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Photography by Patricia Chang
When Catie Nienaber moved into her Hayes Valley apartment almost five years ago, she kept what you might think of as a typical studio: a desk, some space-conscious shelving, and a bed right smack in the middle of the main living space. "When you have people over, there's the unacknowledged vulgarity of the bed right there in the living room," she says. "I wanted this to be more of a space where I can have friends over and have chairs for people to sit in. Hence I turned my walk-in closet into the world's smallest one-bedroom."
Nienaber, who works by day as a human resources administrator for a startup and runs the online store Dronning Vintage in her off hours, went looking for a mattress that would fit in her walk-in closet, but the closet wasn't deep enough for a standard twin. So she had one custom-made.
"It's basically a Euro-twin: a twin bed, except 10 inches shorter," she explains. Inside, there's no clearance around the mattress—that would take up too much space!—so Nienaber has to get into bed from the bottom, the way you'd crawl into a tent. There's no lamp, no bedside table, not even an outlet. Think of it as a cave for sleeping. "It's pitch dark," says Nienaber. "I sleep so well. It's the best I ever sleep because everything's just shut out."
The apartment, located in a multi-unit building that began its life in the 1920s as a hotel, clocks in at 430 square feet, including the closets. Oddly, though, the presence of a wall-to-wall mattress cloaked in darkness is only the second most remarkable thing about it. For such a small place, it's impressively empty.
When we visited, Nienaber had about 400 items for Dronning's Etsy store stashed around the apartment, all cleverly hidden away in closets, bins, and—in the case of about a dozen hats—a vintage 1970s cooler. Canvas baskets atop the bookshelves house handbags and shoes, and storage bins of clothes line the space above the kitchen cabinets, though most people don't spot those, says Nienaber.
When she moved in, the walls were off-white—"that rental French vanilla beige"—and the blinds were those standard-issue metal slats that come coated with years of other people's dust. Nienaber painted most of the walls gray and ordered a custom set of slouchy Roman blinds, which she installed with a vintage drill that had been her grandfather's. "It's so badass," she says. "It weighs 15 pounds." Nienaber left one wall white in the kitchen, where she wheels in her dress form to shoot pictures for Dronning's Etsy store.
With bare walls and one high shelf, her bedroom is the apartment's sole unadorned space. "It's not decorated at all because I never intended anyone to see it," Nienaber says.