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All photos by Max Touhey

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A Tiny Chinatown Studio Becomes a Busy Publicist's Personal Oasis

One New Yorker creates a cozy hideaway in less than 300 square feet

"I like to say it's like a little boutique hotel home," says Helen Zhang while standing in the middle of her petite Chinatown studio. "It's where I sleep and shower." Despite this, Zhang still refers to the Pell Street apartment as her own personal oasis, and her spare, yet well-articulated, decor speaks to that.

Zhang, a hospitality publicist at LFB Media Group, landed on the hiccup of a street two years ago following a break up with her partner and the Chelsea duplex that they shared. With her limited rental budget and a dogged sense of determination, Zhang set out to find a new downtown apartment that, after six years of living with roommates and others, she could finally call her own.

Zhang saw more than 20 apartments before stepping foot in the updated fourth-floor walk-up that would become hers, but she knew it was the one as soon as she got there. The studio checked off two of her biggest wants: it was doable in her budget and had decent storage; the updated kitchenette and new flooring were a plus.

It really works for me. It's actually perfect.

In order to move into the petite apartment, Zhang had to pare down her personal items—a process that began when friends graciously helped her move in and out of the two short-term rentals she lived in after leaving Chelsea and before landing in Chinatown. Now settled, other items that she couldn't bear to part with like out-of-season clothing rotate through her parents' house in Westchester County.

Zhang has also pared down the gatherings she holds in the apartment, and never has more than five guests in the studio at a time. "I don't cook at home, and when I am home and people come over I just make them a drink," she says. Her bar is well-stocked, and so are her kitchen cabinets—that is, with books and other items of clutter she'd rather have tucked away.

But even with its space constraints, Zhang's apartment is still a refuge. "It really works for me," she says, "It's actually perfect."

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