Simplicity best for decorating tiny areas

Do all the inquires I’m getting about renovating summer homes represent another of those “green shoots” heralding renewed growth for the national economy? We all hope so, but it could be just a sign of the season. Not that there’s anything disappointing about the sort of green shoots that summer itself causes to sprout.

Q: Our 30-year-old beach cottage wasn’t built as anything special; it’s just a small and inexpensive getaway — which we’re fortunate to have bought a while ago. Can you recommend some ways to brighten it up? The raw materials aren’t promising: small rooms, a ceiling barely 8 feet tall, off-white walls, trim and doors that look as though they’re made of plastic. The place does have a nice wooden floor, though.

A: It sounds as though your cottage just needs a little attention. Also, you should see its simplicity as an advantage — at least the interior hasn’t been festooned with unsightly decorations, which is often the case with previously owned summer homes.

So here’s an idea that will make the place look special and that doesn’t require extensive renovations. Start by refinishing the wooden floor in a light, natural color. Then paint the walls in a pale pastel, maybe a light green or blue. At the same time, replace the baseboards and any moldings around the doors and windows with a continuous band of flat wooden trim.

The result may resemble the small bedroom shown in the accompanying photo, and connect as well as frame any awkwardly placed doors and windows in an interesting geometric design. This and many other affordable renovation suggestions will be found in “Not So Big Remodeling,” a Taunton Press book by Sarah Susanka and Mark Vassallo.

This particular model reminds me of a Japanese interior. And no one’s better than the Japanese at enhancing the visual appeal of small rooms. Applying variations on this treatment throughout your cottage will serve to unify the various rooms while giving each of them a brighter appearance. Some of the walls could be covered with a textured wall covering instead of being painted. I also recommend using grass or reed shades on the windows — not cutesy curtains, please!

Color contrasts should be subtle, and any patterns must be simple. The overall aim is to avoid the cliched cottage style and to emulate the look of a Japanese home. There’s no shortage of books that can give you insights into what that sort of look entails.

Rita St. Clair is a syndicated columnist with Tribune Media Services Inc. E-mail general interior design questions to her at

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