Living in a small apartment, condominium or home doesn't mean living with doll-size furnishings.
That's one of the first things interior designers discuss with clients who are downsizing from large, family-size homes."People seem to think they need to bring their little tiny things and accessories. Those just emphasize a small space," says designer Kay Anderson Sorgenfrei.
Small pieces aren't the answer. Normal and even large-scale furnishings are just fine. So are pieces that have multiple functions - the desk that can double as a dining table, or antique daybed that's both living room seating and guest bed.
Living small usually means a minimalistic environment - one that doesn't necessarily appeal to everyone. Bedside tables with lamps may have to be replaced with wall-hung lights in downsized bedrooms, for example.
But monochromatic color schemes, multifunction rooms and dramatic lighting can help maximize space in scaled-down dwellings.
Interior designer Paula Devon Raso says people are finding they can live in smaller spaces and have as much flexibility as they do in larger residences. "You live more to the full potential in small spaces. Every inch counts," she declares.
Raso should know. She's been living in small downtown apartments near the Pike Place Market in Seattle for 12 years. Her current condominium is less than 1,000 square feet. As a designer, she's a firm believer in customized storage spaces - and not just for clothing and accessories.
Raso has drawers for writing materials near a table, pantry storage in drawers, built-in recycling drawers, even accessory drawers in the front hall closet. She used small-scale built-in appliances from Europe in her kitchen, and points out that components for music systems now are available in small sizes.
A big pine armoire or an oversized Japanese chest can give storage and character to a room, Raso says. She believes it's important to think about using things differently.
That's what Dola Conway, a semi-retired businesswoman, learned to do when she left the 3,000-square-foot split-level home that she'd lived in for 20 years. When her home sold, she moved to an 800-square-foot apartment for a few months while looking for a condominium.
Conway finally found a 1,300-square-foot condo that had the two-bedroom, two-bath plan she wanted, plus a laundry room.
Working with designer Gail Fisher, Conway customized the space. A banquette was built in the kitchen eating area. The smaller bedroom became an office with computer, copy machine and plenty of bookshelves.
Some of Conway's furniture was adapted to the new spaces. A large mirror, buffet and drum-top table in dark woods were lightened to fit into an off-white, monochromatic decor. A chair was reupholstered in an off-white fabric.
A large, two-piece, L-shaped sofa was ordered. When it arrived, Conway admits she was appalled. It looked huge, and it had seven large pillows. "Now it's wonderful," she says. It also can sleep two if Conway has house guests.
Fisher suggests a "value analysis" for those considering moving from a large to a small space. "What are the things you can't live without?" she asks clients. "List the top four or five things you must have."
She points out that it isn't easy to make major changes - plumbing, for example - in multiple-unit buildings. "We always have to consider what's above and below."
And even small details, window coverings, for example, need a different approach in small spaces. Fisher says conventional draw draperies require a lot of space. They can obstruct a view. She mentions tiny shades that fold to about one inch, or "wells" in the woodwork that can hide window coverings. She used chain mail (it looks like fireplace screen) on windows of one downtown project. It provided a privacy screen without obliterating the view.
Sorgenfrei says she tends toward neutral window coverings in small spaces. If a client wanted swags and draperies, however, she'd opt for gauzier fabrics instead of heavy treatments. She wants windows to "float."
And while mirrors were once a much-used solution for maximizing space, Sorgenfrei says they've been overworked, become trite. "We've had it with mirrored walls," she declares. But framed mirrors, especially when strategically placed to reflect beautiful things or a view, can be very effective.
Fireplaces in small spaces are another controversial subject with interior designers. Jim Randall and Roy Cochrane, designers who've been in business for 35 years, say they're almost always a plus. A fireplace becomes a gathering place. It also can be a plus in a room without a view. But if the fireplace is badly placed, it can be a problem.
Sorgenfrei says fireplaces aren't easily found in small apartments and condominiums. And when they are, they're more likely to be ill-placed and difficult to work around.
"Room layout is generally better without a fireplace," she says. "But there are wonderful faux fireplaces available that are only about 10 inches deep, and can be placed on a wall."
For those starting out in a small space, designers suggest investing in a quality sofa, sectionals or antiques that will appreciate in value.
Randall says he recently helped a bachelor client furnish his first home. "We treated the living room as a library. When he moves to a larger home, all the pieces can be recycled to a den."
"Don't go out and buy a bunch (of furniture) just to fill space," Raso says. "Tune in to what you want to live with. Think dual and triple functions, especially with horizontal surfaces."
And don't shy from one huge piece, Raso counsels. It's not always scale, it's quality of design that counts.