The Winner of Apartment Therapy’s Small/Cool Contest Has One Amazing Kitchen

updated Jun 15, 2020
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Apartment Therapy readers have spent the past few weeks scrolling through hundreds of real-life homes and voting for their favorite Small/Cool spaces of 2020. And today’s the day we’ve all been waiting for!

After the public chose their favorites in four separate bracketsSmall (751 to 1,000 square feet), Smaller (501 to 750 square feet), Tiny (251 to 500 square feet), and Teeny Tiny (250 square feet or fewer) — a panel of judges selected the 2020 Small/Cool contest grand prize winner. Are you ready? Like, really ready? Here goes!

Michelle Spetner has taken the prize for her 590-square-foot modern-eclectic apartment in Oakland, California.

When Apartment Therapy announced Michelle’s bracket win on Instagram back in May, commenters couldn’t get enough of her kitchen, with its cool green cabinets, extensive open wood shelving, and pops of orange (including a hand-me-down Le Creuset set). 

Funny, considering the kitchen actually used to be a bedroom — the fridge sits in what was a Murphy bed alcove! (And the closet was turned into a pantry-slash-laundry room.) See, Michelle and her partner Antonio rent from Michelle’s mom, Katherine Spetner, an architect and artist who purchased the building back in 2014. At the time, the apartment had been stripped down to the studs, so Michelle and her mom worked together to redesign the apartment and boost its functionality factor while they were at it. The kitchen went in the bedroom, and vice versa.   

Now, Michelle loves how integrated the kitchen is with the rest of the living space. “Having the dining table smack in the middle of our kitchen means it is so easy to host and entertain while preparing drinks, food, and even cleaning up at the end of the night,” she says. “A bonus is being able to have the door to our balcony open while making coffee in the morning.”

Although they don’t have a ton of storage space, Michelle and Antonio are able to keep the kitchen nice and organized because functionality was such a key part of the apartment’s design. For example, they designed the shelving to specifically fit the items they intended to store on them. “The shelves above the stove perfectly fit quart Mason jars and spices,” Michelle explains. “The staggered shelves make for a more interesting look but also allow for taller items, such as the olive oil.” There’s also a bunch of smart drawers under the stovetop: “We use them to store cast iron pans, trays, a griddle, Tupperware, baking supplies, and lots of utensils.”

As for those subdued green cabinets: They found the cabinets at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and added IKEA pulls and paint — a custom color mixed by Michelle’s mom. 

Apartment Therapy readers loved the openness of the apartment — including the open shelving, although some skeptics worried about the dust and tidiness factor. “Our trick to keeping the open shelves clean is that we use everything on the shelves constantly,” Michelle says. “That means dust doesn’t get a chance to settle, and every time I use the last of a piece in a stack, I quickly wipe down the shelf itself. Once a year, I get in a cleaning frenzy and will take everything down to get rid of anything we are not using and wipe it all down.”

Michelle entered the 2020 Small/Cool contest because her best friend, Beth, encouraged her to. While sending in her stuff, she learned something new: “I actually thought that we had 650 square feet until I measured for the contest and was like, ‘Oh my god, we have 590? That’s even smaller than I thought,’” Michelle says. “But it just feels like a full-size home in a way, even though it’s so small.”

One lesson she’d like for you to take away? Create a home that fits your style and your needs. Even if you’re not building up from the studs — think about what will work best for you, and not what other people would think is best. “We designed the spaces of the apartment for us,” Michelle says. “So I had never actually considered there would be public interest in our apartment!” 

Congratulations, Michelle!