Local pros share perspective-changing solutions for turning even the smallest space into a haven of comfort.
BY CAROLYN CAMILLERI
These days, many of us are choosing to live more simply in smaller homes and condos. Perhaps we are downsizing, or dividing our time between more than one residence. Alternatively, our needs may be growing and we want to make better use of the space we already have by doubling up on a room’s purpose. Whatever the case, working with a small space comes with its challenges, but can also glean successful results. It starts with a
change in perspective.
Often, the desire for more space can be met simply by rethinking how we keep our possessions. Ted Hancock, owner of Incredible Home, is passionate about maximizing space in smaller homes and condos — and he has a secret to share.
“If it’s got visibility, it gives you accessibility, and if it’s accessible, it’s going to be functional,” he says. “That’s my secret to organization.”
While he may not advise you on where your couch should go, he is an absolute master of getting the most out of your storage space. You may even be able to eliminate some furniture.
Consider what Hancock sees in a standard closet — a single shelf with a rod underneath it.
“I look for any blank space on the back wall, because if it’s not utilized with some kind of a system, it’s wasted,” he says.
And it’s amazing what can be done with that blank space. Hancock likes to start with the entry closet because it’s the most used. Places are needed for shoes and coats, but also hats and gloves, bags and backpacks, dog leashes and supplies, keys and other small items. The addition of small steps means the space can be used right to the ceiling, with seldom-used items up high.
A well-setup bedroom closet, meanwhile, has places for everything from socks and ties to sweaters, handbags and laundry. And, with LED lights in the closet rod, you’ll never mix up black and navy blue again. You may also be able to eliminate the dresser and laundry hamper in the room.
In the kitchen, “smart shelves” that fully slide out add substantial space to lower cupboards. Utility and linen closets, the laundry room, storage room and even the garage are often untapped areas of space potential, and Hancock and his team can provide the tools to organize belongings to free up room.
Another tip from Hancock: Euro doors with translucent glass panels. While these won’t help you see into the closet — other than shapes and colours — they provide a soft reflection that can make a room feel more spacious. Then there are the floating wall boxes. Sturdy, multi-functional and beautiful, floating wall boxes come in a huge range of sizes and colours. They are guaranteed to hold 25 pounds but in practice can hold up to 50, effectively making some furniture that needs floor space redundant: bookshelves, toy boxes, entertainment centres and even small desks.
As Hancock’s grandmother used to say, a place for everything and everything in its place.
“It’s still true,” he says. “It creates a calming effect in your life. Frustration and anxiety come from chaos. If we can keep our surroundings calmer and we are organized, it’s a nicer way of living.”
Goals for the gold
When space is at a premium, Ben Brannen, principal at Bespoke Design, says use it wisely. The first step: assess your goals.
“Knowing what the desired outcome is makes all of the decisions along the way lead back to the goals,” he says. “For instance, we might designate a larger space in the home to a different use than it was designed for.”
Take, for example, the dining room.
“When space is limited, this is often the first area to take over,” says Brannen. “At the very least, it can double as a home office, but many opt to carve out an area to put a small table and chairs or even use a kitchen island as their eating and entertaining area.”
Knowing what your household is in serious need of will help define how you reallocate your space resources where possible. Is someone working from home? Does the baby need a safe place to play? Is a new cooking routine requiring a clearer kitchen?
“More space in a flexible living, dining and kitchen area and less in a bedroom space where you only sleep makes for more comfortable living,” he adds.
In terms of renovations, Brannen says adding cabinets to smaller spaces is the best investment for keeping troublesome clutter at bay — including in bedrooms.
“Cabinetry that allows for some recessed spaces and doesn’t come down to the floor gives the illusion that there is more space, but also gives hiding places for things you need on hand,” he says. “I have had great success using the space on either side and above the head of the bed for storage.”
Bespoke Design’s Heather Nelson shares other space-saving visions.
“Take your kitchen cabinets all the way up to the ceiling, making that unused, dust-collecting space into viable storage,” she says.
No matter your priorities, stay on the lookout for hidden spaces. Nelson suggests using the space under the stairs as storage, or even turning this into a reading nook or small bar.
“Should a large renovation be in the budget, it may be possible to rearrange the overall space to maximize the square footage,” she says. “Not all older buildings have a layout on par with how we like to live these days. An open and flowing floor plan will always feel larger than a place sectioned into smaller rooms.”
PRO TIPS – Double Duty
You can designate multiple purposes for just about everything.
“A coffee table is an ottoman, is blanket storage, is a seat at the table,” says Kathryn Pickersgill, design consultant and stylist at Bespoke Design. “Similarly, a bed is also a closet under the frame, with two sets of wide drawers and additional space for suitcases.”
Or perhaps a hinged shelf that swings up into a desk by day and a bar by night. Or a coffee table with hidden retractable legs that morphs into a dining room table. Or the window blind that becomes a home theatre screen. These can all become powerful hacks that are “just shy of magic.”
