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The Met. The D&D building. Brownstones, for crying out loud: This city is teeming with design inspiration. Which of course begs the question, Why do our apartments still look like a teenager lives there? For a dose of décor motivation, we checked in with the gals behind five fabulous NYC design firms. Below, they kindly share their best pro tips—from warming up a soulless rental, to nailing a small-space floor plan, to where to shop for a chic bargain. (Prepare to hunker down this weekend and feng shui your furniture.) 

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Suzanne and Lauren McGrath of MCGRATH II

Their style, in their own words: “An eclectic mix of vintage and contemporary furniture pieces surrounded by layers of colorful textiles.”

On their signature trick for making a small space feel bigger

“Wall-to-wall carpeting! And of course it’s okay to throw an area rug on top of it, to add interest.”

On their favorite local spot for a design steal

The Strand for coffee-table books and some personal pleasure, trims from M & J Trimming and Dutch Flower Line for blooms and houseplants.”

On the best way to add personality to a rental

“Paint the walls and the trim (aka the baseboard, moldings and doors) in two contrasting colors, even if only subtly different.”

On the most inspiring room or building in NYC

“This is a difficult question! We love the brownstones of Brooklyn Heights and the surrounding neighborhoods. As a young family, we lived in Brooklyn for more than a decade, and as business partners we have taken on several projects in historic homes. Bringing a more modern perspective and color back to these houses steeped in history is one of our most inspiring challenges as designers.”

On the one thing a home is never complete without

“A comfortable mattress and luxurious bedding!”

Follow Lauren and Suzanne on Instagram @mcgrath2

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Gabriela Gargano of GRISORO DESIGNS

Her style, in her own words: “I’d say my design style implements a clean, contemporary aesthetic layered with rich textures, eclectic pieces, striking art and vintage finds to create visually interesting spaces with a soul.”

On her signature trick for making a small space feel bigger

“Using proportional furniture. This doesn’t necessarily mean small, it just means prioritizing what you need and then making sure the layout works. For example, if you don’t do formal dinners frequently, skip the dining-room table and make a bigger living space. If you have a unique large armchair that you love, consider pairing it with a loveseat instead of a three-seater sofa.”

On her favorite local spot for a design steal

“I always try to stop by sample sales from my favorite brands. It’s a great opportunity to pick up pieces for existing or future projects. I also love antiquing. The Brimfield Antique Flea Market is a yearly must, especially for unique accessories and art. Locally, the outlets at Industry City can be great for a bargain—you can often call in ahead of time if you’re looking for something specific to see what they have in stock before heading over.”

On the best way to add personality to a rental

“Adding various light sources with a cool design element can quickly elevate a space. For example: Prewar buildings often lack overhead lighting, so I suggest wall-mounted plug-in sconces instead of table lamps (who doesn’t love a good swing-arm sconce?). In newer buildings, we often see recessed lighting, which can be a bit harsh, so adding a few interesting lamps with soft lighting can create a more inviting space.”

On the most inspiring room or building in NYC

“Room: La Mercerie—it embodies effortlessly chic French design, with a warm mix of old and new. Building: the Chrysler building—I love Art Deco and find the design to be so iconically New York.”

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On the one thing a home is never complete without

“Art! I’ve always collected art at a wide range of price points. I think it’s one of the key elements to making a space truly personal.” 

Follow Gabriela on Instagram @grisorodesigns

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Tharon Anderson of THARON ANDERSON DESIGN

Her style, in her own words: “I’m drawn to solid fabrics with texture and streamlined furniture shapes. Our days are so over-saturated with technology and white noise that I think clients (myself included!) want to come home to refined, clean, crisp surroundings.”

On her signature trick for making a small space feel bigger

“Surprisingly enough, furniture always makes a room feel bigger. Appropriately scaled pieces with visual interest help your eye to travel around the space. I also love lacquering the walls of a smaller room in a darker color. The reflection of light in the sheen is like nothing else.”

