Small Space, Big Style: Strategies for Making the Most of Any Small Space
Every home has one, and yours does too: that small space you’ve never quite known how to handle. Deep down, you know your little nook has untapped potential. You just need some fresh ideas and inspiration to access it!
Here are three different small rooms and some expert design strategies that might give your small space a big personality.
BOUTIQUE-STYLE DRESSING ROOM
Old houses aren’t known for having big bedrooms and closets. Sometimes they even have a bedroom so small (by today’s standards anyway) that it’s hard to know how to use it for modern living.
Such was the case with one small upstairs room in a historic home in Lynchburg. Too small to be a comfortable bedroom and inconveniently located to serve as a home office, it’s been used as a catchall for luggage and out-of-season clothing for the past 15 years or so. The little room’s best use was as a baby nursery, but now that “baby” has a driver’s license and an active teenage lifestyle.
Last summer, the savvy homeowner, who has a natural eye for design and a handy husband, decided to transform the little room and give it a new purpose as a closet and dressing room for their daughter.
Over the course of several weeks, she painted the walls a beautiful robin’s egg blue, and on weekends, her husband assembled and anchored the storage units that would soon hold their daughter’s clothing and accessories.
The room’s greatest assets, besides its location next to a small hallway bathroom, are two large windows. Underneath one is a radiator, a necessity in the wintertime. An ideal spot for a vanity due to the abundance of natural light streaming in, a contemporary acrylic table fits perfectly over the radiator and is lightweight enough to pull away from the heat source when the radiators are in use.
On the windows are cellular shades that softly filter sunlight and add a layer of privacy. Around them hang simple linen curtain panels, cleverly tied back with brightly colored necklaces.
Lynchburg designer Dianne Mowry looked at the new dressing room and had high praise for a job well done on the do-it-yourself project.
“They did a great job playing up the windows. They enhanced them by strategically placing mirrors and reflective furniture to shine light back into the space,” Mowry says. “They were smart to hang curtain panels as high up on the wall as possible and let them reach all the way to the floor. Doing so draws the eye upward and gives the illusion of height to the space.”
Another aspect Mowry commended was the versatility of the closet structure itself. “The dark cherry wood is a sophisticated choice and, because it is modular, it can be rearranged and modified to suit the next occupant’s things,” she says.
Designer Linda Martin had the courage to break one of the most highly regarded small space design “rules” when she moved into her petite abode on her son’s property. Many designers would recommend only using furnishings that are scaled for the room. But Linda defied that rule—and with great results.
Across one entire wall, Linda uses an enormous 10-foot long antique display hutch as a media center, bookcase, display space and home office. It’s so big, in fact, that she had to hire workmen to remove one of the windows in the room to get the top half of it in, and they removed the stairway banister outside in order to get the bottom cabinets through the door.
When she saw it at Circa, she recognized it and had to have it. It was a display case from The Young Men’s Shop, a place she remembered visiting as a little girl with her grandfather and father as they admired hats. It brought back happy memories and she knew it would fill many needs in her new home.
She explains that the lower cabinets of the hutch hold all of her design files and home office equipment. Everything is neatly tucked away behind closed doors. She saved one cabinet for her grandchildren’s toys. “When they were younger and would come across the lawn to visit me, they would go right to it. They knew that’s where I kept special things for them. Now that they’re older, they still come across the lawn to visit, but we usually just sit on the sofa and enjoy favorite television shows together,” she explains.
Hanging above the sofa is a gigantic painting called “Changing Weather” by Andrea Hahn. One might think that such large artwork could overwhelm the room. In this case, it actually helps anchor the space and relate to the large cabinet across
Linda has other multi-tasking pieces of furniture in her home. Her bedside “table” is a beautiful chinoiserie dresser, which she uses for holding clothes. In addition, her kitchen table, when its leaves are added, becomes a worktable where she can spread out and create design boards for her clients.
When she scaled down from living in a 6,000-square-foot home to her new carriage house a fraction of the size, Linda gave her children, who were all-too-happy recipients, most of her former furnishings. “I had such fun shopping for my new little home and choosing just the exact right things for it,” she says.
APARTMENT IN THE PATRICK HENRY
Roanoke designer Elaine Stephenson had the pleasure of working on a precious jewel box of an apartment in The Patrick Henry in downtown Roanoke. Once a landmark hotel, The Patrick Henry has recently been converted into luxury apartments and business space.
A busy woman who has a house in Botetourt County needed the convenience of a place in town and hired Stephenson to help her decorate it. She had one special request that drove the design decisions for the apartment: that Stephenson use colors from a painting her son made when he was a little boy.
Stephenson’s fabric and furniture choices in the apartment prove that small can be stylish and chic. Stephenson selected furniture that takes up a minimal amount of visual space so that nothing feels cumbersome or like it is weighing down the room. “Reflective items made of glass and Lucite virtually disappear. Mirrors and shiny lacquered furniture reflect light, keeping things airy,” she says.
Instead of using tabletop lamps, Stephenson installed wall sconces above a pair of very long, narrow end tables. The tables are leggy and take up almost no floor space at all. Stephenson added small decorative risers on each tabletop to display interesting objects and draw the eye upwards.
Stephenson says, “I intentionally chose sofas and chairs that have very low arms because they give a maximum amount of seating area without boxing themselves in.” There is also a large round ottoman in the center of the seating arrangement, providing a tabletop or extra seating if needed, with the added bonus of no pointy corners jutting into the room.
Stephenson kept all the walls in the same light, neutral color and used minimal treatments on the windows to prevent visual clutter on the walls. Standing in any spot in the apartment, you can easily see into the other rooms. Stephenson says, “The neutral backdrop is the anchor point. Color pulls the eye from room to room so the entire space reads as one.”
A life-sized papier-mâché torso holds court over the living room next to an orchid-colored console and the fuscia ottoman. Lilac bedroom lamps, painted by Betsy Burton of Lynchburg, wear a silver Greek key motif. Plaids mix with geometrics and it all works together because of the consistent color palette inspired by that little watercolor painting. In this charming pied-à-terre, artistic inspiration reigns supreme.
With a little bit of design magic, you can create the illusion of height, allow color to unify the space and let furniture serve several different needs—all helping you live large in any small space.