The Grand Tour

This Interior Designer Turned His 250-Square-Foot Apartment Into His Saving Grace

Armando Aguirre made the most of his tiny Upper West Side space
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Armando at home.

At the end of 2019, Armando Aguirre had just broken up with his boyfriend, and as those things go, he needed a new place to live—fast. “I was scrambling to find an apartment, and then I came across this one,” Armando says. “It’s funny, I’ve lived in the Upper West Side for a while, but I was always running around to different parts of the city. I figured that if I stayed in the area I could actually acquaint myself with it.”

The apartment had all the makings of an address-only necessity that would otherwise encourage him to stay away. After all, this was about convenience, not comfort. “It was tiny. Ok, it was super tiny,” he says and laughs. “The apartment was 250 square feet. But the day after I saw it, I called up to check if it was still available. It was, and I decided to move in.”

“Tom Sachs is an artist who does shows that he calls ‘demonstrations,’ and these NASA chairs were from one that he had years ago—one is signed by him,” Armando says. “I thought that maybe I could use one as a piece of art, but in this apartment, everything needs a purpose. So they’re both here as pieces of art that are being used.” A vintage Eames DTM 20 dining table sits in between, and a custom aluminum vase and painting—by Julian Pace—hang on the wall.

The front door opened into a cramped square, with two windows on one wall, two closets on another, and a kitchen and bathroom taking their share of the rest. “It looked even smaller as soon as I brought my things inside,” he says. “I had a queen bed with a West Elm bed frame, and that essentially took up the room.” New beginnings need a chance to unfold, so Armando gave himself and these surroundings the opportunity to get to know one another. He liked how much light the pair of windows brought inside, and how the twin closets created a cozy alcove in between. But anyway, as the head of interiors at Studio Mellone, Armando already had his hands full furnishing the homes of clients.

After a couple of months passed, a major event happened that suddenly gave Armando all the time in the world. “When COVID struck, I became one of the few people I knew who stayed in the city,” he says. “I couldn’t leave this apartment, and between Zoom calls and other work, I started to really consider what I wanted it to look like.”

“I’m drawn to pieces where the materials are very apparent, where there aren’t a lot of layers,” Armando says. “I wanted it to be very clear what this daybed was made of at first glance.” He also wanted large-scale artwork to hang over the daybed, and chose a photograph of a Los Angeles tennis court by Dan Monick. A Le Corbusier crate sits upright on the floor.

Photo: William Jess Laird

The first thought he had was to get rid of his queen-sized bed for something more efficient. “As a 30-year-old man, I opted to downsize from a queen to a twin,” he explains. “I was single and living alone through a pandemic, but I told myself there were worse things.” He pictured a custom daybed that would fit snugly in the nook carved out by the two closets, with a matching headboard and a built-in nightstand. He drew what he had in mind, and a friend built it as three pieces that fit together as one. “It’s the simplest version of a Murphy bed, and I didn’t want there to be any other technology besides using my hands,” he said. “All that happens is that I take the cushions away and put sheets on the mattress.”

“When I have friends over and we’re all eating takeout or whatever, the screen acts as a way to divide us from the kitchen and complete the room,” Armando says. He drew up a custom sketch for the screen in plywood to match the daybed. The vintage “cinema” armchairs by Gunilla Allard were re-upholstered in Pierre Frey cotton and velvet. The side table is a custom piece from Green River Project.

With the bed in place, Armando turned his attention toward the adjoining living area. “Since I was making a sacrifice with my sleeping arrangements, I wanted to have a fully-realized living space,” he says. “I’ve always loved these cinema armchairs, so I sent them out to be re-upholstered in burgundy velvet and cotton after seeing a small sample.” He took the same approach to sourcing the two-toned square table beside one of the chairs. “Green River Project usually makes this with a cushion on top, but I wanted a table with a flat surface so that it could be flexible,” he continues. “I called to see if they could do this for me, and we went back and forth with ideas.”

From the start of the pandemic through the fall, Armando completely transformed his apartment with thoughtful sketches, numerous phone calls, and occasional excursions outside to pick up the items he’d dreamt up. He tasked a colleague with building the self-watering aluminum vase beside the dining table and commissioned artist friends to enliven canvases along the walls. Armando was alone but still surrounded, propped up by others who were mutually intent on collaborating during a trying time. “Because of my background in interiors, I have relationships with various artisans, fabricators, and workshops,” he says. “I always knew exactly who to call, and the trust was already there.”

“This is artwork from my friend John, he goes by J.G. Thies, and it says ‘cold beer,’” Armando says. “It’s a series on bodega signs, and as soon as I saw it, I loved how specifically New York it was.” The art hangs above a vintage BCS cabinet by George Nelson.

The apartment was completed at the end of last year, and Armando celebrated with the one thing he’d been waiting to do for some time: invite friends over for a so-called “opening night.” He hosted dinner and drinks with more than enough seating, and everyone was there to take in all that he had done with his hideaway. When a friend accidentally spilled some wine, it didn’t even matter. At least she was there in person.

“When I think about 2020, I entered it with a lot of promise, as everybody did. But then one thing happened, and then another, and then another. It was chaotic, to put it mildly,” Armando says. “I used this apartment to distract myself from everything that was going on, so that I could cope. And when my friends came over, it felt like I could finally slow down and enjoy it.”

Julian Pace also created this piece above a vintage barrister cabinet from the General Fireproofing Company.