Space 425 square feet | Rent $650

There’s no question that the size and shape of Joseph Costa’s dormered attic apartment are challenging, but with an innate sense of design and proportion he’s transformed it into an arresting home that could strike envy into the heart of someone with three times the square footage.

Costa, a photographer and musician, first saw the apartment a few years ago, when a friend was living in it. He was splitting time between Chicago and Santiago, Chile, and when he decided to settle here on a more permanent basis he found that it was up for grabs. He liked the idea of having a small, affordable place that would be easy to keep up if he decided to travel again. He was also attracted by the unconventional layout–“I’m happy to have someplace weird, otherwise it’s boring,” he says–and the two skylights. “Light is important to me in my space–it affects my mind.” To make the most of it, he painted the floors white to match the walls.

Having parted with nearly all his belongings before heading to Chile, he was able to tailor his furnishings to the space. Conveniently, he had a few friends who were interested in modern furniture. He bought the mahogany-frame sofa, by Danish designer Peter Hvidt, from a furniture-collecting Swedish friend for $900. “I get a lot of his hand-me-downs,” says Costa. The same friend “loaned” him four Eames molded plywood chairs, and another provided an Eames-ish dining table to match. Someone else was throwing out a knockoff Eames recliner and ottoman.

To cordon off the bedroom and office alcoves, Costa installed curtain panels from Ikea, which can be slid back and forth for privacy or to hide clutter. “I’m messy, but I hate to see messy,” he says. He also hung conelike Ikea storage modules in which to keep keys, batteries, tools, and so forth. He likes to use storage pieces in ways they weren’t built for: a white Ikea kitchen wall unit is now a CD holder, and a unit intended for bathroom storage holds dishes, pots, and pans.

Appliances and bedding in bright colors like orange and red add warmth and fun to what might otherwise be a sterile space, but he says it’s not necessarily planned: “I’m attracted to things like this,” he says, picking up a bright red stove-top espresso pot. Even his missteps seem to work out, though–like the small metal frame table that fits perfectly at his bedside. He bought it on eBay intending to use it for a coffee table but forgot to check out the measurements.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Leslie Schwartz.