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Living Small: More Design Ideas for Small Spaces

A while back I penned an article about Design Secrets for Small Apartments. Since many of us are downsizing these days, I thought the subject warranted a second look. Actually, there are many ways to make the most of your cramped quarters.

Some of these ideas will involve getting your landlord's permission, if you are a renter. If you position these changes as property improvements, your landlord may be happily agree. Just be aware that some of your nifty changes may have to stay with the apartment when you move. The other ideas involve changing your perceptions about space usage, using different types of furnishings and efficient furniture placement.

A small space doesn't have to be a negative. In fact, there are a number of pluses to living small. First and foremost for me, it takes less time to clean a small dwelling. You are also forced to become more organized, and that's a good thing. It also takes less $$ to heat and cool fewer rooms.

From Hallway to Dining Room

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The photo above is the perfect example of changing your perception of how a space is used. You'll notice the pass through to this kitchen has mirrored closets along one wall. This creative tenant wisely converted the space into valuable square footage by outfitting it with a small, drop leaf dinette set. Now it is perfect for a candlelight dinner, a spot to do homework or a part-time home office, rather than simply using the long, narrow space as a pass through from one room to another.

Multi-Purpose Kitchen Table

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If you are lucky enough to have an eat-in kitchen, why not let the table pull double duty as an additional work surface. This picnic-type table can be called upon for food prep if counter space is limited. And, as in our hallway example above, can be used for non-kitchen-related activities, such as a place to tackle household finances or a craft area for you and the kids.

Keep It Simple

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Resist the temptation to overfill a small bedroom with furniture. An uncluttered space is more calming and conducive to rest and relaxation. Our example room has a low dresser and nightstands. A large mirror leaning against the wall gives the illusion of more space. A headboard outfitted with light fixtures eliminates the need for bedside lamps. A floor lamp provides additional ambient light without taking up space. A wall-mounted flat screen television would complete the minimalistic vibe in this small bedroom.

A Room for All Reasons

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At first glance, this cheerful room appears to be a home office. Upon closer inspection, you'll note a small sofa or loveseat, ottoman and reading lamps. Sure, space is at a premium, but it is being used to its full potential. If you have a home-based business, this room will serve as command central during the day. At night you can cozy up with a good book, soft music and a glass of wine, and unwind from your hectic day.

The office setup is pretty easy to accomplish. Your home improvement center has tracks, brackets and laminate shelves to convert an empty wall into storage for office and miscellaneous household items. The "desk" is probably no more than a folding metal work table dressed with a gathered skirt attached with velcro. Place a piece of custom-cut glass on the table top, for an easily cleanable work surface. Tuck a file cabinet or two under the table skirt for hidden document storage.

Instant Vanity

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If you're dealing with a tiny bathroom and have extra space in the bedroom or hallway, why not install a countertop to use as a vanity area. In this photo, a pre-made section of countertop was positioned between a side wall and wardrobe unit. To provide maximum support, install using French cleats along the back wall and at least one side. As with most of these ideas, the vanity can also be used as a desk to catch up on personal correspondence.

Solution for "Dead" Space

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The wasted "dead" space under stairs offers a great place to carve out additional storage when you're living small. This particular idea expands kitchen storage--use it for kitchenware overflow, pantry items, pet supplies or as a wine closet. Using the cleat system, install an upper shelf as a countertop. To keep the need for carpentry to a minimum, purchase tracks, brackets and shelves for the lower portion. Leave the shelves open or gather two rod pocket curtain panels on a tension rod placed just below the top shelf.

This idea creates extra storage no matter where your staircase is located. It makes a cute mini-library for books, a place to tuck away toys, DVDs and other household clutter. To organize smaller items, place them in labeled plastic bins. That way, you'll always be able to find what you need!

Space Planning at Its Best

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Who says you can't get everything you need in a small room? This living/dining room is the perfect example of proper furniture choices and placement. You have a couch, sizable coffee table and chair to anchor the room. A wall-mounted television frees up surface space. A low credenza under the TV gives you a lovely place to display accessories and store things below. The bookcase give you more display and storage. The contemporary table and chairs are a great place for an intimate dinner for two or a spot to finish up paperwork at the end of the day.

The Ultimate in Space Planning!

Layers of Color

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Add depth to a diminutive space by layering colors. The first layer consists of the kitchen backsplash, which is a chocolate stone or brick. The lower kitchen cabinet, visible to the rest of the space, is a sunny yellow. The wall partially enclosing the kitchen is a rich pumpkin orange. The partial wall creating the front entry, is painted in bright, springtime green. Your eye takes in the different layers of colors on vertical surfaces and your brain processes it as added depth and space.

Hotel Bathroom Tricks

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We've all been in smallish hotel bathrooms and have marveled at the clever use of space, vowing to try some of those tricks at home. In our above bathroom example, several ideas come to mind. To increase space in a tub/shower combination, install a curved shower curtain rod. It's amazing how a few inches of extra space makes the shower area feel twice as big! Open shelving below the sink is another trick that gives the illusion of extra space in the bathroom. If you lack towel rod space on the walls, install rods directly to the front surface of your sink vanity.

Nook for Books

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Here's another fabulous way to convert an awkward area into much needed storage. Often, small, older apartments and homes have weird little nooks that serve no useful purpose. Choose the type of shelving that works best with your décor and make the most of that funky indentation. Chunky, dark wood shelves turns this architectural afterthought into a beautiful display area for special keepsakes and books. A matching dark ceiling and recessed light really make these shelves a design statement.

