Let’s be honest, if given the choice between having more or less space to inhabit most of us would pick more. I know I would. If I could change just one thing about my home it would be to have slightly larger rooms. OK, maybe I would also want another bathroom. Make that a very large, luxurious bathroom. And I definitely would want a walk-in closet. A cavernous, dressing room style walk-in closet. Perhaps even a home gym……alright, I know I said just one thing, but since all these wish-list items involve extra square footage, you see where I am going with this.
The truth is, you can live very large in a small space by simply employing some smart design tricks. I experienced this first hand recently while spending the weekend with a friend on her boat. During the past four months she and her husband have been piloting the vessel down the east coast from their home in Annapolis, docking in marinas along the way. I was amazed by how “livable” a 46-foot long watercraft could be. Two sleeping cabins with private baths, a salon and galley, a control bridge, and an engine room were all artfully assembled like a jigsaw puzzle within the haul and under the decks. The efficiency of the packaging was fascinating to me.
The old adage of form follows function can be especially helpful when designing smaller scaled living spaces. Your small space will work better if you figure out how you want it to function. Knowing how the room is going to be used will help you select appropriate furnishings and effective storage.
Flexible seating with smaller scaled proportions will keep a less-than-spacious room from feeling cramped. You will be surprised how much volume those trendy over-scaled arms and backs on sofas take up in a room. And try to keep it bare – exposed legs on upholstery pieces open up a space by making it look taller and larger, skirts will only close it in.
Multi-tasking furnishings are a must-have in a smaller space. Storage ottomans can act as a seat, a table (many have flip-top trays) or a toy chest. Nesting tables are great to employ because you can bunch them together when not in use and save room. Sleep sofas can provide you with instant guestroom accommodations.
Be careful when selecting fabrics, choosing prints with dense, busy patterns can be claustrophobic. Instead, go for simple, bold patterns that will work better in small spaces by creating a feeling of expansiveness. The same principle applies to the floor, a striped rug can elongate a room and tile installed on the diagonal will expand a space.
Just because a space is small does not mean you should fill it with lots of small furniture, using fewer pieces will allow for a more open feel. Leave room to breathe and allow at least 18” of space between upholstery and coffee tables. Window treatments should be kept to a minimum, use simple styles and lightweight fabrics.
Mirrors are another design trick that can expand the illusion of space, just keep in mind what is being reflected. For instance, you would welcome a garden view outside a nearby window but will want to avoid reflecting the door to the coat closet or the thermostat on the wall.
If you are designing a room from scratch consider specifying items such as built-in furniture and pocket doors to maximize available space. Also, mounting a flat-screen TV on the wall will give you more floor space to devote to traffic flow. The same can be said for utilizing wall-mounted lighting.
Living in less space can have its advantages; less square footage is easier to heat and cool, and you have fewer rooms to furnish and maintain. The trick is to plan for it carefully and make every square inch count. I asked my friend Ann what has been her biggest concession about living on a boat for the last 4 months. I expected her to say the lack of a walk-in closet, forgetting the fact she is a professional caterer. “Well, the kitchen is obviously not as big as the one I have at home,” she said, “but the ever-changing view out the windows of my floating home-away-from-home more than makes up for it.”