Small space, big style

Small Space BIG Style

Creative and stylish solutions for those small living spaces

Story by Randi Jo Gause

Those who follow the trends in home design are well aware of the craze for mega-sized rooms. Those grand spaces can be, well, grand, yet even people with large homes gravitate toward small, cozy places tucked into them. And when a small space sparkles with both efficiency and style, it's all the more inviting.

Squeezing everything into the design of a small space can be challenging, though, and it helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve. We tapped some expert designers for tips on creativity and style to make the most of those size-challenged quarters.

Opening Up

When it comes to a small space, the key is making room. Successful styling starts from the ground up, so keep an open layout in mind when designing or renovating small real estate.

Built-in storage, including window seats, closets and bookshelves can enhance an open layout by minimizing the amount of furniture necessary.

"Small spaces benefit most from carefully planned built-ins," says Catherine Call, of Blue Sky Studios.

Although a room may lack square footage, any space that's open will appear larger.

Architectural elements such as windows or French pocket doors allow small spaces to steal the feel of extra square footage from the landscape or other rooms, by giving a view and letting in light.

"Small spaces can feel bigger if they connect visually to other rooms and to the landscape," Call points out.

Another way to build the illusion of more space is to eliminate or downsize walls to create conjoining rooms.

Maintain consistent flooring between adjacent rooms to keep the visual flow, advises Jeremy Bauer, of Bauer/Clifton Interiors.

"Transitioning from one flooring material to another creates a division within any space and automatically stops the eye from 'borrowing' space from one room into another," Bauer explains.

Small space, big style
Less is More

Alaska's great outdoors often require great amounts of gear, and as a result, high traffic areas like the entryway often end up looking like a backed-up parking lot. Keep traffic flowing by condensing your clutter and integrating smart storage solutions.

"Aggressive 'stuff' management helps with creating an appealing environment, whatever the style of the décor," says Call. 

Drastic downsizing does wonders for small spaces. When forced to prioritize your belongings, you'll be surprised at how many unused items compromise the small amount of space available.

Bauer notes, "Most people find that they end up with much more space than they ever dreamed of after selling or donating all of their mismatched and unused items."

For those other items you can't bear to part with, contain clutter by storage choices. From shelving and cabinets to shoe racks and CD/DVD storage cases, today's home décor industry offers a wide variety of clever storage options that are aesthetically appealing as well.

Scaling Down

To make every inch count, incorporate multi-tasking furniture that balances function with fashion.

Look for organizational items disguised as furniture, such as pop-top ottomans and chairs that open to reveal storage space.

Select trim, streamlined furniture, such as armless chairs, for the least obstructive room décor. Compact pieces that can be displayed or hidden in minutes also maximize the functionality of your furniture.

"A table that can fold to a smaller size and be pushed against a wall is an asset for a small living space, and a Murphy bed or pull-out sofa can make an occasional guest room out of an office or den," Call notes.

And instead of choosing monstrous pieces of furniture that can obstruct space and further dwarf the size of the room, select furniture that comfortably serves its purpose. Simply put, smaller spaces need smaller furniture pieces.

For instance, replacing a standard sofa with a two-person loveseat can gain space without sacrificing seating. As Call observes, "A couch is generally most comfortable for two people, whether it's 72" long or 94" long."

In an attempt to expand open area, many people assume that lining the walls with furniture and décor will maximize the open area, but that tactic can actually have the opposite effect. "Pulling some pieces out from the walls and creating open space beyond the furniture can also help make a space feel larger too," Bauer says.

It's also important to remember in the quest to use all space well that not all space has to be used. Not every square inch of every furniture surface needs an object on it and not every square inch of every wall needs a picture hung on it – and a little bare wall gives breathing room for the pieces you do choose. "Learn and appreciate the concept of positive and negative space," Bauer adds.

Optical Illusion
Small space, big style

For spatially challenged rooms, even subtle features can make a big difference. Clear glass dining and coffee tables preserve functionality while blending into the overall room. "Glass is a key feature in expanding space because you can see right through it, which can make dining rooms and living rooms look much larger," Lisa Susich, from ScanHome, explains.

The old wives' tale that light colors make a space feel large and dark colors make a space feel small is often taken too literally. While light colors can promote an airy feel, dark colors can add depth and contrast to a room.

"By accenting certain walls and architectural details with different or darker colors, a room can be enhanced by creating the illusion that it is larger," Bauer explains.

For instance, in a space with varying vertical expanse, painting the tallest wall a contrasting color will visually expand the height of the overall room. And while patterned wallpapers should typically be avoided in small rooms, striped walls can help define the vertical expanse.

Rooms should also be painted a consistent color or variations of one color throughout the home. "I think a color palette that flows from room to room helps enhance a sense of spaciousness, while painting each room a different color tends to emphasize separation," says Call.

Mirrors also promote spaciousness, as they visually convey more space, as opposed to a wall. This is particularly effective when they reflect a window or aesthetically appealing view.

Add a few of these choice details – and subtract some clutter – and you're on your way to transforming your small space into a stylish sanctuary.