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What It’s Like Living in a 280 Square Foot Apartment: Tiny Living Downtown

As faithful blog followers know, I sold my small business in 2015 and moved to Seattle for grad school.

I rented rooms for my first term, then fell in love with the tiny 280 square foot apartments in a 100-year-old apartment building in downtown. This, despite the fact that my first internet search of the apartment name returned this unsettling auto-suggest:


Undaunted (I love old buildings, what can I say), I applied. In December I moved into a 280 square foot apartment in a building that formerly served as housing for dock workers and was, for several years in the recent past, a featured stop on the Haunted Walking Tour of Seattle. (I googled it, apparently, there are stories about bodies in murphy beds and a feature on Unsolved Mysteries.)

Happy to trade a few ghost stories for high ceilings and solid wood floors instead of the prefab fiberboard-built micro-apartments popping up all over Seattle, it was my home for almost 4 years before I took off on world travels and eventually settled back into a Seattle suburb and then in the cottage in Saint Louis.

Click Thumbnail for Slideshow- Or Keep Scrolling for Full Descriptions

Since showing off decor and projects was such a fun part of maintaining this blog when I lived full time at Hawk Hill, I’d love to take a few minutes to show off my new 280 square foot space and some projects here.

It doesn’t get grander than the entrance to the building. (Literally. The entrance got some cash dropped on it by the builder that definitely didn’t make it into the rest of the building’s architecture!) I love the entrance and feel very “big city” when I get to say to someone I’m walking home with “this is my building.”

Seattle Apartment Building

Past the entrance, the building is pretty utilitarian. My friends describe the vibe as “haunted hotel meets college dorm”, and that feels pretty accurate.

Old Seattle Studio Apartment Building

My first look at my apartment wasn’t what I dreamed. But even crawling over someone’s stuff, I knew it was good space.

Seattle Apartment

My first look at my new apartment and old tenant’s stuff

And on moving day I got my first real look at the space. It looked a lot bigger when empty, but I stilled gulped at the idea of making a 207 foot living space work. (It’s about 280 total, when bathroom, hall, kitchen, and closet are added, but the single room that functions as bedroom, living room, dining room, and office measures 12ft by 17 ft)

empty seattle

What’s that hole in the floor, you ask? That’s “the bed hole”… the nickname my friend Paul gave to the murphy-bed-inspired space saving design of raising the bathroom floor to allow for storage of a rolling bed underneath. It creeps me out so I don’t use it!

Slowly I began to make it home.

Flowers helped. A lot. Especially in the weeks right after my move where I literally only had a mattress and a bar cart as furniture!

A 6 block walk to Seattle’s Pike Place market means being able to take advantage of very cheap flowers, and as a consolation for living in 280 square feet, I bought myself a big bouquet most weeks.

Tiny Studio Apartment in Downtown Seattle

A Pike Place Market $5 peony flower bouquet on windowsill

Honestly, this view from all my windows still kind of makes me swoon. As a midwestern transplant to Seattle, I’m absolutely in love with the ferries that traverse the Puget Sound. Watching ferries come and go while I make coffee in the morning makes the top 10 list of favorite things about my 280 square foot apartment. The blue smokestack in this photo is a cruise ship- they come and go a few times a week in the summer.

Seattle Apartment in Belltown near Pike Place Market with Puget Sound View

View of the Elliott Bay portion of the Puget Sound in Belltown neighborhood in Seattle

A tour of my 280 square foot apartment.

tiny Seattle Studio Apartment

Nightstand and frilly tulips in a vintage vase attempting to distract your eye from the “bed hole” behind.

bookshelves in Studio Apartment

Looking from the kitchen towards the bathroom captures my Ikea Billy Bookcases, Big blue bed, and a whale tapestry.

I’d been in enough studios to know to avoid the temptation to wall-off sections with partitions or bookshelves. I knew rather than sectioning the tiny studio apartment I wanted to focus on making a big statement in a small space, and a good way to do that would be to invest in one fancy statement piece of furniture. Enter: my Big Blue Bed.

I scoped Seattle Craigslist for about two weeks before I found a couple selling this ornate wood bed, natural-wood colored stain and smelling faintly of cat pee, for $150. 1 wash with vinegar, 2 coats of Zinzer 123 Bullseye primer (to get full adhesion of paint to the slick lacquer that was protecting the wood stain),  and literally 5 or 6 coats of Benjamin Moore “Admiral Blue” and I had the big statement piece I was dreaming of.

