Keep it light and streamlined for an airy small-space makeover

Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012
The Plain Dealer
By Judy Stringer

For many of us, designing any room is a daunting task. Bringing fabulousness to an especially small apartment may seem downright exasperating. The good news for those who live in studio apartment or otherwise humble abode is that you don't have to scale down your design aspirations. For one thing, smaller spaces are inherently cozier and require less effort to create a welcoming atmosphere. And creating a cohesive look is easier and less expensive since fewer design elements are needed to create the desired ambiance.

Once you've embraced the virtues of small-space design, use these tips to decorate and streamline your space-challenged apartment.

Light it up

Opening the drapes will make your space look larger, cleaner and more welcoming.

"Natural lighting reduces the cave-like cramped feeling a small space can give," said Michael Gollini, associate professor/chair of the interior design department at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Gollini also operates a design firm in Medina.

Invest in window treatments that give you privacy but allow natural light to pass through. A good pairing is a drape over a sheer panel, Gollini said. The drape can be pulled back to let the natural light pass through during the day and closed to provide privacy at night.

The right light bulbs can help lighten and enliven a room, as well. Use natural day light bulbs or color-corrected florescent bulbs to give a natural light over the artificial or bluish color that a florescent bulb gives off, he said.

Lighten it up

When space is an issue, it is important to only keep what is really necessary, said Cleveland-based professional organizer Patty Clair, owner of simply put, llc. Of course, choosing what stays and what goes can be a bit overwhelming. Clair said the following questions make these decisions easier:

  • When did I last use it?
  • Does anyone else in the family use?
  • Will it be used again in the next six months?
  • If it is broken, is it worth fixing?
  • Does this item have legal or tax issues?
  • Is it a duplicate? Is it current?
  • Does it have significant sentimental value?
  • How does this compare to the things I value highly?
  • What is the worst thing that can happen if I let go of this thing?
  • Would I buy it again if I didn't already own it?
  • Do I really need it?

Finally, Clair said, you should ask yourself, "Does keeping this item support my vision or help me achieve the goals I set at the beginning of the process?"

Stay neutral with pops of color

Another trick to opening up a small space is to bathe the room in light and neutral hues, Gollini said. "If you want color, have one accent wall and keep the others neutral," he said. "Dark, heavy colors close in a space."

Furniture should be light when possible, Gollini said. Use pillows to add a pop of color to a neutral piece of furniture. Rugs also give a nice hot spot of color without closing in the space visually.

Minimize the bulk

Large, heavy pieces of furniture not only eat up space, but they make a room appear more enclosed. To bring some openness, opt for furnishings that are light in color and modest in dimensions.

Avoid large TVs and art, as well. "Everyone buys a TV that is too big for the room," he said. Try placing a black piece of poster board the size of the TV you are considering in your room before buying it. "TVs always look smaller in the big box store than at home."

Choose wall decor made up of smaller pieces not large posters or pictures. Group your artwork or photos, he added, rather than spreading them out to cover every inch of wall surface.

Maximize the setup

When you are laying out furniture, space the pieces so that you can walk between furniture groupings and do not create barriers, Gollini said. Instead of an uninterrupted row of sectionals in the middle of the room, try an open arrangement. There should be a clear route for traffic flow.

While you are at it, have your furniture face the windows whenever possible as an outside view makes the room feel bigger, he said.

Use walls for storage

Studios and small apartments typically have limited storage. Rooms may be doing double duty, such as a living room and a bedroom in one or an office/dining room. Thinking vertically is one of the best strategies to maximize storage space, Clair said. Luckily, there are a number of attractive shelving units that are available to suit just about anyone's taste and budget.

"It is important that you first measure the space you have available for the shelving unit and consider what you want to store on the unit so that the dimensions are appropriate for your needs," she said.

Expect more from your stuff

If space is a problem, multi-functional furniture is surely one of the answers. These items include sofas, futons and tables that open up for overnight guests or provide added space when you are entertaining friends and family. They collapse to a smaller size for everyday use, conserving space.

When you live in a small apartment, furniture that has a tiny footprint but a lot of functional flexibility is a good investment. These space-maximizing tips can help turn cramped quarters into an open and airy living space.

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