At Resource Furniture, we see a lot of small space problems and come up with even more solutions. But we know that we aren’t alone in believing that everyone can make their spaces work for them, so we invited designer and creative force Libby Langdon to share some tips and tools from her book Libby Langdon Small Space Solutions.
We shared the first portion of our interview with The Huffington Post Home. (If you aren’t reading our monthly HuffPo posts, be sure to catch up here and here!) But Libby had such great advice we just had to share the rest with you here. Read on for helpful hints that absolutely everyone could use.
Photo by Noel Sutherland
1. When decorating a small space, most people default to white, how adventurous can you get with wall coloring?
White walls won’t technically add square footage. They won’t make your space look larger and they lack personality, so I say, spice up your space and put some color on your walls! Don’t be afraid of bold colors — just use them judiciously. Brighter hues tend to make a wall seem closer, while cooler colors and darker shades tend to make it recede. So if you love chocolate brown, while you don’t want to use it on all four walls, you can paint one accent wall for fabulous impact. Paint the wall behind your bed or sofa – the darker color on one wall will make it visually recede and make your small space feel bigger. Another neat trick is to paint vertical stripes on walls, which make a tall statement in a small space. They draw your eye upwards, giving the illusion of height, which is especially effective when ceilings are low.
2. Storage is always an issue when it comes to small spaces. What are some creative storage solutions?
- Use bed lifts to raise your bed. They can raise it up to 6”, which creates more room for storage space underneath and the look of a higher bed is luxurious. Use a longer bed skirt to hide your secrets!
- Use ottomans with storage inside. They can hold everything from paper work and files to extra bedding. Plus, they can serve as extra seating or a cocktail table when a neat tray is placed on top. Try grouping four small cube ottomans together as your coffee table, which can be easily rearranged to accommodate different situations.
- Multifunctional furniture is the name of the game. What pieces can do double duty in your small space? Ottomans can be seating, a footrest, or a cocktail table; a tall kitchen rolling cart can act as a bar, extra workspace, and storage; a desk can be a dining table.
3. For rooms that are dark and lack windows and / or natural light, how can you create the illusion of light and space?
Lighting is critical to small spaces because it has the power to make a room feel brighter and therefore larger. Also, by using various light sources, you create layers in a room, resulting in a richer ambience. There are two kinds of light to work with –natural and artificial. The more natural light you can bring into a room the better. Be careful not to obstruct natural light and views that lead the eye beyond the room. Use lower pieces such as benches, ottomans, and stools to keep the space open and capitalize on the natural light you do have. For window treatments, translucent shades or sheers work better than blackout or opaque. As for artificial light, you want to ensure that light reaches each corner of your room; since you have less space, you want to avoid having it get lost in darkness. You can use as many as four or five larger lamps. Yes, larger! People tend to think a small space requires small lamps, however, it’s just the opposite! Large lamps add height and scale to a small room, making it feel larger. Try and avoid harsh overhead lighting and if you must use it, add a dimmer switch if possible. The most important rule is that light should be inviting and create a feeling of warmth.
4. Is it better to keep furnishings sparse in a small space?
While you don’t want to clutter a small space with too many furnishings, you don’t need to go totally austere either! Well-proportioned pieces properly placed can make a small space visually double in size while serving all of your needs. It’s also important to think in terms of creating conversation areas, which usually means various groupings of multi-purpose furniture: a desk that can double as a dining table, an ottoman that works as seating, a footrest or a cocktail table. I also recommend not using overstuffed furniture. For example, if you have a standard sofa that has two large roll arms on either end and each arm measures 12” wide, then you are losing Twelve square feet of useable space when you consider the width and depth of those arms! You’d be better off getting a longer sofa with leaner arms so you are able to use all of your square footage!
5. Should all of the furniture be small scale?
Frequently small space dwellers lament, “I need more storage,” so they go out and buy a little chest of drawers that won’t take up too much space. As their storage needs grow, they keep adding small pieces, still believing a bigger one will overwhelm and, suddenly, the space is packed with little storage pieces! If you start with a layout based on your needs, you will be able to purchase one large, functional piece from the get-go that will make your space feel less cluttered, serve your storage needs, and perhaps even double for another purpose as well.
6. How do you make small rooms multi-purpose? For example, designing a guest room that also functions as an office, or a living room that is the dining area and workspace.
In a small home, every piece of furniture should serve more than one purpose, especially as people are creating separate “sections” within one area. Maybe you don’t have a dining room, so you need to create an eating nook in your kitchen, or a spot to dine in your living room. Most small spaces don’t have an office, so you may need to incorporate your desk into your bedroom or dining area. Or perhaps you live in a studio that needs to function as living, dining, and sleeping areas all in one! You need furniture to help you delineate these spaces and break up the area so that one room can act as many. Convertible furniture—items that can literally transform from one piece to the next (Clark Kent by day, Superman by night) is even more of a necessity because it helps divide the room as well as allow you to sit, stow, and store. Today there are wonderful space-saving solutions like console tables that pull out to accommodate eight dinner guests! The bottom line is that furniture in a small space needs to work harder for you than if it were in a large space.
