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Proportion and Utility Are Important Features When Selecting Furniture

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Smaller is hot these days. Less house and yard means less cost overall for you.

Finance expert Suze Orman recently said that many Americans these days are just praying to be relieved of the mortgages on their homes to be free to rent instead. Often, people rent a smaller home than they had been used to for obvious reasons. We're in a belt-tightening mode these days.

It seems to me that the cultural emphasis on extreme couponing and bargain hunting dovetails with awareness that we need to get the most for our money in all phases of modern life. Folks are stretching food budgets and clothing allowances. Yet in the midst of this upheaval, it remains important to live in a way that offers refuge and inspiration. Even if you need to accomplish transformation of a home on a budget, beauty is significant. According to an old Chinese proverb, if you have only two coins left buy bread with one and a flower with the other!

The owners of a character-filled condominium in historic Charlestown, Mass., were faced with a challenge common to many urban dwellers: a lack of space. They turned to interior designer Rachel Reider to assist in coaxing the 730 square feet to live larger. By creating an open floor plan to remove any visual boundaries, the designer was able to use every available inch of horizontal and vertical space.

"We wanted the open living space to afford both a dining area and living room," Reider says. "By taking advantage of the extra space in the bay window, we carved out a little dining nook. By adding drapes and a chandelier above, it really becomes a special space. The table has extension and can pull out to seat 12 when entertaining."

It's notable that this flexible, little table is an antique passed down from the owner's grandmother and that the 36-inch diameter can extend to an 8-foot oval. The lesson? Scour vintage furniture stores and antique malls for furniture from past eras, when rooms were made smaller.

It's a reasonable way to acquire quality pieces that not only function well but are affordable.

Regarding other choices of furnishings, says Reider, "You have to be a bit more creative and really keep scale in mind, but there are so many great options. In the living room, we used two small tables that could be easily moved around rather than one larger one, which really helps to open the space up."

You must keep scale — the proportion of an item of furniture to the overall space — as a top priority. If something is given to you free or perhaps was purchased on sale but isn't the right size, do not allow it into your small home. It's a mistake that can be difficult to remedy. It matters not how well-made or how lovely an item might be if the size is all wrong.

Lethargy takes over, and objections over spending money on a new sofa when you already have one will become strong at some point! But a disciplined mind is key and will help you stay focused on the optimum piece to encourage the best use of available room and the perfect size. When you have only room enough for a few furniture pieces, it becomes even more critical that they are spot-on.

Again, when the ceilings of an older home are lofty, you have the option of locating taller storage pieces. You want to find shallow but tall accent pieces such as bookcases, china or curio cabinets. Take advantage of vertical space as much as possible. With careful searches, a renter or homeowner might avoid the need for costly built-in pieces. Consider the idea of stacking bookcases to increase height, but take safety precautions and attach the units to the walls. Even cabinets might be stacked in the same manner.

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at christinebrun@sbcglobal.net. To find out more about Christine Brun and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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