Interiorssneak peeks

A Shared Space In Brooklyn Feels Like A Standalone Home

by Erin Austen Abbott

I love small spaces and always have. When I was a child, whenever we moved, I always wanted the smallest room — and this has followed me into adulthood. When I bought my home, I didn’t pick one of the two bedrooms as my room, but rather the small sunroom located off a bedroom. It’s now my son’s room and very much still my favorite room in my home. So it’s no surprise that this featured room speaks to me. Paula Guzman, an interior designer living in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, has been able to turn her 250-square-foot former living room into a beautiful combination of  sitting area, home office, and bedroom. In a shared Neo-Grec row house brownstone, built in 1877, Paula and her roommate live on the second and third floors.

Paula is originally from Chicago, but has lived in New York City for the past five years. She discovered her passion for design at a young age working on DIY sewing projects, but it wasn’t until she moved to San Francisco after college that she decided to become an interior designer. She credits the striking and well-preserved Victorian architecture of the city to her obsession with the interiors of old houses. Inspired by a sourcing trip to Turkey, Paula has also cultivated a love for vintage textiles and the juxtaposition of raw and refined materials. This upcoming winter, Paula will be traveling to her parents’ hometown in Mexico to source traditional local textiles and artisan home goods. She plans on launching her own line of artisan-made textiles in the near future.

When Paula felt the pull to move back to back Brooklyn — where she had lived for a short time when she first moved to New York — she started looking for a studio apartment. Her friend sent her a listing to a shared brownstone and insisted that it was worth checking out, even though she wasn’t looking to live with roommates again. “I decided to schedule a visit, and was actually the first person to see the newly available room two months before the posted move-in date,” Paula recalls. “As soon as my now roommate Rachel opened the 9-foot doors and led me up the original wooden staircase, I knew I had stumbled upon something truly special. It’s hard to describe, but the home — like many historic homes — has a certain magical charm to it and a strong sense of time and place. I remember immediately falling in love with all the intact architectural details and how quiet it was compared to all my previous Manhattan apartments. I also loved the fact that Rachel had been renting the duplex apartment from the owners, who lived downstairs with their twin boys, for the past four years so it very much felt like a lived-in home. I think I said ‘I’ll take it’ after my first 10 minutes inside.”

Once she moved in, it took Paula about six months to create the space you see today. With her mother’s help, they were able to first paint the walls with Benjamin Moore Lacey Pearl. “I love the way the color reads mostly as a soft grey, but has hints of pink and purple in the daylight. Adding a fresh coat of paint really helped kicked off the decorating process, and I moved on to furnishings,” Paula shares. She used IKEA’s Stockholm rug as a starting point because she felt that it brought the right amount of drama to help balance the top-heaviness of the plaster crown moldings and dark wood shutters. With these two very bold elements at play, she decided to keep the other shapes very clean and simple, and used pattern and color sparingly. “I did, however, incorporate many whimsical pieces of floral art that I had been collecting over the years, which seemed to organically find their perfect place in this new room.”

By thinking of this space as a studio instead of just a bedroom in an apartment, Paula has given us a beautiful take on how to make a shared space truly your own. I hope you enjoy this peek into her cozy studio! —Erin

Photography by Studio Basel  / @studio_basel

Image above: “I used a dramatic black and white striped rug in the bedroom area to balance the heaviness of the plaster crown moldings and dark wood window casings and shutters,” Paula shares.

Paula Guzman on Design*Sponge

“A worldly collection of textiles on my loveseat: A vintage Moroccan wedding blanket pillow from Etsy on top [of] a vintage, orange African mudcloth from Chairish, and a micro-print purple and sage pillow from the English company, Claremont fabrics,” Paula notes.

Paula Guzman on Design*Sponge

Off-white tie-top sheer curtains and linen bedding create a serene and casual look in bedroom area. Because the interior architecture is already so striking, Paula didn’t want to overpower the windows with fussy patterns or materials. After trying at least six different curtain panel options, she decided on simple sheer tie-top curtains from Urban Outfitters. “I love the casual look of off-white sheer curtains, and how they are light filtering but still provide sufficient privacy.”

Paula Guzman on Design*Sponge

“On my nightstand I have a dark horn frame, tarnished silver vase from India, and bronze candlestick lamp from Thomas O’Brien’s collection with Circa Lighting.

Paula Guzman on Design*Sponge

“A mid-century inspired smoked glass globe shade from Schoolhouse Electric hangs on a vintage stem. I love how the glass has a slightly purple tint to it,” Paula shares.

Paula Guzman on Design*Sponge

“The original marble fireplace with a favorite pair of vintage, hand-painted candlesticks from Mexico. I love the way the scalloped mirror adds a touch of whimsy to the room.”

Paula Guzman on Design*Sponge

“The carved marble fireplace mantel is one of my favorite original architectural details in the whole apartment.”

