What do you do when your new one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment is only 1000 square feet? It seems like a daunting task, but for Josh Young, the Chicago-based artist and founder of Josh Yöung Design House, this is what appealed to him most about the 1929 pre-war apartment.
Located in the heart of downtown Chicago’s historic Gold Coast neighborhood, this classic apartment had all the elegance and charm you could imagine from the era complete with original frame moldings, 10-foot-ceilings, original doors, fixtures and panoramic views of downtown Chicago and Lake Michigan. So the size seemed minuscule compared to its architectural beauty and location.
Read on to hear how Young transformed this space into a neutral, high/low oasis.
When Young approached the design of this apartment, he set out to create a space that was both warm and inviting but also sophisticated and collected. "For me, it was important that the apartment's aesthetic remained true to who I was as an artist and designer but was also inviting to guests and friends that visit," he tells me.
With a neutral color palette, Young really played with various textures and layers in order to give the apartment that luxe yet casual mix. "I'm someone who also loves the contrast and wanted to utilize it in the form of shape and lines within the furniture and in my artwork so that it has a strong presence in each corner and vignette," he says.
When Young moved to Chicago with his husband, they were determined to find a pre-war apartment with an original mantel. After touring countless homes, they landed on this one, and he knew almost immediately that it was the one but, of course, it was the only one without a mantel. "I knew I could somehow re-create that element that I so badly wanted and the living room already had this super long wall that was just begging for a mantel in order to help anchor the space," he explains.
After weeks of searching, Young finally sourced a vintage marble mantel, installed it, added an antique Art Deco mirror on top of it and voilà. "Since it’s obviously not a working fireplace, I wanted to add a textural element that could be fun, so I filled it with books," he adds. "To keep it neutral, I flipped the books around so that the pages were the only thing facing outwards. I'm obsessed with books if you couldn't tell." Genius.
If there's one effect Young sets out to achieve in a space, it's juxtaposition. There is a through-line from his interior design work into his art. "I think there's an art to successfully mixing vintage with modern and traditional with contemporary so that the overall look and aesthetic comes across as authentic, intentional and curated," he says. "I love creating environments where the two elements can live cohesively and you get such a sense of harmony. The design is such an emotional thing to me as well. It either feels right, or it doesn't."
Perfecting the color palette is something Young is very passionate about. While a neutral palette might seem easy from an outsider looking in, the reality is very different. Finding the perfect white is no easy feat. And it's no lie that Young loves or as he says "lives for" neutrals, but it was also important to him to add some color to break up the space and give it some soul.
His color palette typically consists of ivory, cream, white, black, mahogany, saffron, gold, silver, and a hint of blush. "It's my go-to in everything I purchase and source, and it's prevalent throughout the apartment as well as my art studio and within my work," he says.
But mixing the right neutrals together wasn't the only fusion Young was thinking about through the design process. He also wanted to layer affordable pieces with the designer ones for a high/low mix. He found the coffee table in the living room at an estate sale for only $25. "It fits our space so perfectly because of how long and narrow it is," he says.
Young's favorite room in the apartment is the living room. Because it's the first room you walk into when entering the apartment, he really wanted it to capture his love for juxtaposition and mixing various styles. His Williams-Sonoma Home Bedford Sofa brought a rich, traditional element to the space, which complemented the antique mahogany end tables and mantel.
To offset the traditional pieces, Young added modern chrome stools, a midcentury Danish coffee table, and modern, geometric art. The viscose rug came from Overstock and really adds such a soft and rich textural element to the space.
If there's one thing Young "absolutely loves," it's the tone-on-tone look. That generally consists of layered whites, creams, and ivories. To break it, he scattered some tiger pillows on the sofa and painted a large-scale blush geometric piece for the dining area. "Both add interest to each space without clashing with the other pieces around them," he says.
It's hard to believe looking at it now, but Young covered the chandelier in the dining room in plaster and molded new bobeches out of clay. "I wanted it to be original and add a hand-crafted element and look to the space," he says.
There are so many great finds throughout the apartment, both new and old, but given the size, curating these pieces was the hard part. Young's rule of thumb? Only allow things into the space that you absolutely love. "I'm always looking, sourcing, and curating, and I can find inspiration really in anything," he says. "Both old and new! Our Etagere shelf from Ave Home is something I absolutely cherish. The modern etching on the front adds amazing texture to the space and displays some beloved items I've picked up while antiquing in and around Chicago."
On top of his interior design skillset, Young is also an artist. Here on display are two of his works. The prints are really fun, modern takes on old oil paintings and really help to ramp up that updated traditional vibe.
Spruce up a small corner office with a gallery wall. Here, Young has done a fun collage of all his art prints. He kept the styling minimal, featuring furniture with clean lines and a less-is-more approach to the desk surface.
The abstract artwork in the bedroom brings in texture and visual interest in a very neutral room. Arranging the art in layers is also a neat trick in a small space. In this case, Young has one hanging, one leaning on the heater, and a few layered up on the floor against the wall. This mix feels fresh and now.
This is the ultimate zen bedroom. It's cozy, personal, and overall an incredibly special space to retreat to when we need to seek solace from the chaos or reflect and unwind in the peace and quiet.
Young and his husband and have been self-professed gypsies for the past 10 years, having lived in Milan, Santiago, New York, and now Chicago. Needless to say, their home includes multiple pieces they've collected along the way. The chest of drawers in their bedroom, for example, is a piece Young has had since he was 2 years old. To update it, he refinished it, painting the frame white while keeping the drawers and handles in their original state.
Young also sourced the old portrait of Chopin atop the chest from an antique market in Santiago, and their bedroom pillows came from a boutique in Milan. "Having various pieces like that in our home means everything to me because they really do tell a story and remind me of where we've come from," he says.
When decorating a small space, every single square foot has to be considered carefully, and Young didn't put a design foot wrong. We love the mix of old with new and his layering of neutrals is at the mastery level.