My friend Nina called me panicking. She'd decided to give up her generous one bedroom apartment to move into half a converted garage, downsizing her living space so that her dogs have a yard to run around in. First step: paring down her life to the bare minimum and deciding how to make the most of the tiny space. I went to look at it and we evaluated the space, her stuff and her lifestyle. Here are a few tips if you find yourself in a similar situation:
Look at the pros: Yes, the place is miniscule, probably 300 square feet tops. But she has access to a pool and a hot tub, a big plus in LA. And there's the yard her dogs can run around in. And it's located close to where she works, so she'll be able to bike. Less stuff and less living space, yes, but, between the biking and the swimming, chances are she'll be a lot healthier. The layout of the space is also good: two rooms side by side, and, though the bathroom doesn't have a bathtub (Nina likes to de-stress with a good long soak), she can use the hot tub whenever she wants. And the closet is big.
Be realistic: However she looks at it, Nina's going to have to pare down her stuff; the space is tiny. We measured the space and evaluated her belongings. No way was all her furniture going to fit. So, we started by deciding which were the most necessary pieces in each room.
Evaluate Needs vs. Wants: In a bedroom, you only need a bed. In a living room, you only really need the couch.
Bring in the limited storage tricks: All the bath towels will be hung up in the bathroom, the bed linens will be stored under the mattress, the pots will be hung up, the kitchen (which is part of the living room and along one wall) will be fitted with a half-sized refrigerator.
Be creative about replacing what won't fit: Nina has two sets of side tables and a bureau. The bureau won't fit in the bedroom, so that will go. However, she's having trouble parting with the side tables. We may use two in the closet to hold underwear, socks and t shirts, and two at the foot of the bed. They'll replace the bureau and give her extra storage space (or, once everything's moved over to the space and she can see for herself that everything won't fit, she may be convinced that it's time to give up one pair of side tables).
Don't fight the small: Yes, there are many tricks to make a room look bigger, but sometimes small has its advantages. The bedroom is small, no denying that, so we're going for it. The look we're going for is jewel box: the room will be painted navy blue, the bed will be generous with linens. It will be like sleeping in a glamorous nest.
Make it look built in: That tiny bedroom will also hold Nina's bookcases. I suggested that she run them along one wall and paint them the same color as the wall; then we'll carefully organze her books and tchotckes. The difference between cluttered and cozy is organization.
Tighten up the color scheme: Navy blue bedroom with black and white accents, white living room with grey and black. A simple color scheme makes small look strong, and Nina can change things up by adding colorful accessories.
Reuse what you have: While the bedroom will be dark and cozy, the living room will be light and airy. Painted a bright white, it will look positively huge compared to the bedroom. Nina considered a white couch, but her tiny fur shedding dachsunds quickly eliminated that as an option. I convinced her that instead of selling her big down-filled sofa to her ex-boyfriend, she should keep it and have it recovered. After spending two days going from fabric store to fabric store, we hit upon a brilliant idea. Instead of donating the grey linen Ikea curtains, why not reuse them? The upholsterer okayed the material as sofa-appropriate, and I had him eliminate all the piping, make the back cushions lower and add wheels.
Think big: The big sofa doesn't dwarf the small room, it makes it look bigger. It's one of those classic small space tricks that seems counter-intuitive, but it works.
Think outside the box: The sofa can be wheeled to face the couch, or it can moved up to the Saarinen table for dinner (which, sacreligiously, we're also considering fitting with wheels). We're still considering options for a coffee table. I'm voting for upholstered ottomans with storage, but we'll wait on making any more decisions until after moving day, when everything's settled. That Saarinen table will be used as a desk, a dining table, and, because it's marble, will work as extra counter space to prep food. Yes, I know it may get pitted, even stained, but that, to me, is the beauty of marble. It wears beautifully and only takes on more of a patina as it ages.
Next week, after Nina moves, we'll take a closer look at what's working. Stay tuned!
(Images: Abby Stone)