Posts by Maxwell Ryan
Stylish small spaces are defined by not only being stylish, but knowing how to make the most of small space so that it actually feels roomy and luxurious. To get this effect there are six things you should know:
1. Always include something big. Small spaces will actually feel smaller if you make everything tiny, so by placing at least one surprising, oversized object into the room (artwork or lighting are good choices) you will create a pleasing contrast that will help the room to feel much bigger.
2. Use the walls. Utilizing your walls for extra storage space is a must. Bookcases, hooks, shelves, wall mount lights and tall slim cabinets that rise up your walls will allow you to keep your floors open.
3. But don’t use ALL of your walls. If you want a room to feel open visually be sparing in your coverage of the walls you don’t use for storage. Cutting down on hanging art and clustering storage along one wall will cut down on visual clutter. A nice coat of paint is just as good as a piece of interesting art in a small room.
4. Use off whites for color and brightness. White paint on your walls will reflect more light and make your space expand visually, BUT off-whites (with a touch of color) are far more interesting and stylish.
5. Turn up the lights. Shadows caused by underlighting will contract even the best of rooms and make any space feel smaller, so always have at least three points of light in every room. For really tight spaces small scale track lighting is a great way to boost the light and uplights set in the corners are a great way to illuminate your walls and make them seem taller.
6. Paint or stain your floor dark. While going light and bright with walls and ceilings helps to expand a room upward, going dark on the floor creates a crisp contrast that also makes your floors disappear beneath your feet.
Good chic furniture that will optimize a small space without looking awful is also important, and because you need so little, splurging makes sense. Here are my top choices that I’ve used again and again:
- Stanley Console by Gus Modern. With only two legs and a slim surface this is the perfect piece for a hard working entryway.
- Elfa Shelving. Well priced, stylishly designed and with many options for wood color and depth, this is my go to source for quick wall storage.
- Ercol Bar Stools. Handmade in England, this simple beautiful design now comes in colors to make the most of a bar area in the smallest amount of space.
- IKEA Gulliver Crib. If you’re putting together a baby’s nursery, this is the slimmest, nicest thing you can buy.
- West Elm Tripod table. Round always wins and three legs is better than four. This is a perfect small table for a kitchen.
- Hailo Big Box Trash Can. Attractive slim trash cans are hard to find. This one is top of its class.
Having lived in small spaces all of my life, I feel that I’ve learned a few things about how to live in them well. Some may seem counterintuitive such as “put big things into small spaces,” but often what works is not obvious. Many people like to compare outfitting a small space to outfitting a boat, with a small space set aside for everything and all the surfaces covered, but this is first generation thinking and small homes on land are not boats. Homes need more breathing room and carefully fitting everything in creates a suffocating environment. Second generation space planning uses a number of tools to push and exaggerate the small space, making it feel much bigger emotionally than it is physically in square feet. In the end of the day whether your space FEELS small or big is what it’s all about.
1. 20% Emptiness = Happiness
One-hundred percent perfectly full is a loss, not a victory. Every room, every shelf and every cabinet should have a little breathing room to allow your eye to rest and make it easy to put something away without struggle. Traditional Japanese architects are said to plan their buildings around where the shadows fall and not where the light does. Being this conscious of shadows and the empty spaces and planning for them is a game changer. Leaving 20 percent empty and waiting will achieve this.
2. Lighten Walls, Darken Floors
The lighter you paint your walls, the more luminous your room will be, as well as the farther away they will seem. While doing the same to the floor might also make the room feel bigger, I find that dark-stained floors feel cozier underfoot and create contrast at the bottom edge of the walls that makes them seem brighter and taller to boot. A dark floor is earthlike and has a way of falling away underneath you as you enter a room, and if you paint your ceiling extra bright white it will magically suspend itself upward and open up like the sky over your head.
