have coffee or we can have a big party with all our friends. It’s so convenient."

This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 8 of 18 -  The bedroom/office is a few steps above the living/dining room. 

 The bedroom/office is a few steps above the living/dining room. 

Peter raised his office to accommodate the height of the dining table. "The table is stored underneath the office floor," he says. "I walk up stairs to enter into my office." The stairs are a tool Peter used to provide the feeling of escape. "They make you feel like you’re going somewhere," he says.

This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 9 of 18 - The bedroom/studio shares a wall with the bedroom/office.

The bedroom/studio shares a wall with the bedroom/office.

To move to New York and purchase the Washington Heights apartment, Peter and Olia sold the home Peter designed for them in Moscow. The exterior siding of that structure— featured in William Hall’s Wood, published by Phaidon—displays wood panels arranged in a patchwork pattern that give the building a distinctive appearance. Peter used the same approach for the plywood walls he created in the New York apartment. 

This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 10 of 18 - "These rooms are for our friends and family who visit," Peter explains. "But I think it’s also important to have a place to sleep where you work. You have to take a break and refresh your mind. I work and work and then sleep for twenty minutes, and then I work some more." 

"These rooms are for our friends and family who visit," Peter explains. "But I think it’s also important to have a place to sleep where you work. You have to take a break and refresh your mind. I work and work and then sleep for twenty minutes, and then I work some more." 

"It’s a pretty complicated design," he says. "The panels allow me to cut smaller pieces that fit together with all the angles that the storage creates," he says. "They allow me to make mistakes and work as I go. I can cut a piece differently and make it fit without having to buy a new sheet of wood." Peter numbered each of the plywood panels and applied them like a puzzle—with the help of his carpenter father Vladimir Kostelov. "My father flew here from Moscow and helped me build this," he says. "I don’t know what I would have done without him."

This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 11 of 18 - The bed in Olia's studio slides into the space beneath the raised floor in Peter's office.

The bed in Olia's studio slides into the space beneath the raised floor in Peter's office.

To create the dining room table, Peter used only one four-by-eight-foot sheet of plywood. "I love plywood, because it’s an honest, natural material," he says. "But it was also very important to think about cost and efficiency. As an architect, I study sustainability. If you’re smart, you can figure out how not to waste material. Architecture today is different. Now, you have to think more than ever before. You have to be very efficient."

This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 12 of 18 - Storage strategy is key in small spaces, and Peter took extra care in this regard. "We like to go camping, and Olia has canvases and other art equipment," he says.

Storage strategy is key in small spaces, and Peter took extra care in this regard. "We like to go camping, and Olia has canvases and other art equipment," he says.

This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 13 of 18 -
This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 14 of 18 - Three tall closets conceal the couple’s belongings. 

Three tall closets conceal the couple’s belongings. 

This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 15 of 18 - More closets and built-in desks with plenty of drawers are in the office and the studio.

More closets and built-in desks with plenty of drawers are in the office and the studio.


This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 16 of 18 - Cantilevered shelves flank the bed and function as nightstands.

Cantilevered shelves flank the bed and function as nightstands.


This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 17 of 18 - In the master bedroom, the top of the platform bed is hinged on one side and lifts like the cover of a book.

In the master bedroom, the top of the platform bed is hinged on one side and lifts like the cover of a book.

"If you’re smart, you can figure out how not to waste material." Peter Kostelov

This Compact Apartment in NYC Is Full of Crafty Solutions - Photo 18 of 18 -

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