7. How/Where do you even begin decorating a small space?!
Most people who want to redefine a small space don’t know where to begin. They need to understand how to layout their space. If they don’t understand the proportions of their rooms and the ways to maximize those spaces, they cannot achieve the atmosphere they want and the functionality they need. Layouts are as simple as measuring your room and furniture, putting those details on paper, and moving the furniture around until you have the most effective positioning. Layouts give you the ability to look at your space as a whole, which allows you to craft a cohesive design plan rather than “piece-mealing” your furnishings. Because I learned this first-hand when doing one-day, one-room makeovers on TV with no time to keep moving furniture around, I created the Libby Langdon Solutions™ Furniture Arranger so that folks could create effective layouts on their own. It’s a super easy dry-erase magnetic grid with all sorts of furnishings magnets so you can try out lots of layouts without having to move anything until you’re ready! I find myself discovering cool ways to arrange furnishings that I probably never would have considered without the board.
8. Your interior design firm is based in NYC, however, as a TV makeover designer who has worked in homes nationwide, how is small space decorating a challenge beyond urban areas?
Many people are choosing to downsize, not compelled to like most urban dwellers. In certain ways, I think “small is the new big” because people started to step back and see how huge things had really gotten. We’ve become carried away with “super-sizing” everything! People also started seeing the results of “living large”: the costs of filling up your car, gaining weight, big mortgages and just living with STUFF everywhere! There is an underlying desire right now to simplify our lives, get back to basics and what really matters and that’s now translating into our homes. Of course, we’re also facing sobering issues with the economy and more and more people are downsizing for financial reasons as well. The greater part of my design philosophy is that living with less doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice comfort, elegance and style…sometimes living with less is the ultimate luxury.” There is an incredibly diverse group of small space dwellers who share the desire to live in a space that’s not only beautiful but also functions for their needs and the needs of their family.
Empty nesters: Baby boomers are scaling back and are realizing that living with less is wonderful!
Young growing families: They might want to move to a larger space but are playing it safe financially and will work with the smaller space they are in.
Eco-minded folks: Many folks want to leave a smaller footprint on the planet and conserve energy, water and just not live with excess.
The Elderly in assisted Living Homes: Overall we are living longer and the aged are moving into smaller scale assisted living facilities or into their children’s homes.
Dorm roomers. Many parents spend a ton of money to create a comfy home away from home for their kids.
9. If you could offer only one, what is your top tip for small space decorating?
Unclutter and Clear out! This is the part we don’t want to hear but it’s truly the best place to begin. For both clients and television makeovers, I clear everything out of the room for a fresh vision and then bring back only what serves the purpose of the space. If you’re looking to rework the design of your space, getting rid of excess items allows you to see it anew. For most people it’s so liberating to throw stuff out that they keep going… I guarantee you’ll feel like a million bucks clearing out some of your clutter!!
10. What is the biggest mistake when decorating a small space?
I couldn’t narrow it down to just one mistake, so here is my top-ten list of biggest mistakes people make in small spaces!
Libby’s Top 10 Biggest Mistakes for Small Spaces are:
- Not using color on the walls. White walls don’t make your space bigger; they make it boring.
- Using oversized, large-scale furniture that cramps space, instead of better proportioned pieces.
- Not lighting your space effectively—whether by capitalizing on natural light or bringing in artificial light.
- Using shelving and cabinetry that isn’t full scale—meaning that it does not go all the way up to the ceiling.
- Holding onto too much stuff and not throwing away clutter.
- Using small-scale accessories (lamps, artwork, candles, vases, and pillows) instead of large ones. Large accessories create the appearance of greater space and more height.
- Not using Mirrors. They bring in and reflect lots of light to visually multiply your space.
- Not making the most of your wall space. Think vertically; mount shelving on your walls to display collections and store items so you don’t waste precious surface space.
- Using all wood furniture. It makes a room feel dark and heavy. Mixing materials like glass-topped tables with wood pieces makes your room feel lighter and more open.
- Using small area rugs. Large rugs create a feeling of more square footage and small rugs look like a postage stamp!
What is the biggest small space design challenge you have met?
Definitely the most difficult small space design challenge I’ve ever met was a makeover I did for the Rachael Ray Show. It was a West Village apartment that was 110 square feet. Yes, I said 110 square feet (the size of some peoples closets)! There was no real kitchen (she washed her dishes in the shower) and at the widest part, the walls were only 75” wide. I actually have a photo of my foot and hand stretched in opposite directions as I was touching both walls! When I walked in, I was at a loss. I honestly did not know what I could do to make the space better and I had to think fast because it was a one-day makeover! Visualizing “vertically”, I realized I had to utilize precious, unused wall space, installing tall, shallow shelving units with glazed glass fronts to reflect light, mirrors to create depth, a loft bed and a new lighting scheme! Thankfully it worked and everyone loved it! You can see the makeover on my Libby Langdon YouTube channel as the “Makeover of the Smallest Space Imaginable”!