Being Home: Finding Space in a 280-Square-Foot New York City Apartment

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Focusing on spaces in people's homes where they go to recharge, tune in, and settle into the simple act of "be-ing."

When 27-year-old KC Cibran decided she wanted to live on her own for the first time, the most affordable studios happened to be way up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan — a far cry from the two bedroom spot she shared with a roommate in young, bustling Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She found a 280-square foot 4th floor walk-up to call home — and transformed it immediately into the Cuban-inspired, Boho paradise of her dreams. That was less than a year ago — pre-pandemic.

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Four months after she moved in, she won Apartment Therapy's Small Cool contest, in the Tiny category, for spaces under 500 square feet — not just for her vibrant, eclectic style but also her savvy use of space. By then, however, New York City had shut down — and Cibran found herself quarantining at home, alone.

"To be completely honest — and honesty is the best policy — I have had a very hard time," says Cibran, who works as an assistant in Midtown Manhattan, right by Rockefeller Center. "When I got this apartment, I never thought I'd be spending this much time in here. What's been a saving grace for me is that I've taken this time to make my space my own."

Where is that space, or spot, in your home that is uniquely your own … where you feel your most you**?**

I love this little corner right next to the window (and also next to the AC unit, so you get some air when you are sitting there). I wanted to make it a little nook. The main piece there, my favorite piece in my apartment, is a bamboo swivel change. I found it on the street. I wanted one of these chairs forever, so when I saw it, I said, I'm taking this! That chair means so much to me. Just sitting in it looking out my window onto New York City, I feel like, Oh my god, I actually live here.

And what do you do there?

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I like to keep it my no-technology zone. It's mostly where I turn off social media, turn off my laptop, and just be on my own in the chair. I love people-watching in New York. I can see the sidewalk down there. I take in the day.

Why does this particular space have meaning for you?

Obviously the chair has a story and meaning to me. And to be able to look outside, it's one of those pinch-yourself moments. I'm living in New York City where I always wanted to live my whole life.

What is something you like to do in that space that might surprise people?

People-watching is one, I guess. The Upper East Side is a lot of older people, which again, is so different from what I'm usually surrounded with. I'm so appreciative. There's families here. There are tons of dogs. There's also a lot of community work in the area, too, whether they are planting new flowers or birdhouses. It's very quiet and just kinda reserved.

What do you like to surround yourself with in this space? And why is it important?

I definitely identify as a plant parent. At the end of the day, I live alone. I love my plants. Just caring for something and putting effort and work into something and watching it grow… Especially in such a small space, they help it feel cozier and warmer. The first thing I did when I moved in was hang the pothos.

What are three things in your home that hold the most value to you? (Excluding people or creatures, because of course!)

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The chair absolutely — it's my favorite curb-find in New York.

One of my other favorite pieces is a framed tea towel of a girl holding a sign that says "Women's Lib." It's my aunt's from the '60s, from the marches. She gave it to me when I moved to New York. It's the last thing I see when I go out, and it reminds me, Alright, let's go kick butt.

And my green chair, which is right under the women's lib sign. I had that chair picked out before I even had an apartment picked out. It's my favorite buy — and the most expensive in the apartment.

Finish this sentence, "Home is where …"

You're surrounded by the things you love.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Being Home is a series that focuses on spaces in people's homes that genuinely reflect who they are — a dedicated spot where they go to recharge or to "tune in" — where they feel their most creative, safe, joyful, or true. Where they settle into the act of "be-ing."

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Laura Lambert is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who covers lifestyle, design, and women's health.