The Boom two-drawer cocktail table from StudioYdesign is one piece that can cut down on visible clutter and The Infiniti round storage ottoman from Crate & Barrel captures extra storage with the luxurious feel of soft chenille.
If your goal is to increase living space in a bedroom or convert a guest room to a multifunctional room, a Murphy bed may do the trick, especially models that include a storage wall.
Island Murphy Beds has some impressive options.
“They look really nice and you get that functionality of having a bed as well as a space,” says Mateo McIsaac, sales manager at Island Murphy Beds.
The space you gain when the bed is closed can be a home gym, office, workshop or kids’ playroom. If the room has a lower ceiling, Island Murphy Beds has a solution.
“We can also do horizontal beds,” says McIsaac. “Instead of vertically top to bottom, it’s the side coming down.”
Customizations make Murphy beds attractive and add functionality: drawers, doors with pullouts for nightstands, lights above the pillow area. You choose the woodwork, as well as stain, paint colours and hardware, and the experts do the rest.
“Everything is super customizable and really high quality,” says McIsaac. “And it’s all made in Victoria.”
Small but mighty furniture
Janine Lange, a designer at Luxe Victoria, says function and flow in a smaller space is very important, and well-placed, well-sized items can make a space look larger.
“You want to be able to move with ease, so editing is important. Choose only pieces you love and that work well for you, rather than filling every available space,” she says.
Style-wise, she recommends contemporary and mid-century modern designs in smaller spaces, as they often have less visual weight — a lighter look — than more traditional designs. For example, big, rolled arms on sofas and chairs can mean not having space for an end table.
“That said, there are many condo-sized traditional options as well,” says Lange.
Smaller sectionals can be a great way to maximize seating but maintain an overall lighter look. Choose a sofa with narrow rather than wide arms. Sofas with higher legs or a lower back offer more visual space without compromising seating.
“I like using round coffee tables or end tables for better flow and ease of movement through a smaller space,” she adds.
Furniture with more than one purpose is ideal, especially if it offers storage.
“Instead of a coffee table, you may choose a storage ottoman with a large tray on top,” says Lange. “The ottoman can then become extra seating when needed. I also love the design of a coffee table that allows an ottoman to be nested under it.”
Another consideration is to choose upholstered dining chairs that can be easily pulled into the living room when extra seating is needed.
Measuring before you buy is crucial.
“Having a plan for furniture placement before you order can help avoid expensive mistakes,” she says.
Sometimes, one of the most effective ways to build in extra space is through the work of illusions.
While a door may not change its location, adding visibility can do wonders for a space. Kathryn Pickersgill, design consultant and stylist at Bespoke Design, suggests using French doors off a kitchen, especially those that open to a patio or balcony, to encourage a welcoming “space beyond” effect. And, never underestimate the power of less.
“Open floor space, clean surfaces and crisp wall corners give us an understated sense of harmony and flow,” says Pickersgill.
“Mirrors are a great way to bring light into a space, but also to trick the eye into making the room look larger or deeper than it is,” says Lange.
In fact, mirrors and art pieces can do most of the leg work in shifting the perspective of a room.
“Don’t be afraid to make statements with art and mirrors, even in a small space,” says Brannen. “If a space is small … go with larger, bolder pieces, but only a few of them. It is important that your home feels comfortable and, at the same time, is inspiring to your soul.”
Creating space in your home is one part practical storage, one part visual illusion. Built-in cabinets clear clutter from the walls while keeping the look simple. Low-profile wall lighting works to functionally draw eyes to points of interest, while expanding a feeling of height above. Bonus storage under the bed saves on space, and a strategically placed mirror helps to balance light and expand the room.
PRO TIPS – Window Treatments
What you put on windows makes a difference in a small space.
“I have had great success with two types of window treatments that help make spaces feel larger,” says Ben Brannen, principal at Bespoke Design. “Blinds that are set into windows and blend with the walls give the effect of larger surfaces.”
PRO TIPS – Design for Micro Living
Bespoke Design’s Pickersgill is helping her son, his girlfriend and their dachshund decorate their 380-square-foot micro unit.
Some of her techniques include using a fresh coat of matte All White from Farrow & Ball to provide an open, expansive look. A well-placed mirror offers a feeling of additional space and visual access outside. Tiles in the bathroom, installed horizontally, have given a widening effect to the tiny room, while, in the kitchen, blending the countertop and backsplash with the same bright stone provides a smooth and cohesive look.
“If the majority of the space and its contents are trying to suggest roominess, a few well-placed items of dark contrasting colour in all of that expansive brightness can provide a grounding quality,” says Pickersgill, “like black lamp bases or shades, artwork with a black frame, a black vase or a small display cabinet lit within.”