Tight Fits

By Amy Winter

June 24, 2011 5 min read

When it comes to designing a small space, it takes some thinking outside the box. Jean Nayar, author of "The Happy Home Project," says she has learned to make good use of vertical real estate. Look at wall space in tight areas. Remember to eliminate unneeded items, and be sure to choose double-duty furniture pieces.

Gale Steves, author of "Right-Sizing Your Home," understands small space well after trying to decorate her 1,200-square-foot apartment. Her two rules include looking up and down for space. Store items vertically by placing shelves on tall walls. Or try to use low storage areas underneath beds or in under-the-sink cabinets. Consider using the space in crevices or joist areas.

"You need to look at things in your home creatively," Steves says. "Go into your house as if you have never been there before. You can be creative with small spaces."

Christine Brun, writer of the syndicated column "Small Spaces," stresses the importance of throwing away your "junk." This could include magazines, newspapers, used books and duplicate kitchen pieces or toiletry items. After you clean, Brun suggests that you purchase furniture, appliances and equipment that fit your available space. You don't want an oversize piece of furniture in your living room.

"It impacts the function of your space," Brun says. "If the piece ruins the flow in your room, get rid of it. If what works best in your tiny kitchen is a single dishwasher drawer or an 18-inch dishwasher instead of the standard 24 inches, then spend the money."

If you need furniture pieces for a small living room or family room, Brun recommends searching for dual-purpose furnishings. This means that a furniture item could accomplish two roles. Steves suggests storing office equipment in what is disguised as a chest or a buffet. Or put storage benches or ottomans in the living room as both a storage and seating option.

"There are desks that convert into beds and coffee tables that rise up to dining height when needed to perform that duty," Brun says.

In the guest room, put in a good sleeping sofa with a pullout bed or even a Murphy bed, according to Steves. For a kid's room, Steves recommends a daybed with a pullout trundle bed or a bunk bed with a desk placed underneath. There are even storage beds available with attached drawers and bookcases. Or you could create a tiny office in a room's closet. To take advantage of a bedroom's wall space, says Nayar, put up wall sconces to hold candles, books, etc.

Maximize space in a tiny laundry by choosing a stackable washer and dryer. Nayar says that pullout drawer systems are handy, and some include a pullout tray to fold clothes. Wall-mounted shelves can organize detergents, dryer sheets, etc. If you stack the washer and dryer, it leaves room for a sink or more storage.

When decorating her tiny bathroom, Steves used the wall space for shelves and a medicine cabinet. An under-the-sink cabinet is a great place to keep bathroom items. And mirrors help to create the illusion of more space.

For kitchens and nooks, it is important to pick small appliances that fit in the spaces. Nayar suggests installing an overhead rack on which to hang your pots and pans. Make use of upper storage by putting in ceiling-high cabinets or installing shelves to display attractive dishes. Lazy Susans provide more storage within cabinets. And a built-in circular table is great for a small nook, according to Nayar.

Try to choose fewer bigger pieces when picking artwork, lamps and other accessories. Nayar says that several little items can make a room look busy. Also, reduce the number of patterns in a small room; you want to go for a cleaner and simpler look. You can help make a room appear taller with large lamps or floor-length curtains.

When it comes to colors, Nayar recommends limiting the room's palette to one dominant color or two accent colors. Cooler colors tend to make a space look larger, but warmer colors create a cozier and more intimate feel. But ultimately, it depends on the location of the room. Having sufficient light can also help a room feel bigger.

"Choose furnishings that fit the scale of the room," Nayar says. "Using a few pieces of larger artwork creates a focal point and keeps the room feeling clean and clear."

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