- with his wife and child.
A Small One-Bedroom Apartment Made Big
Designer David Kaihoi makes his small East Village apartment feel much larger with smart organization, multipurpose furniture, and bold colors.
Barbara King: Unbelievable.
David Kaihoi: Pretty small, isn't it?
It's Lilliputian! There are walk-in closets bigger than your bedroom.
Yeah, it's only eight-by-eight feet. And all three of us sleep in there.
Divide the family into the total square footage and you each get 130 square feet.
Before Mirabelle was born, Monique and I were in an apartment that was 300 square feet. We're old pros at the tiny-space lifestyle.
Here's the most surprising thing of all: it doesn't feel claustrophobic.
The way to stay happy when you're living on top of one another is by ruthlessly editing — one thing in, one thing out. A place for everything, and everything in its place. It's a difficult and daily battle, but we deal with it.
No, it's more than just being orderly, although goodness knows you can organize a drawer. I think it has as much to do with the visual richness here, so many places for the eye to roam and be engaged.
It was just a white box when we moved in. We added moldings, antique doors, window niches, and the wood floor for character, to give it a prewar feeling. And there's a density of color here that makes it feel enveloping and warm instead of pinched and anemic. It sort of wraps around you. We found out that a small white box tends to look more cluttered when you have things. And no matter how much you edit, you have things. I mean, we'd put one thing on the coffee table, throw a shirt on the sofa, and it looked messy.
So you painted the walls ripe purple and bottle green, and the floor moody blue. That's a big, bold gesture that seems...well, almost swashbuckling.
I didn't come up with those colors just like that. This was a real slow burn for us. It all started with the wallpaper. When I put it up, Monique said, "Oh no, honey. It looks dirty." It did, with all the white walls. But once we painted the closet tulip red, a softness, a lightness emerged. And everything just snowballed from there.
I want to know more about that wallpaper. It gives the room an ancient, exalted feeling.
It's 18th-century Chinese. I stumbled across it at an auction, this pile of dilapidated pieces that nobody else wanted. I had to have it. I found three large scenes, placed them around the room, and pieced in the gaps and torn bits. The idea was to create a jewel-box effect in the bedroom, with pattern to distract your senses from the tight quarters. I papered the wall in the spirit of a collage, trying to make the most of a beautiful old thing. Call it a new take on a traditional application.
Was that the idea with the paper on the walls of the bathroom?
Those are actually hidden doors. I ripped out the old standard-issue medicine cabinet and discovered a 10-inch-deep cavity behind it. So I built a large storage space. The wallpaper is a repeated set of eight silhouettes that I made, then printed on thick stock paper, and pasted on. The pattern plays off all the white tile, and the palette works well with the green kitchen.
You went all out in the kitchen.
I wanted it to be a gutsy one-note accent to all the color, pattern, and objects in the rest of the apartment. I did it in high gloss because it has a more luxe look than flat paint, like lacquer. It has that glassy, reflective quality that can light up and expand a small room.
Why a painted floor and no rugs?
We love old rugs, but they would feel too cumbersome here. And we painted it because a plain wood floor is way too depressing.
You weren't afraid this bookcase would feel cumbersome, too, and close the room in?
Not at all. It actually gave us more floor space because this one substantial piece holds not just our books but our TV, Mirabelle's toys, all sorts of items. The essence of our life is in this bookcase! Besides, big furniture makes a small room seem grander. And the driving force behind the design here was to make everything as multifunctional as possible. There's also storage inside the banquette, which functions as a sofa and a seat for dining. We use that table under the mirror as a dining table — it has a folding leaf.
So what brought a milk-fed Midwesterner to the East Village?
Boy chases girl who was chasing a fashion dream. Monique is a visual merchandiser at DKNY. I followed her here from Minnesota eight years ago.
Was interior design your dream?
Never. I was a studio artist. But I met Miles Redd when I was doing art installations for ILevel, and he offered me a job. He's been a huge influence on me — his fashion sense of color, his forward-thinking ideas.
If you had to describe this apartment in four or five words, what would you say?
Tenement with a contemporary twist.
With sex appeal, too.