How to Add BIG STYLE to a Small Condo or Home

Erica Bearman ELLE DECOR Guest Room
ARCH DIGEST featurte jimenez-08

Courtesy of Architectural Digest

We would like a small house with large rooms and many of them”

While I have always loved that passage from Howards End, uttered by the house hunting Margaret Schlegel, the reality of small space living comes down to careful planning, releasing your creativity and understanding the importance of a bold visual statement. “Safe” maxims such as painting it all beige or white and keeping it “uncluttered” in reality turn your space into a boring vacuum that also happens to be a small box, not the end result desired by anyone. The key to successfully Designing a small space is to maximize its best features (your view, architectural details or a spectacular piece of Art or furniture) and then carefully and minutely planning out your seating, colours, textures,lighting, placement and functionality. The inspiration for your space needs to come not only from who and how you live now, but also how you want to live in your space. Design your small space to act as the stage for the life you want to lead. This sounds trite, but the reality is that our environment effects not only our mental well being but also our relationships and how we perceive ourselves. Small spaces don’t have to be a restriction to how we live whatsoever, they simply have to be carefully and creatively conceived.

Cowhide tile wall

I always recommend starting off by creating a ” house book”. This means printing off /creating a copy of your floor plan to scale and then collecting images of the items that appeal for that space such as lighting, furniture, Art, carpets, architectural details, colour chips, fabrics and so forth. Start off with the empty space in mind and think how you need to use each area and space within your small condo. Think how you can add multi-functionality to each area such as a dining space that is also a library with a hidden office in a Secretaire or Armoire; or a living area that has a pull out sleeper sofa (albeit a sexy clean line version that you would never know was a sleeper sofa and not the one in your Great Aunt’s basement with the bar in the middle that destroys your back); or a guest room that acts as a Study/Reading room and craft corner.

There are no limits to how you use your space and how many creative layers for that usage you determine. Once you think about how you need to use the space and how it best works with your floor plan you will need to think about the scale of your furniture and whether you need to have some pieces custom built for your space (or a possible DIY project for you or a handy relative). At the same time you need to carefully think about the ever present and crucial issue of storage. Just when you think you have planned for “enough”, add some more and try to find furniture that has hidden or creative storage capacity as well such as ottomans with storage or furniture with hidden storage ability. One of the best solutions to storage and also creating a stunning focal point is having a floor to ceiling shelving unit built into your space for books, art, collections, a bar (with a drop down front) as well as having enclosed storage cabinets along the bottom course.

Barn boards with retro vintage signage in a historic home by 47 Park Avenue

Retro Chic by 47 Park Avenue

Another critical aspect for a small condo Design is colour. Don’t be fooled into thinking your only option for a small space is an all white palette. While this can be a gorgeous look depending upon your architecture and view/natural light, do not think it is the savior of a small space as it most assuredly is not. While having an overall softer neutral tone as your main flow colour (your predominate overall wall colour) will work beautifully, make sure to temper it with a few colour blocked walls of a rich, dark and vibrant colour that will add visual depth, interest and personality.  For a recent small bedroom I had the walls with the windows and doors and closet painted out a pale raffia tone and the headboard wall painted Francesca Black by Martha Stewart (Try Cracked Pepper by Valspar as well) with the trim work painted Oxford White by Benjamin Moore. This actually made the black coloured wall recede and added a sophisticated “New York” sensibility to the space. This was then dramatically enhanced with a tall black leather headboard and a rich mixing of pale fabrics. All the other items were very small scale and I opted for modern boxy crystal lamps, an acrylic see through chair and dark small wood side tables with hidden storage. The end result being a space that was sexy, fresh and most importantly, inspiring to the owner. Never once does one think “gosh, this condo is small”, what everyone always says is “wow, that is a sexy bedroom” and what else should a bedroom be other than sexy and soothing.

When planning your space and figuring out what you need and where things will go and how to maximize your storage and functionality, DON’T forget the need to add Drama and Grandeur to your space. Oversized Art work or large Vertical mirrors will add grandeur to your condo (one can never have enough oversized mirrors). The great Design element they add is a sense of space and roominess while NOT taking up any crucial floor space as it is all wall surface, thereby maximizing your actual square footage. Remember that while we want our furniture (sofas, chairs, dining table, side tables, credenzas) to be efficient, small scale and well designed, we need our few accessory items to be BIG, bold and brilliant. Never go with a small grouping of little “things”, opt for the biggest and best you can afford thereby making an emphatic statement of who you are and what your space symbolizes. Whenever possible, opt for the best quality items your budget will allow so that your pieces aren’t just for now, but for any space you move into in the future as well.

Something that trips up many people in designing their small space are the Window coverings. Make sure to keep them simple, efficient and always background. Window coverings in a small space should never be the focus of your room or Design. The view is important and your overall Design is important, but by making something that is very upfront you are in fact compartmentalizing your home and your view thereby making it feel and look smaller and boxier, something we never want to do with our small condo. I prefer to go with a simple Roman blind (similar to our overall wall colour) or wooden blinds painted out our trim colour. This will ensure that they are background and that the overall Design will have a gorgeous and clean line flow and feeling.

World Traveller style

Courtesy of ELLE Decor

A few other Design elements to include whenever possible are such things as:

  • Add shelves above doorways for both storage or visual displays
  • Add additional light fixtures and upgrade existing light fixtures to make sure there is an even and overall light source that is controllable and their style corresponds to your Design
  • Put glass shelves across deep-set windows for both storage and stunning displays of glass or art work
  • Put low bookcases along a sofa back
  • Always make sure to keep the flooring throughout a small space the same for visual continuity
  • Run low bookcases underneath windows
  • Line hallways with bookshelves
  • Carve out shallow display spaces between wall studs for either open or hidden storage
  • Always make sure to select sofas and chairs with plain or textured upholstery rather than vibrant prints
  • Always run your shelves up to the ceiling
  • Whenever possible exchange swinging doors for sliding doors to free up more floor space and give a fresher modern feeling.
Erica Bearman ELLE DECOR guest room

Erica Bearman home featured in the Essential ELLE DECOR

Remember that inspiration comes in many forms, so  keep and open mind and eye while Designing your small space. Don’t be afraid to try something new or challenging. A small space Design needs to have a beautiful blending of both functionality, organization, visual presentation, beauty and for me above all else a strong dose of your personality.

by Robin De Groot

Black and Blue and Moody...

A lovely moment courtesy of the brilliant Abigail Ahern

Bibliostyle ELLE DECOR

Courtesy of ELLE Decor