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Nick Olsen's 300-Square-Foot Studio Apartment in Brooklyn

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In Why This Works, decorator and former shelter-magazine editor Alexa Stevenson looks point-blank at professionally decorated rooms and breaks down the elements that make it work. Have a suggestion for someone whose work should be showcased? Do let us know.

NYC-based designer Nick Olsen may just be made of magic. Evidence: his transformation of a studio apartment that's just shy of 300 square feet (hello, micro apartment!) into a sophisticated space that utilizes every single inch. For the home, which was once featured in House Beautiful, the challenge for Olsen was obviously the sense of feeling constrained, so he used color, prints, an inventive floor plan, and even a daring sense of scale to make the room come together.

1. "Since this is a studio apartment with fairly little wall space (the kitchen sits in the corner behind this photo), we floated the desk at the foot of the bed in the center of the room," Olsen explains. "So much better than shoving it into a corner. This way my client gets to face two windows and admire her pretty bed, not the bare wall."
2. "I often find folks are too respectful of scale," says Olsen. "Especially when working in a small space." These big mercury glass gourd lamps and their black paper shades aren't traditional bedside lamps, but they keep other pieces from looking fit for a dollhouse.
3. Fashion honcho Karl Lagerfeld draws a black line around all of his fashion sketches and Olsen applies this notion to decorating. "The emerald-green binding on the curtain ruffle, the contrast piping on the headboard and the black accents in an otherwise very colorful space have the same effect: grounding but also heightening the gestures within the space."
4. "Texture contrast is so key," the designer explains. "Mercury glass sits next to red lacquer, which is next to rough seagrass and matte walls. If everything had a high sheen this would look like a hall of mirrors; the opposite an adobe hut."
5. "It's already a cliché, but I think every room does need a touch of red. These bamboo nightstands were originally a hideous shade of brown, but a coat of Fine Paints of Europe's Tulip Red makes them (and the room) so much more cheerful. Look closely and you'll see a tiny red butterfly in the Schumacher print. All the colors of our scheme can be found there, even purple!"

· Nick Olsen [official site]
· All Why This Works columns [Curbed National]