small spaces

My Closet, My Office, My Nursery

How five New Yorkers turned their closets into extra rooms.

Photo: Anna Shohet

With the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan hovering around $6,000, it’s no surprise that many New Yorkers are opting to stay put in their studios or one-bedrooms even when they need more space. One solution that sounds hellish but can be game-changing: Clear out a closet and live in it. Five New Yorkers share the DIY transformations that have given their apartments an entire extra room.

The Closet Turned Nursery

A front closet made into a nursery. Photo: Lindsey Barker

When Lindsey Barker learned she was pregnant, she looked around her 900-square-foot, one-bedroom Upper East Side apartment and realized there was no good spot for a crib, let alone a full-blown nursery. But moving to a larger place would have been logistically complicated due to the terms of the apartment’s lease. “It wasn’t really possible for us to move unless we wanted to move right when the baby came, which didn’t make sense,” she says.

About three months before Barker’s due date, she and her husband decided to renovate their front closet, which they’d been using to store off-season clothes, coats, and childhood keepsakes. They took down most of the built-in shelving that had come with the closet to make room for a crib and a dresser and used a different closet and space behind their sofa for storage. (They also donated a few things and moved others into the building’s basement.) One wall of built-in shelving remained intact to store clothes, diapers, and other nursery items.

“We didn’t get approval for this,” Barker says of their DIY renovation process. “We just thought we’d ask for forgiveness.”

With the shelving gone, Barker turned to Pinterest for design inspiration. “I wanted the space to feel bigger and calm, which is how I settled on the mountain scene,” she says. Her parents helped paint the five-by-seven-foot space while they were visiting from Cincinnati for the baby shower.

The couple opted for a Nestig three-in-one convertible bed, which transitions from a bassinet to a full crib to a toddler bed. Their dresser also doubles as a changing table. They removed the closet door to let air and light into the windowless space and added a curtain in its place.

“I work in fashion and I love to shop, so I definitely had to give up a lot to make it work,” Barker says. “But we’re all fine. Everyone’s surviving and no one is without their shoes, so that’s all that matters.”

The Closet Turned Vocal-Isolation Booth

A closet turned into a vocal isolation booth for two musicians. Photo: Brando Kress

Shortly after musicians Brando Kress and his wife, Alexandra Klausner, moved into their 1,300-square-foot one-bedroom duplex in Bed-Stuy, they got to work converting a room on the lower level into a home-recording studio. The pièce de résistance is a closet that serves as a vocal-isolation booth, complete with a microphone stand, soundproofing panels on the walls, decorative lights, and storage for instruments and equipment. “The previous tenant had punched a hole in the closet door and everything built off that,” says Kress, who did all of the work himself over the course of a month. “I saw this thing, and that led to another thing, and suddenly I was drilling a bunch of holes and filling them with insulation foam.”

There was just one tiny dilemma to consider as they got to work: Their landlord’s bedroom was directly beneath their new home studio. They decided to keep her in the loop as they renovated and do what they could to earn her favor, including revamping the building’s front yard and cleaning up the backyard, gratis. “She never has a problem with our sound,” says Kress. “There was only one time when I was literally blasting deep-bass dance music to hone in on a low-end sound, and she asked me to turn it down.”

Kress pays the bills through his work as a lighting designer and audio engineer for events throughout the city (including the Met Gala), but he also produces music for other artists and composes his own solo works. “I work with a lot of different artists who will come in here and actually do recordings,” he says. (Some have commented that the space feels a little tight.)

Alexandra, a freestyle singer, uses the closet to record voiceover clips and audition videos. “This is also the space that I asked her to marry me in,” says Kress. “We went out to dinner, and that night we ended up doing a freestyle, and I asked her to marry me in the middle of the song. It’s definitely impacted our relationship. It’s like, Oh, this is a space where we get to be childlike and creative with our work and we just get to be ourselves.

The Closet Turned Kid’s Bedroom

In Kissenia Florentino’s studio apartment, the closet became a private toddler bedroom.Photos: Kissenia Florentino.
In Kissenia Florentino’s studio apartment, the closet became a private toddler bedroom.Photos: Kissenia Florentino.

When the time came for Kissenia Florentino to transition her toddler son from a crib to a bed, she briefly considered splitting her 600-square-foot Bronx studio into two bedrooms with a temporary wall. But pretty quickly, she decided against it; she didn’t want to compromise the apartment’s sunlight or its communal space. That’s when she started to eye the walk-in closet near the apartment’s front entrance.

