Tight Squeeze

By Isabelle Lipkin

January 2, 2009 5 min read


Making the most of your small space is simple

Isabelle Lipkin

Creators News Service

"Cozy," "intimate" and "snug" are all euphemisms real estate brokers often dredge up to convince buyers or renters about the upside of living in a small space. Yet downsizing your things into less square feet doesn't mean you have to sacrifice comfort or style. Getting more creative with storage, decorating and creating multiuse areas are the keys to fitting functionally within a smaller abode.

Rule number one is to pare down your belongings to essentials. When there's not a square foot to waste, it's not the time to be pack rat. Take stock of your belongings and recycle items that no longer fit your lifestyle or into your space.

"With any small space the first challenge is the amount of stuff that people have," said Derek Fagerstrom, projects editor of ReadyMade magazine. "Be smart about purchases and smart about purging." He suggested creative editing practices, such as keeping a "treasure box" near your front door for friends to riffle through before leaving.

Another basic tenet is to use multifunctional furniture and create multiuse spaces. Since most people do some home computing, turn a dining room table into a makeshift desk -- with portable caddies for stationery, bill paying and envelopes -- that can be easily picked up and stored.

"Creative people often work at home," said Fagerstrom, "but if you don't have room for an office, consider turning a second closet into one." He said that a closet's shelving can often be used as office storage and a sturdily mounted shelf can sometimes function as a desktop.

Other quick tricks to open up a small space include wallpapering or painting one wall in a room and using sheer curtains to let in more natural light. Vertical stripes will also make a space appear bigger.

And while some furniture is always essential, finding pieces that "disappear" when not in use is another easy tactic. Fagerstrom said ReadyMade has done articles on how to make your own Murphy bed and bar. If they're not needed, both can sweep up out of sight.

Consider ways to maximize storage space in furniture, such as finding a couch or headboard with built-in storage or a bedside table with built-in drawers or shelves. Storable furniture that can be put away when not in use, such as collapsible folding chairs, wine racks and even a kitchen rack that can be tucked out of sight when the chef has left the kitchen, are also smart ideas.

"If you don't need eight chairs around your dining room table, create a way of putting them all away," says Fagerstrom.

Or, take another route and use "invisible" furniture. Philippe Starck's "Ghost Chair" is a clear chair that isn't easily seen, which allows it to recede into the background.

Or, going another route, keep things together by color. For bookworms who are often loath to part with even one volume, Fagerstrom suggested grouping books together by jacket or spine color. "It doesn't get rid of anything," he said, "but it does make them look better."

Likewise, since a small space often demands the occupant's belongings are visible, create careful assemblages of objects in harmonious color palettes to tie design and style into display. Another simple trick is to put curtains up over any additional shelves needed to add d├ęcor and privacy to necessary storage space.

"When you live in a small space, you have to use every inch," said Mona Williams, vice president of buying for the Dallas-based Container Store. She suggested customizing to specific dimensions. People who have smaller spaces can even think about "using the few inches above a doorframe and down the doorway's side to the wall [even if only inches wide] for more storage space."

The challenge of a small living space can be a great way to work creatively with materials through reuse that not only helps the planet, but also allow individuals to customize their style. Site such as ikeahacker.blogspot.com/ show how to take basic Ikea staples and reassemble them to tailor to individual needs. "It's all about living a creative and customized lifestyle," said Fagerstrom -- no matter the size of your space.

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