The Best Tricks for Small Spaces

A New Orleans shotgun house provides great tips for faking more square footage.
Amy Bickers Mercer

Note: This article has been updated on October 31, 2005. At this time, we are unable to reach this business (or homeowner) after Hurricane Katrina. Please contact us if you have any information regarding its status.

When Katie Winters purchased her home in the historic French Quarter, decorating it was the least of her concerns. She first had to make the place habitable, as it had been without electricity and working plumbing for quite some time. She also wanted to alter the traditional layout--a series of small rooms, one after the other--into something more appropriate for modern living.

Katie removed doors that closed off each room and had a wall torn down between the dining room and kitchen. Now, the long, open space is casual and comfortable, a perfect example of how to maximize minimal square footage. Even if you don't have a shotgun-style house, these design lessons are practical enough to apply to any small residence.

Color and Texture
A pale palette goes a long way toward visually enlarging the rooms. Warm white paint on the walls brightens things up, making the most of natural light. White paint on the ceiling makes it seem even taller. If you're lucky enough to have high ceilings, enhance them by using tone-on-tone colors on the ceiling, walls, and trim. Even a tiny space feels larger when it has a lot of headroom.

Texture keeps the color scheme interesting. Woven fabrics on the sofa, armchair, and dining chairs contribute to the casual but sophisticated look. Monochromatic hues work best when a color is used in all its varying tones. If you don't believe cream and taupe come in more than one tone, pick up a paint card at a home-improvement store.

 

Bright Ideas
No matter how compact your space might be, good lighting helps it look bigger. Katie chose recessed lighting for the kitchen area which, by its very nature, takes up little space. And unlike hanging light fixtures, it doesn't demand attention; instead, it illuminates various focal points.

Katie also chose to hang three ceiling fans down the length of the space. She minimized their visual impact by choosing white fixtures that blend into the ceiling and walls.

Material Matters
One of the easiest ways to create continuity in several areas is to use the same flooring. Katie chose to refinish the existing hardwood floors. The expanse of gleaming wood draws the eye from the living room to the kitchen.

In the cooking area, Katie also made wise material choices. Cream-colored countertops and tiles blend beautifully with the white cabinetry. Open space above the cabinets increases the sense of height. Metal hardware on cabinets adds a punch that is repeated on the stainless steel refrigerator and stove.

 

Tips for Creating Openness
In the living room, a comfortable sofa and one armchair provide seating. Both items have exposed legs which give the illusion of more floorspace. The furniture's neutral tones blend well with the wall color, a simple trick to open up the space.

The coffee table is another example of visual trickery. The glass top has plenty of room for magazines or flowers, but the top disappears with minimal accessories, allowing a view of the hardwood floors below.

It's better to have fewer items on display when there's limited room to showcase them. Ask yourself if a piece adds beauty to your home or if it just adds clutter. Instead of hanging an assortment of random frames here and there, hang an oversize painting, like Katie did between the dining room and kitchen.

Character Counts
Although she wanted to update her Vieux Carre digs, Katie didn't want them to lose their personality. If you have a small home, make the most of it by preserving elements that add panache. Then your itty-bitty space will shine.

Sources:
Construction by Paul Badeaux, CB Construction, New Orleans; carpentry by Joe Calderon; painting by David Harouni, www.harouni.com; wall color is Bone White by Benjamin Moore; trim and cabinet color is Navajo White by Benjamin Moore.