The closet has changed as her son has grown. When she first converted the space, which is 38.50 square feet, she kept the built-in shelving in place to store toys and stuffed animals, and installed the Ikea Trofast system under his toddler-sized bed to increase the room’s storage capacity. But now that her son is 9-years-old, the closet shelving is gone and he has a lofted twin bed (purchased from Walmart) with a desk underneath where he does his homework. The built-in ladder for the bed didn’t fit into the space, so Florentino bought a custom one traditionally used in RVs to replace it. “I found it by researching detachable ladder alternatives for bunk beds,” explains Florentino, who spent about $400 on the project. “I narrowed the search by looking for the exact height I needed. This ladder came up as an option.”

Though the closet bedroom is functional, privacy is a big issue for everyone, says Florentino, whose bed is down the hall from her son’s and separated from the living room by a sheer curtain. “My son actually has the most privacy because he’s off in his little corner by himself.” Florentino says she and her partner, Kim, try to be vocal about their boundaries and their movements. “We try to announce ourselves when we’re going toward each other’s spaces,” she says. Bedtime is also strictly enforced.

“Then we’re waiting for the actual sleep to come, so [intimacy] is not successful all the time,” she says.

The Closet Turned Home Office

A closet turned office with the closet’s original shelving in place.Photos: Anna Shohet.
A closet turned office with the closet’s original shelving in place.Photos: Anna Shohet.

When you’ve got two kids, even an abundance of space in Manhattan — three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and approximately 1,530 square feet — can feel a little tight at times. When Anna Shohet decided to give each of her two kids their own rooms, she and her husband, Mark, realized they’d have to stop using their Upper East Side apartment’s third bedroom as a home office. (Both Anna, who is a retail buyer, and Mark, who is in finance, frequently work from home.) Anna set up a desk for herself in their bedroom and contemplated putting a second desk for her husband in one of their three bathrooms. Then they noticed the living room walk-in closet, which is about 55 square feet.

“It was actually my husband who was like, ‘These shelves are already sort of set up as a desk,’” says Anna. They had been storing their printer and Wi-Fi router in the closet already, so the conversion to a home office wasn’t a huge stretch. The couple added a filing cabinet for paperwork storage and spent about $50 on a lamp and fan to make the space more comfortable. They also installed a handle on the interior of the closet door so he could close the door from the inside (and prevent their toddlers from Zoom-bombing his business calls). Because the shelving system stayed up, they ultimately decided to keep using some of it as was originally intended. The highest shelves hold luggage and other odds and ends that need to be put away.

Anna has been surprised to find that she’s a little jealous of her husband’s ‘cloffice.’ “I’m envious that I have to work out of our bedroom and he has this little sanctuary.”

The Closet Turned Podcast Studio

Nicaila Matthews Okome’s podcast studio, with a rug on the floor to muffle sound for her neighbors and a velvet curtain in front of her desk that covers more storage. Photo: Nicaila Matthews Okome

Nicaila Matthews Okome, host of the Side Hustle Pro podcast, lives in a 1,300-square-foot two-bedroom apartment in upper Westchester with her husband, Muoyo Okome, and their 4-year-old son and 7-month-old daughter. Her podcast studio and home office is technically the closet in her kids’ bedroom. Matthews loves it: “It’s better for audio not to have a bunch of echoes in a large room,” she says.

She used her kids’ closet, rather than her own, because “babies don’t need a full closet,” she says with a laugh. The closet itself is about four-by-seven-and-a-half feet. To help buffer the sound, she has a plush white rug and places a white-noise machine just outside the door while conducting interviews. She hasn’t had any complaints from neighbors since she moved into the apartment in 2022.

The studio, which cost about $1,000 to build out, features a narrow acrylic accent table in place of a desk, along with a ring light, webcam, microphone, and laptop stand. Velvet curtains right in front of the desk hide seagrass storage bins filled with podcasting equipment as well diapers and bottles. (To make up for the closet space they’ve lost, Matthews Okome makes use of the area under her son’s bed.)

Space is extremely limited, but she has filled the studio with books by some of her favorite Black female authors and put art on the wall, which serves as a backdrop to all of her video interviews. “Once that door closes, I truly do feel this sense of quiet,” she says. “It gives me an immediate sense of calm and focus and transports me to a higher vibrational energy where I can get work done.”

My Closet, My Office, My Nursery