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The Tiny Home: Living Large In A Little Place

Originally Posted: August 15, 2011

Cindy Lee Bergersen

Don't assume that if you paint a teeny room white it will magically appear larger. (File Photo)

Southampton - "It's a small apartment. I've barely enough room to lay my hat and a few friends." - Dorothy Parker

Any home might have a tiny room as part of the whole, but often times, the tiny room is the home. Don't despair or turn a blind eye. There are a multitude of tricks to fool perception and maximize the use of space.

First off, stop thinking your place is "small," as if that's a bad thing. This will alter your mind set away from believing you have to fix it. Embrace your space as is. While it's true that clever editing and space saver ideas rule, it's also true that in a small space, you can get away with wonderful outrageous style statements that tried in a larger area would be overwhelming.

Push Me Pull You
What's your favorite color? Use it everywhere from walls to fabric for drapery and upholstery. Try using one shade on the north and south walls and a slightly deeper shade of the same color on the east and west walls. This causes the appearance of expansion and contraction, so you can make a room appear longer or more square with no demolition.

A Pattern Language
Using the same splashy (but tasteful of course) fabric with matching wallpaper all over walls, drapery and furniture can be fabulous. Add a big wonderful mirror and you may find yourself with a favorite hide-away.

White Wonder
Don't assume that if you paint a teeny room white it will magically appear larger. It won't, though the room will appear brighter. In terms of seeming to enlarge an area, you might as well consider white paint only if you really like white. In terms of having an inherently dark room suddenly seem well lit, you will find that white in a dark room looks like an unnatural act. Shades of colors used to work with the existing conditions are your best bet.

Oh, Stop Pouting
If you are convinced that white paint is the only way to go regardless, there is a way to make white work wonders in a small space. Paint the floors white too; the white shell effect doesn't appear to have any boundaries. Actually, this shell effect works with any color.

Thumb Rules If You'd Rather
In a small space, minimize the number of visual contrasts. For this reason, whether or not you use color or simply use white everywhere, paint the doors and trims the same color as the walls but using a satin finish paint rather than the matte finish usually used on large, flat surfaces. For a little more definition, start with the trim color (which does not need to be standard white. Live a little and use a light neutral or pastel). Paint the walls slightly darker than the trim with the ceiling as light a shade or even lighter. Lacquer or use a semigloss paint for the ceilings. In general, semigloss paint, even in dark colors, can blur the boundaries of a room and make it appear larger.

Multi-Tasking Is Your Mantra
Make your furniture work hard. Your sofa is also your bed. Your dining table is also your desk. Your coffee table is also your dining table, if you add a few floor cushions.

Play Your Cards Right
Round coffee tables are good, no corners to bruise you as you pass by in a tight space. Another good point is that it doesn't matter if the table is centered in front of the sofa. A round dining table with comfortable chairs is a hub around which you can read, write, play cards, and of course, dine.

Disappearing Act
Minimize what you might call "visual blockage." Use furniture with legs and metal framed tables with glass tops. "See through" is good. Lucite, plexiglas and real glass are the best "there is no there, there" solutions.

Seeing Is Believing
Mirrors are magical when it comes to making a room seem larger. The trick is to hang them in places that reflect something of interest in the room. Use a mirror opposite or beside a window with a great view, for example. The bonus of hanging a mirror to reflect a window is that the natural light coming though the window will be doubled. Speaking of extra light, having "shiny pops" and extra sparkle from metal or crystal accessories will enhance the notion that your small space is actually a private jewel box of wonder.

Keys To The Kingdom
The real key to living gracefully in a small space is to be ingenious about creating storage space. Put drawers in and under everything possible. Use pocket doors. Build storage to fit alcoves, nooks and crannies as well as the end walls of long narrow rooms.

Commit Blasphemy
Closet space is sacred space to most of us, but consider whether you can gain valuable real estate by knocking out a closet or two and figuring out some other avenues for storage. If you are desperate enough, you may finally get around to weeding out all the old junk and unwearable clothes.

Reconstructive Surgery
If you tear up at the prospect of killing a closet, and the closet in question is deeper than 24 inches, you are in luck. If it's least 36 inches deep, the back 12 inches can be fitted with adjustable shelves, (think shoes or maybe seasonal storage) while the front 24 inches can be for hanging clothes. Extra credit for using two clothes bars so the closet will hold double the number of your shorter items like shirts, jackets, skirts, and pants hung over the hanger cross rod.

Standard counter height is about 36 inches. Can you manage with a lower counter height? The lower the counter, the greater the illusion of a bigger space. In the same spirit, floor to ceiling cabinets are room size killers because the ceiling surface is reduced. Work those walls too. Install shelves in corner spaces and hang up as much as is reasonable like the pots and pans or bedside lighting.

Shine A Light
While saving space and paring down is essential, don't opt for recessed lighting (or overhead lighting) any more than is absolutely necessary. Not only does such lighting lend too much of a commercial look, but no one looks good under it.

Subversive Tactics
The standard caveat for furniture size is that it always be proportional to the size of the room, unless you pare down to one very large item with maybe a couple of supporting players in the form of a small table or chair as needed. A big bed in a small room is dramatic and somehow makes the room seem bigger. Another possibility is a sofa that's nearly wall to wall with a very big picture over it.

Conversely, tiny rugs in tiny rooms look very sad. A good option is wall-to-wall carpeting which will give the illusion of greater proportions. An even better idea is to use a large area rug that stops six inches from the wall all around. You get all the unifying effects and you can take it with you if you move.

There Is No Such Thing As Random Accident Chic
Whether your home is space deprived or spacious, thought must be given to all aspects of building the home design that's perfect for you.

Every gesture you make should be considered. You're better off with a few well-considered pieces of furniture rather than several small ones. If you have many favorite things that you don't want to live without, how about the idea of rotating them in and out of the room a few times a year? This is a great way to keep a fresh look.

Good Housekeeping
Be meticulous with not only your choices, but (it must be said) with your housekeeping too. Clutter is never a good look. Also, continue to edit as much as possible and find containers of some sort for all the small indispensables. The old saying, "a place for everything, and everything in its place," is one of the best home design mottos to live by.

In the end, it's really not about size. Any space large or small can be made beautiful and livable with your personal stamp on it. You can make it work, if you work it.

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