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Fooling The Eye - Tricks For Small Spaces

Originally Posted: July 24, 2008

Cindy Lee Bergersen

In fact, a monochromatic color scheme is most effective in expanding your horizons within the envelope. Use the same fabric for the drapery and upholstery.



Any home could feature a tiny room as part of the whole, but given the current market, oftentimes this means a 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 of your space as "small." as if that's a bad thing. Think of it as "intimate." Surprisingly, medium or darker wall colors add to this feeling of comfortable enveloping warmth, rather than make the room seem smaller. That said, you don't want to use a lot of different colors, as this will read as too busy. Try to confine yourself to two colors and the rest neutrals or natural materials. In fact, a monochromatic color scheme is most effective in expanding your horizons within the envelope. Use the same fabric for the drapery and upholstery.

To make a one-color scheme work without tedium, vary the shade of color to get lights, mediums and darks, and add a variety of textures. Use reflective and/or shiny surfaces contrasted with course textured fabrics.

If you find that your low ceilings qualify as "unfortunate architecture," then wallpaper can do wonders. You can bring a low ceiling to new heights visually by using vertically striped wallpaper. Also, the larger pieces of furniture should be low slung and lean. Think twice about a high backed wing chair.

A patterned paper can disguise irregularities in old walls too. I've seen hopeless little attic rooms with the ceilings sloping on all sides be transformed by using a small patterned paper on all walls including the ceiling. The weird wall angles become un-noticeable. Not for everyone, but using the same patterned fabric on the upholstered furniture, window coverings, bedclothes (if applicable) and walls can look spectacular.

Don't neglect to play up any good qualities that might exist, such as a fireplace,
great views, or even beautiful molding.

Don't neglect to play up any good qualities that might exist, such as a fireplace, great views, or even beautiful molding. 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, 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

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.

There is no such thing as "Random Accident Chic." Everything in the room counts. Edit as much as possible and find containers of some sort for the small indispensables. You're better off with a few well-considered pieces of furniture rather than several small ones. When in doubt, how about the idea of rotating your favorite things in and out of the room a few times a year? This is a great way to keep a fresh look.

Minimize what you might call "visual blockage." Use furniture with legs and look for "see-though" pieces like Lucite, and metal-framed tables with glass tops.

There are two schools of thought on furniture size for a small room. One great looking idea is to have very few pieces but of a larger more dramatic scale. Or, if you need to have more furniture for the sake of multi-tasking in one room, scale your furniture down appropriately. For example the standard depth of a sofa is 32"-36". Sofas can be found at only 28"deep and can be very comfortable. Standard sofa length is about 84" but there are other options. Loveseats are only 60" wide and can seat two very well. There is also a sofa size known as "apartment length" at 72". Round or oval side and coffee tables serve best in small spaces.

Speaking of "Multi-Tasking," this is your mantra for small space living. 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.

To give substance to this idea, consider the following. Your bed could become a luxurious divan if you use a double size bed (54"wide) on a simple platform (don't forget to use one with drawers underneath for extra storage) placed long ways against the wall. Use three rows of big pillows along the back. Start with three 28" squares (for example) for the back layer, then a layer of 24" squares and finally a 22" layer. I'm using these measurements to give you a place to start. Any combination of sizes will work as long as they are big.

You could also use an open bookcase to divide an area, as it offers little visual impediment. Furniture, such as a sofa can be used as a divider also. You might separate a TV area from a dining room, office or reading corner in this way.

Another visual aid in multi-tasking a room is to use rugs to help define areas
within a room.

Instead of backing the bed all the way to the wall, you can create a dressing room in a bedroom by using the headboard as the divider between the sleeping and dressing areas. Drapery rods are available that attach to the ceiling so a "wall of fabric" can be hung behind the headboard to complete the illusion of a separate room.

Fabric walls (as described above) and screens too, can create an entry area out of thin air or hide a variety of "problems" such as boxed goods that must be saved, or equipment that has nowhere else to go.

Another visual aid in multi-tasking a room is to use rugs to help define areas within a room. Rugs of different patterns are fine as long as the colors coordinate. Using the same size rugs, side by side will delineate different areas such as a living area from a dining area. This works well as long as the two areas are of equal proportions. Otherwise, different size rugs will be more interesting. There's no way around this: tiny rugs in tiny rooms look very sad. I have a love/hate relationship with wall-to-wall carpeting because it isn't all that interesting. However, it's wonderful for living on, i.e., playing with the kids or the pets and for your bare feet when you first rise from your bed every morning, etc. It can also give the illusion of greater room proportions. A good hedge position is to use an area rug large enough to leave a 6" perimeter of flooring around the room to help anchor and unify the space.




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