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Kyle Schuneman: West Coast meets East Village

Up-and-coming interior designer Kyle Schuneman’s tips for maximizing small spaces.

Kyle Schuneman wants to help you think inside the box -- that is, the miniscule one-bedroom that commands half of your monthly income. Earlier this month, Hautelook.com asked the 26-year-old interior designer (recently named a "Tastemaker" by Los Angeles Magazine) to make over three typically small New York City apartments in his signature California style. The challenge, he said, was to conjure a coastal theme in a small space "without making it feel like a seafood restaurant." Select items from these makeovers are on sale today and tomorrow at Hautelook.com.

Schuneman, whose book "The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces" publishes this August, chatted with us about how to invite some much-needed West Coast ease into our often-cramped East Coast quarters.

How do you define West Coast style?

I think it's casual, I think it's approachable. I think if you look at it and it's effortless, and it doesn't feel like it's designed by anyone specific and it just feels organic, then that's really California for you.

So the size constraints of the typical East Coast apartment aren't a problem?

Not at all. California is full of an eclectic mix; I think it's important to embrace that and find your own style. It's all about feeling -- if people stop by, they can come in and it's warm and inviting. It doesn't feel uptight.

Can West Coasters take any tips from East Coasters?

You guys do crazy things with your storage, so I've learned a lot about using every nook and cranny. You have such beautiful architecture to pull from, but you don't have the luxury of space. So you have a very structured approach to design, and I think that it can be really mixed well with California style at the same time.

What inspired you to focus on small spaces?

I grew up in a 1,200-square-foot apartment with four people; my parents turned the master bedroom into another bedroom and turned the closet into my sister's room. ... I think you guys have constraints, but they're creative constraints. I think that having a box to work in is sometimes easier than having an unlimited space. Think from an architect's point of view, start with function and build from there.

Kyle's tips for small spaces:

1. "Everything has to function at least twice." Choose furniture that also functions as storage.

2. "Think of your rug as your fifth wall." Aggressive wall colors and patterns can make a small space feel smaller. Keep your walls neutral and go wild with your floor coverings.

3. "Bring the eye up." What your apartment lacks in depth, it can usually make up for in height. Highlight decorative moldings and opt for floor-to-ceiling window treatments.

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