Yes, you can live large in a small space

“Small Is beautiful” is the title of a series of books by E. F. Schumacher (1911-1977), German economist

Once again, small spaces seem to be top of mind for a lot of us. I get a lot of questions about how to live happily in small spaces and wanted to address some easy fixes. Now I’m really not talking about the tiny house movement, although when I see those shows I’m always thinking about possibilities.

Honestly, the largest percentage of us do live in small-to-moderate-sized spaces. Those who own the McMansions (not my word!) are clearly not in the majority. And, even those who live in enormous spaces now are thinking down the road to the empty-nest syndrome and how they are going to downsize when their children fly away and what kind of small space will they find.

Living in small spaces certainly doesn’t mean you can’t live large. Choosing appropriate furniture and space planning can make any small space work.

I was reminded of this so vividly recently while shopping for game room furniture. So you can’t live without a pool table in your small space, or maybe it’s poker night you don’t want to give up.

Take heart, gamers! Game and pool table manufacturers are on it. You can easily find these tables with movable or removable tops that quickly convert them to dining tables. Voila! You can have that friendly — or not so friendly! — game of pool, pop the dining top on and serve your guests a gourmet dinner.

Another great option for small spaces is more contemporary furniture. Before you go aagh, I don’t like it, think again. Browse your stores and the internet to see the latest in contemporary design. Contemporary upholstered pieces tend to be smaller — no overstuffed chairs that take up so much room, physically and visually. The cleaner, sleeker lines are perfect for smaller spaces.

If you don’t want the pool table/dining table, choose glass-top tables when possible. Again, glass reduces the visual volume, making the room appear larger and not weighed down with sometimes heavy wooden tables.

Versatile furnishings can make a huge difference when living in a small space. When space is at a premium, select your furnishings carefully. Make your furniture work.

Buy side tables for your sofa or ones with drawers next to your bed for nightstands. Small cabinets are also available with file drawers for office storage. Buy an ottoman with a flip top that can be used for storage. Ottomans are also great to use as pull-up seating.

Buy chairs that work in the dining area but can also be pulled into your sitting area when company comes. Round dining tables don’t take up as much space and can be easier to move around.

And, of course, one of the most versatile pieces in small-space living is the convertible bed — not the convertible sofa, which also works, but the cabinet that opens and becomes a bed. I redid my guest room last year because it just doesn’t make sense in a small space to have a room just for guests when, in reality, how much company do you have?

I love it when my friends and family come, but they’re not there all the time, and the room sits empty. Furnish your room and make it work for you when you’re home alone and have an option to accommodate guests when they come.

And just a few words about a big selection for a lot of us as we get older: assisted and independent living. I toured a new facility recently and was amazed at the available spaces. When health issues or just the downsizing syndrome hits, you can create a living space that reflects your life and tastes. The lifestyle might fit you, and you can certainly make the living spaces all yours.

I know that a lot of folks worry about that, but the facilities allow people to set up their own personal areas. You take your own furniture and accessories and make it the space you want. It’s not the size you’re moving from, but you can more than likely take your most favorite things and make it homey and comfy.

If you have other questions about living in small spaces, please send me a note. But if you are careful in your space planning and choice of furnishings, your small space can accommodate all of your interests, your lifestyle and even guests.

Carolyn Muse Grant is a founder and past president of the Architectural and Decorative Arts Society, as well as an interior design consultant and stylist specializing in home staging. She can be reached at

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