On her favorite local spot for a design steal

“Finding deals in the city can be difficult at times! I like leaving on the weekends to explore new areas and shops. We recently spent a weekend in Kent/New Preston and absolutely loved it, and I’m looking forward to taking a trip to Hudson come the fall.”

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On the best way to add personality to a rental

“Buy real investment-level pieces. If a standard-size sofa fits in your apartment, it will surely fit in your house some day. Don’t waste money and displeasure on a lumpy sofa that will only last a few years.”

On the most inspiring room or building in NYC

“I am so inspired by the Ulla Johnson store in the East Village. Not only do I adore her clothing, but I love the überfeminine space. Every detail was so carefully thought through, and I often find myself admiring the architecture and furniture more than the clothing. The beautifully styled flowers and signature scent don’t hurt either.”

On the one thing a home is never complete without

“A luxurious cashmere or alpaca throw and a good candle! I love room sprays too. My current favorite is Mad et Len Terre Noire from Privet House in New Preston, Connecticut.” 

Follow Tharon on Instagram @tharonandersondesign

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Bella Mancini of BELLA MANCINI DESIGN

Her style, in her own words: “All of the homes we design are clean, comfortable and hopefully not too perfect, and we generally strive for a collected look with unusual objects and art. I’d say it’s a laid-back California sensibility mixed with New York smarts. Is that even a thing?”

On her signature trick for making a small space feel bigger

“I’m a big fan of a built-in painted the same color as the wall for maximizing space and adding texture. Even the clients with the largest apartments are obsessed with having enough storage. It’s just not something people worry about so much in the suburbs!”

On her favorite local spot for a design steal

“My local antiques store, Beall and Bell, in Greenport, where we spend weekends.”

On the best way to add personality to a rental

“Paint! I used to paint my dollhouse-size, rent-controlled East Village fifth-floor walk-up (where I lived in for 13 years, thank you very much) yearly. I used to joke that I painted it so much it was getting smaller. I also think adding custom window treatments isn’t the worst idea in a rental. Window treatments are literally so transformative that they’re worth the expense.”

On the most inspiring room or building in NYC

“The terrace at Soho House’s new Dumbo House. I love the ’50s vaguely Californian vibe and the views, which are the best in NYC in my opinion.”

On the one thing a home is never complete without

“Loving, gratitude-filled people to live in it.” 

Follow Bella on Instagram @bellamancinidesign

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TINA RICH of Tina Rich Design for Homepolish

Her style, in her own words: “I like to think that my style is clean, natural, relaxed and a bit playful. I’m Greek so I always pull inspiration from the islands: white walls, rattan accents, overflowing greenery and terracotta pottery.”  

On her signature trick for making a small space feel bigger

“This may sound counterintuitive, but choosing larger-scale furniture pieces that really fit a room, and choosing them sparingly.  Clutter makes a space feel smaller, so selecting fewer, larger pieces will actually make a space feel bigger than it is.”

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On her favorite local spot for a design steal

“I’ll admit I’m not much of a bargain shopper, but my favorite home stores in Brooklyn are Chango & Co, Mociun Home and Sprout Home.”

On the best way to add personality to a rental

“Swapping out lighting fixtures is the easiest way to upgrade a rental. I suggest adding a pendant light to the bedroom and swapping out a sconce in the bathroom. You can always take them with you when you leave, just make sure to keep the (hideous) original lighting so you can reinstall. I also love adding wallpaper. You can’t take it when you leave, but it adds so much personality and impact. There are also some really great removable wallpaper options out there so you can easily remove it when you move out.”

On the most inspiring room or building in NYC

“I love the Noguchi Museum in Queens. It was an old gas station and factory and I love the minimal, brutalist design of the space and the fact that is was actually his studio where he worked and he lived across the street. There is one room with tons of his famous lanterns and I literally gasped out loud when I walked in. So inspiring!”

On the one thing a home is never complete without

A dog! And plants.”

Follow Tina on Instagram @tinarichdesign

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