Valeria Crescenzi

A 40sqm colorful studio-apartment in Milan

Hello there! September started (did I already tell you that it’s my favorite month?) and to welcome the ‘new year’ I am inviting you to step inside this colorful studio-apartment in Milan. It’s the house of Paola Russo, a talented designer and papercraft illustrator I met over Instagram just a couple of months ago.

When I saw the apartment in her IG stories I thought that this joyful and lovely place was just perfect for the new season of home tours on the blog.

This colorful apartment mirrors the creative soul of Paola and it’s proof that, no matter how tiny your apartment is, you can create a space that supports your activities while reflecting who you are and what you love. Which is the closest I know to the perfect recipe to build your own unique home.

I caught up with Paola to find out more about her studio-apartment. Read on and discover her paolettoso apartment!

Dear Paola hello and welcome to my blog. Would you please introduce yourself?

Ciao, my name is Paola Russo but most people call me ‘Paoletta’. I’m a designer and papercraft illustrator, Palermitana till the age of 23 and now Milanese by adoption. I am a curious person, keen to details, and I think that sensitiveness and good taste, combined with a good dose of irony, are fundamental ingredients in life.

I’m the happy mom of the brand Le Paolette, papercraft illustrations, since 2014. I started creating paper miniatures of myself, as a funny and easy way for me to try on clothing and accessories, always different and eccentric. Then I started making custom papercraft portraits for friends and people looking for a unique gift. I portray real people, seen through my eyes and style, but I also create papercraft characters and objects.

What started as a hobby is now my full-time job (to be precise since January this year…what a perfect moment to launch a startup :D).

Before that, I’ve worked as a food and event designer, as a consultant for food companies designing packaging and buffet settings and, when I started out with Le Paolette as a hobby, also in the fashion industry. Collaborating for two years with a fashion designer co-designing and co-managing the different aspects of his women’s clothing brand, was a very educational experience and it made me feel that I was ready to dedicate 100% of myself to Le Paolette.

You moved from Sicily to Milan 10 years ago. During your Milanese life, you changed 7 apartments. What made you fall in love with the studio apartment you currently live in?

Finding a good spot at a decent price to live in Milano is not exactly the easiest thing in the world. However I’ve always been extremely lucky from this point of view, I always found cute houses. But I have to admit that this one is special to me: it took me 4 months of research but it’s my first home all by myself.

What made me fall in love with it? Everything! All the details looked cute and well-finished. It’s small but very well organized in all its mini areas. Moreover, it was in one of the most culturally and artistically rising areas of the city, Nolo.

I immediately thought it was just perfect for me: a small studio apartment that I could afford, with a greatly arranged and cute space to live and work at ease.

Before & after. In a previous interview of yours, I’ve read that the apartment has been renovated by the architect who owns it. Can you tell us the main changes he made?

The structure remained the same, which means that the mezzanine and the bathroom already looked like they look today. I think that also the floors are original. As for the rest, the owner completely changed the disposition of the kitchen, which was initially located in the area of the dining/work table.

SINK_ Havsten (IKEA) in white ceramic; decorative tiles: tiger

The general look and feel of the house were completely different. I can’t explain the style, but it was quite messy and patchy. My landlord made it look definitely cuter, cozier, and more Scandinavian.

Get the look

floor lamp: leroy merlin – sofa: söderhamn ikea – Yellow rug: Stockholm ikea – banana fiber stool: alseda ikea – poster: iris apfel lepaolette – glazed tin plate: funky table – suitcases: maisons du monde

What is your favorite room and why?

This question makes me smile because the house doesn’t have proper rooms. It’s more like a mini loft, with a high ceiling and a comfortable mezzanine with a bedroom. Having no separated rooms was a big issue during quarantine since I cooked a lot (especially fried stuff) and the house was constantly smelling fried food in all its areas (this inspired the illustration “Eau de frit”).

Anyway, I think that my favorite spot is the dining area, which is also my working space. I love the vintage table full of drawers where I can store my tools and I love my posters of Liquore Strega.

Fun fact: the vintage table was already in the house and my landlord told me that it used to be a major’s desk.

«As I often tell, my house and also those of my uncles were always flooded with light, colors, and beautiful things. And, obviously, I’ve always been fascinated by it.»

You live in a rental of 40sqm. How did you organize your space to be efficient yet beautifully personalized? For example, for your collages you have lots of materials such as paper, fabrics, sewing goods and so on… how did you manage to organize everything?

