Thelma Golden's living room with built-in bookshelves


While some highly regarded decorators declare that filling small rooms with furniture actually makes them look bigger, Thelma prefers a gallery-like spareness. A pair of Salvation Army snake-print chairs were almost the only pieces that made the move, while bookcases and armoires gave way to built-ins. "The key to living in a smaller space," she says, "is not having too much."

One of the apartment's few pieces of original art, a painting by Thelma's friend Glenn Ligon, is propped on the brick mantel in the living room. A combined 22 feet of built-in shelves hold books as well as Depression-era glass, which she loves for its green color. The two-section sofa by Paola Lenti and the coffee table by Peter Mann are from Karkula. 

"As much as it seems like I've never gotten rid of a book in my life, I've actually given away hundreds—especially cookbooks. To donate, check out the charity bookstores near you. I usually go to Housing Works in New York."
Thelma Golden's 16-feet of closet space


By that, she definitely means chairs and sofas, not clothes and shoes. Of the $25,000 she spent on the renovation, several thousand went to new closets. She and contractor Ingrid Baptista designed them for fast fashion access on any occasion—essential for someone who's always flying off to cities as different as Los Angeles and London. "When I was packing for warm destinations in the winter, I'd go insane looking for my one white tank top," she says. "Sometimes I'd end up buying more clothes just for the trip."

Thelma and Baptista's brainchild—16 feet of running closets—required the sacrifice of two and a half feet of floor space, but no matter. Behind closet door number one hang shirts and pants, with some serious shoes on shelves above and below (at least 50 pairs, mainly Prada and Sigerson Morrison). Closet number two holds suits, dresses, sweaters, and knit shirts. Number three follows with evening wear, a bridesmaid's dress saved from her best friend's wedding, six years ago, and other "sentimental stuff," such as her christening gown and the plain white dress she wore at her graduation from Smith. "If I were to make an exhibition about my life," Thelma says, "almost all my clothes would be in it."

"Tailor your space to your needs. In one closet, I have upper and lower rods for skirts, pants, and tops. The second is all shelves for bags and linens. In the third, there's just one rod for suits and dresses. To hang evening gowns, I use hooks on the ceiling."
A kitchen island gives Thelma a place to cook, eat, and work.


The kitchen, which represents about half of Thelma's renovation budget, is equally space-conscious, with a new island (paired with Harry Bertoia stools from Knoll) that not only stores pots and pans but also gives her a place to sit and eat breakfast or read the paper. To offset the island's pricey Corian top, she chose simple, affordable Ikea cabinetry in glossy white lacquer. The cabinets are big enough to hold all the plates she needs, now that her parties are buffet dinners for 25 or 30. But it's the kitchen's closet, she says, that changed her life. Instead of buying staples one at a time to save space, she now buys in bulk—and opens the pantry door to the comforting sight of jumbo detergent jugs and 12-packs of Pellegrino water.

"Consider the appliances you use regularly. If you never cook dinner for a crowd, you might not need that dishwasher. Save the space for extra storage drawers—you don't have to have the trendy drawers with a slot for every utensil."
Rich fabrics and patterns decorate the white bedroom.


Other than her books, Thelma has little art. Partly, that's practicality. The very same skylights and windows that attracted her to the apartment could ruin a painting or a drawing in a few months. More important, she adds, is a psychological reason: "For me, white space is a real necessity. If I had a lot of art at home, I'd be curating it constantly."

Rich fabrics and patterns decorate her white-walled bedroom instead. Dutch designer Tord Boontje's Garland lights add a fanciful touch to a bed made with linens from Dwell and Designers Guild.

Keep Reading
17 big design ideas, one small loft
6 ways to make the most of your small space
Tiny homes filled with big ideas 


Next Story