Small Space Tips

As much as large sweeping spaces offer the luxury of breathing room, I am a big fan of small spaces because they offer a sense of intimacy and comfort. In many ways, a well-designed compact space can make your life so much easier than a big space can — less to take care of, less expense to furnish, everything in arms reach and no wasted space. Here are a few of my all-time fave small spaces and clever small space planning tricks.

When this space ran in Domino I flipped over the olive coloured walls and how utterly stylish this multipurpose room is. Lining a white Ikea Malm bed up with the extra tall window and facing it outwards so that the headboard acts as a backdrop for the living area is pure genius. Layers and contrast are key decorating moves, and who doesn’t love a bedside lamp set on top of a tall stack of coffee table books?

Interior window walls like these are fantastic for creating an instant vestibule around the doorway into a small house. You get a big graphic hit, loads of light spilling in, and a layer of colour contrast.

Fabric covered tables are an age-old trick for turning an inexpensive table into something chic and hiding storage underneath. In a small space, every piece has to work extra hard. A piece of glass on top keeps the surface even for a pretty display.

We featured my good friend Mazen El-Abdallah’s house in our September 2010 issue. Each time I visit, I’m always more and more impressed with what he did to make the space work for him. His double-duty home office and dining room works perfectly for each function. I love how the recess in the shelves creates the impression that the table can fold up out of the way and how the equality of the measurements between the two elements is so pleasing to the eye. Of course maxing out a space with as much full height storage as possible is always smart.

In his galley kitchen, Mazen worked in a wine rack and cleverly camouflaged a vertical vent at the same time. He examined his lifestyle and decided that he really only needed a cooktop, which opened up more space for storage below. In a small space, analyze the most important functions to get the most out of it.

Low narrow storage running the full length of a room offers easy access shelving and loads of display space. I think of them as the ‘great unifiers’, creating links between the various functions of a space. A large coffee table filled with books works because it is super low. Small space doesn’t mean you’re limited to small furniture. In fact, exercising some push and pull with scale always creates visual interest.

For my old TV show, The Style Dept., we made over my friend Sandy Kim’s one-room space. Her kitchen, living room and bedroom all occupy the first floor of a house, which is divided into apartments. I still can’t believe how insanely fast the turnaround on television makeovers is — too fast in my opinion! All things considered, this one turned out fairly well. We used Ikea’s sliding screens to somewhat separate her bedroom from the living room. They’re a great studio solution because the light can still spill through them and they stack out of the way when you want to open things up.

This is a space I worked on years ago for my client, Kristin, who used this basement condo as a pied-à-terre. At 400 square feet with no bedroom, it was the smallest space I had ever worked on. The original stone walls had loads of character, we just needed to add a few colour hits to keep it cheery. A sofa bed was a must so she could sleep as well as kick back somewhere and this classic William Birch-style sofa from UpCountry is one of my favourites. The rest of the furniture had to be lightweight and compact so she could easily move it out of the way to open up the sofa.

This was another H&H small space feature, from our September 2009 issue — an old school apartment with tons of character. I had never seen this Murphy bed idea, designed to look like a hutch when the bed is closed. The stowed bed ate up lower space in the adjacent kitchen and closet, which were designed around this unusual function with the same sort of charming details.

Wall-to-wall mirror is the oldest trick in the book for making a space feel bigger. Trimmed in wood and paired with a marble tub and floor, the mirrors in this compact bathroom look classic and elegant.

A standard 3-piece bathroom looks amazing with a simple black board-and-batten feature wall. The oversized driftwood mirror is effective on several levels — reflecting light and playing with scale for added drama.

You don’t have to spend a fortune to achieve big impact. Here, a fairly standard New York City apartment hits the mark with black walls, a turquoise french door (perfect for keeping sight lines clear), a collection of pretty blue and white pottery up top and a striking chandelier. If it were me, I would have painted out what is probably a fold-out ironing board the same black so that it disappeared more.

One of the most clever small space tricks was this pullout table top that Powell & Bonnell designed into a wall of storage. Pull up a bench from an adjacent wall and you have an instant dining room.

Pocket doors are another oldie but goody space saving trick that creates distinct areas without sacrificing flow. Well-designed rad covers are also great for creating extra surface space and adding dimension and character. If there’s a rad crammed in a corner, have a matching unit built on the other side for balance and extra storage.

Corner banquettes are perfect for creating a dining area that can fit between four and six people without a mass of chair legs creating visual clutter.

Sometimes sacrificing a rarely-used doorway space can amp up the functionality of a room. Running a wall-mounted desk over a closed door means two people can work at the same time. Leaving the door in place and designing the desk in separate sections offers flexibility for opening the space up again if needed.

For more tips, including photos and videos, check out our Small Space Decorating & Design Guide.

Photo credits:
1, 10-11. Domino: The Book of Decorating, photography by Paul Costello
2, 6. Domino: The Book of Decorating, photography by Jacques Dirand
3. Domino: The Book of Decorating, photography by James Waddell
4-5. House & Home September 2010 issue, photography by Angus Fergusson
7. Wish September 2008 issue, photography by David Bagosy
8. Wish Winter 2005/2006 issue, photography by Stacey Brandford
9. House & Home September 2009 issue, photography by Heather Ross
12. Domino: The Book of Decorating, photography by Melanie Acevedo
13. House & Home August 2008 issue, photography by Michael Graydon
14. House & Home September 2007 issue, photography by Mark Burstyn
15. Domino: The Book of Decorating, photography by Douglas Friedman
16. Domino: The Book of Decorating

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