I would love to show you the secret art of hiding stuff in my tiny castle! It’s not so easy, to be honest. There are times I would love to have more space or a separated lab. But, you know, Milano is expensive and I just started building this paolettoso dream so… it will take some extra time and work to grow and add new space for the business.

Anyway, I managed to organize all my tools and materials in boxes that are partly under the sofa. A good amount of packaging and t-shirts instead are under the bed, where my landlord created a dedicated area for storage. The objects that I like and are beautiful to see, like rolls of paper, found a place in cute baskets and suitcases under the staircase.

So… my secret is just to be as tidy as possible and try not to leave all my job stuff around. Not very practical and easy, but it’s the only way to survive in a studio without getting crazy!

Your home style is colorful and joyful, very ‘paolettoso’. It’s a reflection of your creative soul and of your work. Do you have special tips for readers who want to recreate a colorful style at home?

This is a tough question because matching colors and styles come very naturally to me since it’s also my job. In my opinion, it’s mostly a matter of personal style. What I mean to say is if you know yourself well and you know what you like, it will be natural to buy and collect items with a consistent style.

For example, if one likes pastel colors and shabby style, maybe she/he shouldn’t mix them with bold and bright colors and patterns. My only suggestion is trying to be consistent in choosing the style of objects and the color palette.

If you love colorful interiors, tour the beautiful house of Geraldine Tan here: it’s a London home bursting with colors!

You are an ‘arts & crafts-person’. Tell us one (or more) DIY project/s in your home.

There are actually a few DIY projects that are visible in my house since most of the DIY stuff I make, besides my collages, are fashion accessories. For example, I like to customize shoes or clothes. Other than that, I have one basket, where I put one of my beloved plants, that I customized with handmade pompoms.

Another fun DIY project that I made, is the sign SUCA over my radiator. I know it’s not the most elegant and refined object to show in a house, but the word ‘suca’ is an important element in my Sicilian blood. The sign is made of cardboard letters that I covered with cute feminine papers, to play up with the contrast.

Last DIY project I can talk about, it’s not made by me, but by my dad, who is also a very artsy person. It’s the sardine placed over my picture wall. It is made of a wooden base where he glued layers of metal, paper, and textiles on top, with the collage technique as well.

In this splendid (*sarcasm) 2020 we need to work from home as much as possible. How did you arrange your home office area?

I already used to work mostly from home also before the Apocalypse, since my job needs physical materials and tools that cannot be moved so easily. That’s why I actually didn’t change anything in my home office area. Living in a small studio-apartment made this easy: in the end, there’s not much you can do about it.

The table where I work is also my dining table, that I rarely use for food because it’s often full of papers. When I’m alone I often eat on the sofa, it’s my guilty pleasure.

What are your go-to-places when shopping for home accessories?

There are so many and they are everywhere in the world. If I were rich and with a huge house, that would be a very big problem!

My favourite stores in Milano are Cargo High Tech, Jannelli&Volpi, and Funky table. In my opinion, they have a good mix of niche stuff and more commercial, trendy ones.

I also love vintage objects and I mostly search for them at Crazy Art, which is a big and eccentric shop in Nolo area (close to where I live). More than that, my advice is to search in your family houses because there is always very cute stuff that our relatives maybe forgot or they would be happy to give us. For more commercial stuff, I like a lot Zara Home selection.

When shopping abroad, I absolutely love Liberty London and its beautiful old building. I fell in love with Marimekko shop in Copenhagen and with the chain Sostrene Grene, which has stores in different countries. They have great prices and adorable home accessories plus crafty stuff.

Tell us three inspiring Instagram accounts and why you love them

@bodiljane is an incredible illustrator who uses bright colors and designs very cute stuff. I love her because she is my aspiration, she is the kind of professional that I’m dreaming to become.

@degournay is a brand of hand-painted wallpaper and fabrics. I love the richness of their prints and I love the home decors they propose on their Instagram feed. It inspires me a lot in my job. In the future, I would love to live in a home-like one of that.

@the_indigo_project it’s a page about psychology with motivational phrases about mental health. I like it because I do believe that mental health is as important as physical health and, in order to feel good, it is necessary to know and love yourself deeply and profoundly. This page is just a simple digital board of motivational tips, but I like the message that it conveys.

I’d like to thank Paola for having us visit her beautiful home. A very colorful and happy one! I have full intention to keep writing home tours every other week so…if you have a beautiful home to share or just finished a renovation project drop me a line at

See you soon!

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