3. Put Big Into Small
If you get too frugal with a space and scale everything down to fit in, you will get a very small feeling resonating through. Inserting one or two large pieces into a small space is surprising and creates a “change moment” that we find refreshing and allows us to consider a small room as being larger than it really is. Large artwork, rugs, lighting and even beds balanced against appropriately-sized pieces will create an energetic contrast and a sense of luxury.
4. Three Points of Light
Light is your most powerful tool when manipulating space and getting it to expand. Our sense of space comes from where our eye can travel and it is drawn to light and avoids darkness. While paint colors and reflectivity are important, starting with adequate light is essential. Most homes, I have found, are underlit, so I have a simple guide: make sure you have three light sources in every room and don’t include simple light fixtures in the ceiling’s middle, as these shed a very poor light. Light should glow at the level you are living. Table lamps, floor lamps and ceiling fixtures that direct their light down to the walls or the floor are best. When things feel small, add more light!
5. Mirrors Multiply Light
It’s the oldest trick in the book, but mirrors DO multiply the ambient light in a room and allow your eye to extend beyond the walls they hang on, creating a much greater sense of space. Again, the feeling of how much room you have is directly related to how far your eye can travel and mirrors definitely help. Add them to dining rooms, hallways, bathrooms and living rooms. Keep them out of the bedroom, as they are stimulating and don’t support a deep rest.
6. Doors Eat Up Space
Most homes have too many doors. Really. Doors take up a lot of floor space in order to open and close properly, making floor planning challenging, and they are often quite unnecessary between interior rooms. Bi-fold doors and sliding doors on closets can get stuck and shut down 50 percent of a closet. In space-challenged situations, I often start by scouting the doors to see which ones I can remove right away. This allows for more movement and more room for furniture. With closets, my classic solution is to remove the doors and replace them tightly with heavy white canvas curtains. This allows 100 percent accessibility and also allows light within the closet to make the curtain glow as if it were a window and not a dark hole.
My new apartment was all white when I moved in. It was lovely at first and my bedroom, in particular, had a light, airy feeling. And then it got boring. After the thrill of moving into a new space wore off, I realized that my bedroom was TOO light and had no definition. It didn’t feel grounded and stylish either. It needed some color!
However, rather than paint all the walls, and inspired by some very dark walls I had seen on European blogs, I decided to do something new: go very dark with one bold color behind my bed. I wanted it to be so dark that it would dramatically set off the headboard and calm the room right down. I wanted my bright, soft bed to seem like the center of a cozy nest so that I would draw me to bed (and perhaps I wouldn’t stay up so late). And I would leave the other walls as is.
I tried some swatches of color on the wall over a few weeks and found myself tip toeing into darker and darker tones. If I was going to do this, I didn’t want to do it half way. I finally settled on a deep aubergine color from Farrow & Ball called Brassica. I bought one gallon of it in a matte finish and painted it in three coats. It was dark.
I replaced my headboard, bed and side tables. I made my bed. I turned on the bedside lights and smiled. It was dark, warm, softly dramatic and lovely. For the first time in my life I’d added a really dark color to a wall in my home and it was not scary. It was a thrill.
My mother has been collecting corks and making these trivets since I was a kid. They take a little patience, but are super easy to make and pleasing in the way they provide a long life for all those corks you would have thrown away.
Your cork trivet can take many geometric shapes, but the basic shape that will emerge looks like a hexagon. Start by collecting about 60 real corks of the same length (you can usually get bunches at your local wine store or restaurant) and glue three together to form the core. Use super glue and hold with pressure for a minute until the glue sets.
Continue by glueing one cork at a time around and around the core until you’ve built your trivet out about five rows deep. At this point you’ll have a trivet large enough to place a nice big hot pot on. If you want to adjust the shape to a triangle or another geometric, that is easily done with a little planning after the first two to three rows have formed.
Your cork trivet will be incredibly strong when completed and will last a lifetime, gathering a lovely patina with age. My mother’s still line her kitchen and are more beautiful every time I see them. Enjoy!