Go Vertical

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Here's a solution for those of us with a single pedestal sink in a small bathroom. While this type of sink adds vintage character, it gives us no place for storage. Flanking the sink with two vertical cabinets takes up little space (providing you have room for them!) and adds needed height to a tight room. Cabinet sides are also the perfect place to install towel hooks. Just make sure the materials will hold up to humid bathroom conditions. Glues used in particleboard and veneer construction may separate when exposed to excessive moisture.

Seeing Clearly

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If your search for the perfect coffee table has left you feeling claustrophobic, consider one with a clear top. A coffee table topped with glass or acrylic is virtually invisible in the room. It gives the impression of space in the center of a seating group. This choice may not be best if you have little ones running around the house. This drawback aside, clear coffee tables open up a room and add a touch of sophistication to your small living room.

Murphy's Law

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A Murphy bed is one of the oldest space savers in the book. According to the Murphy Bed Company, the first of these beds were made in 1918 in San Francisco. This proves that living small is far from a new concept.

Murphy beds are a genius solution for homeowners short on space, but long on creativity. They are a great way to utilize every inch of a studio apartment. Plus they're much more comfortable than a convertible sofa bed and allow you to keep the bed made up even when it is in the wall. Most modern Murphy bed systems come in a cabinet unit with finishes that compliment your furnishings. You can also choose coordinating desk units, cabinets and bookcases to create a work/sleep configuration.

New Twist on Bunks

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Kids love bunk beds, but traditional bunk beds are bulky. Enter the fold up bunk bed! These bunk beds fold lengthwise into a wall system to give the kids room to play or study during the day. The Lollipop system above features an integrated ladder that doubles as bed support and optional folding headboards. The company offers closets, work stations and wall storage units to completely outfit your child's room without taking up too much space.

Fabulous Lollipop Bunk Bed System

Disarming Charm

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For super close rooms, select armless sofas, sectionals and chairs. Arms eat into traffic patterns and become obstacles in a tiny room. Armless seating looks sleek and lightweight, giving your living room an airy feeling, which translates into spaciousness (at least in the mind's eye!)

© 2012 lindacee

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What Do You Think About These Ideas for Living Small? 18 comments

alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

Just goes to show that you don't need a lot of space to live comfortably. But that 78-square foot apartment is bizarre to me because it doesn't have a bathroom. I really need a bathroom. Voting this Up and Interesting.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Thanks alocsin! Yeah, the bathroom is pretty important. Sharing one with two other apartments doesn't work for me! Glad you enjoyed my Hub! Cheers


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 4 years ago from Canada

I enjoyed reading this. My home is pretty small, so I am always on the lookout for new ways to add space and functionality. I liked the ideas that involved making use of small little corners. It makes me want to re-examine some of my rooms, too. Thanks for this! Very useful.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Prairieprincess, thank you! So happy my Hub gave you a few new ideas. Living small can be a challenge, but it really helps us get those creative juices flowing!


tamarawilhite profile image

tamarawilhite 4 years ago from Fort Worth, Texas

What bulky items do most people have that you think can be done without?


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Tamara, any piece of furniture taking up valuable space in a small environment. Like tables and chairs that limit traffic patterns. Instead of having a grouping of chairs around a coffee table, opt for a integrated coffee table with ottomans that tuck neatly underneath when not in use. Ditch the traditional dining table for a wall-mounted fold down version. And, of course, a bed eats up space that could be used for other purposes during the day. As I mentioned, the Murphy bed is an old invention that solves modern space planning issues. Thanks for reading and commenting!


erorantes profile image

erorantes 2 years ago from Miami Florida

Hello miss lindacee. I like your article on Living Small : More Desing Ideas For Small Spaces. You have nice ideas for small places. My favorite is the bed that rest on the wall. I like the nook and the bathroom décor. Thank you for your hub.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 2 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

And erorantes, I thank you for reading this Hub and your kind comment. :)


Arco Hess Designs profile image

Arco Hess Designs 2 years ago from Kansas City, Kansas

You have some fantastic tips. A lot of people seem to love putting a million things in a small place. It is definitely best to go with the bare necessities and keep things minimal so that a place seems bigger than it is. Also, mirrors!


Medicadavline profile image

Medicadavline 2 years ago from United States

Hai Lindacee..

I enjoy this article because it is very detail. I really love the nook for books. I hope I can make it in my home. Thanks.... :)


lindacee profile image

lindacee 2 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Arco Hess Designs, thanks for checking out this Hub. I agree, some people try to overdo even the smallest of spaces. In this case, less is more. And yes, mirrors do create the illusion of more space. Perfect for small apartments!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 2 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Medicadavline, I'm so glad you enjoyed this Hub. Give it a go and see if some of these ideas will work in your home!


Jacobb9205 profile image

Jacobb9205 22 months ago from Gloucestershire

Great ideas, thank you! :)


lindacee profile image

lindacee 22 months ago from Southern Arizona Author

You're welcome, Jacobb920! Don't forget to read my companion Hub, Design Secrets for Small Apartments http://hubpages.com/living/Design-Secrets-for-Smal...


Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 21 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Great and clever ideas, Linda. My new apartment bedroom have a bed, dresser and one painting. I might fit a small end table there real soon--I'm using my drying rack there for the moment. Voted up!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 21 months ago from Southern Arizona Author

Thank you for reading, Kristen! A small end table sounds like a good addition in the bedroom--it's always nice to have a spot for a table lamp and a couple of small accessories.


EstherHDS profile image

EstherHDS 18 months ago from Amsterdam

Thank you for your great ideas! As a student with a tiny room, I can really use it:)


lindacee profile image

lindacee 18 months ago from Southern Arizona Author

You are welcome, EstherHDS. I remember those days! I hope this will help you make the most of your small space!

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