Ornate vintage headboard getting first coat of primer.

Ornate vintage headboard getting first coat of primer.

royal blue headboard and linens
280 Square Foot Apartment in Belltown Seattle

With the manager’s permission, I painted the opposing wall in matching Benjamin Moore Admiral Blue to build a color theme. The large blue bed opposite the blue statement wall works really well, I think, to make the small studio feel balanced color-wise.

Seattle Studio Apartment

The “living room side” of my apartment. The gallery wall features, clockwise from top left: 1. a horse shoe from my first horse, painted antique gold & mounted on burlap & framed. 2. a hand-lettered painting of Matthew 11:19. 3. Thrift store mirror. 4. A framed page my mother saved from kindergarten showing a my handwriting as I learned to practice writing my name. I cherish this piece because it reminds me that really hard things can become really easy when you keep practicing. 5. Thrift store dog print. 6. An original painting I absolutely adore, that I scored for $2 at an antique shop once.

My favorite painting - a $2 flea market find - in it's old home on my mantle in Missouri.
My favorite painting – a $2 flea market find – in it’s old home on my mantle in Missouri.
Seattle Studio Apartment

Nightstand: Restyled. Tulips from Pike Place were so lovely and hopeful in early spring- and paired well with a hand lettered print I painted of Jesus’s words in Matthew 11:19, which reminds me that wise choices often look foolish but will be revealed as wise by their result (helpful words for a 30-something who left a successful career to return to school!)

The kitchen is tiny and cute, though less than charming to cook in. I cannot imagine what it’s like cooking for more than one or, God forbid, WITH more than one in this kitchen. The pull out cutting board and cabinets that reach to the ceiling help a little with space issues, though.

Kitchen in a Studio Apartment in Belltown Seattle

The kitchen of my studio apartment was literally designed and built by a company that makes boat galleys- extra, extra, extra small!

280 Square Foot Studio Apartment in Belltown Seattle

My sink is literally about the size of an average shoebox. I’m just thankful I have a separate kitchen and bathroom sink, because many of the tiny studio apartments I looked at in Seattle have one sink shared by both bathroom and kitchen.

280 Square Foot Studio Apartment in Belltown Seattle

My counter/cabinets on the wall across from the sink

You can see my kitchen has room for literally ONE appliance and I chose an electronic pressure cooker. Strange choice? Maybe, but I love this thing- and think I will probably do a blog post on it soon. An electronic pressure cooker can be used like a super-fast crock pot, but can basically do anything a pot on the stove can do: I make scrambled eggs, homemade chai tea, grilled cheese, even pasta in my pressure cooker on various settings.

Here’s the one I had in MO and actually had shipped from MO to myself in Seattle. It’s a little easier to navigate and clean than pots and skillets in my tiny kitchen, and feels a little safer in terms of navigating heat in a kitchen where it’s really easy to get too close to a hot pan or burner.

280 Square Foot Studio Apartment in Belltown Seattle

A sunny windowsill with flowers from Pike Market. The vintage train case in the background looks like decoration, but set up on a crate, I use it like it would have originally been used: to hold my cosmetics and some jewelry.

Tips for living in 280 square feet

One of my best tips for tiny living: Identify things you MUST have but don’t want to look at regularly (For me: microwave, printer, toolbox, etc.) and making hiding them a priority. I chose to hang clothes on wood hangers in an open area of my entry hallway, and instead to use the closet for a shelving unit that stored utilitarian ugly necessities.

For other uglies that I need access to daily: contact lenses, mouthwash, hair gel, etc, I keep my eye out at thrift stores for vintage liquor decanters, lotion/soap dispensers (which work great for hair gel), and wide bail-top jars.

Big Bathroom in Tiny Seattle Apartment

My bathroom, and the rolling cart where I hide some of my daily necessities in plain site in vintage jars. The blue suitcase under the sink serves a dual purpose of storing some art supplies while also covering a previous tenant’s hot pink nail polish stain on the floor.

Multi-level bathroom in studio apartment

the shadow boxes mounted on the wall of my bathroom actually display/store my necklaces.

Big Bathroom in Tiny Seattle Apartment

This ceramic dog, “Bainbridge Dog” was the very first thing I bought FOR my Seattle apartment, during a trip to Bainbridge Island in the fall.

