The million dollar question: how do you turn an empty, blank space into one with tons of personality?
One of the challenges of living in a large apartment building is it can feel a little impersonal, anonymous, and uninspiring — like you’re living in one of many identical boxes.
To add to this, many renters have limited control over their space in terms of upgrades, so they often feel stuck with something they don’t love. So how do you balance being a renter in a huge apartment building while also pulling off a space that feels unique and homey?
Lifelong Queens native Kitman Leung has struggled with this herself. Her dream is to purchase and renovate a fixer-upper but for now, she resides in a (large) prewar building on a quiet tree-lined street in the Sunnyside neighborhood. She feels right at home in the neighborhood, but she felt she needed to find ways to make her apartment feel more inviting.
As a multi-faceted creative type, she channeled her aesthetic vision into interior design and found that she could incorporate many different styles of West Elm pieces in her home to make it feel cohesive, while maintaining a young and modern vibe. Plus, her husband loves mid-century everything, so it wasn’t hard to find pieces they both loved!
We got a chance to visit Kitman and her cat, Chowder, and take a tour of her charming one-bedroom. Read on below!
Photography by Lindsey Swedick
Hi! I’m Kitman.
I am a designer working at a brand agency in NYC. I am a curious creative who dabbles in many things, including illustration, photography, painting, and most recently interior styling. I met my husband, Raymond, five years ago at church, got married in a farm in Hudson Valley and three years later now we’re living in our first apartment together with my cat, Chowder.
How would you describe your personal style in one phrase?
A minimal, mid-century modern tree house—warm, inviting, and nature-inspired.
Which room do you spend the most time in and what do you love most about it?
We spend most of our time in the living room. We love having friends over to hang out over the weekend. The living room is often where we watch movies and have epic video game tournaments.
What were your 3 main goals when designing this space?
Minimalism, timelessness, and comfort. I purposely kept the style of our home minimal so that it would be our own little retreat from the busyness of living in NYC. In terms of aesthetic, I gravitate towards mid-century modern because I love the clean lines, the use of natural materials, and that it’s unlikely to go out of style. Most importantly, our home needs to be comfortable!
What’s one thing in your home you couldn’t live without?
Our king-size bed. It is the first thing we bought in the apartment and it has been our proudest investment. In pre-marital counseling, our pastor advised us to get a king-size and we have not regretted it since. It is truly one of the secrets to a happy marriage.
What were some big (or small) challenges in designing your space?
The biggest challenge in any rental is the limited ability to personalize your space. As a designer, I like to think that I use some of these challenges as opportunities to be creative. For example, the ceiling pendant light is not perfectly centered over my dining table and that’s not something I can change because of fixed in-wall wiring. I designed with this flaw in mind by intentionally repeating the asymmetry somewhere else—the right-aligned shelves mounted above my sideboard.
What’s something you would do if you had an unlimited budget and timeline?
I would buy a fixer-upper and renovate it. I love the charm of an older home with modern updates.
What’s your best piece of advice to those just starting to design a space for themselves?
Take your time, and do not settle. Only buy things you love and that you know will last for a long time. It might seem like you are spending more, but in the long run, you end up saving more money when you invest in quality goods.