A small abode doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style.
Jeanne Ann Dietrich lives in a story-and-a-half bungalow. The interior of her Craftsman-style home may be considered pint-sized to some — the main floor living space is a mere 950 square feet — but the use of double-duty furniture and bright colors gives her home more personality than some mansions twice its size.
Dietrich’s home is an example of how to break through many misconceptions about the use of color in a small space. Her use of vivid shades of lime green, red, gold and blue create a joyful, happy interior. And her decorating philosophy proves limited space can be challenging rather than intimidating. The result is cozy — not claustrophobic.
Many interior decorators say the first step to decorating a small space is acknowledging its inherent advantages. Having less space means less furniture and fewer accessories to buy; a smaller budget means you can focus on using unique or bold pieces. Small rooms also can inspire decluttering your home and life, keeping only necessary items.
Dietrich hired an interior designer, Jim Wilson, to formulate her decorating plan. Her first purchases were two red ceramic table lamps with lime green shades adorned with off-white polka dots. Her home is filled with an eclectic mix of antiques and modern accessories. A large area rug with vibrant hued circles and a small red couch command attention in the living room, set against a backdrop of topaz-gold walls. Two lime-green ottomans do double duty as coffee tables and storage units.
But the process did have a few glitches along the way. The first sofa Dietrich ordered was too large for the space, so she returned it and settled for a smaller, two-seat sofa, which is a perfect fit.
She spent three weeks painting the red brick fireplace white to make it brighter. Dietrich, who is an oil painter, used her artistic touch to paint a colorful design on the hearth.
“I love the bright colors. I think it distracts from the rooms being small. If people have things to look at, whether it’s the color of the walls or furniture, it distracts from the size of the room,” she says.
An example of this philosophy is her bathroom, which is painted neon orange. The kitchen walls are apple green.
Wilson, owner of Jim Wilson Interiors and Westside Stories in Springfield, Ill., says one of the first things to consider when decorating a smaller space is the scale of the furniture.
“It shouldn’t be oversized,” he says. “And don’t use too many pieces. It’s better to use an important statement piece and have less.”
Large, oversized sofas and chairs with high backs and expansive arms that look right at home in large homes with open floor plans and 20-foot ceilings devour space in smaller homes.
Many furniture companies design furniture to fit small spaces. Wilson advises purchasing a short sofa (72 to 80 inches long) instead of the standard size (86 inches).
“A short sofa still fits two people but it’s not so massive,” he says. “Then add a comfortable chair and accent chair and call it quits.”
Wilson says Dietrich’s approach is a solid example of how to make the most of a small space.
“Don’t be afraid of color,” he says. “Either light or dark colors will enhance a space as long as it’s all one color.”
Wilson says he even painted a room black for one client; it worked because all the walls were painted the same shade.
He also advises keeping patterns to smaller accessories like ottomans or pillows, and using textured but plain fabrics on larger furniture pieces to add interest.
Mark Polk, 29, lives in a loft and has used strong colors to create his living space. The real estate developer and businessman says the 2,000-square-foot space seems larger because of the large windows and open floor plan. He and designer Gwen Clayton, owner of Carolina House Ltd., decorated the space using nearly 14 colors — from dark blue, moss green, brown and melon to magenta — to add interest to the living space.
“If you want to do bold color, do yourself a favor and do it everywhere. It makes the space seem much larger. A lot of people get in to accent walls. That’s just a huge no-no in a small space. It brings attention to it,” she says.
The loft’s disadvantages have encouraged him to be creative and patient. The open floor plan allows him to have a pool table in the living room, but he’s in the process of purchasing more furniture.
“One thing I would express is, don’t buy it just to have it. Buy it because it’s the piece you want and it makes the room,” he says. “I try not to collect too much stuff. I’m a fan of minimal pieces and pictures. I have the ‘less is more’ philosophy.”
Clayton says homeowners should focus on function.
“Everything is based around function. Form follows function,” she says. “Anything that’s not functioning doesn’t need to be there.”
Examples include ottomans with a tray on top to hold drinks and prop up your feet as well as provide extra seating and storage. Create a table that does double duty: stack suitcases or trunks used for storage and then add a glass top.
One of the first things Clayton does when designing a small space is organize the closet.
“Cut down on what you keep there. Make sure everything has a place. Use the basement or create space in the attic. You should utilize every square inch of your closet,” she says.
When designing Polk’s space, she took into consideration that he likes to entertain when determining how much seating was needed. “Not enough people think about that. Do I need seating for six? Placing a bench under a windowsill, or installing a window seat is a way of adding more seating,” she says.
In the kitchen, she advises being creative and using everyday items such as food to decorate.
“Don’t be afraid to have food (out),” she says. “Using big wire shelving units and putting food in baskets and other items in them is fantastic and a way to stay organized.”
And remember, more doesn’t always equal better.
For Dietrich, who is in the process of adding a sunroom on the back of her home, it’s a matter of organizing the space you have.
“I’ve lived in larger homes. Now that I’m living by myself, I love it. It’s perfect for me,” she says. “I wouldn’t want anything larger.”