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Designing for Small Spaces

I recently polled my friends and family for their design needs. The majority asks how to make small spaces look more spacious. Well, I have a lot to say! Thus, I will cover this topic over the next three blog posts. You don't want to miss out!

The first thing that you must do is clear your space of clutter. This seems obvious, but even the most well-designed room will never appear pleasing if it looks like Toys ‘R Us exploded in your living room. I remember when we lived in our first home...My sweet daughter was just born, and we didn’t have a laundry room conducive to folding clothes. I constantly had laundry and toys surrounding me as I sat on the family room couch and read Dr. Seuss to my baby—hoping to enrich her brain development. And while that was life with an infant (and I wouldn’t trade it for the world), my house certainly did not look like a House Beautiful spread. It only worsened when she was a toddler.

If you are a neatnik (like my husband), you likely don’t have any clutter. But I’ve noticed that creative types (like those most likely to read design blogs) seem prone to, um, let’s call it…organized chaos. However, if you’re intent on making your space more zen (and less Ringling), you’ll need to harness that creative energy.

If you have trouble decluttering and getting organized, I highly recommend the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. The gist of Kondo’s method is to keep only the things that you love and to have a space for every item that you keep. I can’t stress how important these two principles are in designing your space. If you don’t love an item, it will not bring you joy. Even if you used to love something, if you don’t currently like it (and there is no reasonable way to work with it), the item will only detract from your space. Furthermore, loving something isn’t enough—you need a place to keep it that works with your ultimate vision for the space.

If you feel overwhelmed with the mere prospect of decluttering, ask an organized friend to help. Use a timer, factor in coffee (wine, if you must), take snack breaks, and play music. Do whatever it takes to maintain momentum.

Built-in cabinetry and bookshelves are useful for organizing a small space. If you have built-ins and bookshelves, clear the clutter and utilize them. Organize bookcases with wicker baskets or decorative bins. Basket and bin colors should coordinate with your decor. If you aren’t using primary colors or pastels in your furnishings, don’t choose these colors for your storage—even if you’re storing toys.

Once you’ve cleared the clutter, you need to decide what furniture to keep and what to repurpose. If you are handy, you may be able to paint or re-upholster pieces. If you plan on using a designer, this would be an ideal time to ask for feedback.

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A designer can help you decide what to keep and what to replace. You’ll need a vision to work towards because it simplifies the process of choosing furniture and accessories and it will make your overall design look cohesive and intentional. A designer can help you clarify and create that vision. A designer will also save you money because she will help prevent costly mistakes. For instance, making sure that your wall color’s undertone matches your coordinating fabrics and hard finishes or that your furniture is sized appropriately for your space. Because who wants to repaint walls or find out that your brand new, custom upholstered sofa is three inches too wide to fit through your door jam?

If you choose to do-it-yourself, my next two blog posts will include helpful recommendations for:

  • Furniture selection and placement

  • Paint color

  • Accessorizing

  • Lighting

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