Paula Guzman on Design*Sponge

“My favorite pair of vintage, hand-painted candlesticks from Mexico with beeswax candlesticks from ABC Carpet & Home,” Paula says.

Paula Guzman on Design*Sponge

“I use the pin boards above my desk to organize ideas for different rooms of my residential projects. I actually mount them to the wall using velcro so I can swap them out depending on what I’m working on that day, and also bring them with me to client meetings. The shelves on the trestle desk are great for storing my design magazines and fabric swatch containers.”

Paula Guzman on Design*Sponge

“In the living room area, a pink painted wood lamp and Ghanian glass beads, both purchased from One Kings Lane, sit atop a mango wood and glass desk from Jaime Young.

Paula Guzman on Design*Sponge

“A brown crystal geode from my childhood rock and gemstone collection sits on top of my handwritten note. The note is on a vintage Turkish tea tray that I shipped from a little shop in Izmir during my travels,” Paula shares, “I love that I have the best of both worlds in this apartment — an awesome roommate and a sense of community, but also plenty of space to house my workspace and relax. It feels like I live in a studio apartment contained within an old brownstone, which is truly a dream come true.”

Paula Guzman on Design*Sponge

“A note on the chalkboard wall in the kitchen, handwritten by my roommate Rachel when I first moved into the apartment. I loved it so much that I still haven’t erased it, even seven months later.” 

Paula Guzman on Design*Sponge

The floor plan drawn and rendered by Paula shows the three distinct areas she created in her studio suite.

Vintage metal bed – Chairish
Linen duvet & shams – West Elm
Sheets – Ralph Lauren Home
Moroccan pillow on bed – Etsy
Black dresser – Noir Furniture
Lamp on dresser – Circa Lighting
Art – Artfully Walls, One Kings Lane, and Chairish
Curtains – Urban Outfitters
French sidechair – Curbside find!
Globe pendant – Schoolhouse Electric

Rug/Desk/Desk Chair – Ikea
Desk lamp – CB2
Basket – Serena & Lily
Ceramic planter – Natty’s Garden

Loveseat – Birch Lane
Printed Pillow – Claremont
Velvet Pillows – Pottery Barn
Glass Beads – One Kings Lane
Pink lamp – One Kings Lane
Area rug – Vintage, purchased in Turkey
Candlesticks – Chairish

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  • Hi, hoping you can clarify something for me – in a lot of posts people are interior designers. In Australia this is a university course – is this the same in America. Thx Janetta

    • Janetta

      You can go to school for design here, yes, but it’s not required to be called an interior designer :)

      Lots of designers we feature are self taught, or have degrees in other fields of art, or/and have trained under other interior designers.


        • I think interior designers in America are like interior decorators in Australia. Then again, in Australia, I don’t think interior designers can design to knock out walls whereas an interior architect can. I remember considering interior design as a career and getting advice that it was more like the official interior architecture courses now. But then interior designers don’t like being called interior decorators because it’s seen to devalue or make like of their own (often university or tech college) qualifications. It’s confusing to say the least and I’m sure a lot of it is a generational thing in terms of industry labels!

      • I thought that to be called an interior designer, you had to have a degree. That’s also my impression after a quick Internet search. Without the degree, you are a stylist or a decorator, not an interior designer. But I am maybe wrong.

  • Absolutely perfect use of space and color; one can see how the floral artwork “organically” landed in the right spots, but clearly, Paula, you have the eye for juxtaposing line, form and color, as the in the way the shape and color of the pink lamp are somehow repeated in the painting on the wall above it. What’s so cool about that is that it isn’t obvious at first; the realization dawns on you after you’ve just generally felt the good vibes of the vignette and then the logical symmetry materializes right in front of your eyes. Absolutely love your sweet space! I would hire you in a New York minute!

    • Thanks so much, Kitt! I really appreciate your thoughtful comment on my space :)

  • Hi Paula,
    Such a beautiful and calming space!
    Would you mind sharing the name of the software or program you used for your floor plan?
    Thank you,

  • Gorgeous and thoughtful home.
    Paula, I’ve looked through the links for the floral piece above your bed but am unable to find. Can you please share the name of the piece/artist? Was it part of the Anthropology artfully walls collab? Thank you! Just started following you on IG ❤️

    • Hi Shannon, thank you so much!

      The piece above my bed was actually a gift; I believe it was originally purchased from Lillian August, but do not have the artist’s name.

      See you on IG!
      – Paula

  • I just can’t seem to skip a day without reading your blog. Everything in it just fascinates me, specially that you are able to send the message across very well. Thanks again Erin!

  • Squeee!! I have the SAME bed ( from my grandmother), the SAME dark wood windows, the SAME horn frame ( also from GM),the SAME curtains ( although DIY), and the SAME julep cups full of flowers ( rosemary, today). I feel like when one see someone else who is wearing the same kind of shoes and really rocking the look, i.e., I am LOVELY and didn’t know it! Wow! Thanks for leading me to water, now I’m drinking it! HAH!