Big Plans for Tiny Rooms

By Rose Gilbert

January 21, 2013 4 min read

Q: What to do with a really small room? I mean teeny-tiny, maybe just wide enough to wedge in a double bed. We need a guest room, but would any guest feel welcome in such a stingy little bedroom?

A: If not, you should make better friends. As long as they can stretch out well enough to sleep in a space that's warm and welcoming, what more does any guest really need?

Here's an inspiring case in point: Dena Fishbein, top-shelf designer and author of "The Painted House, "and her husband Dan Fishbein used to handle their thriving design business via computers installed in this sliver of a room.

Then they both got laptops, Deana writes, leaving the space underemployed. They decided to turn it into a guest room, even if there was just a quarter-inch to spare when they moved the bed in.

However, no one loses sleep over the tight fit thanks to Dena's famously freehanded approach to mixing exuberant colors and patterns. The high canopy matches the pillows, which match the bed skirt, which is echoed in the throw and stenciled decorations that pack such an enormous punch of personality into the Lilliputian room.

Also, please note: guests' basic comfort needs are provided for. There are light-controlling curtains at the windows, a handy table at bedside and an efficient reading lamp, all de rigueur in any guest room, however large or small.

This is creative re-purposing at its best. As Dena believes, "Part of what gives a house its vitality is its evolution. If your home grows and changes with you, if it reflects both where you are and where you've been, it will better suit where you're going."

Q: We're building "the house of our dreams" in the mountains. My husband wants to put in an outdoor shower. We aren't having a pool — not in this climate. Is he crazy?

A: You said, "of our dreams." Obviously, that includes your husband's, too.

By the way, landlocked outdoor showers are not as farfetched as they may seem. James Beard, the pioneering American foodie of the mid-20th century, installed an outdoor shower at his Greenwich Village townhouse. The shower was open to all the back gardens in the West 12th Street neighborhood — never mind that Beard was also known for his corpulence, an obvious occupational hazard.

The world's foodies, now converging on the Beard house for remarkable meals at the James Beard Foundation (, still giggle as they step past his shower en route to the dining table

Then there's the enviable outdoor shower installed by an ingenuous neighbor of my friend whose family farm lies in mountainous Virginia. High up on the top level of their handsome custom-built house, Henry's al fresco shower certainly boasts a better view than Beard's: the vista down the misty mountain valley is truly breathtaking.

There is one hazard, Henry admits: showering guests who accidentally drop the soap.

 Making a little space mean a lot: unused computer room now welcomes overnight guests. Photo: John Ellis
Making a little space mean a lot: unused computer room now welcomes overnight guests. Photo: John Ellis

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Manhattan Style" and six other books on interior design. To find out more about Rose Bennett Gilbert and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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Sparking Up a Cold, Dark Fireplace

By Rose Gilbert
Q: We have a "decommissioned" fireplace — looks nice but can't be lit. In several past columns, you've mentioned a number of decorative ways to deal with a non-functioning fireplace. Keep reading