Small rooms or dwellings discipline the mind, large ones weaken it. – Leonardo DaVinci
I have always been fascinated by small homes and small spaces. While their larger counterparts glamorously make their way into glossy home décor magazines, these unsung little places deserve recognition and status too. In our culture we’ve been programmed to think that bigger is better. Sometimes it is, but if a space is not efficient or needed, then what good is simply being bigger?
Recently, I joined some friends for a long weekend on the Cape. Excited to stay in a home that sat right on the beach I imagined a spacious abode. As we approached the property I was struck by it’s charm and sea view, but wondered how in the world 6 adults were going to comfortably fit into this little cottage. The answer, as it turns out, was quite nicely.
The main house had less square footage than most great rooms and the detached guest bungalow was the size of a large garden shed. Yet, every square inch had been so thoughtfully planned and comfortably decorated we quickly forgot it was a small home. Cleverly concealed kitchen storage revealed enough prep equipment, dishes and platters to cater a large party. The living room was quite flexible, acting as bar, lounge area, guest bedroom and a casual eating area. In the small master bedroom the owners had managed to get a king sized bed (with drawers cleverly stowed below), a generous built in desk with computer and television, plenty of surface space, a bench and a wall full of closets that held everything from clothing to duct tape – plus a stackable washer/dryer and a fireplace! The whole house was thoughtfully devised with storage that seemed to equal that found in a much larger home.
Tight spaces can be curiously liberating, inspiring innovation and creativity not required when space is abundant. The limitations of a square foot challenged space require us to be much more judicious about what comes in, and even savvier about how it is stored. When every inch counts function must take precedence, like in a boat or airplane. I frequently hear concerns that there’s not enough space in a home. Usually there is, if we just know how to find it, or make it. Here are a few strategies for making the most of a small space.
Make Your Rooms and Furnishings Multifunction
Think of all the things you do in a space – work, eat, gather with friends. Then select furnishings that can do double duty. A sleeper sofa can become a guest bed, a desk can become a dining table and a credenza can provide storage and surface space. Think about ways to create zones in a room so you can change the mood or function. A simple curtain can partition a room so it goes from living room to guest room. A cart on wheels can go from storage to bar cart during a party and a change in lighting can transform a room from work space to cozy retreat with the flick of a switch.
Use Built in Storage and Furniture
I am a big fan of built-ins. They allow us to customize storage and furnishings to our specific needs while using the least amount of floor space. When rooms are asked to multitask it’s possible to get the function of several pieces of furniture in just one custom built in. For instance, in a home office a custom built in can incorporate file drawers, desktop space, shelving and drawers. In a child’s bedroom a built in can provide toy and book storage, a homework space and dresser drawers. Custom built- ins may be seen as an expensive option but consider that you are only paying for one multipurpose unit instead of several individual pieces of furniture. Consider too that you can customize the finish to compliment your décor.
Take bookcases, shelving and closet storage space all the way up to the ceiling and take advantage of wasted space. I frequently see closets bursting with clothes because there is only one hanging rod. Even a small closet can benefit from double rods and floor to ceiling cubbies. Think of using tall pieces of furniture like armoires that provide maximum vertical storage and top them with baskets or decorative storage bins. Even storage spaces like garages and garden sheds can benefit from storage that goes floor to ceiling.
Trick the Eye
Create the impression of a more expansive space by using a few simple visual tricks. Curtains hung from ceiling to floor elongate windows and make ceilings appear taller. Mount as many things as possible to the wall, from storage hooks to bedside tables. Getting things up off the floor gives the impression that there is more space. Simplify the color palette so the eye smoothly moves through a space. Multiple colors in small spaces jar the eye and make space seem choppier. Strategically placed mirrors help to reflect and bounce natural and artificial light around a room. I like to place a mirror across from a window to mimic the effect of multiple windows.
Edit, Edit, Edit
When space is at a premium it’s important to be vigilant about editing possessions. When you feel the need to bring in something new one thing in and one thing out is a great mantra to keep from stuffing a small space (or even a large one). Prioritize space for necessities like clothing and food prep or for primary activities like working from home and restful sleeping. If there is a surplus of space then add in the extraneous stuff like collectibles. When the practice of editing is embraced, we discover how little we actually need in our lives.
With the typical American home averaging about 2800 square feet we might start to ask why we think we need so much space. I must admit that spending time in that small little gem of a house made me feel guilty for thinking I needed anything more.
There are growing movements devoted to embracing living smaller. Many site interest as stemming from concerns over the environment, finances and just wanting to have more fun by freeing up their time and resources.
Whether you live in a small space by choice or circumstance there are valuable lessons that can be gained by spending time in a small, efficient space. With clever planning and thoughtful furnishings it’s possible to pack big style into a small space and to be reminded what we really need in our lives.
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