Big Bathroom in Tiny Seattle Apartment

When I get a bouquet from Pike Place market, I always try to pull out a few of the filler flowers to create a tiny floral arrangement in the bathroom.

Big Bathroom in Tiny Seattle Apartment

I’m finding wall tapestries to be a great renter-friendly way to fill a wall or make a big statement. I think this wall tapestry helps the ‘taupe tunnel’ feeling my long, narrow bathroom had before hanging it. The towel rack in my bathroom is a short vintage ladder I scored from a curbside trash pile one day in Renton, Washington.

280 Square Foot Studio Apartment in Belltown Seattle

My bed and workspace. Originally I intended this as a makeshift desk- it’s simply an Ikea tabletop held with two screws to two thrifted industrial style barstools- but it works so well! Total cost: $34

280 Square Foot Studio Apartment in Belltown Seattle

Another view of bed and workspace. I know most people would probably cut back to a laptop in this space, but I love the huge screen when I’m editing photos and even for writing papers.

280 Square Foot Studio Apartment in Belltown Seattle
World Market Fuchsia Nina Chair in Studio Apartment in Seattle

I love my bright fuchsia ‘Nina’ armchair from World Market. Unfortunately I haven’t got to sit in it much, as I broke my tailbone this spring and it’s especially uncomfortable right now.

Erin Sofa in 280 Square Foot Studio Apartment in Belltown Seattle

More of my living space. I’ve sold and replaced this rug since this photo. Turns out that even in a tiny apartment I always underestimate how big of a rug I need for a space!

It was a happy day this spring when peonies arrived at Pike Place Market! This turtle came with me from MO. I made a tutorial for hacking $4 Ikea greenery to fit in little planters like this a few years back.

HEMNES 2-drawer chest Ikea Nightstand in Seattle Apartment

I’ve started a suitcase collection since I moved to Seattle. I use them like I would a plastic storage tote (but so much cuter!) and, bought second hand, they typically cost about the same or less than a similar sized storage container.

World Market Fuchsia Nina Chairin 280 Square Foot Studio Apartment in Belltown Seattle

That view!! My window faces west and watching the sun set over the Puget Sound is definitely something I appreciate.

Seattle Studio Apartment and Ikea Billy Bookshelves


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Some folks have asked me where my furniture came from, so I’ll list below:

Floor Lamp – Crosby Schoolhouse Floor Lamp – Black

Nightstand Lamp – Crosby Schoolhouse Desk Lamp – White

Foggy Forest wall hanging in my Bathroom – The Heart Of My Heart Wall Tapestry

Blue Whale tapestry hanging above bed – Blue Whale Wall Tapestry

Hot Pink Armchair – discontinued

Linen Loveseat – discontinued

Bathroom Storage Cart – Storage Cart – White – Room Essentials

Laptop Table in front of Loveseat – discontinued

Night Stand – Ikea Hemnes 2-Drawer Chest

Desk – Ikea Tabletop + 2 Industrial Style Barstools

Bed – Craigslist

Desk chair – Thrifting

How I made the leap from a 3,000 sq foot farmhouse to a 300 sq foot studio apartment in downtown Seattle.
How I made the leap from a 3,000 sq foot farmhouse to a 280 sq foot studio apartment in downtown Seattle.

Selling the contents of my large home in Missouri via a flea market booth, and rehoming my dog with a lovely family with teens and acreage made it possible to move to this gritty block in the urban neighborhood of Belltown in Seattle, where I stayed for 4 years before taking off on a year of travel, a year of Coronavirus quarantine, and ultimately ending up back in Missouri, this time on the other side of the state in a 1910 cottage urban St Louis, where Hawk Hill’s story continues.

Rozarine Berna Louies

Sunday 10th of March 2024

Hi, I loved seeing how beautifully you have moved and accomodated from 3 BHK to a 300 Sq Ft Studio... That awesome


Monday 5th of June 2017

I love your blog! I have spent half the morning reading your articles. You have given me so many ideas and much inspiration. I especially like the bar stool table. I think I would add wood to the 2 sets of rungs to create 4 shelves, 2 on each side, for even more storage. Thank you for sharing your talent and ideas.


Saturday 22nd of April 2017

Stumbled across your blog on Pinterest while searching for diy drawer dividers. Since I was already here I thought I'd snoop around a bit. Your apartment is lovely!!! Your design style is perfection.