FOR Malena Georgieva, it’s been a long trip to the Upper West Side of Manhattan. A native of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, a provincial city about an hour from Sofia, she received a degree in Soviet-style industrial management just as the Soviet Union was collapsing. Adapting to the post-Communist world after emigrating to the United States in 1993, she enrolled in a master’s program at the University of New Haven, supporting herself as a hotel chambermaid for $4.50 an hour. (“I thought, if I ever make $10 an hour, I’ll be queen of the world,” she said.) Eventually, she was hired by Deloitte & Touche, beginning a career in risk management, and her simultaneous love affair with New York City.
But Ms. Georgieva had another dream — to become an artist and designer. So she took continuing-education courses in interior design at New York University, and then set up her own firm. Two days after it opened for business in 2008, the economy took a nose dive.
Clients weren’t exactly beating down her door, so she went back to work in risk management and put her design efforts into her home, a tiny space down the block from the Dakota, on West 72nd Street. The fourth-floor apartment, for which she pays $1,750 a month, consists of a single room, just over 200 square feet, with a bed, a desk, a dining table and a couple of swivel chairs.
It is essential that they swivel — it allows them to face the dining area, the sleeping area or the living area, depending on how Ms. Georgieva is using the apartment. The Tirup chairs cost nearly $400 each at Ikea, making them far and away the most expensive furnishings in the space. Some items cost $12 (a glass cheese platter that she turned into a tabletop) or $40 (table legs, from Ikea, on which she mounted a board upholstered in imitation leather from the fabric emporium Mood). One substantial expenditure was for lumber, with which she and her father, a retired engineer who visited from Plovdiv, built the queen-size platform bed.
All in all, she spent about $1,500. Given that she would like to open a design firm again someday, and can’t deplete her savings, her frugal decorating is just another form of risk management.
Evidence of Ms. Georgieva’s cleverness is everywhere. She discovered she could turn a guest mattress on its side and slide it between her bed and the wall, where it functions as a kind of bolster pillow. To make the sleeping area feel like a room, she had three photographs of orchids, which she took on her Canon Rebel, blown up to 6-by-6-foot images, then hung them on the walls and ceiling surrounding the bed. (Ms. Georgieva did have to cut a few inches off the photos to get them up the building’s stairs.)
“I need to check my appearance before I go out,” said Ms. Georgieva, 43, explaining the full-length mirror, a $9 item that she turned into a conceptual artwork, gluing tiny toys to its frame and painting it all white.
She hung another mirror at an angle on the wall, so that it would disrupt the boxy lines of the apartment and send light from the lone window across the room. Below that mirror is a tiny dining table that can seat four, using two stools from Overstock.com and a bench she created by putting an upholstered board on top of a rarely used radiator.
Another upholstered board became her desktop. She attached her cable box to the underside of the board, using leftover curtain rod brackets, so it doesn’t take up valuable desk space.
“I’m sure everybody has the tools at home,” she said, of her ingenious cable-box solution. “It’s just that they don’t think about it.”