Interior designer Nicole Arruda shares her journey, expert tips for small space living, and the secrets behind crafting a warm and stylish studio apartment that captures the perfect blend of modern aesthetics and classic comfort.
Upper East Side, New York City – A Canadian girl who dared to dream big and made the leap to New York City nearly six years ago, Nicole Arruda is the epitome of talent and style. Today, we delve into her journey, her stunning studio apartment on the Upper East Side, and her expert tips for turning any space into a harmonious blend of modern and classic elegance.
From Design Dreams to NYC Realities
Nicole’s journey is nothing short of a design fairy tale. Armed with a degree in Interior Design from The Academy of Design in Toronto, she honed her skills by working her way up the ranks, even contributing her talents to HGTV’s Property Brothers. The turning point came when she landed her dream job with a renowned NYC interior designer, providing her with the knowledge and confidence to take the plunge into entrepreneurship and launch Nicole Alexandra Design Studio — a full-service interior design firm based in New York City.
Nicole’s love for design is deeply rooted, tracing back to childhood days spent rearranging furniture and drawing inspiration from her parents’ keen eye for aesthetics. For her, being an interior designer is more than a career—it’s a beautiful merge of passion and profession.
“I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who made everything beautiful, from the inside to the outside of my childhood homes”, explains Arruda. “My mom has the most exquisite taste and eye for good design, my dad owns his own landscape design company – so you can imagine where my creative nature comes from!”
A Peek Inside Nicole’s Studio
Perched in a charming 1920s walk-up building on the Upper East Side, Nicole’s studio apartment is a testament to her impeccable taste. Living with her dog, Jack, she has curated a space that strikes the perfect balance between modern aesthetics and classic warmth. The apartment exudes a feeling of comfort, layering, and femininity, a reflection of Nicole’s design philosophy.
For Nicole, a home should feel good from the moment you step through the door. Her studio apartment, though modest in size, radiates comfort and personality. Each item holds sentimental value, creating a space that is undeniably hers, “Although it’s small, it’s comfortable, functional, and feels like home,” says Arruda.
Designing for Small Spaces: Nicole’s Tips
In a city where space is a luxury, Nicole shares her expertise on decorating small spaces. Her tips include intentional planning, strategic zoning, and opting for multi-functional furniture to maximize both style and functionality. It’s a masterclass in making every square foot count.
“Get super intentional with how you will be using your space, right down to the inch!”
Balancing Style and Functionality
Nicole emphasizes the importance of functionality, recounting her decision to opt for a round dining table over a vintage rectangular one to enhance flow and space in her dining zone. It’s a reminder that thoughtful design choices can transform a space and create a harmonious living environment.
Rental-Friendly DIY Magic
For those hesitant to make permanent changes in a rental, Nicole suggests the transformative power of paint, “It’s super high impact and can change the entire feel of your space.” She also encourages personalizing spaces with artwork and mirrors, showcasing her own rental-friendly DIY lighting upgrade that brought her studio apartment to life.
Nicole’s Favorites and Splurges
Nicole reveals her favorite items, from vintage cane foldable dining chairs to a double-wall candle holder that creates a cozy ambiance, “I love the warmth my vintage cane foldable dining chairs add to my dining space.” She also shares her splurge—a 1930s solid wood entry table/nightstand/dresser—a timeless piece that reflects her commitment to quality and multi-functionality.
Nicole’s wish list encompasses her love for accessories. The Pompeii Amphora Vase is a standout, promising to add a touch of elegance with big green hydrangeas on her dining table.
“It really is all in the details! Something as simple as swapping out your shower curtain can elevate your bathroom. I love this one from Mcgee & Co.”, says Arruda.
Designing a Life Well-Lived
Nicole Arruda’s journey from a Canadian dreamer to an NYC interior designer is a testament to the transformative power of design. Through her studio apartment, she demonstrates that a home isn’t just a place; it’s a reflection of the heart and soul poured into it.
“As corny as it sounds, I feel like I was born to be an interior designer. I loved all the courses I studied in school and wanted to be out in the field as soon as possible! It’s a really beautiful thing to be able to merge your passion and your career.”
Photography: Trevor Parker