Sometimes fitting big style into a small space simply requires thinking outside the (relatively tiny) box. Reevaluating how each nook and cranny is utilized is often the key to doing more with less. A little thoughtful planning can make any beach bungalow, pied-à-terre or guest house feel like a manse. And it’s not all about neutrals or tiny prints—bright and bold can work just as well when it comes to making any size room appear grand.
To make the best use of what little room is available, designer Daryl Pines of Great Neck outlined his process step by step. “The initial task is to evaluate what the space needs to accomplish.” Decide on its purpose before beginning, so as to better assess what deserves to be in the room and what can be done without. The next step is to ruthlessly declutter. Pines said this is often the most difficult part because of how attached people become to their “stuff.”
Once the needs for the room have been established and the area has been cleared, only then is it time to take a good look at the options. “Try to have as open a floor plan as possible by taking down walls and widening and raising archways,” suggested designer Wendy Lepkoff of Baldwin Harbor. “Keep flooring and wall colors the same throughout the main rooms so that all that delineates one space from another is the furniture.”
Despite what most people think, it’s not necessary to scale down when it comes to color, patterns or even artwork. “Too often clients are conservative with color in small spaces,” said East Hampton designer Jan Lee. “Neutrals are a great base for walls and floor coverings, but a splash of color and great texture can really define a small space.” Lepkoff agreed that bold prints and color create drama. Her suggestion for a powder room is navy walls with all-white furnishings and trim, white and navy floor tiles and printed towels. She also remodeled a tiny, ho-hum beige bathroom into a posh retreat using over-the-top furnishings, tile and window treatments that make the room look twice its size. The “wow” factor puts the grandness front and center.
“Mixing texture, patterns and finishes creates interest,” said Pines. But the real trick is the application, which should be guided by the intended feel for the room. “Monochromatic color schemes using different finishes—matte, shiny and reflective—can result in a very soothing environment, while using bold patterns and vivid colors can create a dynamic and exciting space.”
Furnish with Function
When it comes to making a compact refuge feel bigger, storage is key. Double-duty furniture can make living with less room easier and more importantly, eliminate clutter and the need for storage bins. Murphy beds are now available in many different styles and have built-in bookshelves and fold-down desktops. It’s a perfect solution in a spare room or any area with enough wall space to create a guest room or home office using minimal furniture. A desk and chair under a loft bed in a child’s room can be used as a workspace or play area.
It’s easier than ever to find pieces with built-in storage, from benches and coffee tables to beds with drawers underneath. Items like retractable clothing racks, folding exercise equipment and cocktail tables that convert to dining table height are also space-saving investments. Custom pieces are always an option as well. Lepkoff commissioned a brightly upholstered coffee table with four ottomans underneath to create both storage and seating that works perfectly with a sectional sofa.
Look for underutilized areas to create extra functionality. The neglected space beneath a staircase can be repurposed to house a closet, built-in bookshelves or a mini studio. Lepkoff transformed a nook beneath one home’s stairs into a fully functional workspace. The all-white scheme—desk, chair, shelves and lighting—blended seamlessly into the room. An office can also be created from an existing closet by removing the door, adding a sturdy shelf at desk-height and more shelving above to accommodate a printer and supplies.
Check the Scale
The scale of furniture is an important consideration when it comes to making a room look and feel more spacious. Lepkoff advised “less is more.” She specifically recommended restricting larger pieces like the sofa to no more than 36” deep. Pines’ philosophy is that “over-scaled furniture makes a small space look over-crowded and uncomfortable, just like trying to fit ourselves into slightly too-tight clothing.” For artwork and accessories, all three designers agreed that even if the décor is minimal, fewer objects and larger-scale hangings work best.
A downsized home doesn’t need to incorporate minimalist design to appear spacious and inviting. Simple tricks like using mirrors, creating vertical storage and hanging curtains all the way to the ceiling play with scale to create the illusion of more space. It’s all in the details. “I like to use very high-quality materials and finishes in small spaces,” said Lee. “The intimacy of a small space calls for a finer attention to detail, fit and finish.”